In My Lifetime: Your Questions Answered by Producer Al Quaglieri


Thanks to all of you for your interest and your excellent questions. I hope I've answered most of them to your satisfaction! --Al

1) Why was the end of "Heaven Can Wait" faded, when you can hear a distinct end before the end of the fade--given this fact, why didn't you go with the hard ending which it had?

I had originally faded it much earlier. Neil Diamond asked to stretch the fade to the end of music. There is a very abrupt snippet (like half a word) of talk and a disconnected piano note immediately following the ending you hear; they were too close to make it a cold ending, and too mood-demolishing to leave in.

2)We know of a number of tunes recorded for Neil's last studio album Tennessee Moon which did not make the album. Were any of them considered for inclusion, and why were they rejected?

No. This track was Neil's selection.

3)Why aren't the tunes in chronological order -- considering that it begins that way, why was that pattern not followed exactly throughout the set?

Placing tunes in strict chronological order rarely makes for a well-paced listening experience. The three discs were originally in much stricter chrono order, but were carefully rearranged by Neil for optimum flow and pacing.

4) What condition were the early tapes in ? What was the process (if needed) you used to restore the tapes?

Most prior to Clown Town/At Night came from original acetates and a clean copy of the Neil & Jack 45. The original mixdown masters of Clown Town and At Night were in so-so condition, but we had the original 3-track multis, so I remixed those two to match the original. The Bang masters were in surprisingly good shape, considering their age and the number of times they've changed hands. There were often so many subtly-different mixes of the Bang tunes that finding the released master was a very meticulous process. The MCA masters were also in very good condition. The Columbia masters were almost all in pristine condition. Neil Diamond retains possession of his Columbia masters, and until digital became popular, he would usually submit copies of his absolute masters to Columbia from which to press albums. For most of the Columbia material, this set marks the first time you're hearing these tracks from the original masters instead of copies. In the early 1970's, Ampex made a change to its formula for magnetic tape. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this new formula tape would not age gracefully. In most Ampex reels from 1971-1982, the "binder," that part of the tape that holds the magnetic oxide in place, tended to degrade over time, becoming sticky in the process. When you try to play such degraded tapes, the heads quickly clog up with sticky goo, and the tapes grind to a halt - sometimes in less than a second of play. Many of Neil's '70s masters were thus afflicted. The only remedy for this condition is baking the tapes in a convection oven for about eight hours. After the tape cools off, you have anywhere from a day to several months to play it before it reverts to its sticky state. This process only works once or twice, after which the tape becomes lost forever. Needless to say, it was a scary experience popping irreplaceable ND masters into an oven.

5) How did you overcome either dropouts or bright spots on these early tapes ?

All masters were loaded directly into a hard-disk Mac system via a program called Sonic Solutions. That program features a collection of sophisticated subroutines which, with proper use, can minimize hiss, pops, tics, and other audible anomalies. We never did come across major dropouts; the worst problem were nasty clicks on some Bang masters which we determined to be the product of early "punch-in" technology. The worst of these was a double click at 2:20 into "You Got To Me," which was so huge we couldn't fully fix it (although we did a pretty good job). Listen to your 45 of that and then listen to the CD.

6) What type of recording equipment was used i.e. mixing console (automated or not) Brand, remixed storage for the recovered demos, DA T or standard multitrack tape?

The only multitracks I mixed/remixed were Clown Town, At Night, and the alternate Cherry Cherry. The first two were mixed on a Neve console to 30 i.p.s. analog tape at Sony Studios in NYC. The last was mixed on an SSL console to 30 i.p.s. analog tape at Sony Studios in Santa Monica. We played back all other masters on Studer and Ampex machines. The signal path from there to the Sonic Solutions system (see above) was minimal, but filled with absolute state-of-the-art A/D (analog-to-digital) converters, limiters and equalizers. Since mastering engineers tend to be very proprietary about this info, I'll respect David Mitson's professional privacy in this matter.

7) What type / brand of computer and the software was used ?

See above.

8) What was the most challenging or difficult obstacle you had to overcome in the mastering process?

Establishing some sonic consistency throughout the package, taking dozens of tracks from disparate sources/studios/periods and making them live next to eachother without jarring bumps up and down in fidelity from track to track. Engineer/co-producer David Mitson was instrumental in this process.

9) What gave you the most satisfaction working on this project?

Watching my original concept become reality. And having Neil - who could easily have done the whole thing himself - value my input and listen to my ideas.

10) How long did it take sitting and listening to the tapes to find the right ones ?

Here's a clue - Neil assembled a two-hour tape of his early demos, which he played for us in early May. He continued to dig up and submit unreleased material almost weekly right through the beginning of August. With the MCA tapes, we did all transfers in a week, mainly because there was rarely any question of which was the best master on a song (the boxes were well-labeled). The Columbia tapes, although numerous, were also straightforward, with the real masters labeled as such. (We did have all safety copies of each Columbia album - sometimes amounting to a half-dozen reels and a digital tape per LP - piled in the studio for the duration of the summer). The Bang tapes took the most time, with up to a dozen reels for each tune, few of which were clearly labeled "master." They took several weeks of sifting.

11) The later years work, was this just a matter of taking the original masters and then recording them into the proper order? or did you have to go through and tweak them a bit here and there?

With several exceptions, most of the later masters needed some degree of "tweaking." This is the real purpose behind the mastering process - to take raw masters and make them sound the best for whichever format they're going to. Most first-generation (mixdown) masters are made with the intention of "fine- tuning" the sound at a later stage, during mastering; thus, some of them can sound a bit rough around the edges prior to final mastering. LP masters have equalization and compression imposed on them to make the most signal fit into a vinyl groove. CD masters have few of the limitations of vinyl (please, audio experts, I'm generalizing here so don't rake me over the coals), and thus must be made differently than LP masters - meaning improved low-frequency response and dynamic range (softer softs and louder louds).

12) Do you know of any plans to remaster each or any of Neil's albums?

I know of no such plans.

13) On my copy of "The Last Waltz", someone (Robbie Robertson?) introduces Neil as "Here's someone you all know - Neil Diamond!" Why did this intro get cut from "Dry Your Eyes"?

That was my call. I reasoned that, in the context of a "various-artists" set such as The Last Waltz, such introductions were necessary to let the listener know who was doing what. Since anyone hearing my set would know exactly to whom they were listening, I considered the intro superfluous.

14)Is there a boxed set #2 in the works?

Not to my knowledge.

15) Was any consideration given to release Neil's versions of "Rocket Man" and/or "Lay Lady Lay"?

Neil played us a bunch of terrific "cover" tunes (written by other artists), many unreleased, during this project. I wanted the set to stay true to the concept of Neil Diamond the songwriter, which (with one exception) it does. I did suggest two other possible future compilations to Neil - one a set of his favorite "cover" tunes, another with the best of his live shows. Perhaps he'll decide to undertake one or both at some future date.

15b) What was the criteria for selecting the songs .... sales, chart success?

I fired the opening salvo, with a repertoire of my choosing that reflected what I believe to be his musically most interesting works. I asked Neil to consider what he believed to be his strongest tunes as a writer. The result is a combination of the two. Incidentally, a good 82% of my initially-proposed tunes appear on the set, which is a pretty good percentage when you consider all the changes (19 revisions over three months) the package went through.

16) With so many albums released by Neil over the years, I imagined he could have made this collection a four or five disc set. Was that ever a consideration? Or, was the choice made to keep it down so the price would be low enough to sell more copies?

Sony toyed with the idea of a 4-CD set, but Neil wanted it kept to three discs. Even though he'd never toot his own horn as to why, I'll tell you: Neil wanted to keep the list price below $50, in consideration of his fans. He then proceeded to finagle with track selection and sequencing until he managed to fill each CD to very near the format's 77-minute limit. The result is a tremendous value.

16b) 'Stones' (#14), 'Walk On Water' (#16), 'On The Way To The Sky' (#27) & 'Be Mine Tonight' (#35) represent more than 10% of Neil's 37 Top 40 hits and they were left off. Why?

I had suggested Stones and Walk On Water, both of which Neil nixed. The others were never proposed by either me or Neil, signifying a tacit agreement that these were not among his strongest tracks.

17) I love the fact that the first disc has so many unreleased and extremely rare recordings, but most of the material is duplicated from other greatest hits albums, of which there are many. I would have liked to see some more of his obscure album tracks and some more unreleased, later recordings, even a fourth disc. What is your response, and how did you make your choices?

Re "duplication" : there is a marked difference between this and other "greatest hits" albums; ours is the first wherein the Bang material sounds better than the original 45s, arguably the best-sounding Uni material, and hands-down the best- sounding Columbia collection anywhere. As far as rarities and unreleased nuggets are concerned, this is a perennial problem for reissue producers, i.e. balancing the desires of the collector with the realities of the music-buying public as a whole. It often seems to us that no matter what or how much we include in the way of rare tracks, collectors and diehard fans will always grumble about being shortchanged. But remember that many producers (myself included) are also collectors and fans, and would love nothing more than a 10-CD set of unreleased tracks. But such a product would sell a thousand copies, losing the company multiple thousands of dollars in the process. As for making choices of what's here and what isn't, the final say in all cases was Neil's to make.

18) Why use the earlier version of Shilo (Bang 561) versus the one that actually got (and still gets) the most air play (Bang 575) (Album version is on "Classics")

It was a better-sounding master, and Neil approved its use.

19) Also, was the MCA material taken from "single" masters? All of those cuts sound different to me as opposed to they way they did on MCA's "Glory Road" compilation of a few years back.

I don't know what tapes MCA used for its set, only what they presented to us for our use. I presume they're the very same tapes, with the difference in sound attributable to different mastering techniques.

20) Since, that album has been a top-notch seller and featured a great single of Cherry, Cherry and since Neil Diamond is such a dynamic live performer how come there are no live performances?

The first track is a live performance. Other than that, it was a joint decision to use the studio versions of everything for this set. See my response to #14 above.

 


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