Get Ready For the Return of Quadrophonic Sound Courtesy of Rhino Records (review)

Rhino reissues long out of print Quad mixes of four classic albums

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies

Jefferson Starship – Red Octopus

J. Geils Band – Nightmares

Black Sabbath in Quadio will absolutely blow your mind

File this under “things I thought I’d never see again” – QUADROPHONIC records!  

For a refresher, Quadrophonic was an ill-fated bit of 1970’s technology with good intentions: take the standard, two speaker (stereo) audio setup and expand it to four (quadrophonic).  The idea was to have sound coming at the listener from all directions – as if he/she were actually onstage WITH the musicians.  The trouble is, the audio equipment was prone to malfunctioning and quadrophonic records could only be played on quadrophonic equipment, which means you had to buy an entirely new setup.  Guess what?  Few people did and the technology faded away.

Five decades later, Rhino Records has dug back into the archives to make these unique, four-channel mixes once again available (now called Quadio).  The good news?  The technology is now reliable and the albums can be played on any Blu Ray player with 5.1 surround sound speakers.  Rhino first issued Quad sets from the Doobie Brothers and Chicago last year.  Now, they’ve chosen a quartet of classic albums in their next batch of releases.

Each album chosen is no accident.  Paranoid is arguably the greatest heavy metal album ever (much more on this below), while the J. Geils Band were one of the greatest live bands around (and who wouldn’t want to be in the middle of that?).  Billion Dollar Babies found Alice Cooper at the peak of their “shock rock” theater, and Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus boasted not only guitar, keyboards and other typical rock instrumentation, but also one Papa John Creach on fiddle, making for an abundance of players to fill out the four speakers.

Listening to Paranoid from Black Sabbath in its Quadrophonic mix is like being in the middle of a battlefield. 

Those rifle sounds going left to right?  That’s Tony Iommi’s guitar.  That tank that just ran you over?  That’s Bill Ward’s drumming.  The wailing isn’t soldiers, it’s crazy man Ozzy Osbourne.  And, the real highlight is hearing Geezer Butler’s bass, fat and full, absolutely monsterous.  I was completely blown away by the sonic onslaught.  I’d always thought that Paranoid sounded kinda flat on CD.  Here?  Oh no, it’s like a caged tiger has been unleashed and is ready to wreck havoc on your ears.  

The hi hat drums on “Warpigs” jump from speaker to speaker, as does Ward’s tom fills.  However, the song doesn’t speed up at the end – something they apparently could not replicate in the quad environment.  “Paranoid” chugs along, Iommi’s guitars are like chainsaws out of each speaker, while “Planet Caravan”’ is more spacey, with bongos jumping from channel to channel.  Butler’s bass really thumps on “Iron Man.”  Then, wait til you hear Ward’s drum solo on “Rat Salad.”  Whoa.

Paranoid isn’t just the best album in this bunch.  It’s the greatest example of quadrophonic sound done right.  You are completely immersed in audio from all directions. And, this is the rare example of the quad mix blowing away the standard, stereo version.

As far as the other three releases?  They’ve all got their merits.  Red Octopus from Jefferson Starship really benefits from the quad technology by allowing each member to be spread out in the massive, four-channel mix.  The real treat on this album is the gorgeous Quadio mix of “Miracles.”  Marty Balin’s finest ballad is elevated here to the ethereal plane that it always aimed for.  The electric guitar flourishes seem to be shooting stars, darting from speaker to speaker, while the strings, background vocals and vibes are all more prominent.  I’d never noticed an acoustic guitar either.  

J. Geils Band’s Nightmares has the ubiquitous hit, “Musta Got Lost,” which sounds great here.  But, the real treat is “I’ll Be Coming Home” – the random people effects are everywhere, then the the soulful, stomping song just shines in this surrounding.  “Gettin’ Out” is also great – you really do feel like you’re in the middle of the action.  There are times though the overall sound is somewhat brittle here.

Billion Dollar Babies from Alice Cooper finds the band at their absolute peak.  The Quad mix really shows off producer Bob Ezrin’s genius – you get to hear each individual instrument more fully and really appreciate the theatrical element that they were going for.  The guitars from “Elected” jump all around speakers.  I do have to say that Alice’s voice seems too loud at times, overpowering everything else.  Also, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” seems to have lost some of its punch being so wide.

Each booklet contains photos of the quad mix reels (except Jefferson Starship) – that’s a nice touch.

Taken as a whole, the quad mixes of these four albums are a mixed bag.  But, it is cool to hear these albums in a completely different setting. Paranoid from Black Sabbath is the clear winner here.  —Tony Peters