Reviewed by Johan Palme on 17th December, 2015
The concept of the “overproduced” record is an interesting one.
One of the key drivers of musical change from the very earliest recorded sound has been the advances in recording technology, in little steps and big leaps constantly changing what could be recorded and how. Sounds that had been too quiet or indistinct could slowly but surely be caught in ever-increasing quality. Multiple tracks, recorded in different ways in different places, doubled and processed, were eventually able to create the illusion of sound that could never be played live. By the early 60s, music was recorded in stunning clarity by fantastic engineers, overdubbed virtually losslessly, and reproduced in a medium – the long playing vinyl disc – that brought this amazing technological perfection to regular peoples’ living rooms.
But then, something happened. By the late sixties, suddenly a value system had emerged that considered multi-tracking, multiple takes and pitch-perfect clarity to be unnatural. Music, critics theorised, was not real if it was too clear, too fussy, had too intricate arrangements. From the seventies onward, record companies scaled back, and always had to keep a vigilant eye so they wouldn’t seem “overproduced”. Except, that is, in Christmas music, which always has existed in a sort of parallel universe where massive, overdubbed, perfectly recorded choirs and orchestras always have had a place.
But even by those standards, Julie Andrews’s second Christmas album The Secret of Christmas is often considered overproduced. Arranged with dozens of intricate lines by composer Ian Fraser (of Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy fame) this is music that’s almost like an effect-laden film soundtrack, cramming the whole stereo space with harps, choirs, strings, glockenspiels, yet almost clinically clean, with Julie Andrews the perfect serene vocal beacon in the middle. The values are anything but natural, but it’s an amazing artifice indeed.
The Spotify link below has been restored to the right play order with a playlist, and the Amazon version is the original vinyl, but for iTunes you have to manually reorder 1982 jumbled reissue Christmas with Julie Andrews to get the right version. The original order is 8, 2, 5, 4, 6, 7, 3, 10, 9, 11, 1, 12. No, I don’t know why a record company would do this either.