Mouldy masters and the (lost) joy of SACD
In Richie Unterberger’s book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia there is a terrible story relating to the loss of the original multi-track tapes of some of The Who’s finest music. For many decades there seems to have been an assumption in the recording industry that once a band had mixed an album from the 8-,12-,16, or 24-track to the stereo mix from which master pressings would be made there was no need to keep the multi-track. These seems to often have been left at the recording studios. With the passing of years those studios closed or were sold on and often entire tape libraries were simply chucked into a skip. This appears to have happened at Olympic in London in the early 1980s. According to Unterberger some of the multi-tracks for Who’s Next were lost in this way. As a consequence, Who’s Next cannot be released in hi-definition formats such as DVD-audio or SACD 5.1 because the source material is incomplete. What a tragedy.
A related story I stumbled across concerns tape restoration. If stored in humid conditions tape can deteriorate and go mouldy. This apparently happened to a tranche of Bob Marley recordings. You can read the horror story at fxgroup.net/tape+baking. The tapes were only 25 years old. They could only save 12 out of 27. If this happens with such a famous (and therefore money-generating) artist such as Bob Marley, what hope for the smaller groups and the one-hit wonders, etc?