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The Beatles In Mono - Riffs and Licks
steelbrassnwood
steelbrassnwood
The Beatles In Mono
No thanks to Jerks & Rudeness on Park Row, I finally got my Beatles In Mono box yesterday. (And thanks to rosiebird for suggesting barnesandnoble.com; I cancelled my Amazon order which was to ship somewhere between Sept. 16 and Sept. 27.)

Obviously I haven't had a chance to listen to all of it yet. The first thing I put on was the mono Sgt. Pepper, which I'd never heard. Wow. It really is a different and better album in mono.

Let's back up for a moment. Why mono? When the Beatles first began, only audiophiles had stereo equipment and the music usually released in stereo was for that audience -- classical and jazz. Pop music was played on record players. Not turntables, not stereos, but record players, like the kind we had at home when I was young, with a cover that latched down and a handle so you could lug it to your friends' house. And it was broadcast on AM radio. All of which were monaural, meaning, just one channel. No left and right channels like we're all used to in our headphones. I listened to most pop music in mono, on a cassette player, on my little red-ball AM radio, until I was in high school.

The Beatles, mindful of their audience, released all their music in both stereo and mono mixes for their entire careers. And for two-thirds of that period, the mono mix was the more important of the two. That was the one they supervised personally, and listened to when they were deciding what to release. Stereo mixes were usually done later, sometimes years later, by staff engineers, perhaps overseen by George Martin. It wasn't until the very last of their albums that they worked primarily on the stereo mix, with a mono mix being created by "folding down" the stereo mix, centering both channels. The original mono mixes were not created like that; the albums were specifically mixed for mono, and then stereo versions were created later from the master tapes.

Have you ever noticed that "I'm Looking Through You" has a false start sometimes, and sometimes doesn't? The stereo mix had the false start and the mono mix didn't. Have you ever noticed the moment in "If I Fell" where Paul's voice breaks badly trying to hit a harmony note? That's only on the stereo mix.

Sgt. Pepper in mono is quite different. A number of the songs are faster in mono than they were in stereo. Some songs are longer or shorter, and the emphasis changes for some of them. "Good Morning, Good Morning," one of my favorite obscure Beatles songs, really caught my attention. The kickoff is crisper, the brass and guitar are much higher in the mix, and in general it's a hotter song. Overall, it's a better album and I can now understand the disappointment of people who replaced their original mono copy of the album with a stereo version.

I've also listened to the "Mono Masters," the singles and other songs that never appeared on the original UK albums. Some of them are magnificent -- "Paperback Writer" in particular. The guitars punch and the bass (pushed higher in the mixing and mastering over the objections of conservative EMI engineers after the Beatles demanded to know why the bass sounded so much better on American pop records) really drives the song.

I'm listening to the White Album right now and I hear all sorts of things -- different instrumental fills, different solos, changes in endings, etc. These differences are subtle; many would probably be unnoticeable to most listeners. But I spent a lot of time listening to Beatles music, at a very impressionable age, and I know every damn note of these songs, and they're surprisingly different. And better.

Some of this may also be due to the remastering process; I'll be very interested to compare these albums to the stereo box that I hope will arrive on Monday. And I should also say, to all the purists, that I don't think the mono versions of their early albums will ever eclipse the U.S. stereo versions that I grew up with (which, as Bruce Spizer points out in this excellent essay, are not nearly as bad as some critics like to say), which were released a few years ago on the Capitol Boxes (which I wrote about at length when I got them a few years ago).

(Side note: I was wildy amused to see that J&R quoted a post I wrote a little while ago about how much I like to buy albums there. I wonder if they'll delete the comment I just made, linking to my post from Wednesday about my attempt to buy the Beatles boxes.)

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Comments
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: September 13th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I worked at Brooklyn College, Richard—my boss—and I would sometimes go have lunch in the Village, and afterward Richard would want to visit the record stores in search of Beatles bootlegs, among other things.

I used to tease him about the (to my ear), minor variations between versions: "Oh yes, this is the version of 'Help!' in which George is wearing a BLUE shirt."

Even though I love the Beatles, I wasn't very interested in the box set until I read this—which may be the single best explanation I've come across of why anyone should care.

Well done.

Edited at 2009-09-13 03:26 pm (UTC)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 13th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks -- I am an unabashed Beatles geek, and I'm sure I hear a lot more here than most would. But like lots of things, the casual listener might not notice the specifics but does notice the difference. In other words, few people would say, wait, this song is in a lower key and slower than I'm used to. But they might just feel like it drags more than it used to. Or that it sounds dead and less interesting, without realizing it's because of poor mastering or bad EQ.

(And honestly there aren't very many artists that I'd be this interested in, and fewer where I'd hear even subtle differences so clearly. I listened to these songs a lot.)

Although ... I am going back and forth between the new mono "Lady Madonna" and the US stereo mix on 1967-1970 and when you put them side-by-side the differences are glaringly obvious. Bass is stronger, the horns really leap, and the whole thing is crisper. Again, details you wouldn't notice, but you'd just respond better to the mono version.
From: egretplume Date: September 13th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seconding this. I don't care very much about the Beatles and am not the audience for these boxed sets, but reading this journal entry is the first time I've understood why anyone would care. Interesting and informative!
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: September 14th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Did they have your permission to link to your blog? This bodes well for somebody there actually seeing your diss and maybe taking it to heart.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
They don't need my permission to link to my blog, nor to quote a short excerpt the way they did.
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: September 14th, 2009 01:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I like the instant gratification, and I like being able to find what I’m looking for without having to go to half a dozen stores…

They don't even quote you right. Those remarks were about buying online.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right. I didn't even notice that. No matter, because they have removed my comment and the original quote.
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)
The Beatles were my favorite band when I was a kid. I still have my vinyl Beatles albums (well, most of them--I'm still smarting from that party I went to in the 8th grade, the one I brought some of my albums to, forgot, and never got back--and they were original Apple label albums!)

Anyway, this was very interesting to read--I didn't know all this about the differences between mono and stereo with the Beatles especially and I was wondering about the two different sets. I just bought the stereo versions of Let It Be and Revolver--I haven't listened to them yet.

So--the vinyl Beatles albums I grew up listening to, I'm wondering, were they stereo or mono? (you're just three years older than I, so I'm guessing we listened to the same ones?) I guess I should look at them and see if it says if they are or not.

After reading this I went to look at the info about the mono reissues on Amazon--you can only buy them if you buy the entire box set, unlike the stereo reissues, which you can buy individually? That kinda sucks. I mean, what if you don't like the mono albums, or you don't have several hundred bucks to drop all at once? Hrm.
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: September 14th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like your avatar, I just wanted to comment unnecessarily; I have that slogan on a t-shirt ;)
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, thanks! :-) You're welcome to snag and use if you like. I'm not sure who to credit the icon to, though.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you bought them new in the US as I did, you almost certainly had the U.S. stereo mixes, which for the early albums were not always the same as the U.K. stereo mixes. Sometimes George Martin would send Capitol his stereo mixes, but often Capitol was releasing music that the Beatles had not mixed for stereo yet.

Remember that despite all the dissing of the Capitol albums, U.S. audiences sometimes had access to songs months or sometimes years before they were available in the U.K. For instance, Yesterday ... and Today came out in June in the U.S., with four songs from the British Revolver that wasn't released until late August. "Bad Boy," which was on Beatles VI in the U.S., came out only on a crappy collection in the U.K., a year and a half after its U.S. release.

So, Capitol often had to make stereo mixes from the masters that Abbey Road sent them. Sometimes Martin sent two-track masters, which is why many early stereo Beatles songs have the instruments on one side and the vocals on the other. Martin did that so he could control the vocal level when making the mono mix. Sometimes EMI sent Capitol mono mixes, and they created "duophonic" mixes, basically by boosting the bass on the left and the treble on the right and slightly delaying the bassier channel.

And I know it's not much consolation -- I am also still smarting over my hasty disposal of my U.S. LPs when I got the U.K. reissues in the 80s -- but those albums you lost were probably not originals. The first Beatles album released on Apple was The White Album; before that, original U.S. albums had a black Capitol label with a rainbow-colored ring around the edge. Later reissues had Apple labels on the whole catalog, or the orange label Capitol was using by default in the 1970s.

I believe the thinking with the mono box was that only a limited audience of Beatles geeks like myself would want them, and therefore would be more likely to buy the whole thing, so they didn't bother with the expense of individual packaging. The stereo set just arrived (more about that later) and I have to say the packaging is *much* nicer. The mono box tries to emulate the original LP packaging as closely as possible, and if you already have the LPs, it's just the same thing at 1/4 size. Whereas the stereo box is gorgeous, with extensive notes, new photos, etc.

And given that the surviving Beatles, and their estates, are quite comfortable financially, and that I personally have bought these damn albums four or five times each, I have no moral qualms about copying this music. (Just speaking philosophically, of cousre...)
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, thanks for the very interesting info. I still wish I had gotten my albums back, as I still have all my vinyl albums (i.e. not just Beatles), but at least I probably don't have to worry that they were actually valuable in the sense of rarity.

Ok, so I just pulled my few surviving Beatles albums out to see what they look like. Abbey Road: It has an Apple label, and says it's in stereo. Sgt Peppers: Orange Capitol label. White Album (which was a birthday present, my 9th, I think): Purple Capitol label, white vinyl. And then I also have The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. Yellow label and an image of a ticket to the event.

Just speaking philosophically, of course, I have no qualms about copied music, specially in this case. ;-)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Abbey Road could be an original; I'm not enough of a record collector to know how to tell but you could google the matrix number (it's handwritten in the inner margin of the record itself) and see what comes up. SP is not an original; that would have the black label.

But the white-vinyl album is a collector's item and is worth good money if the inserts are in good shape. (But don't sell it! Those things always increase in value. Bag it, though, and the inserts too.) The Hollywood Bowl album has never been released on CD (a shame, since it's a compilation of two different performances and there may be more songs worth releasing, plus I'm sure a digital remastering would improve on the already-impressive work George Martin did in the 70s), so hang onto it. In very good condition it's worth a lot of money but you aren't likely to easily find another copy. Also bag it and the LP too since you hopefully still have the inner sleeve with the photos.

At some point I am going to digitize the Beatles stuff that doesn't exist on CD, so we should probably resolve our philosophical differences, if any. :)
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alas, the insert that came with the White Album spent many years up on my childhood bedroom wall. I think I still have it, somewhere, but I'm sure it's not in collector's condition. I seem to remember individual photos that came with it too? Those, too, went up on the wall, and I would gaze upon them with a dreamy girlish sigh. Heh. Not sure I have them anymore.

I wouldn't sell it anyway, unless it was worth a billion dollars and I was on the verge of starvatin or something. It's just too sentimental to me. :-)

The LP cover itself is also, shall we say, not in collector's condition. It is like a Velveteen Rabbit--well used and loved. I mean, I listened to those albums over and over and I'm sure when I was a kid I did not handle them with kid gloves.

The Hollywood Bowl LP is in much better shape but it's not pristine by any means. It has the inner album sleeve, but I'm not sure which photos you mean because there aren't any loose inserts in this one.

I also have George Harrison's All Things Must Pass on Apple vinyl too.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
The original inner sleeve for the Hollywood Bowl had two adorable pictures of girls in the audience at the concerts. No photo inserts. And well-loved is MUCH better than well-maintained. :-)

The original ATMP has colored paper inner sleeves, and the red Apple logo on the first two discs. The third label is a picture of a jar of "Apple Jam."
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yes, that is the inner sleeve--it has those photos.

And yes, well loved is definitely better. :-)

Abbey Road's # (I tried to Google, did not figure out anything from the results, maybe I didn't do it right ) is: 1-383-F-46

Yep, ATMP is original! Cool! My goodness, you are quite the font of Beatles knowledge. What else can you tell me? ;-)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Enough that you will eventually wish you hadn't asked. ;-)
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee. I can believe that. Well, if I have any future questions about the Beatles, I know who to ask. :-) But one last thing--how do I Google the Abbey Road LP # to get results that make sense?
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
The absence of results was your answer; the original is cited on all the collectible sites. Or search for "Abbey road original US pressing matrix number" or some such.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
And sorry, that's not an original Abbey Road. Exhaustive details here but the original matrix number would have begun APP383; that's a reissue and likely one of the low-quality 70s pressings. I bet the vinyl is thin?

Anyway I forgot -- there's an easier way. "Her Majesty" wasn't on the track listing of the original release. So if it's listed on the back cover it's definitely a reissue.
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Her Majesty is listed on the album itself, but not on the album cover. On the back cover, the track listing ends with The End. It also says on the upper right (over the girl's blue dress), "APPLE SO-383". Maybe the album cover is from the earlier ed. but the new track listing on the album itself reflects that it's a later issue?

The vinyl seems thin, I guess, though I'm obviously not an expert and can't say for sure how thin or thick it ought to be. It's certainly not as thick as some of the OLD old records I have. No big. Thanks for the info! :-)
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Er, hopefully you're not getting sick of this, but I just found two more Beatles vinyl albums--I felt like I was missing something! They weren't in the right place. So I also have The Beatles 1967-1970, and The Beatles Second Album. :-)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're not old enough to have an original Second Album. :-) The original red and blue albums had the colored inner sleeves with lyrics and Apple label on a red or blue background. They were rereleased a while later on colored vinyl and those are also collectible. They came with a white sheet listing all the Beatles albums which is kind of a rarity, and was my touchstone as a kid for which albums to buy. I don't know what I was thinking when I got rid of them -- I kept one version clean, and the other had my notes about the dates I bought them, etc.
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I didn't think that one was original. I just thought I'd tell you I had them, for the sake of completeness, since I had told you about the other ones I had. ;-)

Out of curiosity, and again hoping this thread isn't going on way too long, were you interested in being a collector as a kid, or did you just happen to fall into that later on as an adult?
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not a collector now. I know these things because I'm a geek by nature, and I have a memory for this sort of thing. And I was a complete fanatic about the Beatles during my formative years. But I am not a collector -- a collector would never say "well loved is better than well maintained" and even though I can afford to buy valuable original copies of the U.S. albums I would much rather have my tattered copies back. I said this the other day to rednoodlealien about collecting:
I am not generally interested in collectibles for their own sake. I will buy them if they contain different music; I was thrilled to find that my LP copy of [John Cale's] Helen Of Troy, for instance, is a UK original, because one of the songs was pulled from all subsequent releases and appears on the CD as a "bonus track." I like original or different artwork; I repurchased most of Bowie's albums on LP when I could find the originals with gatefold sleeves and lyric sheets, and I have Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World in both their original versions and their Ziggyfied versions.

I don't care about release details (ie, black-rainbow Capitol albums versus orange-label versus apple-label) and I only care about remastering if I have some confidence that it was done well. I generally do not keep CD and LP copies of the same album unless the LP is an original or collectible and the CD has meaningful bonus tracks; most of the LPs I've reacquired digitally I've purchased online basically to save myself the trouble of digitizing them (and since the download versions are *usually* of better quality, but not always -- for instance the Beatles CDs that have been on the market for years are so badly mastered you'd be better off making a copy of a high-quality LP).
chamisa From: chamisa Date: September 14th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know these things because I'm a geek by nature, and I have a memory for this sort of thing. And I was a complete fanatic about the Beatles during my formative years.

OH, ok--I getcha. :-)

But I am not a collector -- a collector would never say "well loved is better than well maintained"

True. It would be best if you never even took it out of the plastic and had it sealed in a light-proof, moisture proof vault guarded by Rottweilers all this time, right? ;-)

and even though I can afford to buy valuable original copies of the U.S. albums I would much rather have my tattered copies back.

Me too!
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 14th, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh and I'm sorry, I mis-wrote earlier. "Her Majesty" isn't on any Abbey Road cover. If it's not listed on the label it's an original.
stubi_wun From: stubi_wun Date: September 15th, 2009 09:44 am (UTC) (Link)
My folks had a weird collection of Beatles vinyl, from both my mother and stepfather's collection, as well as others given from friends.

We had this very weird bootleg album of Beatles For Sale, that was red coloured vinyl and had Chinese characters on it. We also had a 70's recut of revolver, a 'Best Of' Albumb or something (did Apple release a 'Best Of' Album of The Beatles in the 70's?), and we also have an original Parlophone cut of Please Please Me with the sleeve missing, and the record that's scratched up a bit, but my sister still likes to crank up 'Saw Her Standing There' on her phonograph at home every once in a while.

I never was a huge fan of The Beatles myself, but recently I watched a recent doco about In The Studio With The Beatles. Plus I read the recent article in Rolling Stone about The Beatles' breakup, which was fascinating, although I don't know how much was based on fact and how much on sensationalism, since RS get often criticised with that on many occasions.

So, it's got me interested, and I picked up 3 of the new digital remasters the other day: Help, Let It Be and Sgt. Peppers. My mother was talking about the White Album being her favourite, so I might pick that up for her and save it for Christmas.
From: ext_25974 Date: September 23rd, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great article -- I need to check out these mono releases.

This bit at the end confused me:

"And I should also say, to all the purists, that I don't think the mono versions of their early albums will ever eclipse the U.S. stereo versions that I grew up with"

So-- what versions were you comparing them to throughout the article? (i thought you were saying that the mono versions _were_ better than the stereo versions).
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 23rd, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I was comparing albums, not songs, when I said that -- Meet the Beatles versus With the Beatles.

Also, I was comparing the newly issued stereo and mono mixes, which are all UK mixes. The U.S. stereo mixes differ from the UK stereo mixes, often quite significantly, on the early albums especially. Since the UK stereo mixes were made sometimes weeks or even months (in a few cases, years) later, and since some songs were released in the US prior to their release in the UK, Capitol didn't often have the UK stereo mix when they released their albums.

So usually they were working from the master tapes, which up til 1964 or so were two-track. George Martin would generally mix the instruments down onto one track, and the vocals on the other, so the mastering engineer could balance them for the mono version. That's why lots of Capitol stereo songs have all the vocals on one side of the mix.
Sometimes Capitol just got the mono masters, and would create a stereo effect by equalizing each track differently and adding a lot of reverb.

Capitol loved reverb; to some extent they were trying to "heat up" what were, by American standards, pretty weak mixes. Some people consider it vandalism but those songs are what I grew up listening to and I have developed a fondness for that sound.

You have to remember that recording technology then was completely analog and completely physical, and that EMI was a very conservative company. The Beatles fought constantly with Martin and the EMI staff about why American records sounded so much better than theirs did, with a lot more bass and energy. Motown or Stax were quite the opposite of conservative, and had better equipment for pop music than EMI did, and therefore their records were mastered a lot hotter and with a lot more low end than EMI would allow. Around the time of "Revolver," with a new engineer and increasing freedom, you begin to hear much better bass on Beatles records.
From: ext_25974 Date: September 23rd, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah okay. Fascinating.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 23rd, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here's another tidbit I learned from Geoff Emerick's book -- the delivery of music in the other direction was even worse. Capitol wouldn't usually send EMI any tapes at all. They'd send them the records which EMI would then basically record onto a two-track tape machine, clean up, remaster (weakly) and reissue on vinyl in the UK. So that makes it a little clearer why British kids were always after US imports.
From: ext_25974 Date: September 23rd, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. That is sad.

But 45 years later, the british kids have their justice.
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