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The Beatles In Mono - Riffs and Licks — LiveJournal
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.)


33 comments or Leave a comment
(Deleted comment)
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...)
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.
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