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New Album Releases: Beatlemania – 09/09/09

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It's Beatlemania one more time and I get to be a part of it. The New Album Releases column existed before I entered the picture and I've pretty much held to the format used by others since taking over, but I shall, from time to time, declare a special occasion and do something different. This week is one of those occasions.

John LennonLike Brian Wilson, I sometimes wonder if I was made for these times. I do know I've always wished I could have been a part of Beatlemania the first time. I hate how The Beatles are always going to be a bit of a history lesson for me. The Beatles broke up three years before I was born. My mom watched them on Ed Sullivan. I was seven when John Lennon was murdered. I didn't get to experience what it was like when The Beatles ruled the world.

There won't be a reunion tour to recapture the glory years, but there have been a few moments when the world turned their attention back to the best thing to come from Liverpool in history. I remember watching The Beatles Anthology documentary and going to buy the first 2-CD volume of the three-volume set. It was the first time I felt like I got to be part of the phenomenon in real time, even if it was a celebration of past glories.

George HarrisonOn Wednesday, September 9, 2009, Beatlemania beckons and I will once again answer the call, elated and bursting with anticipation. Once again, the world turns its eyes, ears, and hearts to an iconic band whose influence is incalculable. Amazon sold out of their copies of The Beatles' new box sets, so I'll stand in line at (Satan) Best Buy tomorrow to make sure I get mine.

The Fab 4 Lowdown

So what are we talking about with The Beatles' remasters? What are they and why should anyone care?

All 12 Beatles albums and the Past Masters collections have been digitally remastered and are being re-released separately and in two separate box sets. Past Masters was formerly two single-disc volumes which have now been combined into a single 2-CD set.

The first box set is the stereo box set, comprising14 discs. It includes:

    Beatles Box Set
  • Please Please Me
  • With The Beatles (CD debut in stereo)
  • A Hard Day's Night (CD debut in stereo)
  • Beatles For Sale (CD debut in stereo)
  • Help!
  • Rubber Soul
  • Revolver
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Magical Mystery Tour*
  • The Beatles (aka “The White Album”)
  • Yellow Submarine
  • Abbey Road
  • Let It Be
  • Past Masters
    (“The White Album” and Past Masters are each 2 CDs.)

So, why should anyone care? Let's start with the assumption you're a Beatles' fan. If you are and you listen to your current Beatles CDs – which were put in circulation in 1987 – you'll notice they don't have the same sonic fidelity as many modern recordings. There are two reasons for this, one obvious and one not. The first is the earliest recordings are now more than 40 years old. Technology has advanced a lot since these albums were made.

A "master" is the recording that will be the definitive copy that is duplicated for the end user, usually into other formats (i.e. LP records, CDs, DVDs etc.). It's the master copy, the "source." Remastering is the process of making a new master for an album, movie, or any other creation. These days it usually refers to the process of porting a recording from an analog medium to digital one, but this is not always the case.

The Beatles' recordings were made using analog equipment. CDs are part of the digital age. Transferring vintage analog recordings to the digital age has always been tricky and still can be, but sound engineers have learned a lot about the process. They've learned some great techniques that can give music a sonic face-lift and allow it to sound as vibrant and young as ever. They've also found ways to horribly screw up vintage and modern recordings, rendering it virtually unlistenable.

A team of engineers was tasked with the responsibility of breathing life into the greatest catalog in pop music without screwing them up. The first batch of Beatles CDs are underwhelming. They're listenable and the great songs are still great, but the music in many cases sounds dated. I've read some of the technical details of the process the team of engineers went through to bring us these remastered CDs and I was impressed. They seem to have understood which modern tricks to avoid and which to use. It took four years and early reviews indicate they've succeeded brilliantly.

Oh, and I mentioned a second box set. This one is The Beatles in mono. It contains the 10 albums which originally mixed for a mono release, as well as the original 1965 stereo mixes of Help! And Rubber Soul, previously unreleased until now. This is more of a collectors' thing than a must have for the casual fan or even some of the serious ones.

 

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About Josh Hathaway

  • JANK

    The MONO are the version to have since only Let It Be & Abbey Road were originally recorded and master in stereo. For the others, MONO was cut first by the original Beatles engineers and ‘other’ engineers did the stereo version. Look it up.

  • zingzing

    “The first is the earliest recordings are now more than 40 years old.”

    wanna feel old? the LAST of these recordings (with the exception of an overdub or two) are 40 years old. the earliest are, of course, nearing 50.

  • zingzing

    actually, the mono mixes were the mixes that the beatles were present for. they never helped mix for stereo. so the mono mix is the mix that the beatles thought of as definitive. plus, early stereo was pretty terrible. so severe. all the drums on one side, all the guitars on another, etc. and they are quite different in small ways. often there are different overdub takes used, different bits of the arrangement emphasized, etc. it’s a shame they didn’t stick these on the albums for the regular box set. most of them would have fit.

  • zingzing

    oh shit, sorry. didn’t notice comment #1… no need for the repetition.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    The press material sent out by Apple Records is where I took the info about the mono set. I don’t know that I’ve said anything factually incorrect. I know the Mono set is of supreme interest to many Beatles fans. I’d like to procure myself one of those at some point, too.

  • zingzing

    well, true, there was nothing factually incorrect. but people should know that it shouldn’t just be for beatles’ fanatics. unfortunately, emi is making it so. stupid, stupid emi. or capital. or whatever label is doing this.

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Josh, get on procuring a Mono set NOW. They aren’t going to be around long and then the prices are going to just go up and up. I swallowed the big gulp this morning and placed my order with Amazon, who says they’ll have them in 3 to 6 weeks. I, uh, “acquired” the full set over the weekend and have been listening to bits and pieces and I’m beginning to really appreciate what’s going on here. Paul’s bass is enormous in mono, with incredible texture that seems to be covered up in stereo. And, of course, there are completely different mixes of many songs.

    I’m not excited at having to spend $229 to have it, but I am pretty excited to have the big, tall, black stereo box sitting next to the small white mono box someday soon. Are these the best reissues ever? Possibly.

  • http://www.riddledphantasms.com R.P.M.

    Nice article. I love the Beatles and this is really cool to see. There have been the commercials and I think some bands like the Decemberist’s