A couple of weeks ago, in my somewhat curmudgeonly assessment of the Beatles remasters, I made mention of Rubber Soul and how it inspired Brian Wilson to produce Pet Sounds. A few nights after I wrote that, I happened to catch Wilson on the television performing Pet Sounds in its entirety. Well, I'd been away from that music for so long that its quite-amazing set of layers had escaped me. Had I done the same thing with the Beatles?
The rock historian in me did some more reading. Word was that the mono remasters were something to behold. I decided that I needed to own a copy of the set. Gee, my birthday approaches. Perfect timing.
The cool thing about the mono remaster of Rubber Soul is that it includes the original stereo mixes from 1965. This makes for some great comparison listening. Go ahead and listen to stereo version of "Drive My Car" and then follow that with the mono take. The latter version fairly well explodes from the speakers. Gone is the artificial left/right panning (particularly annoying in headphones), replaced by a single, cohesive image that blows away the stereo mix with a sound that's far more taut, clean, and aggressive. It's a beautiful thing.
Mono? But isn't that 'old' technology? Yep, but it was state of the art back then. That some people have worried about this just points out the built-in irony of the current state of our entertainment technology. Trent Reznor has commented on this: people seem fixated on high definition for viewing purposes, yet they're more than happy listening to their music via the very low-definition mp3 file. How is this possible?
Really, there's nothing so odd about it. Portable listening devices are convenient. That's the key. But maybe what's more important to remember is that inferior playback technology does not always wreck the listening experience. All of these Beatles songs where first discovered by fans via their AM car radios or their cheap, plastic, and portable transistor radios.
So that's exactly what I'll do this morning. Rubber Soul has been loaded on the iPod. I'll be driving TheWife™ to work in her Jeep and we'll partake of this mono goodness in a far-from-perfect listening environment: one of those FM broadcast adapter thingies and a noisy Jeep. Screw 'advances' in sound, this is gonna be great.