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The Friday Morning Listen: The Beatles – Rubber Soul (Mono Remaster)

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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.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Chris Brown

    I appreciate your excitement. I too was lucky enough to secure a Beatles in Mono box set. Problem is, I haven’t been able to open it yet.

    I’m fairly fluent in ‘Rubber Soul’. I have the 1987 CD release, needle-drops from the MFSL stereo / UK Mono box, and a post-2000 reissue LP. Then there’s the US version of Rubber Soul, which is found in both mono and stereo on “The Beatles Capitol Records Vol. 2″. And yes, I have a copy of both the incorrect mixes (stereo to mono fold-downs), and accurate mixes (original ’65 mono and stereo). Throw into the mix that my ’87 CD might be rarer than I thought. Turns out the original ’65 mixes – not Martin’s remixing – were accidentally sent to a pressing plant here in Canada. I saw mention of it on eBay. I’m anxious to dig out this old copy to see just what I’ve been listening to.

  • Josh Hathaway

    I might have to get one of these mono boxes one of these days myself.

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

    I’m also equally excited to hear King Crimson’s In The Court in mono next month when their ridiculous 5-CD/1-DVD box comes out. After hearing the revelation that is the Beatles in mono, I’m pretty intrigued to see what happens to this album – and unfortunately the only way to get it in mono is in the 6-disc box. It’s sure to be a beautiful set, however.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    I have the mono box on loan from a friend who doesn’t have time to lissen to it right now – yes, it’s everything it’s cracked up to be – MMT is particularly better in mono.

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

    Chris, you have to find a very specific, VERY rare version of Rubber Soul (and Help! too) pressed by Disque Americ, which will be noted in the inner band of the disc where you see numbers and such, like this.

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

    That’s funny, JC, I was commenting to Mark the other day that MMT is the only mono that I preferred in stereo.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “That some people have worried about this just points out the built-in irony of the current state of our entertainment technology.”

    I agree… I wonder if these same people are concerned about “stereo” in a live setting. I mean Guitars(Bass,Lead) are run through mono cabs. Drums don’t create a stereo sound without the mics going to a P.A. I’ve never heard anyone complain about mono when my band jams in the guitarist’s basement?!

    Personally, I think it always comes down to ignorance. AND the re-mastering process is way overrated,especially those MFSL CDs…

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Looking forward to hearing these — especially Rubber Soul. A note to Tom here – I too am looking forward to the remixed King Crimson discs. I understand that Steven Wilson is heavily involved in that project too.

    -Glen

  • Kit O’Toole

    I did get the mono box and am looking forward to listening to every one of the albums. As I mentioned in my Beatles Remastered articles, George Martin and the Beatles were directly involved with mono mixes, whereas Martin alone did the stereo mixes; after all, it wasn’t until 1967 that stereo was taken seriously.

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

    MFSL discs are, by and large, very good. There are some letdowns but they’re pretty minimal (Allmans At Fillmore is only very slightly better than the old original double Polydor, for example.) Beck’s Sea Change is easily one of the best I’ve ever heard – that great album sounded like a flat turd originally and now it’s beautiful and very dynamic. FNM’s Angel Dust is also excellent, but more subtle. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend spending huge money on them, but any that are at or near retail price are easily worth the investment. (Like the Police’s Syncronicity – the original CD is so, soo good sounding, but MFSL’s version betters it by quite a bit somehow. And it can be found relatively cheap still.)

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

    Glen, the word is that after SW is done with the Crimson hi-rez/surround catalog, next on his project list is doing the same for RUSH!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    While I agree that the engineers involved in the re-mastering process are probably more talented than the original producers, it still pretty much equates to affixing a band aid to make up for a poorly captured environment. Kinda like an equalizer on a stereo.

    Personally, I feel it always goes back to how the original was recorded. That is the most important aspect…

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    SW is the absolute right guy to do Rush. In fact, they oughtta give Gavin a shot at Neil Peart’s drum parts while they’re at it….

    -Glen

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    the mfsl discs are definitely hit or miss. the one that i thought was really different was Moving Pictures, though honestly, it’s not better than the original vinyl release.

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

    I’ve noticed that older albums that you can find the very, very early CD releases of tend to sound as good as what MFSL releases (Quadrophenia is virtually indistinguishable between the original MCA and MFSL, for example.) It’s when the labels started messing with the formula – mastering specifically for CD – that you see a greater ROI on the MFSL discs (hence why newer releases sound so much better from MFSL. Good rule of thumb: if it came out in the past 20 years, MFSL’s version is going to sound better. Before that is a crapshoot. Strange flip-flopping of the rule: Def Leppard’s Hysteria – hardly any difference. Pyromania? Awesome!)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Still, these remasters are only really a color coating. They obviously incorporate a “wow” factor but they really can’t make something sound better. I’m not trying to be argumentative, it just isn’t possible to make an original sound more accurate. That task has to be done during the “takes” if the engineer has that ability & proper equipment. In a way it is like converting Mp3 to Wave. Sure, the file gets expanded but there was nothing extra to begin with so you’re wasting space.

    With that said, I don’t hate the MFSL CDs. I just think they are another engineer’s interpretation. Honestly,Mark, I too would have a hard time believing anyone could do anymore justice to a RUSH recording that they couldn’t do the first time around.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    , it just isn’t possible to make an original sound more accurate

    true, but most people aren’t familiar with the mono versions of the stuff, which is to my ears head&shoulders above the faux stereo. it’s a lot closer to what Martin & The Beatles intended. i guess that’s the “wow” factor.

  • http://www.thelintscreen.com Guzelvis

    Great review. See 8 hidden gems on the remastered set in a funny article.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    I’m listening to Rubber Soul (mono) right now – I always thought this one was a little light – not so rcckin’. But in the mono mix, to my ears anyways, they sound like a rock band, just barely containing their energies. Think for Youself, The Word and few others ae quite

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    …..quite nice.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I definitely agree that most people(nowadays) have never experienced those “mono” versions and,unfortunately, it is probably because of their ignorance about the differences for each format. Most people think Mono is inferior but that is not necessarily true. Again, it all depends on the equipment being used and I’m pretty sure The Beatles had some sweet stuff for their time.

  • http://mizbviewsfromthetower.blogspot.com Jeanne Browne

    I’m not a sound maven, so I can’t appreciate or comment on the mixes you’re all discussing. I just remember buying the album when it first came out and lying on my bed listening to it over and over. It was my favorite Beatles album until The White Album, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart (and audio memory) for Rubber Soul. And I’m not sure if I have it in stereo or mono; all my records are in boxes at the moment. When I finally unpack them, I’ll have to take a look. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to it, because the cheap turntable that’s part of my old (circa 1998), cheap stereo makes everything sound like it was mixed in a soup can. I bought a Lloyd’s at Sam Goody’s in 1971 – my very first stereo system – and it made me feel as if a whole new world had opened up. I wish I still had that system now…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Jeanne,

    I can totally appreciate the pure enjoyment aspect of listening to music because it has happened to me as well. Where you stumble upon that amazing band’s material for the first time and for a brief moment it doesn’t matter if it’s on the radio,45,etc. because it captures you.

    Unfortunately, for me, after that I want to hear it in the best possible setting that I can afford. You cannot beat a comfortable home setting with some pristine vinyl and a high grade system(Goldmund,Scheu,Martin Logan,etc)
    I don’t care what anyone says…It’s worth the investment.