The Beatles remasters: will they be Good Day Sunshine or Hello, Goodbye?
Ah, it’s another re-mastering blog. Is that “God, no!” I hear you say, coupled with the sounds of millions of mouse buttons being clicked rapidly away?
Well relax, chaps – the targets for tonight are those nutty, noisy Beatles, who are set to make a resurgence in the hi-fi world with the release of their back catalogue in both mono and stereo on September 9 this year. Or 09/09/09 if you want to look at it in an appalling use of song titles kind of way.
In fact you can already pre-order it from the likes of Amazon. If you have £170 going spare, that is...
It’s been 22 years since we last had a Beatles re-master.Yes, that’s 22 years.
For that time too, we’ve only had the first four albums (Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale) in mono, because that’s how they were supposed to sound when released. Apparently.
Stereo mixes became overnight a thing of the past, and millions of Beatle fans have probably worn out their vinyl stereo copies of the albums in order to listen to the 56 or so tracks that were mono only from 1987 onwards*
Conversely don’t forget, the remaining albums were remastered only in stereo, meaning the different mono mixes, substantially diffrerent in some cases, were shelved. Revolver especially has a very different mix when the two formats are compared side by side.
It was a spectacularly ill-advised decision to inflict this kind of punishment on a doting public: OK, early 1960s stereo mixes are usually interesting to say the least, with instruments and vocals being thrown over the stereo spectrum willy-nilly, but at least they existed, unlike a great deal of the earlier output from other 60s artists.
Examples? The ‘Stones and Kinks, with true stereo not becoming standard in the case of the former until 1966's Aftermath and the Kinks later then that, Decca and Pye respectively being dedicated to monaural sound for the ‘pop’ format. And that pretty much subsisted until the creation of the Deram and Dawn offshoot labels respectively.
To add insult to injury, every other artist imaginable has pretty much received a comprehensive remaster and re-package to today’s sonic standards. You can go into HMV and pick up virtually the entire back-catalogue of any artist you care to name in super-duper audiophile quality, but The Beatles? Sorry chum, you’re out of luck.
There have been the occasional dabbles into the market, though – 1996's Anthology tie-in releases were most welcome, as was Let It be Naked, Live At the BBC and Love. Most interesting of all was the unleashing of the first four US albums on CD with – check this out – both mono and stereo mixes,most of which were among the missing 56 tracks.
All good stuff, but the US releases are substantially different from the UK ones, being remixed at the time for a more US friendly sound, resulting in reversed stereo, speeded up songs, alternative versions and horrible use of echo. So, no dice then, although it was all very interesting.
Thing is, has EMI left it just too late? I was talking with a fairly high-ranking music industry figure at a launch recently, and the subject of the Beatles back-catalogue came up. He pointed out, with some asperity I might add, that in this wonderful world of digital, the reissuing of the albums has lost its impact.
EMI is, no doubt, assuming that the bulk of consumers will merrily throw away their old 1987 mastered copies of the albums and buy the new masters in droves. I think they’re wrong.
People are far more likely to pick and choose what they want, and just ditch the surplus. In this digital chop and change age, the Beatles remasters are, realistically, just likely to be a briefly heralded drop in the water, before they sink into a world of iTunes, sampling by indifferent artists, and general apathy.
It’s a real shame: this could have been so big. Even a couple of years ago it would have been massive, and I’d much rather have had those missing 56 tracks then all my Hollies remasters**, or even Dusty InMemphis***.
To be honest, I’m feeling pretty apathetic, although I’m curious to see just how good Revolver turns out to be. There are bonuses here, mind you; the two important PastMasters compilations are getting the same treatment, although once again The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl seems to have slipped under the radar.
But realistically, you might say, EMI has missed what could have been a very lucrative boat indeed.
*Some tracks are only available in mono. First single Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You is mono only, as are She Loves You, I’ll Get You, the two German language songs and You Know My Name (Look Up the Number). True stereo mixes of Yes It Is and Rain were thought to be missing until 1988, when they were included on the Past Masters sets. But are they really the true mixes? Who knows?...
**This is a big step
***This is an even bigger one