Written by 7:24 am Audiophile Music

Beach Boys: Surfing in Stereo

Surf’s Up! And Beach Boys fans have a lot to Smiley Smile about, according to Mark Smotroff…



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Lost in the sauce amidst 2012’s 50th Anniversary tour and
reunion album hoopla was a reissue series of much of The Beach Boys’ catalog on
HDCD encoded CDs.  Presented in
quazi-deluxe mini LP sleeves, some feature newly minted stereo mixes — not
just remastering — of titles that had never been presented as such.

Early Beach Boys albums were originally mixed in mono, yet
their record label created/issued faux stereo versions by employing extreme
equalisation (ie. bass sounds to one speaker, treble to the other). These discs
were sold as “Duophonic” to an unsuspecting public eager for new
product in the then-emerging stereo format.

Fast forward, the advent of modern mixing on a computer has
enabled The Beach Boys to go back to the early multi-track masters — and
various submixes made along the way — and line up all the elements in order to
make true, first generation stereo mixes.
Pet
Sounds
was the first, done in the mid ’90s. If you want to read more about
this, follow this link to a forum where someone transcribed the text of my 1996
EQ Magazine cover feature on the
making of Pet Sounds in Stereo. http://goo.gl/JfSpF (you’ll need to scroll down
a bit to find the piece). 

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“Good Vibrations” (on Smiley Smile) was apparently made a bit differently employing new
technology from an Irish PhD who was able to extract individual instruments
from the mono master mix — as key individual elements had been lost over the
years — to create a new stereo mix. Its pretty cool.

I’ve generally happy with these new CDs of seminal Beach Boys
recordings. They sound pretty full and clean — they are likely of a lower
generational quality than the original mono mixes. There
is some digital edge audible, but not terribly so. They’ll sound
great in the car! And I suspect we’ll soon see the label put them out as proper
LPs or high resolution download.

Beach Boys Today fares
well and sounds much better than the old Duophonic, so much so that I am
trading in my pristine 80s/90s Japanese LP pressing.
Summer Days (and Summer Nights!) shines with nice sound stage and
punchy instruments played by The Wrecking Crew. The vocals are lush, and tracks
like “You’re So Good To Me” and mega hit “California Girls”
sound particularly awesome! The instrumental “Summer Means New Love”
shimmers with the feel of the studio coming through the speakers.

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By the time of 1967’s Smiley
Smile
— an attempt to salvage and re-record songs from the aborted SMiLE
sessions — the band had it’s own recording gear installed in Brian Wilson’s
house, so the album has a distinctive, made-in-the-living-room DIY sort of
presence about it. On the original LP mono mix, the music sounded murky; the
1990 CD issue (pairing
Smiley Smile
with 1968’s
Wild Honey) sounds
arguably cleaner than the LP.  The new
mono remaster included on these new reissues sounds quite a bit better still,
with more high end and overall presence — further reducing the murky flavor.
You can really hear the difference on instrumental tracks like “Fall Break
And Back To Winter,” with its subtle mix of odd percussion, bells, muted
harmonies, ominous deep voices and chiming bells and such.

Smiley Smile was never really issued in stereo as far as I know
— albums that were marked stereo back in the day were, again, reprocessed Duophonic
styled fake stereo.  Thus, finally
hearing the whole album in tue stereo is a real treat!  This new stereo the mix is much brighter and
— frankly — more fun to listen to!

“Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations”
— made during the SMiLE sessions — of course sound great (especially the
aforementioned new stereo mix). But its those weird and moody non SMiLE tracks
like “Little Pad” and “With Me Tonight” which open up
beautifully on
Smiley Smile in
stereo, making this CD essential.  The
trippy “Wind Chimes” is even more haunting in stereo, especially the
reverb-drenched “Whispering Bells” fade out portion at the end. And
as much as I love the original SMiLE version of “Wonderful,” there is
something special about this version done on a church organ instead of
harpsichord — especially the eeerie choruses sung by what sounds like young
children.

My only real nit on these reissues has to do with the
packaging: the two-disc gatefolds are wasted space and as only one CD was
needed (easily fitting stereo & mono mixes on a single disc). The paper
insert, reproducing album art and track listings already on the outer package,
are fairly useless. They probably could’ve charged a couple bucks less per disc
making each a single disc mini album styled package. If you have the 1990
two-fers, you already own a very good informational booklet that describes most
of what you need to know about the album — so don’t toss your old CDs just
yet!

That said, I picked these up at Best Buy for very fair $10 each
and for that price its a fair deal all things considered — it is about the
music, ultimately.

So, spruce up your collection with some early gems that benefit
greatly from the stereo presentation. Surf’s up!


Mark Smotroff is a
freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in
marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video
games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T
and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries
Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com.  He is also a musician / composer who’s songs
have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films
and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written.
www.smotroff.com

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