Written by 4:12 am Audiophile Music

Beatles in Mono: The New Benchmark Pt. III

Mark Smotroff revels in nuance and new sonic details audible in the new Beatles Mono LP reissues


This final installation in my review of The Beatles in Mono boxed set of newly remastered all-analogue, long playing vinyl records begins near the end of the set, specifically on Side Two of Disc Two in the catch-all Mono Masters three LP collection.

AR-MonoAppleSmall.jpgFor me, “Lady Madonna” is the point where this set-within-the-set really starts to shine. Even though the producers had to make a new analog master in order to create this Mono LP — the old tapes were at risk of damage so they could not be cut up or edited in any way, shape or form to make an master tape for creating the LP pressing — the sound on these recordings are wonderfully full bodied and crisp. “Lady Madonna” is a fine fine showcase for how good it these vintage recordings can sound, with bold dynamics that jump out at you. It’s all very punchy as Paul McCartney’s bass thumps and tumbles along as the saxophone solo soars overhead. Its always been a great piece but this version really shines on brightly.

This new version “Hey Jude” reveals curious distortions and sibilance which are a clearly a part of the original recording (and not the anomaly I always thought had to do with my old 45 RPM singles!). This was a detail I always remembered hearing even as a kid and which I’d assumed it was just my little old record player and the wear I’d put the thing through from heavy play. I guess that is not the case!

And its not a bad thing…

Once again, the beauty of this version of “Hey Jude” is how everything sounds pretty much like I remember when I first heard it as young kid, only now it sounds so much fuller ! There are little details I’ve never heard before. For example, there is a sense of studio ambiance on Paul McCartney’s voice at one of the quieter emotional breaks in the song. We can now more readily hear the lovely natural decay of Ringo’s clanging ride cymbal work.

AR-MonoMasters.jpgInterestingly, the fade out seems a hair longer and a smidgen louder on this version, enabling you to hear what happens at the end much more clearly: Ringo steps up his drum beats, which makes me wonder if the take might have gone on even longer and perhaps rocked out the tune into some sort of heavier jam (time for me read up on this session in Mark Lewisohn’s books!). It Is a detail I never noticed before; indeed if you listen closely its there at the end of the Mono CD version and other prior mixes, but it somehow gets lost in the noise floor of the records or simply is too low by that point to have us pay much attention to it.

I think that is pretty cool, to be able hear this music anew and have it feel “just right” yet also offer us new insights that make the recording fresh and vivid once again.

“Revolution,” the B-side to “Hey Jude,” also rocks like nobody’s business, but then it always did! Some of the purest sounding guitar/amplifier distortion on record. The Mono CD is just a shadow in comparison. No contest.

AR-WithTheBeatles.jpgThis set offers us the first true insight into the Mono mixes of the four original tunes made for the Yellow Submarine movie. In short, an EP had been planned and mixes done for that purpose in Mono but it was shelved in favor of the full stereo soundtrack LP (which had one side of George Martin’s orchestral score) as well as some other Beatle songs (such as the title track, which first appeared on Revolver in 1966). These four songs “Only A Northern Song,” “All Together Now, “Hey Bulldog and “Its All Too Much” appeared on the 2009 Mono CD box set, but these versions sound worlds away better than that incarnation, with bigger rounder bass, driving drums and more overall dynamics on the guitars and such. It’s really cool to clearly hear Ringo’s ride cymbal toward the end of “Hey Bulldog.” I’m now noticing neat textures on “It’s All Too Much” such as cool amplifier distortion and other “crunches” (if you will) probably made by George with his guitar.

Curiously, this is the first (and only) of the discs in the whole set to have a not entirely dead quiet vinyl experience – there were some surface noises cropping up at the lead-in groove but that all but disappeared as the tunes kicked in. This is certainly not a deal breaker, but I did want to bring it up for your benefit, Dear Readers.

Anyhow, I think you get the idea this is a way cool comprehensive mixed bag collection which puts all the non-LP stuff together in one place. Again, perhaps the only downside here is that, in making the all analog pressing, they had to make a new safety master tape to create the LP. So what we hear is effectively a generation down, albeit using state of the art analog processing. I do not detect additional hiss or new distortions added in the process (though technically there probably is some tiny amount, as that is the nature of analog).

That said, you’ve probably not heard B-sides like “I”m Down” ever sound quite so good!

]]>In terms of revelations, I can finally clearly make out what Paul really says about Loretta after the break in “Get Back,” (“…wearing high heel shoes and a low neck sweater, get back home, Loretta.”). I never could really understand what he was mumbling (almost sounding a bit off mic there) on all prior versions.

There is some really wonderful reverb you can feel on Lennon’s “Don’t Le Me Down” and now I can hear (what I am assuming is) McCartney’s falsetto on the outro section.

AR-HardDaysNight.jpgThe Mono version of “Across the Universe” (previously unreleased on LP, and only first issued on the Beatles in Mono CD set) sounds a tad over saturated on this mix when compared to the stereo version that was officially released on a benefit compilation album back in the ’60s (I have two copies of that original). This still sounds real good overall and is interesting because of the added detail you can hear. For example, I’m detecting what I am assuming is a simple piano part that was buried and thus less apparent on the stereo original.

This sort of discovery is half of the fun of listening to this kind of collection — The Beatles in Mono on LP its a treasure hunt!

Moving backwards toward the beginning of the box set, this new pressing of A Hard Days Night really sparkles! There are scores of little details newly apparent. On “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” I have just noticed what sounds like a little Tom Tom over dub in there that helps propel the song along! You can hear the Clave’s reverberating in the studio. The song becomes positively propulsive on this new master, buoyed by Paul’s bouncy bass, Ringo’s trademark incessant open-hi-hat-as-ride-cymbal chiming and clever handclaps (which are all but buried in the old reverb-drenched 1960s US mono versions (yes, I compared it to the U.S. versions on the Capitol Records release Something Else and the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack issued on United Artists).

Ringo’s drums are awesomely huge — Wait did I really just write “awesomely huge”??? Yes I did!– on “Any Time At All.” Now you can hear the ambient smack of the snare and feel the kick drum (which I am guessing was probably not close mic’d at this stage in their career, making this discovery all the more impressive).

Awesomely huge!

AR-ParlophoneSmall.jpgOther sonic nuance jumping out of the speakers in these Mono mixes include the twangy jangle of George’s 12-string guitar, Ringo’s jazzy ride cymbal playing on the jaunty “I’ll Cry Instead” and a tambourine on bridge of “Things We Said Today.” I am just noticing congas tucked away in “You Can’t Do That”

This version of A Hard Day’s Night is easily the best version I’ve heard and the proof is in the fine detail. Listen for the sound of Ringo’s rim shots on “If I Fell” and the lush warmth of the acoustic guitars there and on tracks like “I Should Have Known Better.” One of the ongoing more notable difference is being able to more clearly make out Paul McCartney’s supportive melodic bass lines.

Sure, these are simple recordings but they are very well recorded.

On With The Beatles, songs like “Hold Me Tight” take on a new light as you can clearly hear all the propulsive hand-clapping throughout the song — these are details I honestly don’t remember hearing as a kid, prompting me to go back and spot check earlier pressings including old Mono Capitol issues from back in the day (its there but not quite so vivid).

One very important detail you can make out much more clearly on these remasters — and something that is not often discussed because it is hard to describe (but I’ll try!!) — is a sense of expressiveness on the Beatles’ vocals. John Lennon’s raw passion is especially apparent on these early recordings; there is a certain sense of urgency and desperation which was arguably glossed over in the US editions (which added reverb and other EQ to make the music sound more “appropriate” for the US radio market back in the day).

Thus, when you hear John’s ripped-throat end-of-session vocals on “I want money, that’s what I want….” you KNOW he is not kidding! On deep album tracks like “Not A Second Time” you can feel the ache in his voice when he sings “You hurt me then, you’re back again. No. No. No. Not a second time.”

I encourage you to dig down into this sort of musical sleuthing on whichever of the new Mono Beatles reissues you decide to purchase. Whether you get the whole set or just select albums, you’ll have a whole lot of fun rediscovering this timeless music. If you are new to The Beatles, you can be rest assured that this is what this music is supposed to sound like (not remixed and re-imagined with different mixes to “modernize” it for a different listener). This is the sound your parents or grandparents heard back in the day. The only way to possibly get a more authentic listening experience of this music is to seek out mint condition 50-year-old original pressings (if you can find them) and even then, in many ways, these new LPs are a whole bunch better sounding than the originals.

All I have for this set is Love, Love, Love.

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

One of Mark Smotroff’s earliest memories at just three years old was seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan (TV) show. His first record bought with his own savings at age five was The Beatles’ She Loves You (on Swan Records). A lifelong Beatle fanatic, Mark is also 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. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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