It’s the time of year for saving money!
I have to face the facts. The only reason I’m holding on to my original U.S. edition of The Who’s My Generation album is nostalgia and being a completest fanboy collector. The cover photo is great and completely different than the groovy mod-vibing UK edition, showcasing the band as more decidedly wholesome — in keeping with the Beatle-fueled, American vision for the “British Invasion” — than rough ’n tumble rockers.
But the new half-speed mastered reissue from Universal Music negate any reason for me to be playing that original album again. This new edition sounds worlds better and is a nice complement to my Classic Records Mono reissue from some years back. The Stereo edition of A Quick One is also far superior sounding to my original U.S. edition. Both albums feature period-accurate British record labels as you might have seen had you been able to purchase these albums in 1965 and 1966. Both are pressed in Germany on 180-gram black vinyl that is quiet, dark and well centered.
The official press release for these editions offer some technical insights as to how these reissues were made:
“These limited-edition black vinyl versions have been mastered by long-time Who engineer Jon Astley and cut for vinyl by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios with a half-speed mastering technique which produces a superior vinyl cut and are packaged in original sleeves with obi strips and certificates of authenticity.”
In this instance, the half speed mastering process is fairly significant to help deliver every ounce of fidelity which might be possible from these albums. You see, these recordings were released in the mid 1960s, originally designed for play on “AM” radio. I’m assuming that most of you readers all still know what “radio” is, but there may be some of you who are not aware that there are two “bands” of radio frequencies. In the ‘60s, the AM radio band was king. It was a very limited frequency response bandwidth and all broadcasts were in Mono.
Thus creating a fantastic Mono mix which would jump out of the tiny speaker of most transistor radios of the time was the priority for most artists until the later ‘60s and even into the ‘70s (when better sounding FM radio started to become the dominant format). Add to that reality the fact that producer Shel Talmy was behind the controls for the first album and the result was a tight, punchy but at times thin sounding recording when played on a more modern high fidelity sound reproduction system. Of course, this is compounded by the reality that there wasn’t a Stereo version of the album issued originally back in the day. The original U.S. version is a sort of faked stereo while this new true Stereo version is based on The Who’s own remix from 2014.
UPDATE: After this review was published, I had some nice correspondence with Abbey Road’s Miles Showell and was subsequently introduced to The Who’s longtime audio guru and producer of the band’s catalog reissues, Jon Astley. Via email, Mr. Astley shared some important details about this vinyl edition. He confirmed that this new version of My Generation was mastered using the 2014 remix created by Richard Whitaker and Bob Pridden. For those not in the know, the band wanted a proper Stereo version of the album released but elements were missing on the original three-channel multi-track tapes (thus making Shel Talmy’s prior attempts at Stereo remixes incomplete). In making the original Mono master tape back in the 1960s, the last overdubs were played live-to-tape as the final mix was made. So those final parts only exist on the final Mono master tape.
Accordingly, to create this new true Stereo mix, Pete and Roger re-recorded those missing bits of guitar, percussion, and backing vocals on to his analog 8-track tape machine alongside the 3 track lift they did from the original masters. From the official Who site for the earlier CD boxed set where this mix first appeared, we learn: “For this mix Pete used exactly the same guitars and amps as the original album and Roger used the same type of microphone.” A 96 kHz, 24-bit version of that mix was required and used for the half-speed vinyl mastering process.This overdub reconstruction was only done on the My Generation album. Apparently, the Stereo version of A Quick One was mixed some years after the original album was released in mono; the tapes used for that were found in Germany where it is suspected that remix work was originally done.
There are quite a number of variations of this album out there which goes beyond the scope of this review, but I encourage you to click here for a link to the Wiki which explores that detail.
This new half-speed master sounds terrific when you turn up the volume! You can more fully feel Keith Moon’s incendiary drums firing up the studio. There is a nice sense of depth on the handclaps on the title track which sound far back in the three dimensional (if you will) space. John Entwistle’s bass solo is positively ripping there.
And that distorted sound I always heard on my old pressing — and on the Classic Records mono reissue I have — is probably over-saturation on the master tape from Pete Townshend’s guitar amplifier (no doubt set-to eleven!). So, don’t expect this to be a clear-as-a-bell listening experience, but its sure much more distinct than the old US edition!
“The Kids Are Alright” — a fantastic chiming slice of proto-power-pop — sounds wonderful turned up loud on this new reissue. Pete Townshend’s sparkling Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar jangles and Keith Moon’s drums shine (again, original distortion included, no extra charge). The harmonies sound quite grand!
For a cleaner example, listen to “It’s Not True” and “A Legal Matter” for proof that The Who could be recorded without sending the VU meters into the red. Listen for the resonance of Keith’s kick drum at the break in the middle of the song for a healthy dose of studio presence.
The second Who album called A Quick One — retitled and slightly reconfigured as “Happy Jack” for the U.S. market — is a more inconsistent affair but no less endearing, containing a number of classics including one of my all time favorite Who songs: “So Sad About Us.” This is as perfect a slice of power pop as ever there was. The album’s title track is of course widely considered to be the first rock mini-opera, a heady experiment in 1966 which holds up surprisingly well.
A Quick One is a more high fidelity affair than the first album. It is also one of those instances where completists will want to hold on to their original U.S. pressings which has a somewhat different cover design and slight track differences. Like My Generation, this album wasn’t issued in Stereo in the UK but it was issued that way in the U.S. (again, I suspect this was a sort of faked stereo). Yeah, I know, it is confusing…
Overall, A Quick One sounds solid in this new stereo half speed mastered incarnation The mid-section harpsichord on “I Need You” jumps out of the speakers quite royally. In general the whole album sounds excellent all things considered.
If you like The Who, you’ll want to check these half-speed mastered reissues out.