Forward Into The Past: The Beatles Remastered
Sometimes it seems like they never left: the world momentarily stands still every time the Beatles release a new album. Did you notice that the lads have been in the media lately? You can thank “The Beatles: Rock Band” for that, as well as the release today of meticulously remastered stereo and monophonic versions of the Beatles’ albums. The group’s 12 original studio albums – plus a few newly created collections of singles – were issued on CD in 1987, but this new package has a sonic heft that benefits from two decades of technological improvements.
You can buy ‘em as a pricey box set ($260 for the stereo, $298 for the mono) or you can purchase the individual CDs (stereo only) but unless you’ve never owned a Beatles album before, it may not be worth your money. You don’t need a sophisticated stereo system to hear the difference – Paul McCartney’s bass rumbles, Ringo Starr’s drums take on a new sophistication, George Harrison’s guitar work stings and rings, and John Lennon is revealed to be one of the finest singers in rock and roll. These boys were pretty good. But you already knew that – so it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to hear that all again.
Now the mono albums are a different story – until 1969 or so, the Beatles and their producer George Martin actually made albums primarily to be mono. Stereo was still a novelty for most people at the time, and even then mainly classical music albums appeared regularly in that format. The mono mixes were the ones that the Beatles signed off on, and in some cases they are a bit different than their stereo counterparts. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” from the mono Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, becomes even more psychedelic in its chorus as Lennon’s voice swirls through trippy sound effects. “Paperback Writer,” from the Past Masters singles compilation, and some of the songs from the “White Album” have discernible differences. And the early stuff takes on new urgency and ferocity in mono – “I’m Down,” for example, almost explodes out of the speakers. (Compare the stereo and mono versions below of “She’s Leaving Home,” from Sgt. Pepper’s.)
As I said at the outset, some things never change – Beatles music has endured because it’s just so damn good. The best songs on Rubber Soul still rock, moments from Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour can still cause goosebumps, and listening to Abbey Road all the way through (especially the concluding “suite”) remains a seminal rock and roll experience. Maybe soon we can download Beatles music, but that would be a sonic step backward. If you’ve ever hummed along or tapped your foot to a Beatles song, this may be your opportunity to hear them as you never have before.