Monday, September 14, 2009

Beatlemania Remastered - Part One

You've seen and heard the fuss by now: The Beatles' catalog has been remastered and reissued! But what's the significance of this? Basically, all of The Beatles' original UK albums, plus the US Magical Mystery Tour album, were released on CD in 1987. The first four albums were released in mono and the remainder in stereo. The CD era was young then, and the sound quality on the 1987 reissues has left many Beatle collectors wanting remasters. There has also been some dissatisfaction with the sound on the two Past Masters compilations of non-LP tracks. Finally, the albums and the Past Masters comps have been remastered.

But are they worth the money, especially in this recession?

Let's consider the facts: Past Masters is now a 2-CD set. The new reissues of the individual albums all feature the stereo versions of the albums. They do not feature new remixes; the Help! and Rubber Soul albums are presented in their 1987 remixes, the others in their original mixes. So you get familiar mixes, but they're supposed to sound clearer and livelier than before. For a limited time, the individual CDs contain mini-documentaries that you can view if you have the right computer equipment and software. There is also a stereo box set and a mono box set -- the latter also includes the original stereo mixes of Help! and Rubber Soul. Confused yet?

Personally, I wasn't convinced that I had to replace all of my Beatles CDs with these new remasters. I need to spend my money more practically, anyway. But I've been a good boy with my dough lately, so I could find room in the budget for three of these remasters in particular: Please Please Me, A Hard Day's Night, and Beatles For Sale. On the 1987 reissues of these albums, the sound quality was often muffled, flat, and one-dimensional. Some tracks on those CDs had at least passable sound, but there was a lot to be unhappy with. And they were in mono. Sometimes I prefer mono to stereo, but I like to have the choice.

I will review the new CDs individually, but some general comments first. Sometimes when oldies are remastered, they actually sound worse. Recording technology in the 1960s was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is now, and there are a lot of inherent defects in the sound of recordings from that era. And let us remember that Abbey Road Studios liked to reserve their best recording equipment for easy listening and orchestral recordings; thus, The Beatles and other "beat groups" did not get to make the best-sounding recordings they could make until they were powerful enough to convince Abbey Road to give up the goods. That said, remasters often do have the desired effect of making recordings sound better than ever before, and these Beatles albums both benefit and suffer from remastering.

Since these albums are short in length, EMI and Apple Corps could have included the mono and stereo mixes of each album on each individual CD; instead, one must buy the mono box set. That's simply unfair. And the mini-documentaries are nothing to write home about. Visually, each has a montage of photographs and old film clips. Vintage concert footage is haphazardly synched to studio recordings. You hear the individual Beatles and George Martin reflect on the making of these albums, but you need to rely on your own ears to tell who's who. These docs don't provide much insight that knowledgeable Beatles fans didn't already have. In addition to the original album notes, each CD comes with new liner notes, which are informative but you still have to look elsewhere if you want to dig deep. The packaging is nice, folding out into three parts and ostensibly eco-friendly -- much more pleasing than the original reissues.

See Part Two for the individual reviews. And if you have any general comments about the new Beatles remasters, please share them -- but please be civil. Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
The best way to follow ONA: become a fan of the new Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Good post SJ. I just ordered the "A Hard Days Night" remaster. I plan to pick all of them up eventually, when I can find prices below $12.99. I do wish that they had put both the mono and stereo versions on each LP. Lord knows they have room!

    Dan Hollyfield


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.