Friday, November 20, 2009

Beatles in Mono

To be totally honest, I have not spent that much time with the newly remastered Beatles albums in MONO, until recently. When they first came in I listened to them all once through and filed them before they got damaged in any way (ah, the life of a collector). Also, I have been so enthralled with the stereo versions that I haven’t been able to get them out of my player. But now that we have another batch of the Mono box for sale I decided to really listen to them carefully. It has been an ear-opening experience. The early albums sound the way I like to remember - bright, loud little pop punches in the eye. It’s just like they are coming out of the one speaker in your car on your way to school in 1964. They really get revelatory as the years pass. Revolver and Rubber Soul are tapestries of guitar sounds - Rubber Soul lush with acoustic instruments and sculpted three part harmonies, Revolver abuzz with wiry electric guitar sounds. When we reach Sgt. Pepper, the point that The Beatles really started reaching for the stars, the Mono version is startling. The album is like a sonic tower, with the vocals teetering at the top-right in your face, and then all those baroque flourishes and layers of sound and effects are glued ornamentally to the sides like some crazy, cosmic X-mas tree. It is a completely different feel than listening to the stereo version. There are also differences in the mix itself. For instance, between “Within You Without You” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” there is a bit of Lennon audio horseplay that is either not on the stereo mix, or is buried in there so deeply I never noticed it before. Again, at the end of “Good Morning Good Morning” where the chicken miraculously becomes a guitar, there is a completely different mix that effectively neuters that little chicken. And that, ultimately is the point, these are tiny details that would be laughable to the average music fan, but to the diehard Beatles fan, this is the stuff of heaven - minutia of the smallest order. It gives one the ability to dig deep into the catalog that has inspired our love of music and come up with something new and unheard. What more could you ask for?
Paul Epstein

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