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Here you will find discussions of Classic Albums that have been selected by Shane, Henry (professorchaos) and Bob (johnniegold), along with some guest reviewers now and again. We will attempt to bring you a new selection on a regular basis which will be discussed in this segment. Feel free to review the previously chosen selections or make a suggestion of an album or topic that you would like to see discussed here. Take a look around and enjoy. :smile:

THE RECORD SHOP'S CURRENT SELECTION: Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy


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As I would imagine most people are aware of by now, the entire Beatles catalog has been remastered for CD, and separate editions featuring original stereo and mono mixes have been issued. There has been a fair amount of discussion about the remasters in the Sgt. Pepper sticky thread, much of it by yours truly. However, since acquiring both sets of remasters (with the exception of the stereo Yellow Submarine album, which doesn't warrant its price tag, imo), I have been doing some careful comparisons between the two, as well as the original CDs from 1987, and taking some substantial notes. Since the Sgt. Pepper thread is about, duh, Sgt. Pepper, I've decided to post my listening notes in its own thread. Feel free to add to the discussion.

I'm posting my notes in installments, as I write them, from first album to last. First up, the first four albums. More to follow....

Please Please Me
Versions compared: ’87 CD (mono), ’09 mono CD, ’09 stereo CD

The ’09 mono disc sounds a lot better than the ’87 mono disc. The volume isn’t as loud on the ’09 disc (indicating a degree of limiting on the ’87 disc, perhaps?), but the high and low frequencies stand out better, without the overly prominent midrange featured on the ’87 CD, which sounded overblown and distorted at times. The difference between the two can be dramatic on some tracks (e.g., the title track). The stereo remaster sounds great in terms of clarity and frequency response, but the extreme channel separation is annoying coming on the heels of the mono discs’ centered sound image. I wasn’t as bothered by the separation when listening to the stereo disc on its own, but following the mono, the stereo mix really reveals the limitations of its approach.

Winner: ’09 mono.

With The Beatles
Versions compared: ’87 CD (mono), ’09 mono CD, ’09 stereo CD

The ’09 mono disc is another clear winner over the ’87 CD. In this case, bass response is definitely fuller on the mono disc, but the sound is a little less refined than on Please Please Me. The stereo sound borders on being muddy at times, and doesn’t hold an advantage when it comes to revealing more details, either instrumental or textural. One notable exception to this tendency is “Money,” which really shines in stereo.

Winner: ’09 mono, except for “Money,” where stereo has the clear edge.

A Hard Day’s Night
Versions compared: ’87 CD (mono), ’09 mono CD, ’09 stereo CD

No big surprise that the remastered mono CD bests the ’87 CD, for the same basic reasons as in the first two albums. The remastered mono is better balanced in terms of frequency response, is “smoother” and more refined sounding, and is less distorted in the midrange.

For the first time, the stereo mix has a chance of rivaling the mono mix, although which one is “better” is subjective and a matter of personal preference. Unlike the first two albums, the stereo mix of A Hard Day’s Night has centered vocals and generally well placed instruments in the stereo field – although the drums are still oddly relegated to the left channel on most songs. Some of the tracks really shine in stereo: “I Should Have Known Better,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “And I Love Her,” “Things We Said Today.” Others are clearly better in mono: the title track, “Tell Me Why,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I’ll Cry Instead.” There are also some curious differences between the mixes on some songs; for instance, the stereo mix of “If I Fell” has (badly) obvious double-tracking on Lennon’s intro vocals, plus McCartney botches the backing vocal on the second “in vain” refrain. (Otherwise, the song sounds great in stereo.) There is also a hint of wow (tape speed variation) in the right-channel guitar of “I’ll be Back.”

On the whole, the mono wins out, if for no other reason than none of the tracks sound bad on the mono disc, even if some of them sound better in stereo. Conversely, some of the tracks just don’t sound good in stereo, making the mono disc more consistently listenable. Also, the mono disc sounds more “authentic,” without some of the idiosyncrasies of the stereo mix that at times almost make the latter sound like a trial run that ultimately was left in the vaults.

Winner: ’09 mono CD, but the stereo is a nice version to have all the same.

Beatles For Sale
Versions compared: ’87 CD (mono), ’09 mono CD, ’09 stereo CD

At this point it almost doesn’t bear mentioning that the remastered mono disc beats the ’87 disc. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy point to make regarding this album, because among the first four discs, Beatles For Sale always fared the worst in its ’87 mastering, sounding muddy and cluttered, lending to the belief that the mix itself was subpar. Not so. All the comments that applied to the first three albums on this point apply here as well, but even more so. At last, Beatles For Sale in mono sounds good on CD.

Having said that, the stereo Beatles For Sale may well be the only release among the first four discs that trumps its mono counterpart. The approach to stereo is the same as in A Hard Day’s Night – centered vocals, realistically placed instruments, except for the drums, which remain to the left (but not egregiously so). While the mono mix is no slouch (especially in the remastered form), the details, textures, bass response and instrument clarity are just plain better in the stereo mix. Unlike the mixed bag of the stereo A Hard Day’s Night, these characteristics apply across the board on the stereo Beatles For Sale. Most revelatory moment: “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party.”

Winner: ’09 stereo CD, with the ’09 mono CD coming in a very good second.

Next up: the 1965 albums, featuring mono, original stereo and 1986 digital stereo remixes.

On to 1965....

Versions compared: ’09 mono CD (also includes original ’65 stereo mix), ’87 stereo CD (digital stereo Martin remix), ’09 stereo CD (digital stereo Martin remix)

So much for straightforward comparisons. Where to begin? First of all, the stereo remaster (with the digital remix George Martin prepared in 1986 for the initial release of the album on CD) offers an improvement over the ’87 disc. Granted, because of the generally high sound quality of Martin’s mix, the ’87 disc was never in much need of assistance. Nevertheless, the ’09 remastering features brighter details, more pronounced bass, and generally punchier sonic impact. (There were a few places where I felt the bass might actually be a little too pronounced on the remaster, such as on “Ticket to Ride,” which seems to be a little less transparent sounding than on the ’87 disc.) The limiting and compression seems to have been used a little more liberally here than on the first four discs, as the loudness on the remastered disc is substantially increased, but not to the point of detrimentally affecting the overall sound. On the contrary, the Abbey Road engineers seem to have used a fair amount of restraint in applying limiting to the catalog as a whole, using it the way a fine chef uses spices – just enough for accent, without overwhelming the main dish. (The mono box features no limiting, compression or noise reduction. Its discs are made from true audiophile masters.)

So how do the mono and ’65 stereo mixes compare? In sonic terms, neither of the mixes has the clarity and punch of either mix of the first four albums. In listening to them, I get some idea of why Martin wanted to do a remix. Generally, each of them has a rather cluttered, slightly dull sound. Having said that, neither mix sounds dreadful, but they are a bit of a comedown from the sonic heights of Beatles For Sale. Comparing either of the original mixes to the later remix is a bit unfair, because Martin’s was a digital remix from the original multitrack tapes; his efforts, perforce, are sonically superior, generally speaking. Conversely, although he evidently tried to stay faithful to the spirit of the original stereo mix, one nevertheless gets a feeling of an “invisible hand” at work in the remix, and as such, despite its sonic improvements, it doesn’t have quite the organic feel of either of the original mixes, especially the mono.

One point worth mentioning: the mono title track is dramatically different from either the ’65 or ’86 stereo mixes, as it features a different lead vocal track, as well as different audio effects (such as the isolated descending guitar arpeggio after the chorus, leading back into the verse). On the mono vocal, Lennon sounds more distressed, emotionally weary, and truly in need of help. On the vocal used in the stereo mix (which was also used in the ’86 mix), he sounds more chipper.

Winner: tough call. The ’09 stereo CD (with the Martin remix) wins in terms of sound, but the mono disc wins for feeling more organic, like what The Beatles intended. For what it’s worth, Martin himself felt the mono master should have been used for the original CD release back in the ’80s. He only asked for a remix because Apple wanted to use the ’65 stereo mix, which he thought was subpar. (I actually don’t think it’s that bad, but I do prefer the mono.)

Rubber Soul
Versions compared: ’09 mono CD (also includes original ’65 stereo mix), ’87 stereo CD (digital stereo Martin remix), ’09 stereo CD (digital stereo Martin remix)

The same factors that complicate comparisons of Help! also complicate comparisons of Rubber Soul, since George Martin also made a digital remix of the album in 1986 in preparation for its initial release on CD. Many of the same notes from my comparisons of Help! apply this time around, as well. The simple part is comparing the ’87 CD to the stereo remaster disc, which both feature Martin’s remix. The ’87 CD already sounded good, thanks to the high quality of Martin’s digital transfer of the multitrack tapes. The remastered disc offers moderate improvements over the earlier version, mainly in the form of increased base response, increased presence, and generally more “punchiness.” It is worth noting, though, that Martin retained the hard-panned stereo approach of the original analog stereo mix, although he softened some of the extreme spacial placements. Thus, while Martin’s remix is more modern sounding than the original stereo mix, it does not sound like truly modern stereo.

The 1965 stereo mix compares more favorably to Martin’s remix than the ’65 stereo mix of Help! compared to its modern counterpart. Indeed, in some places, it is difficult to tell the two Rubber Soul mixes apart. All the same, the sound isn’t quite as polished as the digital version, nor is the bass as pronounced. It is also clear that Martin smoothed out some of the earlier mix’s rough edges, such as the obviously faded out piano fills in “Drive My Car” (also present in the mono mix), or the oddly phased vocals in “The Word.” Generally, Martin’s approach is successful, while simultaneously less heavy handed than in Help!, making the remix my preferred version of the two stereo mixes.

But what about the mono version? While not as polished sounding as the Martin remix (or the remastered mono mixes of the first four albums), it nevertheless compares more favorably than the mono Help! does to that Martin remix. The sound is generally warm and balanced, and nicely present. Standout tracks (sonically speaking) are “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl” and “I’m Looking Through You.” There are a few areas where the recording betrays its age: “You Won’t See Me” and “Think For Yourself” sound a little cluttered; there is a fair amount of distortion on the vocals at the opening of “Michelle.” At the very least, the panning of vocals and instruments isn’t an issue. But where this version excels is in having an indefinable feeling of rightness about it. This goes beyond knowing it’s the version The Beatles intended us to hear. Maybe it’s the centered warmth of the sound, or the lack of panning and reverb used in the stereo versions. Maybe it’s hearing the coughs during the first refrain of “Norwegian Wood,” or the background rustling in the opening of “Michelle.” Maybe it’s the more pronounced acoustic guitar during the “pain would lead to pleasure” verse of “Girl,” or the slightly rougher 12-string lead-in and tighter rhythms in “If I Needed Someone.” Whatever it is, this most muted and acoustic of Beatles albums sounds its most natural and grounded in the mono version. In comparison, the Martin remix sounds just a touch sterile.

Winner: ’09 mono CD, although the ’09 stereo CD with the Marin remix generally beats it sonically, and is perfectly enjoyable in its own right.

Addendum: just for the heck of it, I listened to the two remixed Rubber Soul tracks on Yellow Submarine Songtrack immediately following listening to them in mono. Rather than being amazed at how much better they sounded, they actually struck me as almost vulgar in comparison. What was tastefully contained and constrained in the mono mix seemed blown out of proportion in the more modern remix. Strange how perspectives change, as when I first heard the YS remixes, I thought them to be stellar.

Next up: The Beatles rediscover electricity, then start tripping. 1966 and 1967 are in the pipeline.

On with the show.

Versions compared: ’87 CD (stereo), ’09 mono CD, ’09 stereo CD

The sonic improvements of the stereo remaster over the ’87 disc are pretty consistent with what has come before. Bass response is more pronounced; there is more presence, more depth. Judicious use of limiting give the music a little more “push.” All songs benefit from this, but some more than others: the peak distortion on Lennon’s top notes that cause the music the lower in the background of “She Said She Said” has been corrected; “Doctor Robert” jumps out of the speakers in a way it simply did not on the earlier disc; the bass and drums in “Tomorrow Never Knows” are clearer, making it sound a little less disembodied, but more musically compelling.

Even in 1966, the engineers still mixed stereo with the odd panned vocals and instruments, although in the slightly more surreal setting of Revolver’s forward-looking production, the oddities seem less detrimental. Which leads me to the mono mix. The centered sound definitely gives certain tracks that suffered from the stereo split more muscle; “Taxman” is a perfect example of this. (It also makes it clear that George Martin said, “I gotta have more cowbell!” to The Beatles long before Bruce Dickinson ever said it to Blue Oyster Cult.) “Eleanor Rigby” is clearly superior in mono. Generally the album seems to flow better in mono. Songs seem more like songs and less like experiments in production techniques. The one drawback is that, even though the album has a nice warmth and weight, it lacks some of the brightness and full frequency response of the stereo version. Thus, preference between the two boils down to a choice between centered and grounded versus brighter and more psychedelic. Both choices are equally valid. In general, however, my own preference is toward the mono, simply because I think it serves the songs better.

Winner: ’09 mono CD, but virtually in a dead heat with the ’09 stereo CD

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band
Versions compared: ’87 CD (stereo), ’09 stereo CD, ’09 mono CD

OK, let’s get the pleasantries out of the way: the ’09 stereo CD beats the pants off the ’87 CD, for all the reasons I’ve listed regarding previous albums. In the case of Sgt. Pepper, it’s not even funny. This remastered stereo version sounds great.

Now on to the meat of the matter. How do stereo and mono compare? The legendary reverence with which the album is held by the public is succeeded only by the legendary reverence with which the mono version is held by the faithful. The differences are many, and there is no question that the mono is the definitive version. But historical significance aside, how do the versions really compare? The simplest way I can put it is that it’s sort of the reverse of listening to Beatles For Sale. In other words, as good as the stereo version is, the mono is that much better. Listening to the small details doesn’t do it; this album is a gestalt experience. Everything adds up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It got to a point where I had to stop going back and forth between the stereo and mono and just listen to the mono; it’s that commanding. (I had the same experience with the mono Revolver.) Sonically, the stereo version has the edge, with better frequency response and instrumental detail, as well as greater punch in the bass. For all practical purposes, though, the mono Sgt. Pepper sounds great – very warm and centered, like most of the mono Beatles mixes, and nicely balanced and detailed.

Realistically speaking, both mixes serve the music very well, and I don’t think anyone can really go wrong with either version. But the mono version does hold a special place among The Beatles’ most exalted recordings.

Winner: ’09 mono CD, with the ’09 stereo CD a close second.

Magical Mystery Tour
Versions compared: ’87 CD (stereo), ’09 stereo CD, ’09 mono CD

I won’t even waste time discussing the ’87 CD. The ’09 stereo CD is just plain better, significantly so.

With Revolver, we started seeing a trend where stereo started to exceed mono in terms of greater immersion in the sound field of the music, as well as better frequency response and instrumental clarity, even if the mono mixes held their own against them. With Magical Mystery Tour, we see the trend continue, but at this point, the mono mixes are starting to come up short. It’s not that they’re bad; far from it. As always, they are high quality, with warmth and a centered solidity. It’s just that they don’t really offer anything that the stereo mixes don’t also offer, and then some. That is no doubt aided by the overly psychedelic nature of the music, with its swirling, Technicolor textures, which just asks for the greater depth of stereo. The same could be said about Sgt. Pepper, except that the mono mix was so ingenious it beat out the stereo for sheer substance. Here, the substance seems to have shifted to the stereos. Ironically, this even applies to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” which were released prior to Sgt. Pepper. “Hello Goodbye” actually sounds distinctly worse in mono, being much thicker and muted sounding than the stereo version. One advantage to mono is on “I Am the Walrus,” since the stereo mix still retains the fake stereo application that comes in with the radio overdubs; mono avoids this entirely, for obvious reasons. Also, the mono mix of “Baby You’re a Rich Man” is a more trippy experience, even though it excels in stereo in sonic terms.

Winner: ’09 stereo CD, with honorable mention going to the ’09 mono CD

Next up: The Beatles go white, then yellow. The White Album and Yellow Submarine are next.

In this latest intalment of War and Peace...

The Beatles (The White Album)
Versions compared: ’87 CD (stereo), ’09 stereo CD, ’09 mono CD

So far, I haven’t commented at all on the music contained on these discs, because what is there to say? It’s The Beatles. But I was reading the historical notes contained in this album, and I was struck to see that the White Album was released exactly five years to the day after With The Beatles. That sort of progression is remarkable even if it happened over the course of two decades. In five years, it is astounding. In that time, The Beatles went from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” and they took everybody with them. Was it the times? The drugs? The chemistry between the band mates? Hard to say, but we don’t see growth like that today. Hell, these days, it takes U2 nearly five years just to release one album.

The stereo remaster beats the ’87 CD once again. Personally, I’ve always felt the White Album was one of The Beatles’ less sonically impressive efforts. The songs have always sounded very dense and close, lacking clarity and atmosphere. Because this new disc features a remaster, not a remix, the same denseness and closeness is here, but the improvements are nevertheless substantial, with greater depth of imaging, greater clarity of the higher end, and of course improved bass. Some technical corrections are also obvious – the pop of the “p” of the first “Dear Prudence” verse has been eliminated, in addition to some low-frequency rumble near the beginning of that song. Similarly, some vocal pops at the beginning of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” have been corrected. (There are no doubt others, but those are the ones that stood out to me.) Personally, I find these to be improvements, although purists may carp.

The White Album marked the first time The Beatles paid as much attention to stereo mixing as to mono. (It would also be the last complete Beatles album that received a dedicated mono mix.) As such, neither mix has a claim to being definitive. Despite that, the differences between the two mixes are as many and as varied as the two Sgt. Pepper mixes. To note just a few: “Wild Honey Pie” is actually weirder in mono than in stereo – and that’s saying something. The premature fade-up on the vocal prior to the first “I’m going down” on “Happiness is a Warm Gun” – which was a mistake in the stereo mix – is absent in the mono mix. “Don’t Pass Me By” sounds absurdly sped up in mono. “Yer Blues” is even grittier and more suicidal in mono, if that’s possible. “Savoy Truffle” actually rocks in mono, rather than just sounding like an odd sort of jive in stereo.

But honors for most insanely different track in all of Beatledom must go to “Helter Skelter.” Paul wrote "Helter Skelter" as an answer to all those who said The Beatles couldn’t make hard rock like a number of other bands at the time. The stereo version goes a good a distance toward proving The Beatles could still shred, but the mono version positively melts the speaker cones. The backing vocals sound truly anguished, and the guitar arpeggios between “Helter Skelters” in the refrain are much more up front. Whereas the stereo track rocked, the mono track sounds truly demented. The one downside – and it’s a big one – is that the false fade of the stereo version is a real fade in the mono, ending the song at that point. Thus, Ringo’s famous declaration that he has blisters on his fingers only exists in stereo.

The mono mix of the White Album doesn’t do much to help the thick textures of the stereo mix, but it doesn’t worsen them, either. At times, the mono sound is less vibrant than the stereo; at other times, it seems more “grounded” and natural. It sounds odd, but there is something comforting about the warm, centered sound of the mono; it isn’t as “in your face” as the stereo.

Winner: I know it’s a copout, but basically it’s a tie. If I had to choose, I would probably opt for stereo, but not before I ripped a copy of the mono Helter Skelter.

Yellow Submarine
Versions compared: ’87 CD, ’09 Mono Masters CD (EP songs only), ’99 Yellow Sumbarine Songtrack

The Yellow Submarine album was never mixed for mono; all mono releases of that album are from fold-downs of the stereo mixes. Thus, there is no mono Yellow Submarine album in the mono set.

I didn’t purchase the remastered stereo Yellow Submarine CD. In my opinion, the album never really deserved to be an album in the first place. It only features four songs that weren’t available prior to the album’s release, and even those weren’t recorded specifically for the film. I already have the stereo CD from ’87, and that was hardly worth it. The Yellow Submarine Songtrack from 1999 featured dramatically reimagined digital stereo remixes of those four songs, which are vastly superior to the older stereo mixes anyway. At least, that’s my opinion based on comparing the YSS remixes to my older stereo CD. I don’t doubt the remastered CD of the original album improves the situation, although there’s only so much they can do with “Only a Northern Song,” which was never mixed for true stereo during The Beatles’ time. The version on the album is a fake stereo “split” of the original mono mix, dividing the high and low frequencies between the two channels. That leaves only three “original” songs on the album mixed for true stereo, which isn’t worth the price of entry, in my opinion.

A better idea was releasing those four songs on an EP – an idea that was considered, then scrapped, but not before dedicated mono mixes were made of those songs. These are featured on the Mono Masters set in the mono box. The mono mix of “Only a Northern Song” is infinitely superior to the fake stereo version on the album. Honors are pretty evenly divided between the mono and original stereo “All Together Now,” making me think the remastered original stereo might actually surpass the mono. “Hey Bulldog” in mono corrects the hard panning that badly enervated the stereo mix. “It’s All Too Much” similarly benefits from the mono mix, and is surprisingly clearer than the stereo.

Winner: ’09 Mono Masters CD, although the digital stereo remixes of the four songs on Yellow Submarine Songtrack are pretty amazing, and well worth seeking out.

Next up: And in the end, they let it be. The last two albums are coming up.

In the home stretch (almost)...

Abbey Road
Versions compared: ’87 CD (stereo), ’09 CD (stereo)

Abbey Road was only ever mixed for stereo; any mono versions of the LP were made from fold-downs of the stereo mix, and as such, no mono version of the album appears in the mono box. This makes comparisons of the CDs pretty basic: which sounds better, the older CD or the newer one? I’ll give you one guess.

The remastered disc has the same improved characteristics that mark all the others: greater depth, presence, and noticeably improved bass response with greater clarity of the high frequencies. Some of the improvements do not reveal themselves in as immediate or dramatic a fashion as on some of the other discs, mainly because the ’87 CD wasn’t all that bad to begin with. On closer listen, though, one can discern the improvements. In “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” for instance, the band sounds like it’s doing a Latin style jam right in your living room. The guitar throwdown at the end of the song is still a wall of sound, but it sounds a bit more massive now, instead of merely over-layered. “Here Comes the Sun” is even more joyous sounding. But it is the medleys of the second half (“side two”) that really bring home the bacon. I have to admit, in doing the comparisons, they were pretty rocking even on the older CD, but they are even bigger and bolder on the remaster. Good stuff, and a fitting treatment of The Beatles’ swan song.

Let it Be
Versions compared: ’87 CD (stereo), ’09 CD (stereo)

The Let it Be album was never mixed for mono; any mono versions of the LP were made from fold-downs of the stereo mix. Some singles of songs featured on the album were given dedicated mono mixes, which are included on the Mono Masters set in the mono box. Note: both the mono and stereo mixes of the singles are not merely excerpts from the Let it Be album, but were unique mixes made without the inovolvement of Phil Spector.

The remastered disc improves somewhat on the ’87 CD, but not as much as with the other releases. On some tracks, it’s difficult to hear much of a difference at all, except that they are a touch louder. On other tracks, the difference is more apparent, especially on the title track; the guitar solo on the remastered disc is blistering, and the percussion on the verse following the solo is more present than before. “I’ve Got a Feeling” has more top end. “For You Blue” sees improvement similar to the earlier discs, as does “Get Back.”

Winner: the ’09 CD, as it never sounds any worse than the older CD, and sounds better in a number of places. For those who already have the ’87 CD, you may well find this the least necessary disc to replace in the entire catalog, aside from Yellow Submarine. (This goes double if, like me, you prefer the remixed Let it Be... Naked, in which case you've already got a version of the album that this one rarely equals sonically.) It might be worth the upgrade, though, if only to have the better sounding title track, which is not bettered on Naked, in my opinion, and which really does sound better on the remastered disc. Besides, those chatter excerpts really do add a certain something - and admit it, wouldn't you miss "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae"?

Up next: Holding hands, working it out, writing paperbacks, and making sad songs better. The all important Past Masters rounds out the series.

One more for the road...

Past Masters/Mono Masters
Versions compared: ’87 CDs (vols. 1 & 2, mono/stereo), ’09 stereo CDs, ’09 mono CDs

The Past Masters collection, and the equivalent Mono Masters, is as essential as any album in The Beatles’ catalog, as it assembles all of the non-album singles, b-sides, and EP tracks in one convenient, two-CD compendium. (The '87 version was sold as two separate CDs, called Volume 1 and Volume 2; smartly, EMI has combined them into a single set for the new issues.) Early gems such as “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” middle-year classics like “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer,” and later juggernauts like “Hey Jude” and “Revolution,” are all collected here. If you have the eleven original UK Beatles albums, Magical Mystery Tour (originally only an album in the U.S.), the Yellow Submarine album, and this collection, you have every song The Beatles released while they were together as a band.

Because the collection spans the band’s entire career, sound quality necessarily varies from song to song, and from mix to mix. Most of The Beatles’ singles can be chronologically correlated to a given album, meaning most of the comments I’ve offered about a given album apply to that album’s contemporaneous singles as well. (Hint: that’s the thumbnail capsule of this review, in case you want to stop here.) Still, there are some points of particular interest worth noting. The early tracks benefit especially from the remastering. For whatever reason, “From Me To You” and “She Loves You” (as well as their b-sides) sounded especially dreadful on the ’87 disc – thin and shrill, much worse than either the ’87 Please Please Me or With the Beatles CDs. Some of the shrillness remains, especially on “From Me To You,” but generally matters are improved significantly on the remasters. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sounds much fuller on the stereo remaster than it did on the ’87 disc. The mono version is even better. “This Boy” is resplendent in the stereo remaster, despite the vocal panning. The awkward edit at the beginning of the stereo “I Call Your Name” has been corrected in the remastered version. The mono mix has a different guitar intro, and is generally more solid sounding. Generally, everything from “Long Tall Sally” through “I’m Down” sounds more muscular in mono, especially “She’s a Woman.” “Yes it is” is a bit more regal sounding in stereo, though.

Two tape drop-outs in the right channel of the stereo “Day Tripper” have been corrected in the remaster. The stereo remaster is much fuller on the bottom end than the ’87 CD, whereas the mono mix of the song strikes me as a little claustrophobic in comparison, although there is some interesting, surf-guitar style reverb on the rhythm guitar after the middle eight. Conversely, “We Can Work it Out” is more organic sounding in mono, similar to the feel of the mono Rubber Soul. “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” benefit from their respective mixes much the same way Revolver does; the mono “Paperback Writer” is strengthened by the centered sound on the mono mix, and has more trippy reverb on the chorus vocals. “Lady Madonna” benefits even more from the mono mix, no longer separated in stereo to the point of weakness, although the stereo remaster has the greater frequency response. “Hey Jude” is wonderful in both stereo and mono, although perhaps more vibrant in stereo. “Revolution” is very good in stereo, but achieves greatness in mono; with its lead guitar higher in the mix, and the vocals lower, it is an object lesson in the power of electronic distortion. The stereo single version of “Get Back” is dramatically improved on the remaster, no longer drowned in a muddy sea of ambience, although both the album and Naked versions have more punch. The mono version is actually a bit weaker sounding than the stereo remaster, but is still superior to the ’87 master. “Don’t Let Me Down” sounds equally good in both stereo and mono.

“The Ballad of John and Yoko” demonstrates just what skilled and insightful engineers worked on this project, and seems to sum up the nature of the remasters as a whole. Whereas most current CD remastering efforts focus mainly on making the disc louder, these engineers focused on making the discs better. This song is a case in point. On the ’87 CD, it was already quite loud, with overloaded bass and a distorted midrange, with a generally muddy, overblown feel. I feared it would only sound worse with the limiting employed on the stereo remaster, which theoretically would raise the loudness even more. The surprise is that the opposite is true. The midrange and bass are much better balanced, the distortion is gone, and the clarified high frequencies make the acoustic instruments and vocals jump out, rather than leaving them buried in the muddy bottom as on the '87 mastering. This song alone practically justifies the upgrade from the older disc.

Winner: both '09 versions have their respective merits, as well as unique tracks. A choice between them is impractical. What is clear is that they both put the '87 discs to shame.

Concluding thoughts

While I can nitpick and say which version of an album or song I personally prefer, I believe the bottom line to take from all of these notes is that both the mono and stereo sets of remasters are excellent. They are both top-drawer efforts by the engineers, as well as by the packaging designers, and I don't think anybody would be going wrong by getting either of them. Honestly, I could be happy just having the stereo set, although I still feel the mono set is in many ways definitive, and it now forms the cornerstone of my Beatles collection. Still, I have no doubt that, for many people, the more readily available stereo remasters will provide ample enjoyment, and will be as much as many fans could want. Whichever versions you get, I expect you will be pleased with the improvements they offer. The naysayers will always find something to complain about, but the fact remains that these are the records of The Beatles as they were put out at the time of their making, known and loved by millions around the world. Stereo or mono, these mixes are the “Holy Grail," and they are now available in sound that finally does the CD format justice.

I hope my notes have helped some people decide how they might want to proceed acquiring these discs, should they want to at all. For others, I hope they have at least proved interesting or edifying. Thanks for reading and going on this journey with me.

All the best.
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