Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Do Believe in Beatles

So I took the plunge. I am now the proud owner of the entire Beatles catalog, remastered in stereo.

I haven't had nearly enough time to properly assess this thing, but I can tell you, the packaging is glorious. The outer box is understated and sturdy, with a magnet clasp, and the individual sleeves for each album are exactly right. The liner notes are informative without being sycophantic, and the discs themselves are designed like the vinyl records - Parlophone up through Sgt. Pepper, Apple Corps after that. They even get Magical Mystery Tour right: the version that eventually became canon is the U.S. release, so this reissue gets a Capitol Records design.

I've heard very little of it so far. I did listen to most of Abbey Road, and the sound quality is amazing. Details pop out now, and I heard things, even in minor songs like "Octopus' Garden," that I'd never heard before. The big improvement is in Paul McCartney's bass, which can now be enjoyed without straining your ears, and in Ringo Starr's drums, which are clean and separated.

I did, however, play some of Please Please Me, and it has convinced me to buy the mono box, when I have another $200 lying around. The stereo master of this album (and presumably the first four albums) was an afterthought - the mono mix was "the mix," and the stereo version simply put the instruments in one channel and the vocals in the other and called it good. The remastering team did not create new stereo masters for these albums, although George Martin did for Help! and Rubber Soul back in the '80s, thankfully. The not-quite-stereo mix of Please is somewhat disheartening, especially when the mono tracks ("Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," which were never mixed in stereo) come in. They are bright and brilliant, exactly the way I want this album to sound.

But despite that, I am very happy so far with the box set. I spent $200 on music I already own, and yes, I understand how crazy that must seem to some people, but thus far, it was absolutely worth it. The best catalog in popular music now sounds renewed, rejuvenated, and ready to be discovered by generations yet to come. That's pretty awesome, if you think about it.


  1. I realize that the times we live in are just too damned weird to focus any degree of attention on a rock 'n' roll band that released its final recording forty-years-ago last month - two of whose members are gone from our midst. Think about it. In 1969, at the height of all that was going on then, any columnist who would have devoted a entire page to the greatness of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra would have been laughed out of the business. But this isn't just any band we're talking about here. With the exception of the President's address to a joint session of Congress last night, I didn't spend much time yesterday focusing on affairs of state. September 9, 2009 belonged to the Beatles.

    Yesterday marked the long-awaited release of a box set containing all fourteen albums recorded by the Fab Four between the years 1962 and 1970. What makes this package different from what has previously been available is the fact that the engineers at EMI (the studio in London where they did most of their work) have digitally remastered the recordings from the original multi-track tapes. It was like listening to them for the first time all over again. The Beatles have never sounded better - I didn't even think that was possible!

    Let me attempt the impossible and sum up the Beatles' message in one sentence: We are the makers of our own dreams. That works for me.

    Dream. Dream away.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  2. I didn't buy the remasters of the first five albums yet (I got Rubber Soul through Past Masters - minus Yellow Submarine - individually last night). I'm thinking I might just keep to those (perhaps getting Help!, depending on what the consensus is on that) and buying the Beatles in Mono box in addition to what I already have.

  3. Help sounds great, honestly. The weird stereo hard-panning is only on the first two records, and the next two see marked improvements. (You have to hear how amazing "And I Love Her" sounds now.) But Help, like Rubber Soul, was remastered from George Martin's 1986 stereo remix, so it sounds pristine.