- something located at a time when it could not have existed or occurred
- an artifact that belongs to another time
ArtsBeat: Here Comes the Sun: The Beatles Finally Get Remastered (April 7, 2009)
Times Topics: The Beatles
April 8, 2009
Original Beatles Albums to Be Reissued
By ALLAN KOZINN
Finally. After watching the Beatles’ company, Apple Corps, devote the last few years to developing a site-specific show in Las Vegas, a video game and a line of pricey memorabilia, Beatles fans are finally getting something they’ve been demanding for at least the last decade: sonically upgraded reissues of the group’s original British albums, in stereo and mono. Apple Corps and EMI announced on Tuesday that the much-postponed remasters would be released on individual stereo CDs and in two boxed sets — one stereo, the other mono — on Sept. 9, the same day the Beatles edition of Rock Band, the music video game, is scheduled for release.
Downloadable versions of this music, however, remain in limbo. In December Paul McCartney said that they were being held up because of a dispute between Apple Corps and EMI. More recently, Dhani Harrison, George Harrison’s son, suggested that Apple Corps was dissatisfied with the price Apple, the computer company, was charging for iTunes downloads, and hinted that the Beatles might sell digital downloads through a system of their own. That could be resolved by September as well.
Like the original set of Beatles CDs, released in 1987 and not upgraded since, the reissue series will include only the 12 albums the Beatles released in Britain between 1963 and 1970, from “Please Please Me” through “Let It Be,” along with “Magical Mystery Tour” — an American album that was originally released as a two-EP set in England — and the two-CD “Past Masters” compilation of the group’s nonalbum singles. All told, the set includes 16 CDs. (Beatles projects are typically tightly guarded; few outside EMI have heard the remasters yet.) Compilations released since 1987, including the “Beatles Anthology” series, “The Beatles Live at the BBC,” “Yellow Submarine Songtrack,” “1” and “Love,” the soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, are not included in the new series. Nor are the two “Capitol Albums” boxed sets, which presented several of the Beatles’ albums in the versions released in the United States.
The main reason collectors have been so intent on reissues of music they already own is that the 1987 CDs, like many discs released in the early years of the format, sound comparatively harsh and brittle by today’s standards. Since then, improvements in digital sound technology and remastering equipment have yielded a richer, smoother sound, and most of the major groups and artists from the 1960s — from Bob Dylan, the Byrds and Simon and Garfunkel to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd — have had their catalogs refurbished at least once since their first appearance on CD. And the Beatles’ own recent releases, including the “Capitol Albums” and “Love” discs, showed that the band’s recordings could sound vastly better — warmer and with far greater presence — than they do on the 1987 discs.
Even so, remastering can be a dicey business: noise-reduction techniques can slice away the high frequencies of a recording, dulling the treble sound (in return for eliminating tape hiss). EMI’s remastering team apparently took this into consideration: the company’s production notes mention that fewer than five of the 525 minutes of music were subjected to noise reduction. The new transfers were done using a high-resolution Pro Tools system, and each track was compared with both its vinyl LP and 1987 CD incarnations.
This is largely what collectors have been looking for. But Beatles fans are an exacting bunch, and the release plan gives them some cause for complaint as well. The stereo CDs include video documentaries, directed by Bob Smeaton (“The Beatles Anthology”), about the making of each album. But these will be available only on early pressings, and there are otherwise no bonus tracks, outtakes or extras.
Moreover, the group’s first seven albums (through “Revolver”) include only about 25 minutes of music. The mono and stereo versions of each — collectors prize both because of anomalies like different vocal takes, instrumental lines or effects — could have fit on a single CD with room to spare. In many cases, the contemporaneous singles could have fit as well, making the “Past Masters” set superfluous.
The mono boxed set, in fact, demonstrates this. Because the stereo CDs will include George Martin’s 1987 remixes of “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” — mixes that have been the subject of much criticism and debate among Beatles fanatics — the mono CDs of those albums will include both the mono and the original 1965 stereo mixes of those albums.
Those are, however, available only in the mono boxed set, which includes the 10 albums (through “The Beatles,” popularly known as the “White Album”) that were mixed separately for mono and stereo in the ’60s, as well as a mono equivalent of “Past Masters.” (An 11th album, “Yellow Submarine,” was also released in mono, but the mono version was just a folded-down version of the stereo mix.) The stereo boxed set has a minor attraction as well: the documentaries included on the individual discs are offered here on a separate DVD, a format many collectors will prefer. An Apple Corps spokesman said that prices were not yet available.
Having spent years fantasizing about the ideal reissue series, collectors will also be disappointed about the high-tech opportunities that Apple Corps and EMI did not take. Although many collectors insist that only the ’60s original mono and stereo mixes will do, others, impressed with some of the remixes on the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” — the version of “Nowhere Man” with centered vocals, for example — had been hoping EMI’s engineers would return to the original multitrack session tapes and use the flexibility of today’s equipment to prepare fresh mixes. And the 5.1 surround-sound mixes included on “The Beatles Anthology” DVDs and the “Love” album had collectors hoping that EMI would release all the original albums in surround.
The wildest dreamers hoped the reissues would be all things to all collectors: Blu-ray DVDs, for example, with the original mono and stereo mixes, a surround mix and a raft of outtakes.
But collectors can look on the bright side: the reissues are imminent, but there is still so much to continue to clamor for. That still elusive 27-minute outtake of “Helter Skelter,” anyone?