Monday, June 1, 2009

The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper In Mono: Yeah, It's Pretty Damn Good

After reading this post on Gizmodo back in April, we couldn't help but start digging around to find some Sergeant Pepper's mono rips from the vinyl. And find it we did: the rip is happily waiting on the internet in a torrent of questionable legality. But, to be frank, it's the only way to get the tracks aside from a (pricey) original slab of vinyl, so we were willing to take the risk. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it better than stereo? Debatable.

The argument behind the mono mix being "better" is a pretty simple one: the band and George Martin were present for the mono mix, and much longer was spent on it than the stereo mix. Apparently many argue that the stereo mix was still novelty at this point, and so it's almost meaningless. However, that misses some facts that are certainly important, if not crucial.

First, the stereo mix was created by Geoff Emerick. Now, while certainly not a Beatle, Emerick is a producer and engineer of quite a bit of reknown. It's not as though he walked in off the street and made a mix. He was present during all of the recordings and intimately involved with the record. Second, what defines a "novelty" mix? Any mix puts the music in new light, so is one mix more "important" than another? It seems far more fitting to define a mix as being truer to the artist's vision, which may be true of the mono mix in this case. That being said, to trivialize the stereo mix seems to ignore the fact that clearly someone thought it was true to the album's character, or they wouldn't have mixed it that way.

So, caveats aside, what do you get with the mono mix? Well, in short, you get a different mix. Yes, many sources glamorize it as the "true" mix, or "infinitely more exciting", or "the way it was meant to be", but those all seem like rather extreme opinions. The reality is that the record is noticeably different, but questionable in its superiority. Yes, the guitars certainly rock harder, which is actually quite nice. The instrumental emphasis is also quite different, and most of the songs take on a different character that has a bit more oomph to it. Perhaps most notable is the mix of "She's Leaving Home", which, with a different tape speed and key, has a completely different feel.

It's very hard to say what makes a release "true" to the original vision. Every year, record companies pile on release after release of reimagined, remixed, and remastered reissues. In an attempt to take advantage of new technologies, these versions offer the listener a new and exciting view into the music. Is the surround sound mix of Young Americans the original vision? Obviously not, as the technology didn't exist then. Still, it's pretty damn cool. Even the Beatles have jumped on the bandwagon, with the Love album being released in DVD-Audio, and George Martin extolling the format's virtues.

So, that being said, we're uncertain where all this concept of the "true" mix comes from. A mix is a dynamic beast, and we wonder what these same listeners would be saying had the stereo mix of Pepper never existed. Would they be begging for one, in order to add to the dynamics and instrumental separation of the mix? It makes you wonder.

We're just glad to have another way to hear one of our favorite albums. The Beatles created some of the most fantastic records of all time, and we wouldn't mind if we got to hear them ten different ways, let alone two. Getting to hear one of their records in a new light is frankly, enough of a treat to satisfy us for quite a while, "true" mix or otherwise. We have no idea when this mix will see official release, so if you find yourself wanting to hear a new take on Sergeant Pepper, we recommend you do just that. Mono or stereo, it's The Beatles, people. Were you expecting it to suck?


Adrian said...

Have you heard any of the Dr Ebbets vinyl transfers of the Beatles catalog? I've heard they're pretty awesome, but haven't been able to track down any myself.

hippiesaredead said...

Haven't heard them - presumably they're bootlegs or something? CD's? MP3s?

Hanan said...

this is probably my least favourite Beatles record but I still like it a lot, enough to be excited about this news

so thanks!

hippiesaredead said...

Least favorite? You're hopeless!

Hanan said...

so I lied, it's actually second to last on my ranking of the fab four's discography (I quickly typed it out:

Abbey Road
White Album
Yellow Submarine
Beatles For Sale
Let It Be
Please Please Me
Rubber Soul
A Hard Day’s Night
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
With the Beatles)

but, I think most of my lack of enthusiasm for the much acclaimed record, is, just that (the critical acclaim). I listened to it for the first time AFTER seeing it atop RS's list of greatest albums of all time, and truth be told, I think that 10 other Beatles albums are higher quality than Sgt Pepper's. for some reason, it doesn't resonate with me as an album as much as a collection of songs, but that's neither here nor there, as it is THE BEATLES and it's still far far superior to 97% of music, past, present or future. just because it's 11th, doesn't mean I don't adore it; it just gets substantially less love than some other Beatles releases. especially my top three. those albums are simply indispensable.

hippiesaredead said...

Okay, opinion's opinion, but Let It Be over Sgt Pepper? Or Yellow Submarine? You may want to check this list: it looks like you're basing it on their US discography, which is actually a bastardization of the real albums: Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow was removed from the catalog, and spread amongst the other records. Boo!

Hanan said...

Yellow Submarine was the first Beatles album I ever heard and it is more magical each time I listen to it. "I am the Walrus" still stands as the reason I am a Beatles fan(atic). plus that movie was fucking awesome. also, I love all the instrumental tracks.

oh, and Let It Be has "Across the Universe", which automatically makes it better than Sgt Pepper's. if it wasn't for the whole last-album-strife-in-the-band thing, it'd be higher up

what's your favourite Beatles album?

(oh, and G-d bless the US of A and our fantastic, bastardized version of the Beatles' discography, which is what I have the most access to in most record shops anyways. I decided long ago I wasn't going to bother trying to have both discographies, that's too much headache)

hippiesaredead said...

Okay, not to be a pest, but "I Am The Walrus" is on Magical Mystery Tour. Also, George Martin wrote all but one of the instrumentals, which was cowritten with John and Paul. Nostalgia is one thing, but the fourth best Beatles record it is not.

If we had to pick faves here at HAD, the top 3 (in no particular order) would probably be Rubber Soul, Revolver, and The White Album, with Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper knocking on the door.

But let's face it, it's all fucking brilliant. Debate, over!

Anonymous said...

If you listen to this on acid you will completely understand why the mono is better than the stereo. Just sayin'.