It’s hard to believe, though true, that the entire Beatles catalogue has only seen one previous CD release, and that was back in 1987. But that’s all changing, and in the biggest possible way.
Given the endless money maker that the Fab Four have been over the past four decades, one would have expected that their albums would have been reissued and remastered at least three or four times by now to bring the sounds of John, Paul, George and Ringo up to date.
Somehow it never happened and what fans had to listen to was anything but fab: the music sounded flat and tinny, which made the early works tough on the ears and later masterworks like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (a.k.a. the White Album) a muddled mess. Prayers for updated versions appeared to be going unheeded by the gods at Abbey Road. Until now.
A team of engineers have spent the past four years remastering the entire Beatles catalogue and now it is unleashed into the world along with a new console game, The Beatles Rock Band. All original 13 titles and a collection of B-sides and alternate tracks entitled Past Masters have hit stores with a bang loud enough to rival the twang of the guitar that opens A Hard Day’s Night.
Accompanying the hype and hoopla, however, were questions. Which is the better collection to get – the Stereo or Mono set? For there are two release formats to choose from, and at 169 and 199 respectively they’re not cheap. Additionally, each of the stereo albums is available on its own. But are these remastered works particularly needed in a day and age when the compact disc as a format appears to be on life support?
For audiophiles, the answer to the “mono vs. stereo” debate is a simple one: mono. As the band recorded most of their albums in mono, these remastered editions will be as close as fans will get to the original LP releases from the 1960s, perhaps even better in some regards. That is if they can get their hands on one of the mono sets, which have been very difficult to obtain either online or in stores, though more are being pressed to meet demand.
After spending a week with the stereo reissues, the answers to the upgrade question is a resounding “yes” (or should that be Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!). Using George Martin’s stereo remixes created in 1986 for the original release, the remastered sound quality is simply terrific, so much so that listening to the music now almost feels like you’re hearing it for the first time. Thanks to the cleaner, fuller sound, longtime listeners may find themselves drawn to things such as the clarity of Paul tapping his foot during Blackbird, the studio chatter that begins Revolution #9 or the ability to clearly make out the instruments during the build-up on A Day In The Life.
There is a mini-documentary on each of the CDs that runs for about three or four minutes; the stereo set also includes a DVD of all the docs in one place. But these docs are arguably the weakest aspect of the reissues, as they consist mostly of soundbites from The Beatles Anthology, set to a series of photos of the band. If you pick up a later pressing of one of the albums and the mini-doc is not located on it, don’t worry: you’re not missing a thing.
Formats aside, it goes without saying that the music is worthy of all the fanfare. Despite the shifts in the musical landscape over the past four decades, the music of the Beatles continues to amaze and impress like no other band. The band’s musical legacy was never in danger of fading away, but thanks to the four years of hard work from the likes of Guy Massey, Steve Rooke, Allan Rouse and Sam Okell, it’s never sounded as great.