Thoughts on The Beatles’ US Album 50th Anniversary Remasters

Hello, everyone. Today, I’m going to do a bit of a special post about something I feel pretty strongly about. It’s not a review or anything, but just an opinion on how something’s being handled. Here we go.

January 21, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ first major American release, Meet the Beatles!. To commemorate the occasion, Apple, the company that handles the band’s affairs, remastered & re-released the US discography on CD. The hype was pretty high because the UK remastered albums were released on CD & vinyl in 2009 & 2012, respectively, & sounded pretty damn sweet. You can read my reviews of the first two records here & here. Even so, the release wasn’t given as much publicity this time around, purely because the new  generation of Beatles fans grew up with the UK versions. The fan base mainly consists of avid fans my age & those who grew up with the US albums, so the market for the American releases is naturally a a little smaller. Nevertheless, promotion ramped up just before the release & continues this month to mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s first visit to the US. Needless to say, I was interested in hearing the improvements to the sound.

Before I get into how I felt about it, there are a few major questions that probably come to mind, & I’ll do my best to answer all of them.

Why are the mixes in America different from the ones in England? Didn’t English bands have a say in what they released in America?
No, not really, & it’s all because of royalties. Depending on the contract, in England, royalties were paid either by disc sold or by side (remember, records need to be flipped), so, regardless of the number of tracks each side contained, the artist would get a flat percentage of the sale.  On the other hand, the United States paid artists their royalties by song. This meant that if an album had the same number of tracks in the US as the it does in the UK, the labels had to pay the artist more per album here than they did across the pond.

Two major differences between English & American albums arose because of this, & both greatly benefited the record companies:

First, in the States, singles & B-sides were almost always included on the album, where as in England, they were separate. This serves two purposes, both of which allowed the labels to make more money off of a British artist:

1) By including the single on the album, consumers pay for the single twice, without thinking about it.

2)  To make room for the single & its flip side, two tracks from the original album needed to be cut. More on that in a second. Then the motives will connect & become clear.

The second difference is in the number of tracks the album contains. In England, albums stopped being financially feasible for the record company after fourteen songs. In America, they stopped being feasible after twelve. This means that two more songs were cut, making a total of four unreleased songs. See where I’m going? Using this method, English bands releasing music in the US would have surplus of four songs. Since the standard was twelve tracks, then record companies could release an entire extra record for every three albums recorded. They didn’t have to pay for studio time since it was done already, but could charge for a full album. It was free money.

What does this have to do with the Beatles?
Remember, the Beatles were unheard of in the States before 1964 & were no less susceptible to American distribution procedures than anyone else. It didn’t help that their American A&R representative was a man named Dave Dexter Jr, either. Dexter’s employer, Capitol Records, was under the same parent corporation as The Beatles’ label, & because of this, they had first refusal rights of the band’s American distribution. Being a jazz purist who despised the abomination that was rock ‘n’ roll, Dexter exercised the right to the fullest, turning the band down three times, until public demand & pressure from his superiors made him change his mind & avidly pursue the contract.

Once it was secured, he commenced to follow the protocol used on all English imports & remixed & chopped up the tapes as he saw fit, in a process known to Beatles’ fans as “Dexterizing.” The end result was the band’s American major label debut Meet the Beatles!. All in all, it’s a good one, & the changes were minimal. They even used the same cover art. It’s basically The Beatles’ second English LP, With the Beatles, with the removal of the four tracks & inclusion of the single, “I Wanna Hold You Hand.” You can click on the two photos below, to see the track listings.

LP3

My copy of With the Beatles

MeettheBeatles 1

My dad’s copy of Meet the Beatles!


As I said, it’s far from being the worst Dexterized album. That would be The Beatles Second Album (Again, it’s not a bad album at all; it’s just the principle of it & the one he went to town on the most). You can get more information on it here & a full analysis of the record can be found in Dave Marsh’s book, The Beatles Second Album (Rock of Ages).

Dexter’s meddling went on until 1967, when the band’s contract was set to be renewed. They re-signed on the condition that Capitol Records would only release the tapes as they were. As a result, 1966’s Revolver was the last record to be altered. The Beatles had set yet another precedent in the music industry.

So, what’s wrong with releasing remastered copies of the American albums?
Well, nothing… if they did it the right way.

My dad still has the original LPs & the re-releases from 2004 & 2006, so I was really looking forward to sitting down with my him & comparing the three at some point (I still am), but then a few days ago, he sent me this email:

Some people are claiming that what Apple (or whoever) did to put together these new US albums was simply use the 2009 UK mixes and put the songs in US order. If they weren’t working off the US mixes, it seem unnecessary to get them. Nothing would be Dexterized or anything like that. Have you heard anything about this?

Well, I hadn’t heard about it & I felt I needed to investigate. It struck me as odd because The Beatles’ master tapes are priceless in the recording community & are kept under lock & key. They’re only brought out on very special occasions & even then, very few eyes see them. When they’re transferred to other formats, more care is taken to preserve the integrity of the performances & mixes, than with any other set of recordings ever made.

In the case of the US remasters, I unfortunately feel that this didn’t happen.

Here’s why:

In the early days, when The Beatles wanted to release a record in America, a succession of things needed to happen to get there. They would first record their songs in the studio, with the intent of making an album for the English public. George Martin, their producer, along with their engineer would create mixes of the best takes of the songs. These final mixes would then be sent to mastering, where they would be put on a master tape, or the tape that would be used to cut the master record. After using this to press the records in England, the same tapes would be sent to Capitol, in Los Angeles for the US pressings.

Before being sent to the presses, they would be Dexterized to fit the American market. The new mixes would be sent to Capitol’s own mastering department & new tapes would be created. This then would go to press & would be released to the public.

What does this have to do with the remasters? Well, here’s the thing. A few of the final versions sent over from the UK were different versions of the ones released in England. For example, the song “I Call Your Name”, released on a four song EP (extended play) in Britain & The Beatles’ Second Album in the US, has a slightly different opening guitar solo. The difference is clear as day. (US/UK) For these songs, you’ll get a full on remaster of what was released here. This is where the authenticity stops.

Capitol Records claimed, since the songs were mixed for AM radio & inferior turntables & speakers, the modern listener wouldn’t be offered the best listening experience they could have. How did they fix this? They did it by backtracking past their own master tapes, to work off of the English ones. Using the remasters which were already done fr the UK releases, engineers recreated the mixes that Dexter had made fifty years ago. This means that, save for the tracks that used different takes, the songs you’re hearing are slightly modified duplicates of what you’re getting on the British albums. Instead of getting an actual remaster, you’re getting a recreation. Again, they were adamant about the fact that it was because they wanted to give the listener the best experience, but if I know major labels, the reason is this: they didn’t want to spend the money remastering the same song twice.

I’ve left out a lot of positives because this is mainly an opinion on the technique use to release these records, however I know there will be plenty. As I told my father, there’s no doubt that they’ll sound incredible for what they are. The guys at Abbey Road always do an excellent job & I’m absolutely sure that they took great care in doing what they were instructed to do.
Another great part of this box set is that you’ll get three American albums which were previously unreleased on CD. The first is the US version of A Hard Day’s Night. In 1964, the production company, United Artists reserved the right to release the record because it was a film soundtrack. Capitol has secured the rights & included it in this new box set.
The second two are Yesterday & Today, complete with peel off standard cover to reveal the “Butcher Cover,” & Revolver. The previous release of the American albums only included records up to Rubber Soul.

If you can get your hands on them, please do. Compare & contrast them to the original recordings & the releases from 2004-2006. You’ll have a good time regardless of how they were made.

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