Tag Archives: Beatles

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.

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My copy of With the Beatles

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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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Record #3: With the Beatles (1963 [2009 Remaster])

Hello, everyone!

Lately, I’ve been posting without any real schedule. I know this used to be a Monday post, but I didn’t run as tight of a ship as I’d have liked over the holidays. My plan for now is to do my word & random facts posts on Mondays & talk about my record collection whenever I get a new one. I’ll start it on Monday, so for now I’m going to post about my newest LP.

First, though, the  housekeeping:

Stephen Kellogg: Blunderstone Rookery-
No update. There’s no tracking information & the District Lines website still says the order is processing. I’m going to send them an email at the end of the week.

Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers: The Bear
This one was an impulse buy. I own it on CD, but when I stumbled upon it on Amazon, I noticed there are a few bonus tracks. Kellogg also tends to release alternate mixes on vinyl, so I’m getting something a little different than what I already have.  It arrived today & I can’t wait to give it a spin when I get home.

Hanson: Anthem-
Last week, I received an email from the Hanson.net store, saying that the record has shipped. According to the tracking info, it’s been waiting for the post office to pick it up since last Saturday. Maybe an email to hanson.net is in store, too.

Now for the main event:

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The With the Beatles Parlophone label.

My copy of With the Beatles arrived last week. I was very excited to get it because along with Let it Be, it was one of the first CD I ever owned. I have wonderful memories of my ten-year-old self placing it in my mom’s parents’ 6 CD (SIX?! Six CDs?!) player & proudly playing it for them.
It was also a landmark album for the group. Originally released in November of 1963 (on the 22nd, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated). The Beatles’ second long playing release was a technological step up from Please Please Me. The production is clearly ahead of what it was on their debut. One thing that stands out is the use of double tracking (not to be confused with the quicker practice of artificial double tracking, which they would invent three years later). Wen you double track, you record the singer’s vocals twice. The engineer delays the second vocal recoding by a fraction of a second, so it doesn’t distort & then splices it in with the original track. It was first used in the movie, Cinderella, but then became widely adapted for album use. Studio engineers originally used the trick to bolster weak singers’ voices, but by the time The Beatles came along, it was meant to give the record a more robust sound.
Two other tricks they used appear on George Harrison’s first composition, “Don’t Bother Me.” John Lennon used Vox AC-30 tremolo effect on his guitar, & also messed around with an early fuzz pedal, the Gibson Maestro. The tremolo made the final cut, while the fuzz didn’t.
With the Beatles also marks the first time a piano was used on one of their records. Most of the piano was played by their producer, George Martin. It appears the songs “Little Child,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Not a Second Time” & “Money.”An electric keyboard is played by Lennon on, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
That’s pretty much the extent of new sounds on the record. It might not sound like much, but it’s very significant. The use of new things on With the Beatles kick started a love affair with studio experimentation, for which the band would become highly acclaimed.

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My copy of With the Beatles

Cover Art:
The cover art for With the Beatles also marked the first time the band had an artistic voice in their album covers. They hired fashion photographer, Robert Freeman, to do the shoot. It was very quick. They lined up in a dark hall with one source of light & shot their photos for about an hour. It would eventually become one of the band’s most iconic photos, as it was also released in the USA as the cover art for the band’s Capitol Records’ debut, Meet the Beatles!
The photo itself, is representative of the early 1960s, while hinting at The Beatles’ future trend setting artsy tendencies. I own it on CD, & on record jacket, it’s obviously much more prominent. There isn’t much to say about it, aside from the fact that it just looks cool.

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With the Beatles cover art by Robert Freeman. Ringo was placed on the bottom not to look artsy, but simply because there wasn’t enough room.

Sound:
This is the first record I’d had a chance to play through speakers of a similar size to the ones I will be getting. My roommate, Leo, lent me some of his speakers which he doesn’t use. I’ll be using these until I can get myself a receiver/amplifier & a pair of decent speakers. Until then, these will definitely work. They’re studio monitors, so the sound is exceptional.
This copy of With the Beatles is also a 2012 remaster from the 2009 set, so I was expecting the sound was going to be impeccable. I was right. See my post on Please Please Me, if you want more information on how they remastered it. Just like the other stereo mixes of the early 1960s, the separation was simple. The instruments came out of one channel, while the vocals came out of the other. Remember, stereophonic records had just become available to the public. It’s definitely something to listen to, if you turn down each speaker individually.

While I listened to the whole record & made sure to savor this new listening experience, I paid extra close attention to the two side openers carefully.

Side A starts with the song, “It Won’t be Long” &  from the get-go, I was slammed with pure Beatl-y goodness.  That link is the 2009 remaster uploaded onto youtube. You can get a feel of how the record opens with a bang. The standout feature of this song is George Harrison’s riff, played on his new Gretsch Country Gentleman. Lennon’s Rickenbacker guitar follows the rhythm of Ringo’s drums. It all balances perfectly.

Side B opens with the Chuck Berry song, “Roll Over Beethoven.” The song starts out with an opening solo & after a few bars, the full band comes in. As you’ve gathered from my other posts, I believe bass is very important. It fills out the sound of a record & is a key driving force of the music. Paul McCartney’s bass was always more prominent in this song, & was very much in the forefront of this one.
Buried in the CD mix, is John Lennon’s little Rickenbackr 325. On the CD, it’s way behind everything & is vastly overshadowed by Harrison’s rock & roll riffs & vocals. Every so often, mostly during breaks in the singing, it shows its jangly face on the surface for a beat or two. The engineers at Abbey Road definitely fixed it & made sure you can hear it.

With the advance of recording techniques between the band’s debut & sophomore record, the overall sound improved. The range from bass to treble was already much less sparse before remastering, but the remastering definitely brings out all aspects of the music even more. It was an absolute pleasure to listen to.

So there you have it. With the Beatles is wonderful album & I really enjoy having it on vinyl. As a Beatle fan, I have always wanted to own & listen to their albums on LP. Now, I get to do that & I couldn’t be more excited. So far, they haven’t.

Two down, nine to go.

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Record #1: Please Please Me (2009 Remaster)

Welcome to Bill’s Bologna. I know the past week or two have been lacking in posts. The holidays are a busy time of year & I promise I’ll be back in full swing after the new year.

This week, I’ve decided to add a new category to The Bologna.

As many of you know, I’m a musician. Because of this, I’ve learned to appreciate good audio quality, specifically in LPs (short for long play), or records. See, I grew up with a father who showed me what a special listening experience playing a record is. My dad is very meticulous in the way he handles his record collection. He’s had them since he was a child & has always emphasized the care that must be taken in order to keep the vinyl in top condition. I completely agree with him, but I can be a little clumsy at times. That made me a little nervous to start handling them on my own.

At any rate, I figured it was about time I started getting my hands on these things & thankfully, over the Christmas holiday, I got a push to do just that. One of my gifts was a turntable, which is one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve received in a while.

That set me to thinking a bit. I decided to post my experiences as I get new records & listen to them for the first time. It’s not because I’m trying to be pretentious (Yes, I know bragging about LPs can be a very annoying hipster-esque thing), but because I have a genuine love & intense passion for music & I want to share it with you.

Okay, let’s dive into record number one.

Along with the turntable, I was given the 2009 remaster of The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me. I’m a Beatle freak, & coincidentally, it was also the first album I ever owned. My father bought it for me on cassette when I was in the second grade. This was a very appropriate start to the collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the record, it’s the one that kicks off with Paul McCartney’s, “One-Two-Three-Faww!” of “I Saw Her Standing There” & ends with John Lennon’s vocal chord-shredding performance of “Twist and Shout.”

The first thing I noticed was the cover artwork. It’s a fairly bland photo of the four Beatles leaning over a railing in EMI Record’s London headquarters. I’d seen the photo a million times in my life, but this was the first time it was different. When blown up from the size of a CD jewel case to the size of a record jacket, it becomes much more impressive. You can tell that regardless of simplicity, much more thought went into the artwork than it does today. That makes sense. It has to catch your eye & there’s more opportunity for that on a large record jacket. The bigger the container, the bigger the artwork. The bigger the medium, more attention to creativity & detail is paid.

The Please Please Me cover.

The Please Please Me cover.

Before I get into my listening experience, let me just say that Paul McCartney has stated that the 2009 remasters of their albums are as close as you’re going to get to sounding like you’re standing in the studio with them, without actually doing so. Here’s the thing: that quotation is only regarding the CD, which is completely digital. As such, it has all sorts of limiting & compression. That’s the industry standard for CD & .mp3. Vinyl, on the other hand is unrestricted analog data. In other words, what you hear is what you get – the needle vibrating on tiny ridges in the record grooves. Yes, sometimes engineers still use the compression, but the sound is otherwise unrestricted, full & pure. On top of what was already a pure sound, engineers at Abbey Road took an extra three years to perfect it for vinyl release, removing the limiting & compression that goes into digital files & going through note by note to remove nearly everything which would be considered detrimental to the sound. They did this all while being careful to preserve coughs, sneezes, bad chords & anything the band did that is deemed to be part of the performances. Needless to say, I was very excited to start listening.

Minutes after tearing off the wrapping paper, I carefully pulled the sleeve out of the jacket & taking care only to touch it on its edges, eased the vinyl disc out. I admired it for a few seconds (It’s my very first record, after all) & placed it on the turntable. After taking time to gawk, I lifted the tone arm to start the record spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. I lowered the needle & gently placed it on the record. The needle’s  staticky run to the grooves hissed through the speakers. Then, the music started. Now, I don’t have a top notch sound system yet (that will come in time), so I was listening to it through the player’s internal speakers. These speakers are designed to be portable & not to punch you in the face with sound, but even so, I was absolutely blown away. I could hear every uncompressed detail of the music, from George Harrison’s loud guitar solos, to the hand-claps buried under the music. I was thoroughly impressed. When it was over, I wanted to play it again & again.

The Beatles' first Parlaphone LP label. Note that this is the first & only Beatles record with songwriting credits are given as: McCartney/Lennon

The Beatles’ first Parlophone LP label. Note that this is the first & only Beatles record with songwriting credits are given as: McCartney/Lennon

Now it was time to show my father. That was the ultimate test. He looked over my record player, listened to a few tunes & gave his enthusiastic approval. Then, he turned to me & said, “Let’s put this thing on my stereo & listen to it through some big speakers, just so you get an idea of what you want.”

We walked into the living room where he keeps his sound system & started the record spinning on the turntable. I can honestly tell you that this record is hands down, the best Beatle recording I have ever heard. I could hear Ringo Starr’s bass drum crystal clearly, despite the fact that producer George Martin has said that they never bothered to mic it directly. Meanwhile, on multiple occasions, Paul McCartney has said he wasn’t satisfied with the lack of Bass sound the band had on their early records. It was as prominent as ever & I’m sure Sir Paul is finally pleased. John Lennon’s chunking away on his tiny little Rickenbacker & George Harrison’s jerky & slightly nervous-sounding leads sounded like they’re right in front of me.

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My copy of Please Please Me.

Then, we compared it to an 1973 remaster of their last record, Abbey Road. It’s probably not the most accurate of comparisons because they’re two different records, but my dad doesn’t own Please Please Me on vinyl. I know, but you’re saying, “I thought your dad & you were Beatle freaks.” Settle down. The albums released in the United States were drastically different than the English releases, especially the early ones.* We were just trying to compare one remaster to another. Let me tell you, technology sure has advanced. 

In a production sense, Please Please Me is not the cleanest sounding album. I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s supposed to be & that’s what makes it endearing. It was recorded in just 10 hours & designed to simulate their live set at the time. Needless to say, it isn’t very produced & it isn’t very warm sounding. When we played the remastered album, the guys at Abbey Road Studios somehow managed to preserve the raw rock ‘n’ roll feel, while making the record feel a little warmer & more intimate. It is definitely a job well done & a wonderful piece of work. I am extremely excited to listen to the other Beatles’ vinyl remasters because the band’s production quality & sound only improved as they kept inventing studio techniques & releasing records.

I guess I’ve gushed enough about this, huh?

If you’re interested in my listening experiences (& I hope you are), no need to fear. I have a few records coming in this week & next that I can’t wait to get my hands on, including Stephen Kellogg’s new solo album, Blunderstone Rookery & one by the Byrds. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

* The early US releases had almost no resemblance to the English originals because after rejecting the group three times, Capitol Records A&R man, Dave Dexter took it upon himself to remix the songs, cut & paste the track order, re-title the albums & ever so graciously, give himself a co-production credit. Oh, by the way, he did all this without consent from the band, their real producer, or their English label under EMI, Parlophone. Also, in 1980, a mere 12 days after John Lennon’s death, Dexter went on to write an inappropriately scathing article in Billboard Magazine, which ripped the late musician apart. Stand up guy.

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