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Details of Beatles Remasters summarized in Chicago

by David Haber, Beatles News Editor

On August 15 at the 2009 Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago, respected journalist and Beatles historian Matt Hurwitz and Beatles author Bruce Spizer gave a presentation to the large audience of Beatles fans about the remastering of the Beatles catalogue, which will be released this September 9th, 09-09-09. Both Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Spizer have had the privilege of hearing some of the remasters. Below is a summary of what we know about the 09-09-09 Beatles remasters.

The Beatles music was first issued on CD in 1987, with the release of the original British albums. The technology has improved significantly in the 22 years since Beatles CDs were first issued. The 09-09-09 remasters take full advantage of the latest technology.

The Beatles music was recorded on high quality analog audio tapes that have not deteriorated over time. For the 09-09-09 remasters, each song was transferred from analog tape to digital at Abbey Road using the latest technology. Electrical clicks, microphone vocal pops and bad edits were improved where possible, if doing so did not affect the original integrity of the music. De-noising technology was used to reduce some of the original tape hiss, but only sparingly. Out of the 525 minutes of Beatles music on the CDs, only 5 minutes were treated with a de-noising program. That's less than 1%.

For the stereo remaster CDs, the overall volume was increased, but this was done in moderation so as to retain the original dynamics of the recordings. Each song was carefully reviewed to ensure any sound imperfections were corrected. For the mastering of the CDs, the individual songs were placed in their proper running order on each album. The banded albums then went through the equalization process, with comparisons made to the original vinyl albums. They were carefully reviewed by the engineers and EMI employees, further tweaked and reviewed until all involved were satisfied with the remasters.

The 13 core catalog albums, the UK albums from 1963 through 1970, "Please Please Me" through "Let It Be," are included in the remaster series, plus the "Magical Mystery Tour" album, supplemented by the "Past Masters" collection to provide the recordings not found on the core catalog albums. Because The Beatles issued several singles that were not included on their British albums, "Past Masters" was put together to fill in the gaps by containing all non-album singles and a few miscellaneous recordings that also were not on the core catalog albums, such as the four tracks from the "Long Tall Sally" EP, the German language recordings of "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "Bad Boy" and the version of "Across The Universe" that appeared on a charity album. While many of those songs were on U.S. albums, they were not on the U.K. albums.

When The Beatles music was first issued on CD back in 1987, "Past Masters" was issued in two separate volumes. That is no longer the case. For the remasters, "Past Masters" is now a 2-CD set with all of the songs that appeared on the two volumes first issued 22 years ago. And it has new and expanded liner notes.

For the most part, all of the albums will be available in stereo and mono. The primary version of each album is the stereo version. The stereo albums may be purchased individually or in a stereo box set. The mono versions of the albums are not being sold separately, they will be available in a mono box set. The last few albums are not available in mono because separate mono mixes were not prepared for those albums.

When The Beatles CDs were issued back in 1987, the first four albums were available only in mono. The 09-09-09 remasters mark the stereo CD debut of the these four albums. "Please Please Me" and "With The Beatles" were recorded on two-track, with vocals on one channel and instruments on the other.

The next two albums, "A Hard Day's Night" and "Beatles For Sale," were recorded on a four-track recorder and do not have the vocals on one side, instruments on the other side mix. For most songs on those albums, the vocals are mixed into both the left and right channel, giving the impression that the vocals are coming from the center space between the speakers. Some instruments also sound centered, although most are heard either in the left or right channel.

George Martin tweaked both "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" when the albums were issued on CD back in 1987. Although "Rubber Soul" was recorded on a four-track machine, most of its songs have severe stereo separation with vocals on one side and instruments on the other. George Martin completely remixed the album to bring the vocals down the center. The stereo remasters use the 1987 George Martin stereo mixes rather than the original 1965 mixes. But for those who want to hear the original 1965 stereo mixes, they will be available in the mono collection.

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Sgt. Pepper's 09-09-09 Remaster

"Revolver," "Sgt. Pepper," "The White Album," "Yellow Submarine," "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" use the original stereo mixes.

"Magical Mystery Tour" is different from the 1967 Capitol stereo release. On the 1967 LP, some songs appeared in fake stereo. For the remastered CD, stereo mixes were used for all of the songs.

The Capitol Albums box sets were released in 2004 and 2006. The CDs for the Capitol Albums box set were mastered from tapes prepared by Capitol Records in the sixties for their uniquely configured Beatles albums. Although they used the same mixes as those found on the British albums, they were mastered differently in the sixties, sometimes with echo added and sometimes using fold-down mixes for mono. The Capitol Albums box set accurately captures what the U.S. albums sound like.

The 09-09-09 CDs were remastered at Abbey Road from the original tapes in the EMI vaults used for the British albums, so they sound like the British albums. They were mastered from tapes that are a generation earlier than what Capitol had in the sixties.

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Abbey Road 09-09-09 Remaster

The packaging of the 09-09-09 remasters is a significant upgrade from the original CD issues. Each CD comes with a good-sized booklet with informative liner notes and pictures. The liner notes have two components, historical and recording.

The historical notes were written by Kevin Howlett, who prepared radio documentaries on The Beatles for the BBC and wrote the liner notes for the "Live at the BBC" Beatles album, and Mike Heatley, who joined EMI in 1973, working extensively on Beatles projects. These notes place the album in context with what was going on in the music industry and in the Beatles lives at the time the album was recorded and released. The recording notes were written by Allan Rouse, an Abbey Road engineer and project coordinator for the remasters, and Kevin Howlett. They discuss how the albums were recorded and provide examples of recording techniques employed by focusing on a few of the songs.

The booklets come with a generous number of photos, all in color or original black and white. The booklets are attractively laid out with print that can actually be read without a magnifying glass. The CDs are packaged in multi-panel folding pacs. The booklets are not glued to the flaps, so they can be removed for easier reading.

The CD labels mimic the original label designs of the sixties. "Please Please Me" has the classic black and gold Parlophone label found only on the early pressing of the album. "With The Beatles" through "Sgt. Pepper" have the black and yellow Parlophone label. "The White Album" through "Let It Be" have the classic U.K. version of the green Apple label. "Magical Mystery Tour" has the Capitol rainbow label as that album was first issued on Capitol. The people involved with the project paid careful attention to both major and minor details to ensure the remasters are entertaining and historically accurate.

In addition to all of the new materials, all of the original liner notes and original extras are included in the CD booklets. So for the first three albums you get Tony Barrow's original liner notes plus the new liner notes. For "Beatles For Sale," you get Derek Taylor's original notes plus the new notes.

For "Sgt. Pepper," you get expanded notes from the 1987 CD release plus a new introduction from Paul McCartney. The Sgt. Pepper cutout sheet and the lyrics are also included in the booklet.

For "Yellow Submarine," you get both the U.K. and the U.S. original liner notes plus the new notes. The "Magical Mystery Tour" booklet is reprinted in its entirety in the CD booklet. The "White Album" poster and portraits are included in the CD booklet, as are all of the song lyrics.

Each of the core catalog stereo CD albums come with a mini-documentary. They were directed by Bob Smeaton, who served as writer and director for the "Anthology" video. They contain archival footage, rare photographs, interview clips with the group and George Martin and studio banter. Being limited to a few minutes, these are not intended to be definitive documentaries. They are brief, informative and fun. They will be embedded into the stereo CDs for a limited time, so be sure to get the CDs early to avoid missing out on the mini-documentaries.

The videos are in the QuickTime format and will play on computers. They will not play on DVD or Blu-Ray machines. But if you buy the stereo box set, you will get a DVD that contains all of the mini-documentaries on one disc. You can play that disc on your DVD or Blu-Ray player. This will enable you to watch the documentaries on a big screen as opposed to a small computer screen.

Later pressings of remastered CDs will not have the mini-documentaries.

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The Stereo Box Set

The stereo box set contains the remastered stereo CDs of the 13 core catalog albums, which are the UK albums from 1963 through 1970, plus the "Magical Mystery Tour" album, and the "Past Masters" collection. These CDs are exactly the same as the stereo CDs that can be purchased separately, complete with booklets and mini-documentaries. Also, the stereo box set includes a DVD containing all of the mini-documentaries. It comes in a classy looking black box.

The mono collection comes in a classy looking white box. It contains the core U.K. albums starting with "Please Please Me" and running through "The White Album." The box set marks the mono CD debut of "Help!," "Rubber Soul," "Revolver," "Sgt. Pepper," "Magical Mystery Tour" and "The White Album."

The mono box set will be a limited pressing. There are no plans at this time to issue any of the mono CDs separately.

The mono box collection was made with collectors in mind. Each album is packaged in a mini-cardboard jacket mimicking the original album sleeves from the sixties. The mono albums faithfully duplicate the original packaging. "Beatles For Sale" is a gatefold jacket. "Sgt. Pepper" is a gatefold jacket and comes with the cut-out insert. "Magical Mystery Tour" is a gatefold jacket with the booklet. "The White Album" comes in a gatefold cover that opens at the top and comes with the poster and portraits. All of the CDs are packaged with replicas of their original protective inner sleeves. "Sgt. Pepper" comes in its psychedelic red, pink and white sleeve. "The White Album" has black sleeves like the original U.K. vinyl pressings. There is also a special essay on the significance of these mono mixes, which was written by Kevin Howlett.

The first four albums were issued in mono back in 1987. All four of these albums sound significantly better in the 09-09-09 remasters than the 1987 CDs and, of course, the packaging is much nicer.

The mono discs for "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" have the original mono mixes, plus, as a bonus, the original 1965 stereo mixes, which are making their CD debut with these remasters. Remember, the stereo 09-09-09 remastered CDs use the 1987 George Martin remixes for "Help!" and "Rubber Soul." It is on the mono "Rubber Soul" remaster where you can hear the original 1965 stereo mix with vocals on one side and instruments on the other.

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The Mono Box Set

Many people are looking forward to hearing "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper" in mono. "Revolver" is considered by many to be The Beatles best album. Some of the mono mixes sound different than the stereo mixes. The backwards guitar part on "I'm Only Sleeping." The effects and piano on "Tomorrow Never Knows." As for "Sgt. Pepper,"

The Beatles often said you really hadn't heard "Sgt. Pepper" until you hear it in mono. Some of the songs have extra effects not present on the stereo mix, such as applause at the beginning of the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise. "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!" sounds significantly better in mono. In some cases, the stereo mixes are better, but you really need to listen to both the stereo and mono versions of the album.

"The White Album" was never issued in the U.S. in mono, and there are some songs that are significantly different in mono. For example, "Helter Skelter" and "Don't Pass Me By" have different sound effects and the timing of the jet effects in "Back In The U.S.S.R." varies.

"Yellow Submarine" was issued in mono in the U.K., but it isn't included in the mono box, because the mono "Yellow Submarine" album was merely a fold-down of the stereo LP. There were no subtle differences between the stereo and mono versions of the album as they both came from the exact same mixes, so there was no reason to do a mono CD remaster of the "Yellow Submarine" album for the box. And besides, there were only four new Beatles songs on the album, those recorded specifically for use in the "Yellow Submarine" movie. To allow us hear those four songs in mono, they are included on a special 2-CD set prepared for the mono box called "Mono Masters."

"Mono Masters" is the mono equivalent of the stereo "Past Masters" set. It was designed to fill in the gaps by containing all of the mono masters that are not on the mono albums. Its track listing is similar to the stereo "Past Masters" 2-CD set, but it does vary slightly from the stereo set. As for the singles that weren't on albums, it includes the singles up through and including "Get Back," which was the last single mixed for mono. Although "Get Back" was issued as a stereo single in the U.S., it was a mono single in the U.K. So Mono Masters doesn't have "The Ballad Of John & Yoko," "Old Brown Shoe" or the single version of "Let It Be" because these songs were never mixed for mono, although "You Know My Name" is included because it was issued only in mono. It has the four songs from the "Long Tall Sally" EP, which was only issued in mono. And, it has the four songs recorded specifically for the "Yellow Submarine" movie, "Only A Northern Song," "All Together Now," "Hey Bulldog" and "It's All Too Much."

As has been previously reported in Beatles books, in January, 1969, The Beatles considered issuing an EP with the four new "Yellow Submarine" songs plus "Across The Universe." Although that EP was never issued, a mono master for the five-song EP was put together. The five songs were given true mono mixes for the mono EP. These five songs will make their true mono debut on the Mono Masters set prepared exclusively for the Mono Box.

There are rumors that the mono box set will be limited to 10,000 units worldwide, but that is not true. The mono box set is only limited in that there are no future production runs planned. There should be sufficient copies available initially for those who want to buy it. But don't wait too long, because once it's gone, there are no plans for future manufacture. To play it safe, you can pre-order from places like Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble or Best Buy.

The 09-09-09 remasters are the same albums that were issued on CD back in 1987. Many Beatles fans already own those CDs. So why should they re-buy those albums on CD now?

Bruce Spizer said, "These new CDs sound significantly better than what was first mastered 22 years ago. You will notice the difference. And, if you think about it, re-buying the same albums is something we, as Beatles fans, have been doing all our lives. I bought the albums when they came out in the sixties. I re-bought many of the albums in the early seventies because I had worn out my old copies from excessive play. Many fans re-bought the albums in the cassette and eight-track format. In less than 20 years, many fans had purchased the albums three to four times. Now, for the first time in 22 years, it's time to re-buy these albums again. And remember, you will be getting enhancements beyond dramatically improved sound, such as better packaging."

Mr. Spizer, who has heard the actual remasters, added, "I was impressed with how great everything sounded. Of course I expected the remasters to sound better the releases from 22 years ago, but they exceeded my expectations. The engineers at Abbey Road captured the spirit of the original recordings. They resisted the temptation to drastically boost the bass to make it sound more contemporary. There is none of the harshness and muddiness that was often found on CDs mastered in the eighties. The vocals and instruments have stunning clarity. You'll hear details in the music that you've never heard before. The remasters provide a fabulous listening experience."

Published August 15, 2009

This article is Copyright © 2009, David Haber, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission

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