This. Is. The. Remix

by Belle Waring on June 10, 2017

Why would anyone remix Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you might ask? Well, this is what NPR’s mellow-voiced Bob Boilen discusses with Giles Martin, son of the legendary Beatles producer George Martin, in this All Songs Considered podcast. I should note first that it seems misleading to call this a remix since it’s more like a remaster. Wait, I should note first that this sounds AMAZING and I am legit listening to this full-time now vs the original mix. It’s like a scrim has been lifted between you and the music: everything is crisper, fuller—there are drums, even! Martin explains something I didn’t know, which is that it was a technical concern for a while that the phonograph needle could get kicked out of the groove by too much drums. Ringo wuz robbed! Seriously, though, the bit where the drums come in in “A Day In The Life” (after “he blew his mind out in a car”) is fantastic now.

Back to its being a remaster, basically the band and Martin spent four times or more as long on the mono mix as on the stereo, lavishing way more care on the former. They expected everyone to listen to the mono, but then through widespread adoption of the stereo format, it turned out that exactly no one listened to the mono after a certain point. Certainly no one my age has ever heard it, and it’s noticeably different in many places. In addition to that, the four-tracking for the stereo mix, while innovative and cool-sounding, caused the sound to be degraded as it got repeatedly bounced to make the various tracks. What Giles Martin did was go back to the original tapes from which the stereo was mixed down, and to the mono mix, and then tried to create something that is in effect a stereo version of the mono mix. So, for example, the mono version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” had something called artificial double tracking, which John loved. Another recording of his voice that’s slightly slower than the ‘top’ part (I don’t know what else to call this) is put in, creating a smeared effect that really suits the psychedelic sound. In the stereo version his voice sounds thinner by comparison. The whole podcast is worth a listen, because they put snippets from the various mixes and raw tapes next to one another so you can hear the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences. Or just listen to the remix of the album itself, it’s on Apple Music. Needless to say, you have to use the good headphones as the varying effects will be lost on your crappy computer speakers. For the record, Paul has listened to and apparently loves the mix. And speaking of records, they cut a vinyl version and I’m kind of coveting it. Maybe John will buy it for me as an anniversary gift. [insert winkmoji]

P.S. It is a humorous fact about my life that I never listened to The Beatles until I was 17, because my parents strongly inculcated in me the belief that you were either a lame hippie who liked The Beatles or a cool person who liked The Rolling Stones and then went on to like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, as if it were a Thunderdome-style match in which the two bands entered but only one band left. I don’t know what you also liked if you liked The Beatles; the soundtrack to Hair, maybe. This is related to my parents’ insistence that they were never hippies when I’m like we had a failed back to the land farm! I was there, dammit! Anyway, it was thanks to my horrified high school boyfriend Charles Andrews that I learned this Beatles/Stones absolutism was dumb and made zero sense (sorry Mom and Dad, and thanks Charles). It was “And Your Bird Can Sing” that sold me.

{ 22 comments }

1

Cola Vaughan 06.10.17 at 1:39 pm

Early 60’s I was a red-blooded all-american crewcut kid. Even had the wax. We had an attic that was sorta finished off into the boy’s dorm; the “third floor”. We’d tune in the zenith fm box radio to WABC New York, (this was North Carolina) for a chance to hear “i wanna hold your hand” And when I touch you I feel happy…inside Hmmmm maybe the first stirring of the “T” monster?

Anyway I began to grow my hair a little longer…….. long enough to part, down within inches of ears, capable of reaching the nid-point of the forehead; and it seems like ALL the adult men in town began to accost me thusly:

What are you trying to do? LOOK LIKE A BEATLE!!

PS: Heard Rhyming Simon Wednesday evening. It was truly amazing. He had so much energy! I wasn’t expecting it but the show was like having your life pass before your eyes, only slowly with delicious music. I’d guess this is his farewell and I heartily recommend attending if the opportunity presents.

2

Ben Greenberg 06.10.17 at 2:32 pm

Thanks for this write-up. I can’t wait to listen to the remix on my stereo speakers. In high school I had endless Beatles vs Stones arguments with one of my buddies. I was all about the Beatles.

https://youtu.be/mBfI5ylvMes

3

Dave Maier 06.10.17 at 3:11 pm

OMG “And Your Bird Can Sing” is like my favorite Beatles tune! (That and “Wild Honey Pie” for some reason.) It really is amazing what they can do nowadays with these newfangled computers and such, even without doing a remix, what with the transient shapers and whatnot. (Now do Exile on Main St..)

4

Phil 06.10.17 at 4:43 pm

This is related to my parents’ insistence that they were never hippies when I’m like we had a failed back to the land farm! I was there, dammit!

If you’ve never listened to the Magnetic Fields, you could do worse than start with their (his?) 50 Song Memoir.

“I spent the blizzard of ’78 on a commune in northern Vermont
With all the Isaac Asimov anybody could want”

(If the prosody of those lines doesn’t immediately jump out at you, read them out loud; NB it has to be Isaac Asimov, but I think that’s permissible.)

5

Joseph Brenner 06.10.17 at 5:04 pm

The tribal aspects of music are frequently neglected (except maybe by David Byrne). I remain a fanatic disco-hater myself, largely because of the way it was pushed on us, though objectively there’ve been far worse musics pushed on us over the years. And the main form my scars from the punk wars take is that it took me some time to believe that musical skill might not inherently be a corrupting, distracting influence.

Myself I’ve never really understood hippie-haters (but then, aren’t we all hipppie-haters?), like, why would you want to ignore The Thirteenth Floor elevators?

I’m skeptical about this Sargent Peppers remix (while remix is a flexible term, I’d say it implies access to the master tapes, though I guess it gets used even when that’s not possible), but will have to give it a listen some time– on an actual stereo with real speakers– the business about making it “crisper” sets me off. When CDs came in it seemed to me that everything developed that clean and bright sound, not necessarily because it was better, but just because they could do it. And one of Eugene Chadbourne’s arguments is that you can do a lot with “obsolete” equipment, e.g. someone once gave him for free cast-off equipment much like they’d used to mix *Sargent Peppers*.

Belle Warring gives an admirably clear account of the justifications for doing this remix, but just to be fussy about it: Giles Martin must know that he’s open to charges of trying to gain fame by messing with a sacred icon, so everything he says might be a calculated political message… or just plain mistaken.

My understanding of the bit about heavy bass and vinvyl is that the fear was that if there was a big *difference* in the right and left tracks, the stylus would be kicked side-to-side too much, so even if you bought that, your conclusion would simply be to keep the drums mixed to the center. In other words, I think turning up the drums in this mix is more a matter of modern taste.

6

Jim Buck 06.10.17 at 5:44 pm

I bought it the day it came out. I was working on a bacon counter, and had nicked 3 crispy quid notes from the cash-till. An impulse buy, it was the most beautiful artefact that I had ever held in my hands until then. And it did things to my head that surpassed the LSD which it inspired me to try.
What I want to ask, though, is: During the Paul bit in the middle of A Day in the Life, does anyone else hear the riff from Cat Steven’s Mathew and Son? “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head” (Mathew and son, the works never done)

7

Yankee 06.10.17 at 6:00 pm

The Doors. Country Joe and the Fish.

I arrived as an enlisted Marine to Okinawa just as SP came out and it was played in the barracks more or less continuously for weeks. Day in the Life is a strong flash.

8

marku52 06.10.17 at 6:24 pm

Totally true about the needle jumping the groove. Bass was also bad for it. There was even a mastering lathe (it cut the master from which the pressing tools for the vinyl were made) that had a “look ahead” head that previewed the upcoming audio and adjusted the groove spacing accordingly. That way, quiet portions of the record could be cut closer together, and louder parts farther apart. This let them get more audio time on a side of vinyl.

Mono VS stereo compatibility is still a mix issue. I remember sitting in a restaurant where they had the 2 channels on opposite sides of a rather large room. About half the mix of a Hendrix tune disappeared and it sounded quite odd.

There are lots of isolated tracks (Beatles and others) found on youtube, and it is impressive to hear the punch ins and outs as they get an amazing amount of information on just four tracks. Not much room for error. “Oops, there went John’s harmony”

No “Undo” button back then.

Also, the long fade on “A Day in the Life.” Geoff Emerick was engineering, and they mixed that late at night so he could feed the piano track though every console in the building. As the fade went on, he had engineers on the faders all slowly turning them up, to get the gain necessary for that long fade.

9

Belle Waring 06.11.17 at 12:49 am

Jo0seph Brenner: the stereo mix of SGT Pepper’s, like a lot of early ones, doesn’t really have a “center” to put the drums and bass in; everything is one one side or the other. The drums and bass are on one channel and toned down for the technical aspects mentioned. Anyway, give the podcast a listen. They not only had access to the pristine, pre-bounced masters, they mixed it at Abbey Road on the original recording equipment used for the album.

Phil: I love the Magnetic Fields but I don’t know that song. We had plenty of Isaac Asimov but more Stanislaw Lem, John Brunner (criminally underrated proto-cyberpunk!), and Philip K. Dick. Also, the cliché where everyone got a job and switched over to cocaine in the 80s was totally a real thing.

marku56: in this mix you can hear that there’s an electronic keyboard in the fade-out, which you can’t otherwise.

10

Dave Maier 06.11.17 at 1:55 am

John Brunner, absolutely! Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up are both terrific. (Also Lem and Dick of course.)

11

Alan White 06.11.17 at 3:50 am

Wonderful post. Way back when I was mostly Beatles but grudgingly some Stones too–but then again I watched all the original Monkees broadcasts. Recondite tastes to today.

Loved Asimov, Lem, and Dick–attorneys at (physical) law. My former colleague Marty Greenberg, many time collaborator with Asimov, had a lot of great stories to tell.

But back to the Beatles, because I’m there now–with some old college friends–may I offer a sonnet I wrote just last month, recognizing that Lennon and Harrison never made it:

When I’m 64
(for Rod)

Not even the Fab Four knew what they knew
when they tossed off a track termed presently
“a down to earth interlude” in an otherwise
psychedelic album, “aimed at parents” as says
mob-a-pedia. An unattainable age then
transported by that slow ferry
across the waters of memory, calm, crashing,
foggy, frozen, singing loudly now coming in to port.
I’m there just before to welcome you from
my own crossing over some better, some worse water,
with some occasional travelers but at last just by myself,
hearing that you had a hard go of it for that last part,
but arriving with love intact for some at least
and surviving two of the Four, lost on their own seas.

12

Ben Alpers 06.11.17 at 3:54 am

Some of us Beatles nerds bought the Beatles in Mono cd set that came out about eight years ago. Having grown up with the stereo versions of these albums, it was fascinating to hear all the mono mixes which, as you say, was where Martin and the Beatles put more effort, all the way through the White Album. At any rate, this set, which I highly recommend, made the mono mixes available again. My guess is many more people have heard them today than ten years ago.

13

D. P. 06.11.17 at 5:36 pm

Oh, I liked Beatles and Stones; I just heard the Beatles first.

14

bluefoot 06.11.17 at 11:30 pm

@Ben Alpers at 12: I bought the remastered mono set when it came out. Having had the mono vinyl when I was young, listening was *amazing* to me. I was finally listening to the Beatles as I remembered them, not as I had been hearing them for decades. (A side note: I also loved the packaging – miniature versions of the original records, with the CDs the same as the vinyl labels.)

I’ll be interested to listen to this new remix, if only to hear what else is going on in the music that I haven’t noticed before.

What I really need is a good stereo….my last one died in my second-to-last move (it was 3000 miles) and I still haven’t replaced it.

15

kingless 06.12.17 at 12:09 am

I’m just here to second Belle’s emotion. The ASC episode is great and so is the remix. Various interviews with Giles Martin (STFW) are interesting, too.

16

Nick Caldwell 06.12.17 at 3:08 am

Artificial double-tracking works on more or less the same principle as the guitar chorus pedal. Variations in delay of one side of the split signal produces that fuller, shimmery sound beloved of 1980s guitarists.

Same with flanging, originally produced by engineers putting their thumbs on the flange of a reel-to-reel tape as it played back, then emulated by analogue circuitry as a short delay plus some zany frequency filtering.

17

Sheprarick 06.12.17 at 3:56 pm

Thanks. The summer of 1967. Yep, for some reason there were Stones fans and Beatles fans and the arguments among 12 yearolds would be endless. However, now I relate to both “Will you Still Need me, will you still love me, when I’m Sixty-four” and “things are different today, you hear every mother say…”

18

Doug K 06.12.17 at 8:51 pm

my father bought the mono version in 1968. Unfortunately it was a local (S. Africa) pressing and sounds vile, thin bright and tinny.
So, I may be getting the vinyl version for Father’s Day, if my hints have been broad enough..

19

Moz of Yarramulla 06.13.17 at 3:08 am

Sadly I still don’t really get the Beatles. I kind of get that for their time they were dramatic and new and exciting, but very little of it resonates with me. For some reason The Beach Boys do, at least the one album… “Papa Doo Run Run” by California Project. It’s a complete remake aimed at audiophiles and the sound quality is a noticeable step up from anything I’ve heard in actual Beach Boys remixes.

I grew up with almost the opposite approach to music – the source didn’t matter, all that counted was being able to sing along to it. Which means I got exposed to a whole heap of different stuff, Beatles included, as well as an English acappella group called “The Highwaymen” that I have never been able to track down because of some over-famous US musicians using the same name. I do like a well-done cover but completely obscuring the original band is annoying.

20

Stan 06.13.17 at 4:13 pm

It’s not the Beatles or the Stones, it’s the Stones and The Who, the hell with the Beatles.

21

politicalfootball 06.13.17 at 6:00 pm

Does everyone here read Salon? Marcotte recently had an interesting, if ultimately misguided take on Sgt. Pepper’s that might be sort of on-topic here.

(Marcotte sets up a Late Beatles/bubblegum dichotomy similar to Beatles/Stones.)

22

maidhc 06.15.17 at 8:42 am

Currently up on BBC Radio 4 Extra is a series where they profile everybody on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. (It’s about 13 hours long.) It’s there for another 18 days. There is some other SPLHCB material on Radio 6 as well. Unfortunately BBC has recently removed the A-Z from their station websites so finding programmes has become a nightmare. This is one of the stupidest moves they’ve made since they erased the Dr. Who tapes. You have to search.

Terry Gross re-aired some old Beatles interviews as well. I heard a bit of the McCartney interview in the car and he was talking about the era when everyone seemed to lining up to slag the Beatles. He mentioned Benny Goodman. I remember when every adult seemed to go out of their way to insult the Beatles. In some quarters it lasted for another 10 years or so. But I only remember it as uncool grownups hate the music that us kids like. For McCartney his perspective was that their career was going pretty well and he was happy with the records they were doing but people seemed to single them out to sneer at. There was plenty of music at that time that was much more sneerable than the Beatles.

I’ve just downloaded the podcast so I can hear the whole thing.

I liked the Beatles and I had a few singles but the first time I hoarded my allowance until I had $3.99 to buy an album it was the Animals. A little later it was the Yardbirds. Luckily my cool artist uncle started giving me Beatles albums as Christmas presents.

I thought the Giles Martin interview was very interesting. Of all the people to do a remix he was the most qualified because he spent a long time with his father going through all the material and was very familiar with all the decisions and techniques. Dealing with recordings of that era is challenging because the emphasis was on getting the final mix done, not preserving the intermediate steps.

There was also recently a (repeat) PBS TV show about SPLHCB that had a lot of interesting information. Doing an album that complex on two four-tracks is a major challenge. Among other things they had to get someone to invent variable speed tape recorders, as none had existed up to that time.

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