Recordings of December 1999: Who's Next & Yellow Submarine Songtrack
MCA/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 754 (gold CD). 1971/1999. The Who, Glyn Johns, prods.; Andy MacPherson, Jon Astley, engs. AAD. TT: 77:57
THE BEATLES: Yellow Submarine Songtrack
Apple/Capitol CDP 5 21481 2 (CD). 1968/1999. George Martin, prod.; Peter Cobbin, remix eng. AAD. TT: 45:38
The originals of these recordings document the two most influential rock groups of the 1960s just as they were transforming simple rock'n'roll into an expansive art form that anticipated just about every progression popular music has experienced since. Fortunately these two groups were able to make their music with the finest technology available. As a result, these remixes enable you to listen more closely than ever before.
The most dramatic differences can be heard in the details of some of Pete Townshend's guitar fills—on "Bargain," say—and on the songs where the electric guitar is not constantly revving through the middle range. Nicky Hopkins' piano work on "The Song is Over" is fuller and rounder, "Getting in Tune" reveals much more detail, and "Behind Blue Eyes" offers gorgeous separation of the vocal harmonies.
This version of Who's Next is expanded as well. Part of the series assembled by Who archivist Chris Charlesworth, it features material related to the Lifehouse project (a science fiction film that never got off the ground), from which Who's Next emerged. "Pure and Easy," a song central to the Lifehouse script that didn't make the original Who's Next, takes on a presence here that it has never before enjoyed on record. Keith Moon's drumming on "Baby Don't You Do It" is gloriously up-front. Who fans especially will be shocked by the depth and sonic detail of this material.
Similarly, Yellow Submarine has never before existed in the configuration found on Songtrack. In fact, the original soundtrack album introduced only four previously unreleased Beatles songs: "Hey Bulldog," "All Together Now," "It's All Too Much," and "Only a Northern Song." In England, Beatles songs from the animated film were released as an EP. The US release was an LP with six Beatles songs on side 1, and orchestral music composed, arranged, and conducted by George Martin on side 2. Suffice it to say that side 2 never got much turntable time. Songtrack augments the original release with tracks from Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour, all of which did appear on the soundtrack of the film itself.
Although his own orchestral music is omitted, George Martin emerges as the real star here. Peter Cobbin's remixes of Martin's remastered original recordings draw attention to many of the brilliant touches Martin's production added to the overall image. Martin and the band went through many generations, mixing down from four tracks to one, then filling up the three newly available tracks, then mixing those down to another single track, and so on, to create the dense mixes they're justly famous for. Martin, the consummate sound magician, never called attention to his own hand in the work.
Several Sgt. Pepper's songs—the title track, "With a Little Help from My Friends," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," and "When I'm Sixty Four"—are cut hotter here than on the Martin remaster, and the woodwinds on "When I'm Sixty Four" are wonderfully full-figured.
The greatest moments come on the "new" songs. In the old version of "All Together Now," Paul's vocal was hard right, John's centered. In the new, Paul's and John's vocals are both centered—and how about those handclaps? "Only a Northern Song," the coda of which sounds intentionally cluttered in its original version, is now revealed to have layer on layer of surrealist sound, anticipating the "White Album." "Hey Bulldog" is revealed as a minor classic. The jigsaw nature of the piano, guitar, and bass parts comprising the song's first verse are presented in jewel-like foil. McCartney's spectacular bass line, in particular, stands out with awesome presence.
Songtrack ends with the anthemic "It's All Too Much," with its handclap rhythm track, and a magnificent extended guitar solo pitched against a honking bass figure. The coda features heraldic trumpets, overlaid guitar lines, and multiple vocals, grunts, and handclaps in an orgiastic illustration of the slogan "Too much ain't enough!"
The Beatles still win new fans every day; in dramatic fashion, this album demonstrates why.—John Swenson