First Listen: The 2017 Sgt. Pepper Remix

So why do it? Remix Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 50 years after the album's original release? Giles Martin (above), son of Sir George and the man behind the new remix, said the answer is simple. Because the original tapes are in pristine condition we can.

And then there's the all-important context: record labels need something to sell. And after all we are talking about the Beatles here. If there is anything like a sure thing, a guaranteed hit, in the music business, it's John, Paul, Ringo and George.

Better face it now Beatles fans: we are all going to be buying "new" Beatles reissues for the rest of our time upon this mortal coil. When it come to the Beatles, and the trove of unreleased outtakes, alternate takes, and live tracks still in the vaults, it's best to just admit we want if not need it all. And now that the sonics are said to be improved, price is really no longer an object. Think about the coming reissues—nothing has been announced, but rest assured there's a plan—of the The Beatles "White Album" and Abbey Road with outtakes, alternates and a fresh remix. I will pay, within or without reason, whatever they ask.

That said, the new remix of the Sgt Pepper's is a welcome freshening that drew a standing ovation out of the assembled crowd at the World of McIntosh Townhouse in SoHo, NYC on Friday morning, April 28. A crowd that included Elvis Costello, who came in black cowboy boots and brown, gentlemanly cowboy hat, heard the band anew, 24 years old again, bursting with creativity, and given new vibrancy and life by this fresh remix. While all the ingredients from the original mixes were still there, these new sonic recenterings, this portraits from a slightly different angle, felt exactly right.

Martin does beautiful, spot-on impressions of his father— "John had an obsession, as my father used to say, (Giles downshifts into George), with `screwing up his voice'"—that added quite a few laughs if not authenticity to the packed listening session.

The new remix, by Martin and engineer Sam Okell, is in stereo but in a way, according to Martin, that captures what the Beatles initially liked about the original mono mix. Martin says his father and "The Boys" treated the original stereo mix almost as an "afterthought. " He played several of the 34 unreleased outtakes and alternates that are the main catnip for collectors and one, of the foursome trying to do a vocal mix of the chord that ends "A Day In The Life," was a hoot to hear. Needless to say, it did not quite work.

Beyond a certain freshness and buoyancy to the overall sound, the drums sounds in the new remix seem clearer and father forward in the mix than ever before and some of the panning choices are a bit different. But again, this is only a first impression from a single listen and I'm sure once we're all given time with the new mixes, other differences will make themselves heard.

Although the new mix of "With a Little Help from My Friends," has already been serviced to radio, these new Pepper mixes, will be released on May 26 as a two-CD set of the original record remixed and some outtakes, a two-180gm LP set of the same material, or as a super-deluxe, four-CD/DVD/Blu-ray set that includes the original mono mixes, the 1992 documentary The Making of Sgt. Pepper, and Giles Martin's 5.1 surround-sound mix and high-resolution stereo, 24-bit/96kHz files of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band plus "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane." Crucially, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane," which were a single released just before the Sgt Pepper's came out, but not included on that record, are included as outtakes in all these sets.

COMMENTS
DH's picture

The obvious answer is for the money.
But, I'm not quite that cynical. Few Beatles fans bigger than me, but I've said for years I hope we get remixes at some point.
There's a lot that can be improved, especially in the pre-Pepper albums. In addition, modern technology simply enables us to hear the playing and singing better than we could before, so why not use it?
Until proven otherwise, I trust Giles Martin to do right by the material. His approach, which was to take the existing 4 track "mix down" tapes that were used to make the original master, and try to make a stereo version that reflects the original mono, is a sound one.
My only fear is that they will do more than minor volume compression to it. Let's hope not (at least on the hi-res version).

tonykaz's picture

There can't be all that many, can there?

Mozart wrote about 430 pieces of music, I think.

I suppose that collectors will have to buy "all available" but how many could it be?

Besides, what's one more album to a person that already has a collection numbering in the 10,000s?

Seems like they'll sell as many Albums as there are collectors. I wonder how many active collectors there actually are.

Tony in Michigan

Anon2's picture

That McIntosh Townhouse is a real monument to the audio hobby. It's kind of like the UN Security Council/General Assembly halls but for audio fans.

Sonus Faber did their recent product launch there. I found it very impactful (though only through my computer screen). A Beatles (yet another, admittedly) re-issue now takes place in the same place.

I don't know how the acoustics are in this locale, but the place has become iconic almost overnight. This venue has also been used for TV programs, as I've seen. It's almost a East Coast Ennis-Brown House (the iconic and frequently filmed Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Hollywood Hills) used for TV programs, commercials, and music videos.

The McIntosh group wants this venue to showcase their own products. However, they might consider renting out this facility to competing companies for their own high-end product launches. Companies like Wilson and Magico come to mind.

It was an ingenious move to create a "world capital" of sorts for audio with this McIntosh Townhouse. It has become an overnight sensation. Despite the competitive pressures for its owners, they might just consider renting in out, for a reasonable fee, to the competition.

DanGB's picture

I hit my threshold a while back.

There are almost as many "new and better" versions of classic albums doing the rounds as there are Hindu gods, Roman Catholic saints, esoteric subdivisions of dance music or even final/director's cuts of 'Blade Runner'.

I'll give this a while before I even consider buying it, regardless of price. Too many claims of "ultimate" or "perfected" versions wearies the most patient of souls.

hackmartian's picture

I'm excited to hear it and glad they did it. The old stereo mix sounds goofy and the hard pans are distracting. Martin has proven his respect for and skill with the material, and if he can split the difference between the power of the mono mix and the added dimension offered by stereo, then fans should be excited to hear this. And please don't dismiss this as being done "for the money." That's the reason Sgt. Pepper and every other record you've ever loved was released in the first place.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Isn't it wonderful that some of us retain our excitement for music and equipment old and new?

Thanks so much,
jason

dalethorn's picture

I can only wish that this much attention were given to remastering 100 other albums that I possess.

dalethorn's picture

BTW, the "....ahhhhhhhhh" segment or phrase beginning at 2:49 in A Day In The Life is the closest analogy I know to the experience of a low-dose acid trip. These guys were masters of many things.

Briandrumzilla's picture

Sincerely hope the Beatles catalog does not receive the "George Lucas" treatment.

Mrubey's picture

I have the mono versions of Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sargent Pepper.
I still can't believe how amazing they sound. Especially Sargent Pepper.
I was feeling what it must have been like when people first heard these albums in those years.
It was like something just landed from outer space.

Beatlebob5's picture

At last my wish is coming true although slowly and one compilation at a time and now the first album although Yellow Submarine (1999 is an album I suppose). I own both the stereo & mono 2009 remastered box sets of the BeaTles albums. Yes they sound very good indeed but not as good as : the 1999 Yellow Submarine "remix", the 2016 #1 "remix", the Love "remix" album songs & snippets/ collage of songs & the 1995 Anthology "remix" albums. No offence to Sir George Martin who was without a doubt a very skillful producer but when I listened to the 2009 remastered albums/CDs I was somewhat disappointed. Most of the stereo albums have most of the instruments in one ear and the voice(s) and maybe the drums in the other ear (I listen with headphones). The initial mixture by Sir George was undoubtedly done with primitive technical studio apparatus by today's standards & by the now well known fact that at the time priority was given to mono as opposed to stereo. All this said, I disagree with the listeners who claim that to remix the albums differently than "Sir George" had intended them to sound like is to get away from what he felt the BeaTles sound was or should be. The remixed albums I enumerated when I began my comment are not just refreshing, their sound mixture excellence digs out all sorts of instrumental sounds and brings them not necessarily to the forefront but certainly we get to hear them, clearly and they were kept somewhat buried for decades. This makes the BeaTles music even more impressive as if anyone had thought this possible a couple of years ago. I'll finish with one example of a song I've hoped for years to one day be able to hear in all it's splendour (& it may be coming down the line - it's not on Sgt. Pepper) : "I am the walrus" is filled with a multitude of sounds and instruments & voices; what has always frustrated me about this particular song is at certain points Ringo's drums are buried, deep & barely audible in the very background where even the cymbal crashes at the end of the drum rolls are inaudible. When the 2009 remastered albums came out I was hoping this had been rectified but alas ... Ringo's drum roll fill ins with cymbal crashes are a must and would absolutely improve/ change this song and bring it into another dimension. If anyone reading my comment disagree with them (which is fine, we live in a democracy & I'm not an expert, just a long time fan and listener of the Beatles) do yourself a favour. If nothing else, buy the latest remixed #1 album (remixed by the same people who worked on this latest Pepper album) & listen attentively and see if you don't pick out a much clearer, much more detailed, richer, fuller modern musical sound. It's like admiring the Sphinx' head some people did for decades until someone decided to dig deeper and behold, there was a body underneath which changed the whole appearance & appeal of another wonder of the world which is what the BeaTles music is. I hope they remix all of the albums so we can finally hear them at their just value. I don't agree with those who state that it's just another money grab. The end product is too beautiful.

BuzzG's picture

I had more listening time than Robert did, and am happy to report it is even better than his somewhat guarded review (rightfully so for a first listen in a less-than-optimum environment). I'm pretty familiar with the album, love it, and have listened to it since it was released. The remixes are still revelatory and somehow a bit awe inspiring. the creativity and artistry shines through as never before.
The 5.1 mix (not featured at the press playback) is also very, very good.
For those fans of Steven Wilson's remixes of XTC, Yes etc... think along the same lines. Much more sonic detail and clarity, loving, informed, and respectful mix decisions and a sense or relaxed space that makes listening more engrossing and fulfilling. Pre-order!!!

Allen Fant's picture

The Beatles, are a sure thing an instant purchase for many, many collectors around the world.

Briandrumzilla's picture

The full-album Sgt. Pepper/Star Wars mash-up is already online. Incredible!

jimsusky's picture

tonykaz dangles some bait:

How many Beatles Albums are there?

I'll bite:

(13) "official" LP's from Britain

More from the US - which includes the so-called "crapitols" (and was there a very early Vee-Jay LP?)

Add to that the Red and Blue doubles with hits, along with some 45RPM singles that were never on an "official" LP.

Then there was the Past Masters double-CD with those singles and "Rarities" in the so-called UK Blue Box (which included some German language hits, B-sides, etc.)

There were a few other post-breakup LP's.

Then we come to bootlegs.....

dobyblue's picture

...it's because the original pre-bounce tapes were in pristine condition! Remixing a new stereo mix from the original 4-track master would be a total cash grab, you can't get any new discrete elements so you're stuck with something that will sound very much the same as the 1967 stereo mix. Being able to go back to the pre-bounce tapes means they have several times more tracks, many more discrete true multitrack elements, allowing for a proper stereo mix and a new surround mix.

Hopefully true to the words of both Giles and Sam the new 5.1 mix is far more adventurous and immmersive than the 1+ mix and will rank up there with recent amazing surround mixes by Bob Clearmountain (Bob Marley's Legend and Bryan Adama' Reckless) and Steven Wilson (almost all other new 5.1 mixes!)

We have no idea if any of the other albums' pre-bounce tapes were archived so carefully, but if they were then we can look forward to more of these editions as we rightly should - mono purists can stick to the mono (the wondeful all analogue Beatles in Mono vinyl set deserves all the accoloades it received) version and those of us who enjoy stereo and surround can look forward to mixes that do the material justice, because the existing Peppers' stereo mix is definitely limited by the 4 track mixing deck of the time.