Recording of February 2019: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition

The Beatles: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition
Apple B0028831-01 (2 LPs). 1968/2018. George Martin, orig. prod.; Geoff Emerick, orig. eng.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., remix; Sam Okell, reissue eng., remix; Miles Showell, mastering. ADA. TT: 93:27
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The Beatles, aka the "White Album," was first released on November 22, 1968. On November 9, 2018, in honor of that event, Apple Corps Limited issued the new 50th Anniversary Edition. My comments here refer to listening to the two-LP edition of the newly remixed The Beatles, pressed for Apple by Quality Record Pressings. Also included in three other varying editions are 27 of what are now known as the Esher Demos, 50 out-takes and alternate takes, and a 5.1-channel hi-rez surround mix on BD (footnote 1).

This music was great in 1968, and it's great now. Technology marches on, however, and that is where Giles Martin, son of original Beatles producer Sir George Martin, came in.

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Giles and his team have gone beyond the usual remastering process, remixing the original multitrack audio elements. We hear something new—the music we've long known and loved, but in new ways. During the months of 1968 during which the Beatles were recording this album, the sessions transitioned from using four-track tape machines to some of the first eight-track decks. Those varied building blocks have all been digitized, thus reopening the possibilities of sonic manipulation.

Verdict: I love this. It sounds gorgeous. I admire Giles Martin's taste and restraint, and the final result is innovative, daring, and brave. The faint of heart might have hesitated to tackle something so exalted—like painting an alternate version of the Mona Lisa. When The Beatles hit, I was in 10th grade. I came home from school one afternoon to find my dad lying on the floor in the living room, listening to "Revolution 9." When it finished, he said, "Now I know what it feels like to go mad." Rock on, Dad!

I still own that first copy of The Beatles, its cover embossed with its unique serial number (they can pry it from my . . . etc.), so I was able to directly compare the original album with the new LPs. When I heard some selections from this set on various systems at the New York Audio Show last November, I already felt some significant differences compared to my memories of the original. At home, listening through my reference system, I was able to hone in on them.

Parameters that can be altered to varying degrees in any remix include: the tone quality (or equalization, EQ) of individual tracks or the album overall, the positioning of sounds on the stereo soundstage, the relative volumes of various tracks, any additional reverberation or other special effects, and the amount of compression and/or limiting. Giles Martin has stated that one of his goals was to "decompress" The Beatles—this would extend the album's dynamic range.

Each of you will savor and choose your own, but here are new aspects of some of these songs that jumped out at me:

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"—Giles Martin describes The Beatles as "sounding a little less hi-fi" than its predecessors in the Beatles catalog. The sound of the tack piano in this song seemed rather strident and jangly to me on the original album. Now it's gentled and lightened, and I think sits better in the mix.

"Julia"—The Beatles 2018 strikes me as particularly outstanding in terms of the quality of the vocals—with increased detail and somewhat come clearer diction without greater harshness. "Julia" is a lovely example—intimate and emotional, as if John were sitting in my listening room.

"Helter Skelter"—The Fab Four never rocked harder than on some tracks of The Beatles. The new mix of "Helter Skelter" is "sorted," if you will—more cohesive, but with no loss of visceral impact.

"Long, Long, Long"—The heavily processed sound of the original somehow seemed to convey even more longing, coupled to that romantic, scary crescendo at the end.

"Honey Pie"—By strengthening the instrumental background tracks, the entire song becomes stronger, creating a firmer foundation for Paul's voice. As a result, it swings more.

"Good Night"—Enhancement of the background vocal chorus, as well as improved sound for the strings. The net result is a richer flavor and emotion to Ringo's vocal.

The Beatles is an elemental compound bonded to my personal and emotional chemistry; like Voldemort and his Horcrux, I have given a part of myself to it. It is a fine gift, 50 years on, to still receive the musical energy and life force that George, John, Paul, and Ringo created in The Beatles. To loosely quote Friedrich Rückert: "in their heaven, in their love, in their song."—Sasha Matson



Footnote 1: You can watch a video of Michael Fremer unboxing the 4LP "deluxe edition" here.—Ed.

COMMENTS
NeilS's picture

Seems to me that a remixed and remastered version of the White Album isn't the White Album any more, since after being remixed and remastered, it doesn't sound like the White Album any more. Strikes me as more akin to colorization.

allmeads's picture

I'd agree. It seems the "mastering" in the digital realm has effectively made this version of the White Album something entirely different. Not bad, not good, just different compared to the original. Which then opens up an entirely different discussion when you can "change" the sound of a song using digital technology in the remastering process, is the result really the "same"?

mmole's picture

On the one hand it feels like the old ads for "Beatlemania:" "No it's not the Beatles but an incredible simulation!"

On the other hand it sounds really good so why should I get hung up on issues of authenticity?

tonykaz's picture

I might be alone in this...

I'm deleting all my Michael Jackson songs.

I'm exhausted by the overplaying of Beatles stuff,

I can still listen to the occasional D.Krall but she sounds like she's drunk and slurring her words. Yuk

And a whole bunch of these Classics that just keep getting re-issued and re-mastered, and re-issued all over again.

Phew, now we're even getting Un-Boxing Videos.

I guess, as we get older we get all the more childish. ( and churlish? )

I still admire Chad Kassem as a sensible person.

Seems like 33.3 is transitioning to a hoarder's obsession: Buy and Store an Un-Opened/Sealed Set.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Of Course, my many Piano & Violin Concertos by various Artists remain worthy of multiple repeats, especially including my very many versions of Berlioz Symphony Fanstique with Reference Recordings being the best. Damnit, I'm guilty too.

but....

I stopped buying repeats of Vodka Bottles and repeats of Cigs. Packs.

AaronGarrett's picture

I can no longer listen to the Beatles (or Michael Jackson). Doesn't happen with jazz -- I can listen to Lester Young play Lester Leaps In 10,000 times and I still enjoy it. Doesn't happen with more avant garde stuff, whether Can or Ornette or Elliot Carter. Doesn't happen with stuff that really has funk or duende-- I can listen to the Meters over and over again or the JBs or Paco and Camaron. It seems to mainly happen with highly produced pop, at a certain point I just can't stand to listen to it anymore. It's obviously me, not the music.

ken mac's picture

since 1000s of us love this new mix. It only heightens what was already there buried under the sonic sands of Abbey Road. Vocals have more depth, more subtlety, more richness. Drums have more tone and force. Bass playing is more apparent, and even small, individual voices now pop out of the mix as never before. Beautiful Beatles in high rez is still the Beatles.

ok's picture

..although the White Album remix lacks the otherwordly, epochal element of the “original” record atmosphere – a common fate of most classic remixes and curiously one that Sgt. Pepper’s somehow escaped. However it is truly excellent in all other aspects. It’s not merely a case of modern clarity vs. past obscurity; it might also have something to do with indiscernible timing slips of the mixing process and inevitably altered production taste.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Note to tonykaz: My fave Symphonie Fantastique is Ataulfo Argenta directing the Paris Conservatioire. The brass in this recording has a "French" quality that has been erased over time. I blame Bruckner. My copy is an old STS LP. I should probably hunt down a digital transfer. My DAP has the Munch/BSO Living Stereo recording, ripped from the hybrid SACD, also good but not as unique as Argenta.

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, thanks for this.

I use Fantastique to give unsuspecting innocents a WAVE of Power and Majesty. ( my wife's visiting Minister Groups )

It never fails to thrill.

They always want more, after they recover and brace themselves.

Now, I'm hoping to build an immersive system experience like Kal Rubinson revealed at RMAF 2018 Seminar. ( using Horns! dammit )

This is like being a Dealer again, doing demo's in the Big Sound Room with Tons and Tons of Mono-Amplifier Power.

I'm a bit of a Show-off, aren't I ?

Tony in Michigan

ps. Horns would let me use tiny Tube Amps like the ones we had in the 1950s. How cool would that be?, Big Sound from tiny/little 10 Watt Amplifiers! ( little tube mono amp mounted on the back of each loudspeaker, just like 1950 vintage speaker Consoles.) Playing "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas", Perry Como won't have a dry eye in the house.

boulderskies's picture

No Tony. You're not alone.

Yes, the SQ of this album is extraordinary. Yes, we can hear new and different tidbits here & there. So, yes, the attention to detail, the restraint exhibited and the impact of technology are all at play.

But, bottom line: that was then; this is now. Then, we waited with baited breath, couldnt wait to get a new Beatles album; unveiling and the first play were EVENTS. It will never be like that again, no matter how many times we re-hash these albums.

I'm starting to feel like a Music Whore, an old hag that my heroes (muscians) and their companies seek to get as much out of as they can before I (my money) dry up altogether.

I say this dog has had its day. And a great day it was.

tonykaz's picture

Ditto !

You've captured the essence of it.

Well said.

Tony in Michigan

boulderskies's picture

Thank you Sir.

Allen Fant's picture

Excellent points as above- Aaron I am a Jazz Hound as well.
Nice overview -SM. For the purist, there are older The Beatles cds and vinyl. This new remaster (in the same vein as Sgt. Pepper remaster from 2017) is revelatory on many levels. Check out "While my guitar gently Weeps" and "Yer Blues" then get back to me.

Anton's picture

You know this release means?

Yes, only 5 more years until the next definitive White Album release!

Isn't it about time they finally "discover" the actual Kind of Blue original master and get to work on 5 or 6 new versions of it?

tonykaz's picture

If Chad Kassem gets around to NEW & IMPROVED Boxed Set Releases for all the Albums he knows are worthy, will the small number of 33.3 Collectors financially keep up?

We're only talking thousands of people ( maybe ), aren't we?

The Middle Class ( us ) is rapidly disappearing from Globalization and Old Age. Can our 21st. Century poor ( bottom 50% ) afford $50 for Chad's fresh Releases?

I know professionals that buy ( "invest in" ) a NEW Wristwatch every month ( I certainly do ) but none of them even remember Daddy's record player.

Acoustic Sounds is buying-up ( "investing" ) in quite LARGE Collections of Vinyls from Family's Inheritances. They are Showing Video Footage of their Warehouse filled with Pallets full of "Used" Albums that just arrived for sorting and organizing. Phew. ( even Lawrence Welk Albums, I'm told )

I lived 33.3 from when it arrived in 1957ish thru to 1985ish. ( 30 years, 3 Decades ) It was OK but as an Old Man I'm emotionally & physically relieved that I'm not having thousands of Vinyls dominating my Quality of Life.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I still have Vinyls which I'll be selling off before....

ps. No.2 If a Collector's Shelving Collapses on a person, is it fatal ? ( as in Records to Die For. R2D4 )

Long-time listener's picture

"I can no longer listen to the Beatles (or Michael Jackson). Doesn't happen with jazz..."

When I first got the White Album as a kid in '68, I just got the overall feel of the music. Now, what I take joy in is hearing the incredible counterpoint of Paul's bass in so many songs, subtle and restrained, yet highly imaginative and creative. Or the way he actually SINGS the bass line in "I Will." That's amazing too, and it's that sort of creativity that makes the White Album last, for me. It's too bad Paul didn't have a separate career as a bassist only, instead of writing more and more drivel like "obladi oblada"...

supamark's picture

is what was actually done here (and on the Sgt. Pepper's remix).

When The Beatles recorded they would fill up a 4 track (so, starting with the original performance - bass, drums, rhythm guitar(s) on rock songs) and once it's filled up mix it all down on to a single track on another 4 track machine, fill that one up, repeat until everything's recorded then mix the remaining 4 track tape down to the release format(s). this is, in the recording biz, called bouncing down. you lose good stuff (dynamics, detail, high frequencies) and add bad stuff (noise, low end mud) every time you bounce tracks down. this is also why the mono versions of the older Beatles albums tend to be considered "better" by a lot of people - they were pretty much mono recordings to begin with.

What Giles & Co. have done is digitize all those pre-bounce tapes (so every track is 1st generation, not just the final three tracks recorded) and then did a proper stereo* mix using all 1st generation recorded material. Except on the first tape (which probably had a lot of stuff bunched up - like the drums all on one track) most of the tracks on the remix had only one or a few instruments instead of everything that came before.

Haven't actually heard either of these, but it doesn't surprise me that a lot of people think they sound great. all the bouncing they did let them do some cool stuff in the studio but it covered the music in layers of added noise and grunge (and removed a lot of dynamic range - tape compression, it's real yo).

*it's unlikely there's any actual stereo material on those tapes (esp. Sgt. Peps) - why bother if it's all getting bounced down to a single mono track? Well, maybe some of the vocals since vocals are usually the last thing recorded.

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for your analysis of digitizing the original first generation masters becoming the critical ingredient to all future re-issues.

Of course, now, it seems obvious : To get realllllly great vinyl, you have to first digitize.

So why not just sell the Digital version?, are the 220g. Vinyl releases a gamey con? Should we be smelling something >)))'> , I suspect so.

Vinyl is just another Franklin Mint Collector's Item. Just not in 3 easy payments and not being sold on QVC Network between Emerl Frying Pans and Celebrity Make-up KITS.

Of course, there's still the possibility of the "Planet" getting a few QVC Selling Slots for Boxed Sets of Numbered 500/1000 vinyls.

We might just end up with our own Audiophile version of Ron Popeil. ( or, have we already ? )

Tony in Michigan

Robin Landseadel's picture

Yes—why bother with an LP when it's mastered from a high-rez digital source?

No matter what audio-juju a mastering engineer has in force, there's the reality that LPs will ALWAYS sound worse the closer the groove is to the deadwax. There's no fix for this. When I said that LPs always sound wrong to me these days, this is the major reason why. The energy in the groove always goes down the closer the needle gets to the spindle, never stays the same, never gets better. It's because the record has less of the groove going by the needle the closer the needle gets to the end of the groove. There's no excuse for claiming that an LP will be superior to the hi-rez source it was mastered from. If it sounds different it's due to distortion. People might like the sound of that distortion, but it's still distortion. The current LP bubble is stupid, silly, obsessional. It's as if record collectors want to stay in High School for the rest of their lives, while the rest of the world moves past them.

tonykaz's picture

Well said.

tonykaz's picture

Well said.

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Rotisserie' vinyl? :-) ..........

DH's picture

Agree fully with this review. The remix (and also the Sgt. Pepper one) do exactly what a good digital redo should do:it allows us to hear more of the music - more detail, better voice definition, and superior definition of each individual element - without changing the basic sound and feel of the music.
My only small criticism is that the added volume/compression on Sgt Pepper should have been a bit less. It still sounds great, but would have been better with a touch less compression. The White Album isn't more compressed, it just seems louder b/c the sound is so much improved.

groig076's picture

All great comments above. But it just goes to show the state of the music business today. Or, more precisely, the state of the 'Art' (artists) today. Speaking as a soon-to-be 60 year-old, I've done my time with vinyl and will never go back to it. The Beatles were never my cup of tea (horrors!) but I get what people hear in these re-mixes. Probably one of the few people on the planet that's never heard The White Album before, I may get this and take a listen for myself. And, yes, I can't listen to Michael Jackson anymore... he lost me years ago.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Would 'Justin Bieber' generation buy/stream/like the White Album? :-) ............

Robin Landseadel's picture

The first album I got under my own power was the White Album. Was gifted an electronics kit as a Christmas present. Parts were missing/damaged. Returned to Sears in exchange for the 2 LP set. We had one of those "portable" record players, flip down 'table, nickel on the stylus end of the tonearm. Played it to dust, Revolution #9 being my first exposure to musique concrete, something I'll always find fascinating. #9 is rather good example of the genre, FWIW.

1968 was a crucial year musically. I moved from L.A.'s top forty and early "Underground" radio to the country & western deserts of Fresno. Truth to tell, there was some quirky radio in Fresno, somebody dug the Bonzo's "Intro & Outro" enough to keep it in rotation for about a month, the local college radio was turned on to the "Dead". But the real big shift in my musical education came from my math & reading teacher, who turned me on to Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique and a nice collection of classical LPs I could borrow.

Speaking of the Bonzos, 1968 was the high-water mark for Paul's involvement with the Bonzo Dog Band. We wouldn't have "Honey Pie" without the influence of Innes, Stanshall et al. Nor would we have "I'm the Urban Spaceman" without the guiding hand of Apollo C. Vermouth.

My Beatlemania goes back to the Ed Sullivan show, belly-flopped on the carpet before the tube, a "big-screen" [for 1964] 21 inches worth at 480 lines per, monochrome with audio via a 4" cone driver in the cabinet of the big-box TV. This led to a lengthening of my hair, a change into some less comfortable footwear, and the constant presence of a Viscount 8 transistor portable pocket radio on my person, with an earpiece so I could sneak the listening apparatus into school. "The Girl from Ipanema" was in rotation with the Beatles, Supremes too. If you were scanning between KFWB, KHJ and KRLA in 1964, there's a good chance at any given moment you'd be listening to the Fab Four.

During their time—for me, grades 3 through 9—it seemed like such a big deal.

Fifty years later, I'm clearing out my LPs, giving away almost everything. I'm done with records, they sound wrong to me. I'm mostly listening to lossless Apple files ripped from CDs and played back on a DAP. Bought 11 classical CDs at Rasputin's yesterday, set me back all of $3. Crazy what people just throw away. Listened to the 2009 stereo remaster of the White Album via a pair of Klipsch X11i earbuds a couple of days ago. These earbuds have oodles of detail in the mid-band, so naturally I heard things I didn't hear before. Revolution #9 still works for me.

I want to hear the remix but I can wait, don't have $30 to blow on something I've already bought ten times or so and listened to over a thousand times. Have needledrops of the mono LP series that came and went through my "collection". I like the sound of the 2009 stereo CDs more, like the mono CDs about as much. But found it all much more interesting back when my playback gear was of much lower quality and the music was fresher. I suspect there's a lesson in that, not sure what that might be.

tonykaz's picture

Good Writing, phew.

Feels like you're telling everyman's story, with your age meeting technology around the mid-1960s when we didn't have "excellent" as a possibility.

You survived, able to tell a dam good story, fingers flowing across keyboards, mastery of language combining with a cogent Life Story.

This Beatles Album release triggers a memory of where we came from and how amazingly far we've advanced. ( and lived to see )

Could anyone who remembers seeing Sullivan & Beatles in 1964 imagine what living in 2019 would be like? Back then 1984 was a Book, now it's how our Government works ( Cameras on every street corner ).

The Beatles reminds me that "we" were innocent, back then, full of hope, full of life. At least for Euro Caucasian North American youths buying GAS @ .24 cents per Gallon, driving 5 L V-8 Cars getting 15MPG, polluting Lake Erie with Phosphate Detergent, seeing ( on TV ) Cleveland's Cuyahoga River burning ( 1969 ) and being Sold Carcinogens by Dentists Recommending Chesterfield Cigarettes more than any other Brand. Egads, I ended up smoking 20,000 Packs of Smokes, outliving 4 Marlboro Cowboys who never smoked more than 12,000 packs each.

I think I'm say'n :
the Greatest thing about this 50th Anniversary Beatles Album is that we lived to see it. "WE" accomplished something. I'm hoping to live to see the 75th Anniversary Beatles Album's Release ( stupid unboxing video and all ) and I'm hoping to shake-off Corporate Capitalism before it Consumes whats left of me and my Children.

So, Beatles, see y'all in 25 more years. Fingers crossed

Tony in Michigan

Douglas_Harrison's picture

Certainly can't please everyone but Sgt. Pepper, The WA & Imagine are fantastic.
I've read all the variations of "The Beatles music is like the Mona Lisa".
Well then don't buy it. Hang on to the original versions and be happy. The fact is these sound far, far better than ever and reveal more of the music and more accurately portrays what the people involved in the recording heard.
The addition of the Esher demos & 5.1 just make for a whole new experience.

Graham Luke's picture

Gaaaaa...

Long-time listener's picture

Everyone knows that Clapton played guitar on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Does everyone also know that Paul actually SINGS the bass line on "I Will"?

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