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Listening to: The Beatles stereo remasters

The Beatles Remasters

Is there a more valuable, interesting and diverse catalogue in popular music than this one? In twelve records, the Beatles changed the entire face of music several times over, imprinting their songs on our culture in a way that transcends generations, politics, location and taste preferences.

I think of music as belonging – at the very highest, surface level – to one of two categories: music bought by music lovers, and music bought by people who don’t buy music. People who don’t buy music may listen to the radio or encounter music in other ways in their daily lives, but they never purchase music. Their CD collections, even when they are adults, consist of roughly 15 CDs, most of which were birthday presents from well-meaning but misguided friends. You’ll find an alarmingly high density of artists like Queen, Dire Straits and Hootie and the Blowfish in their CD shelves; also U2, Coldplay and maybe an older Radiohead CD that’s a little dusty.

The Beatles are the one act that consistently and powerfully transcends both types of musical public. The fact that their career together was so short and eventful, of course, contributes immensely to this: even people who aren’t particularly interested in the biographies of musicians know, in broad terms, the story of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The Beatles created their own archetypes.

The music is peerless in more ways that I can enumerate here. I’m not going to describe each record because – if you haven’t – you simply need to hear them all. Even the Beatles’ throw-away album filler tracks are extraordinarily evolved compositions, well-produced and fabulously entertaining.

The remasters, so memorably released on 09-09-09, are tastefully and carefully done. They are subtle in ways that other remasters are not: following a careful audio restoration process that took several years to complete, they are not just louder but provide new insights into the music. As a general rule, it does feel as though audio cobwebs have been removed. Where the previous, 1980s CD reissues sounded tinny, thin and frequently harsh, these sound full, balanced and well-rounded while never lulling you into a false sense of security. There’s more space here, better stereo imaging, more depth of field. The vocals are clearer and have less sibilant distortion. And McCartney’s Höfner bass is a revelation on most pieces, as these new editions finally do it justice and allow it to anchor the music properly, something the old CDs never managed to convey.

I have spent many days listening to the Beatles remasters over the last two months, and there have been any number of new discoveries and insights. I’m particularly impressed by the many ‘new’ album tracks that I wasn’t as aware of before. I suppose this is a good illustration of how the 1980s CDs gave me listening fatigue. I feel as if there are many songs that I’m really only encountering fully now that I have the remastered discs.

For example, I’ve enjoyed Magical Mystery Tour tremendously, including such album tracks as ‘Blue Jay Way’ and ‘Your Mother Should Know,’ neither of which I had consciously encountered before. I’ve also reconnected with Let It Be, which – contrary to popular opinion – I think is the better record in the Phil Spector version (rather than McCartney’s revisionist release from a few years ago). For example, I think that ‘I Me Mine’ is an extraordinary song that should get far more attention than it does.

On the whole, the remasters have brought the Beatles into the digital age, made them digitally listenable, and have provided countless hours of enjoyment. The subtlety and skill applied in the creation of these new versions cannot be praised too highly.

I think this is essential music, and every household even remotely interested in popular music should own these records. You will find that they transcend age, taste and personality differences.

Despite the ongoing controversy over the remaining Beatles’ reluctance to see their music released digitally, a digital version of sorts will be released just in time for Christmas:

The Beatles USB

I simply bought the individual CDs on the day of release, instead of the box set. I felt that I didn’t particularly need the box and the poster.

Finally, there’s also The Beatles in Mono, a box set of the original ten or so records that were released in mono. It appears that the Beatles themselves only attended the mono mixing sessions of their LPs. EMI has made these mixes available as a separate limited edition box set whose packaging is more elaborate and historically authentic. I’ve heard some of them and can’t say that I was all that impressed. They are great-sounding remasters, too; it’s just that I’m used to the Beatles in stereo.

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One Response to Listening to: The Beatles stereo remasters

  1. David L November 10, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    Thanks for the article, Carsten. Inspired me to save up, or put this on my Christmas list.

    What do you listen to these on? What level of AV components are necessary to fully enjoy these remasters … or, if not fully, enough to gain an appreciation without taking out a second mortgage.

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