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Sgt. Pepper’s redux: Should you buy the $$$ new version of the Beatles’ classic or save your money?
05.26.2017
05:05 pm
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“It was 50 years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”

Whenever I write a “review” of something that’s universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece, I usually try to go out of my way to explain to the reader that just as I don’t care what their opinion is of [fill in the blank with names like Neil Young, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, etc.] I really don’t expect them to give a fuck what I think of [fill in the blank again] either. You don’t think Tonight’s the Night is such a great album? Can’t get into Meddle? Love Court and Spark but Uncle Meat never did it for you?

Who gives a shit, asshole? Not me, not anyone. Taste is subjective but certain great artists are beyond “opinion.” The Beatles top that list. I’m not about to volunteer my opinions on the music contained on the new 50th-anniversary box set of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but rather try to answer questions regarding its consumer value like: “Did they do a good job with it?” and “Is it worth a pricey upgrade for your music library?” On matters of this sort, I am happy to be of service.

Now… having said all that, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has really never been one of my favorite Beatles albums. I’ve owned it since I was a little kid, and although I had most certainly played it enough back then to have every bit of it memorized and etched into my DNA, I honestly don’t think I’ve purposefully pulled out Sgt. Pepper’s and played it more than once (when the remastered Beatles CDs came out in 2009) since the early 80s. It’s just not got a single one of my favorite Beatles’ tracks—I far prefer what was released on either side of it. I mention my “opinion” here in passing only to explain what I felt like going in...

When the package arrived last week containing the six-disc deluxe edition, I assumed, due to the HEFT of the thing that I had just gotten a care package with about 25 albums in it from one of the labels. Nope, just one BIG box set and one that’s very heavy. The slipcase is a spectacular and eye-popping re-rendering of the famous “people we like” artwork by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth in the form of a glued-on 12” by 12” 3-D lenticular. It’s seriously cool and positively shouts “first class” and signals “archival edition” from the very start.

You slide that off to find a replica of the box containing the master tapes. Open that and there’s a high gloss recreation of the original album jacket which houses six discs—4 CDs (new stereo mix, outtakes, 1967 mono mix, element reels), one Blu-ray with a 5.1 surround mix done by Giles Martin (and some video material) and one regular DVD with the same material in lower resolution. There’s also a really good 144-page hardback book with fascinating essays, as well as nicely printed recreations of a full-color vintage UK in-store marketing poster for the album, the original “cut outs” insert and—and this is ABSOLUTELY SWELL—the Victorian-era circus poster that inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Don’t tell me that’s not an inspired inclusion! It’s also something completely essential to a better understanding of the music and there for a reason (unlike the fucking marbles that came with The Dark Side of the Moon box set. MARBLES!) Many will already know the backstory, but if you don’t, and even if you do, having that poster in front of you as you contemplate the creation of that song as it’s playing is positively delightful in every way. And that sort of attention to detail is yet another reason why this box set is a cut above so many others.
 

 
The main events here, of course, are the newly minted stereo and 5.1 surround mixes by Giles Martin. Both are absolutely incredible. If you don’t already have a 5.1 listening situation in your home, now might be the time to upgrade. Seriously. Hearing Sgt. Pepper’s in surround offers sonic revelation upon sonic revelation and is a deeply satisfying audiophile listening experience. Sgt. Pepper’s has always been a particularly good-sounding album, after all it was recorded in one of the very best studios in the world by perhaps the greatest record producer who has ever lived—but in this enhanced state, with the playback given room to breathe via five speakers and a subwoofer, it’s a different beast altogether from what we’re used to hearing. The music—which employs one of the most original and varied palettes of rainbow-colored sounds ever devised—is sharper, crisper, tighter, more alive sounding, etc., etc. than I’d have ever thought possible.

At the time of the original recording, limited by how many tracks were available (four), the Beatles and George Martin would build source reels of overdubs and sound effects and then these element reels would be “bounced down” ultimately to the two-track stereo master or the mono mix. With analog audio tape, each layer or generation introduces an additional level of tape hiss. Add too many and it starts to sound murky.

Giles Martin and his team went back to these four track element reels and reassembled Sgt. Pepper’s from these earlier generation tapes, which had been kept in the EMI vaults. The results, whether the new stereo mix or the surround treatment, are remarkable. From the opening moments of the audience anticipating the start of a rock concert, you just know that you are about to experience something amazing—what audiophiles call an “eargasm.” It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as if I was really there standing among the audience—or in Abbey Road studios—waiting for the show to begin. Red lights, green lights, strawberry wine, if you know what I mean. And then BOOM it’s on. The title track rocks like a motherfucker.

As the story goes, it took the Beatles and George Martin three weeks to mix the mono version of the album, but after that, the band left and Martin mixed the stereo version alone in just three days. In 1967, stereo was still seen to be as much of a gimmick as 5.1 surround would be today. Most people owned a “record player” at the time with but a single speaker (and a carrying handle). George Harrison once described how the Beatles felt about hearing their music in stereo vs. mono: the stereo versions always sounded like “less” to them. By 1968 mono was already quickly being phased out and the stereo Sgt. Pepper’s became the default version. Most people have never even heard the mono version and although until now most of us haven’t had anything to compare it to, retroactively the “classic” stereo version seems much weaker than the more worked-over and considered mono mix. McCartney’s bass was much less focused and punchy; the same can be said for Ringo’s drums. What we are used to hearing is flatter and doesn’t necessarily feel like all of the musicians were playing together at the same time. The new stereo version corrects these deficiencies for 21st century sonic expectations and modern audio systems. Macca’s bass contributions are nimble, better-defined, more muscular and rubbery. Ringo’s kick drum thuds and his snare cracks without worry that the needle will jump out of the record’s grooves. There’s significant detail in the high end for the cymbals and hi-hats. The bottom end is never flabby or muddled, but now the rhythm section will vibrate the foundation of your house.

With the new 5.1 mix the soundstage is opened even wider, and although Martin’s mixes (both the new stereo and the 5.1 mix) have a respectful fealty to the original 1967 mono mix done by his father and the Fabs, here the listener is able to detect individual Beatle voices amidst densely layered harmonies and see even deeper into creation of the music.  Sound effects, like the swirling circus sounds in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” are particularly three-dimensional. The sitars and tablas of “Within You, Without You” felt like psychedelic leaves falling around me, but no one can accuse Giles Martin of doing anything other than what should have been done. No more, but no less either. If you were hoping for something showier than the conservative 5.1 mixes on 2015’s Beatles #1 video set, Martin’s sparkling new Sgt. Pepper’s surround mixes do go a bit further out, but by and large expect immersion, not gimmickry. There’s still quite a bit of difference between music coming at you from two speakers vs. standing right in the middle of it in a concert hall. You can’t please everyone, but I feel like Martin hit the absolute sweetest spot here. Even the overly opinionated ponytailed baby boomer guy at the record store won’t be likely to cry “sacrilege” at this one.
 

 
Someone I know who also scored a review copy said that this new edition of Sgt. Pepper’s was like going from VHS to 4K.  Whereas I appreciate the point he was trying to make, let me remind you that Sgt. Pepper’s has never sounded bad! However, I would say that comparison holds up if he’d have said it’s akin to going from watching a DVD on a standard def TV circa 1999 to a SONY 4K OLED flatscreen today (have you seen this?) with a full complement of speakers and a subwoofer pumping out 5.1 surround. That’s still saying a hell of a lot.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.26.2017
05:05 pm
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‘Theme One’: Listen to George Martin’s remarkable fanfare for Radio 1
05.29.2015
02:23 pm
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I was about to write that “Theme One” is a “seldom heard” classic by Beatles producer George Martin, but seeing how for years, every single morning when Radio 1 began its broadcasting day this was the ceremonial first song, that really wouldn’t be the case for our UK readers. In fact, people of a certain age in England heard this all the time as Wonderful Radio 1’s signature fanfare.

Radio 1 was launched at 7:00 am on September 30th, 1967 after the prosecution of the offshore pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline as a way to service the youth listeners. The Controller of Radios 1 and 2, Sir Robin Scott, came on said a few words, then introduced Martin’s “Theme One.” After this Tony Blackburn, who’d been a DJ at Radio Caroline himself, played The Move’s “Flowers in the Rain” followed by the Bee Gees’ “Massachusetts.”

“Theme One” (Despite it being labelled a “variation” by the uploader, this is the original):

 
An orchestral version of “Theme One” recorded later:

 
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What a brilliant and glorious way to start the day hearing this song must’ve been. It’s like waking up with the warm sun on your face, even in rainy Britain. Really inspiring and amazing. Of course you’d have an easier time getting out of bed in the morning after hearing this! “Theme One” also closed Radio 1 and 2 at the end of the broadcast day at 2 am. This is one of my favorite pieces of music ever. I wish it had been developed into a full symphony. Anecdotal memories of the broadcasts found on the Internet indicate that some echoey footsteps and then the aural cue of walking into a large room preceded the organ. Additionally, prior to that a series of beeps and a sine wave went out, as the BBC’s broadcast technicians fired up their gear.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.29.2015
02:23 pm
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Let Sir George Martin show you how to ‘produce’ a perfect martini
09.17.2014
08:36 am
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George and George, both lookin’ foxy
 
When I saw this little video of Sir George Martin giving martini-making lessons (an excerpt from his 2011 BBC profile documentary, Produced by George Martin), a few things struck me—besides, of course, his obvious foxyness, even at the age of eighty-goddamn-five.

1) A martini is made with gin. There is the (laughable and pale) variation, the “vodka martini,” but anyone ordering simply “a martini,” with no qualifiers, should expect gin. Complaints to the contrary will result in a face full of vermouth.

2) The bolder choice in mixing technique and the not-so-cliché garnish—always keep ‘em guessing, George!

3) Always—and this is pertinent—end with a dirty joke, as George does here. Stay charming! Prurient poetry, wit and wordplay can be the only difference between an insufferable drunk and an enchanting lush!

I hereby declare we rename this particular cocktail (with the lemon rind) the “George Martini”—who’s with me?
 

Posted by Amber Frost
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09.17.2014
08:36 am
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The Beatles rehearse ‘Hey Jude’ with George Martin
02.25.2013
01:13 pm
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From Wikipedia:

The Beatles recorded 25 takes of “Hey Jude” at Abbey Road Studios in two nights, 29 and 30 July 1968. These were mostly rehearsals, however, as they planned to record the master track at Trident Studios to utilize their eight-track recording machine (Abbey Road was still limited to four-tracks). One take from 29 July is available on the Anthology 3 CD. The master rhythm track was recorded on 31 July at Trident. Four takes were recorded; take one was selected. The song was completed on 1 August with additional overdubs including a 36-piece orchestra for the song’s long coda, scored by George Martin. The orchestra consisted of ten violins, three violas, three cellos, two flutes, one contra bassoon, one bassoon, two clarinets, one contra bass clarinet, four trumpets, four trombones, two horns, percussion, and two string basses. While adding backing vocals, the Beatles asked the orchestra members if they would clap their hands and sing along to the refrain in the song’s coda. Most complied (for a double fee), but one declined, reportedly saying, “I’m not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney’s bloody song!”

Ringo Starr almost missed his drum cue. He left for a toilet break—unnoticed by the other Beatles—and the band started recording. In 1994, McCartney said, “Ringo walked out to go to the toilet and I hadn’t noticed. The toilet was only a few yards from his drum booth, but he’d gone past my back and I still thought he was in his drum booth. I started what was the actual take, and ‘Hey Jude’ goes on for hours before the drums come in and while I was doing it I suddenly felt Ringo tiptoeing past my back rather quickly, trying to get to his drums. And just as he got to his drums, boom boom boom, his timing was absolutely impeccable.”

I like the bit about two minutes in when George Harrison is rambling on and on about something and he finally asks George Martin “You know what I mean?” but it’s obvious that even though Martin nods his head in the affirmative, that he was no idea what Harrison meant.

Imagine if there was this sort of documentation of all of their recording sessions, eh?
 

 
The famous “Hey Jude” live promo film directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg as it aired on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.25.2013
01:13 pm
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More George Martin rarities: Ray Cathode’s Time Beat & Waltz In Orbit
06.16.2010
11:42 pm
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Another couple of rarities from Beatles producer George Martin. He collaborated with Maddalena Fagandini on these two songs, Time Beat and Waltz in Orbit, the A & B sides of a single released on the Parlophone label. They were released under the pseudonym “Ray Cathode.” Fagandini, who was a part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, worked alongside Delia Derbyshire on Doctor Who sound effects. This would have been recorded mere weeks before Martin met the Beatles in 1962. (Audio for Time Beat is here)
 
Bonus clip: The Beatles appear on Doctor Who in 1965. Imagine jumping into a time machine and getting to see the Beatles! Sadly this scene only appears on British Region 2 DVDs:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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06.16.2010
11:42 pm
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You Never Give Me Your Money: Metzger on the Beatles Remasters
09.10.2009
02:12 pm
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The Beatles remasters have finally hit the street and all across the world, music fans are gorging themselves on the most fabled and revered repertoire in pop music history. This may well prove to be the last hurrah of the CD age and certainly the marketing gurus at Capital have been working overtime to make sure we’ve all very aware of the Beatles as we approach this holiday season. It’s highly likely that the Fab Four will prove to be the best selling artists of this decade, an incredible feat for a group that disbanded nearly 40 years ago. So the question—the only question, for the Beatles are hardly an unknown quantity—is simply are these new versions worth it? Are they that much different? Should people who’ve already bought these albums umpteen times buy them again? I’ll try to answer that question here for those of you who still might be on the fence.

READ ON
Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.10.2009
02:12 pm
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The Beatles Reissues Are Coming!
09.01.2009
11:55 am
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As loyal Dangerous Minds readers have probably already figured out, I am both a “rock snob” and a bit of an audiophile. So it should come as no surprise when I tell you that the 09/09/09 street date of the remastered Beatles albums—in both stereo and mono—has me counting the hours until I can get my hands on them.

What you might not know if you are of a certain age (or have forgotten if you are of another!) is that the Beatles albums sounded WAY better in mono than in stereo. Both the group and George Martin preferred mono and the stereo mixes back then were often afterthoughts with severely panned stereo mixes that had most of the instruments on one side and the vocals on the other! The stereo mixes always seemed very peculiar to me.

The 1987 CDs were the pits. Just awful, flat aural experiences. And nothing’s been done to rectify that situation until now. It always been ridiculous that the Beatles and the Stones had the worst sounding CDs. A lot of people don’t rate the Stones ABKCO reissues highly, but I thought they were (mostly) done pretty well and it was nice to be able to hear that material with fresh ears. Most of us who grew up with the Beatles, Stones and Led Zeppelin probably probably don’t listen to them all that much now, because it’s so easy to conjure their music up in our “mind’s ear,” but the Love mash-up album from the Circe du Soleil show helped me get back into the Beatles again and I’m really looking forward to hearing the remasters. If I can manage to score some promo copies of these sets, I’ll offer up reviews of stereo vs. mono daily on the site.

Meanwhile, here’s a song that sadly didn’t make it to any Beatles CD ever, their uniquely comic turn—it’s very Goon Show, isn’t it?—on Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture taken from the credits of Help!:

Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.01.2009
11:55 am
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