Back to the vital things in life. Besides movie-watching and reading, it’s music for me. A shared facet that my colleague Kevin highlighted last week. Though I’ve put a turntable back into my life (thereby forcing me to re-collect those LPs I thoughtlessly let go more than two decades ago, to my wife’s consternation), listening to my Compact Disc collection has taken up much of my non-work-movie-book listening time.
A few years, back, that included delving into the absolute gold she-who-must-be-obeyed gifted upon moi. A belated birthday gift, The Beatles Remastered stereo set released in September of 2009. Gosh, with a present like this, it …makes a bloke feel so proud. Maybe that Herman’s Hermits reference doesn’t really apply in this Fab Four moment. So unlike me to reference Manchester over Liverpool, especially in respect to my favorite import of the British Invasion.
Having collected the initial CDs Apple Records issued back in the late-80s, the back then new hotness in music tech, I knew this second coming was going to be remarkable. In the decades since, the underlying recording technology behind the analog/digital conversion had improved dramatically. As did the skill and experience of those now manning the engineering/mastering booths, plus the special preservation given the original tracks of The Lads.
Besides, this band wasn’t about to be treated as just an oldie group from the 60s having another turn at the trough with their songs put down on new discs. It had to be better. The fans had big hopes or expectations, for sure. For this event you knew it was not going to be business as usual. Rolling Stone magazine, who can irk me no end sometimes, stated it succinctly in their review,
“… the remastering of the Beatles catalog was carried out with the caution of translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. Happily, the results justify the obsessive care.”
At least all this was true when my hearing was more intact.
What I heard when I compared some of the new tracks with their old digitally converted counterparts, made that a bit of an understatement. When I moved from the ’87 originals to the remastered ones, it was a stunner. Depending upon the tune, that is. I would start a track on the old disc with my eyes closed holding my best headphones I owned still to my head. Greeted with the familiar music that slipped on like a great pair of old jeans at their peak of wear.
I relaxed into the oh so accustomed vocals and riffs without missing a beat, or having to open my eyes. Then, I slipped in the new remastered material, with similar anticipation. That is, until the air started to vibrate. Hearing remains unique among our senses in that it is purely mechanical.
“Your sense of smell, taste and vision all involve chemical reactions, but your hearing system is based solely on physical movement.”
Let’s put it another way… my eyes snapped opened when the pulses of these remastered vibrations first registered. The first word that formed in my then middle-aged brain was vibrancy. Boy ‘o boy, did those old CDs feel so muted, in correlation. Though a mechanical sensation, listening to these somehow elicited a chemical reaction. It must have. How else to explain the skipped beat in this heart when the updated sound hit these ears?
The mono set was possibly better, as most critics argued. It had even more vibrancy, and thus became harder to purchase after 2009. I don’t blame my spouse for going with the stereo version, though. It included all of the albums The Beatles produced. The mono set excluded Yellow Submarine, Let It Be, and Abbey Road as they were originally recorded in stereo. I now own both sets.
I can state for a fact four years ago it was like hearing their music for the first time. Again. It brought out one particular comment from an old friend to my colleague Poncho in a post from the old blog:
“Their special gift, Poncho: music that sounded fresh and familiar at the same time.”
Luckily for me, and those reading it, the one that made this comment, was even more of a Beatlemaniac than I for the boys from Liverpool. At the time, my dear friend Corey Wilde offered a brief exchange on the new tracks that I’ll repeat here. His early examination of what we both agreed was the pivotal album — in music history and in remastered form — which was Revolver. He summed it up best:
“Well, so far I’ve only really listened to two songs really closely and in comparison with the ’87 cds: Eleanor Rigby and And Your Bird Can Sing. No doubt about it that the remaster sounds brighter and a little clearer – even to the point that the fuzzed guitar on Bird sounds even fuzzier to me. McCartney’s vocal on Eleanor really shines on the remaster, his voice is so clear that I can attribute emotion to it where I couldn’t before. I’m starting on Taxman, and the opening guitar work is not as harsh as the earlier cd, and the individual notes in George’s solo are really distinguishable.
OMG! I’m listening to Here, There and Everywhere — the harmonies are SO clear. It really is breathtaking!”
I couldn’t have agreed more. That final track of my Revolver rediscovery, the breakthrough Tomorrow Never Knows, an album number I rated highly in a recent post, again transfixed like as a kid in 1966. The most unique of the Lennon tracks up to that point in the group’s history. Even now, I can play it over and over again as I once did on a neighbor’s record player. The fidelity of the YouTube link over computer speakers doesn’t do the new version any justice, but here goes:
Ringo’s percussion at the beginning drives it straight through to the listener’s core on the remastered set. As the song hit its mind-bending stride, rather quickly as it’s just short of three minutes in length, its flips suddenly when George Martin induces violin strings into its midpoint. Just as a surprise, mind you! This distinct number then brings into play Harrison’s wondrous electric guitar riff.
In my mind, it endures as a totally hypnotic track. Marry all of this up with John’s mind-tripping lyrics and vocals, and it remains a thoroughly intriguing track. Now, more than ever, I think. I’ve continued to play the song who knows how times each year since the album came out in ’66.
That said, as I’m continuing to highlight what I think are the best in album covers already, I thought to ask Beatles fans out there a related question. I want to know which of the remastered album covers (displayed below) best picture John, Paul, George and Ringo in your mind. And/or, which the least. The floor is now open folks, the albums are ordered as in the remastered set:
I won’t ask which of the albums or songs are your favorites, but you can include them, if you’d like.