This past week as the new Beatles box set The U.S. Albums was coming out, I published a little comparison of 37 tracks and whether certain aspects matched up with the versions heard on the original U.S. releases (see here). After word got out that this collection of 13 U.S. Beatles albums would largely be sourced from the recent 2009 remasters instead of the Capitol master tapes where they were sourced originally, Beatles fans all over the Internet began to talk about whether these unique Americanisms in the mixes would still be there. I’m talking about things like the false starts in “I’m Looking Through You” or the extra verse in “I’ll Cry Instead.” These interesting anomalies were heard on the original American albums but missing on the U.K. versions that the 2009 remasters were previously prepared for. Unfortunately, a few people took my posted results in a way I did not intend and actually thought I was criticizing the way certain tracks did not match up. The truth of the matter is that I applaud the new set and feel it offers improved versions of the original U.S. albums.
For my 37 comparisons, I set up a Pass/Fail scoring where a “fail” meant that something in the track that was different originally in the U.S. was not heard in the new CD set and a “pass” meant, of course, that the original mix heard on the Capitol masters was used. It was brought to my attention that the word “fail” was too harsh of a word to use as it sounds like I’m dissing the upgraded version while I was really only saying that it was not the same as the original. While there were more “fails” than “passes” in the particular comparisons I made, there was always a good reason for them as I’ll explain now.
On many tracks on the U.S. Capitol records from the sixties, the mono versions matched up with the stereo versions because they were really the same other than the stereo had the right and left channels combined into mono. These are called mono Type B mixes. The majority of tracks on the U.S. mono Meet The Beatles!, The Beatles Second Album, The Early Beatles and Help! used these type B mono mixes. On the upgraded versions in The U.S. Albums box set the original EMI-prepared mono mixes (now part of the 2009 remasters) are used instead. But is that a bad thing when we already have the stereo mixes in real stereo? Why have them duplicated again reduced to mono? By replacing with the original mono, you get both. So how is that a bad thing?
This next case is the exact opposite of the above. Unlike the U.K. albums, many tracks that had been released as mono singles were also included on the original American albums. Since in many cases Capitol wanted to hurry up and get another album out and not wait for EMI to prepare a true stereo mix, they created the duophonic (i.e. “fake” stereo) mix to go on the stereo albums. These are really the mono mixes split into two channels with a little tweaking. But they sound nearly the same as the mono mixes. These duophonic mixes have been replaced with the real stereo mixes in the upgraded CDs for each album. This too is a good thing since the duophonic is made from the mono, which is already included in the set. So in this case you now get both the mono and real stereo. Again, how is this a bad thing? It sounds like an improvement to me since you now get both. After all, the real stereo mixes would have been used back then too had Capitol not been in such a greedy hurry to release the albums before receiving the stereo mixes from EMI.
The two reasons given above explain the majority of the “fails” in my earlier comparison. Instead of the stereo and mono matching each other you get two accounts, many of which have differences in them. In my book, two versions of a Beatles song is always better than one.
Except for a very few exceptions the Capitol mixes that were unique to the albums made for the U.S. market have been used in the new set. In cases where they were not, it is usually because of a good reason. For example, many sixties stereo mixes have the vocals way off in the right channel and most of the backing in the left. In the eighties before the U.K. Help! and Rubber Soul albums went on CD for the first time, Beatles producer George Martin remixed the tracks on these albums doing very minimal tweaking and centering up the vocals. These mixes later were included in the 2009 remasters and the songs from these U.K. albums ended up on different albums in the U.S. catalog. These improved mixes have replaced the original stereo mixes and sound largely the same, but better since the vocals are not off to the side of the stereo image. Again – an improvement.
Finally I want to point out that Beatles albums have been improved upon in the past and given wide acclaim by avid Beatles fans. This is no different now. Improvement is a good thing. Here are four examples of Beatles albums improved upon in the past.
- Yesterday And Today – When released in 1966, the stereo album had three tracks that were duophonic mixes: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Doctor Robert” and “And Your Bird Can Sing.” In 1971, a new pressing came out that replaced those three tracks with true stereo versions. No one got up in arms about it being changed – because it was improved.
- Magical Mystery Tour – This is a similar story. When the U.S. Magical Mystery Tour album came out in 1967, the final three songs on it were duophonic mixes. These were “Penny Lane,” “Baby You’re A Rich Man” and “All You Need Is Love.” In 1971 the German Hörzu label released the first 100% true stereo version of the album and everyone was thrilled to finally get true stereo mixes of those three great songs. Now those same mixes are part of the 2009 remasters.
- Yellow Submarine – The U.S. album (only released in stereo) had a duophonic mix for “Only A Northern Song.” The album only contained six Beatles songs used in the movie with the rest of the album being the film score orchestrations. In 1999, all six of these songs were remixed and in addition nine more remixed Beatles songs were added that were featured in the Yellow Submarine film. Every track was now in dazzling stereo. With a slight title change as the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, it got rave reviews and was actually applauded for besting the original 1969 album.
- As mentioned earlier, when The Beatles’ U.K. catalog was first released to CD in 1987, the stereo Help! and Rubber Soul albums were completely remixed to better center the vocals, which were very off-center in the original stereo mixes. Even though it was already late in the eighties, altering the originals was applauded. Why? Because it sounded better.
Below is an album-by-album synopsis of the specific mixes selected in The U.S. Albums and why:
Meet The Beatles! – The mono album was all Type B mono mixes except “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “This Boy” which are the EMI-prepared mono mixes that are also the 2009 remasters. Using the 2009 remasters for these two made them consistent with the way they were in the sixties. The other 10 songs have been replaced with the EMI-prepared mono mixes and are therefore not flattened accounts of the exact same mixes that appear on the stereo version of the album. After all, you get the stereo mix too, so why have it twice? The stereo album has duophonic mixes of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “This Boy” which were made from the exact same mono mixes that are on the mono album. These are replaced on the upgraded Meet The Beatles! CD with the true stereo mix. So now you have both. The other tracks on the stereo Meet The Beatles! that were in true stereo then are in true stereo on the new CD too. While technically Capitol is on the books as re-mixing the EMI prepared stereo mixes, it’s hard to tell these two-track mixes apart from the U.K. counterparts. I cannot tell by listening if they used the 2009 remasters or the original Capitol master tapes for the stereo album because they sound the same – which makes it a moot point anyway.
The Beatles Second Album – On the mono album there are three Capitol-unique mixes not heard in the 2009 remasters. They are for “You Can’t Do That,” “Long Tall Sally” and “I Call Your Name.” All three are used on the upgraded CD. “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Thank You Girl,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Devil In Her Heart,” “Money” and “Please Mr. Postman” were all Type B mono mixes on the sixties mono album and are replaced here with the EMI-prepared original mono mixes (since you already have these Type B mixes in full stereo on the stereo tracks on the CD). “She Loves You” and “I’ll Get You” only exist in mono and that’s what you get here, which is the same mix that was there in the sixties and now available as part of the 2009 remasters. On the stereo album “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Thank You Girl,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Devil In Her Heart,” “Money” and “Please Mr. Postman” all come from the 2009 remasters and are the same mix that was on the album in the sixties (although additional echo formerly added by Capitol is no longer present). “Long Tall Sally” and “I Call Your Name” were unique U.S. stereo mixes that are not used on the upgraded CD because the vocals were off-center. These too were replaced with the stereo versions heard on the 2009 remasters. “You Can’t Do That” was duophonic on the original stereo album, but you already heard that version earlier on the upgraded CD in mono, so it has been replaced with real stereo version. Since “She Loves You” and “I’ll Get You” only exist in mono, the songs are repeated at the end of the CD so that the album sequence is preserved. The original album used duophonic mixes for these.
A Hard Day’s Night – On the original mono album there are unique U.S. mixes for “I’ll Cry Instead” (with an extra verse) and “And I Love Her” (with a single-tracked vocal on the verses). Both of these mixes were appropriately remastered for The U.S. Albums box set. The other six Beatles songs were taken from the 2009 remasters which have the same mixes that were used on the original mono album. The original “stereo” album was not stereo at all except for the four film score orchestrations. The eight Beatles songs are all duophonic mixes created by enhancing the mono mixes. In the case of “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Tell Me Why,” “If I Fell” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” the balance was panned to simulate stereo. This sounds the same as someone with their hand on the balance knob of an old amplifier turning the balance control back in forth while playing the record. This would just not do in 2014. How ridiculous would this sound on a high end stereo? All tracks therefore use the stereo versions from the 2009 remasters except “I’ll Cry Instead.” Since only the mono version has the extra verse, the mono version is repeated in the stereo section of the CD to preserve the sequence of the album and keep the same unique version of it heard on the original release.
Something New – The original mono album had four unique U.S. mixes for “I’ll Cry Instead” (the same one on the A Hard Day’s Night album listed previously), “Any Time At All,” “When I Get Home” and “And I Love Her” (the same one on the A Hard Day’s Night album listed previously). All four are used in The U.S. Albums box set. The others come from the 2009 remasters and are the same mixes heard on the original album. For the stereo album, almost all tracks were originally the same mixes that are now on the 2009 remasters, so again, those were used. The exception is “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand.” There was an error in the original stereo mix where a voice saying the word “coming” can be heard in the right channel during the intro. This was cleaned out in an eighties remix in preparation for the first release of the Past Masters CD. Aside from the correction of that very minor anomaly, the mix sounds the same.
The Beatles’ Story – No difference noted from the originally released stereo Capitol 2-LP set. The mono mix of this album was not included for The U.S. Albums upgrade. This was a documentary so there was really no point.
Beatles ’65 – The original mono album had three unique U.S. mixes for “I’ll Be Back,” “She’s A Woman” (with more echo and a shorter fade out) and “I Feel Fine” (with more echo). All three are used in the upgraded U.S. Albums box set upgrade. The others come from the 2009 remasters and are the same mixes heard on the original album. For the stereo album, almost all tracks were originally the same mixes that are now on the 2009 remasters and are used again for the upgrade. The exceptions are “I Feel Fine” and “She’s A Woman,” which were duophonic mixes that were replaced on The U.S. Albums version with the true stereo version.
The Early Beatles – This one is a similar story to Meet The Beatles! The mono album was entirely Type B mono mixes and since you can already hear those same versions as stereo mixes on the second half of The U.S. Albums CD version, the original EMI-prepared mono mixes are used for the new CD instead. Since “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” only exist in mono, the mono mix is duplicated on the stereo section of the CD to preserve the original sequence. The original album used duophonic mixes for these. The other tracks on the stereo Early Beatles that were in true stereo then, are in true stereo on the new CD too. While technically Capitol is on the books as re-mixing the EMI-prepared stereo mixes (as with Meet The Beatles!) it’s hard to tell them apart from the U.K. counterparts on these two-track recordings. I cannot tell by listening if they used the 2009 remasters or the original Capitol master tapes for the stereo album because they sound the same.
Beatles VI – There are no unique U.S. mixes on either the mono or stereo album so all tracks on the new CD come from the 2009 remasters which are the same mixes used on the original mono and most of the original stereo album. There are four exceptions. The stereo mixes of “You Like Me Too Much,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” and “Tell Me What You See” (all from the U.K. Help! album), as mentioned earlier were remixed in the eighties to better center the vocals. These newer mixes were used on the new CD. Other than a little more echo on “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” these mixes sound the same here other than the vocals being centered much better. I have no problem with that improvement at all. “Yes It Is” was a duophonic mix on the original stereo album and has been replaced on the new CD with the true stereo version.
Help! – The entire mono and stereo album use the remixes done in the eighties that better center the vocals on the new U.S. Albums upgrade CD. Otherwise the stereo mixes sound the same. The original mono album used Type B mono mixes, so using the EMI-prepared original mono mixes is arguably a nice improvement.
Rubber Soul – The original mono U.S. Rubber Soul album had one U.S. unique mix and it was for “Michelle.” This U.S. mix had louder percussion and a slightly longer fade out. The unique mix is used in The U.S. Albums CD upgrade. All other tracks on the new CD come from the 2009 remasters which are the same mixes used on the original mono album. There are two U.S. unique mixes on the stereo album. One is “The Word” (with a double-tracked vocal) and the other is “I’m Looking Through You” (which contains two false starts). These two unique Americanisms are included on the new U.S. Albums upgrade CD. The other stereo tracks use remixes made in the eighties that better center the vocals in comparison to the original stereo mixes. These remixes are part of the 2009 remasters. If I’m going to listen to Rubber Soul in stereo, it’s probably better to have the vocals centered.
Yesterday And Today – The original mono Yesterday And Today album had three U.S. unique mixes. These are “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Doctor Robert” and “And Your Bird Can Sing.” All three are used on the new U.S. Albums upgraded CD. “Drive My Car” for reasons unknown was a Type B mono mix on the original album and is replaced on the new CD with the EMI-prepared original mono mix from the 2009 remasters. All other tracks on the new CD come from the 2009 remasters and are the same mixes used on the original mono album. The original stereo album, as mentioned earlier had duophonic mixes for “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Doctor Robert” and “And Your Bird Can Sing.” George Martin had made separate stereo mixes of “I’m Only Sleeping” and “Doctor Robert” for the U.S. but they were not used, maybe because they were not received by Capitol in time. Later editions of Yesterday And Today (beginning in the early seventies) had these stereo mixes with the same stereo mix of “And Your Bird Can Sing” that appears on U.K. stereo copies of Revolver. On the upgraded CD these three tracks were all replaced with the true stereo versions from the 2009 remasters. I’m not sure why the U.S. unique versions were not used for “I’m Only Sleeping” and “Doctor Robert” but, in any event, they sound very similar to the 2009 remasters anyway. If you want to hear the U.S. unique 1971 stereo remix of “I’m Only Sleeping,” it was featured as a Beatles Rarity of the Week here. “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” also had unique stereo U.S. mixes with “Day Tripper” sounding quite different than the U.K. mix in the 2009 remasters (due in part by the intro beginning with a single guitar in the left channel instead of one guitar in each channel). Both of these two unique U.S. mixes were used on the upgraded CD. The other stereo tracks use remixes made in the eighties that better center the vocals in comparison to the original stereo mixes. These remixes are part of the 2009 remasters.
Revolver – Both the mono and stereo albums use the same mixes that were used in the U.K. that are now part of the 2009 remasters. So the upgraded mono and stereo albums are the same here as they were on albums released back in the day.
Hey Jude – This album was released in 1970 after mono had been phased out and therefore was only released in stereo. “Paperback Writer” had the right and left channels reversed on the original LP (in comparison to the previously released U.K. stereo mix) and “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” has the final drumbeat faded low whereas it stays at the same level on the single. On the upgraded CD, the 2009 remasters were used for all ten tracks and aside from those two minor differences are the same mixes used on the original LP.
So, in summary, I hope you can see that between the type B mono mixes and the duophonic mixes there was a lot of duplication that is now presented with two distinct mixes (mono and stereo) for most of the tracks. Additionally, all but a few of the U.S. unique mixes were remastered and used. I think the only thing I dislike about the box set is the negative point of view towards the Capitol albums that Bill Flanagan gives in his essay included with the 64-page booklet. I’m hoping this will clear up a lot of the misconception and confusion about this set of CDs and why Apple/UM put it together the way they did. And let’s not forget, for those of you that still do not have them, the 2004 and 2006 Capitol Albums box sets that use the original Capitol master tapes are still available too. Happy listening!
Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase music related to this post:
1) The U.S. Albums – 13-CD and detailed booklet box set containing revised accounts of 13 mono and stereo U.S. Beatles LP releases from the sixties.
2) Beatles 64 Box: Capitol Albums 1 – 2004 4-CD box set containing mono and stereo versions of 4 Beatles albums from 1964 (Meet The Beatles!, The Beatles Second Album, Something New and Beatles ’65) all using the original Capitol master tapes.
3) The Capitol Albums Vol. 2 (Brick) – 2006 4-CD box set containing mono and stereo versions of 4 Beatles albums from 1965 (The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help! and Rubber Soul) all using the original Capitol master tapes.