Last year the Beatles remastered CDs came out and it was quite an event. The Beatles came late to the CD game and when the albums came out on disc for the first time they sounded like they had been mastered from a cassette tape found under the seat of my old ’83 Dodge. This was not unusual; the original Zeppelin CDs were so poorly done it was almost criminal. I was especially excited because among the remasters was a set including all of the mono mixes, as opposed to the stereo mixes of the original CDs and remasters. You could only purchase the whole set; the mono CDs would not be sold individually, nor would they be issued as bonus material with the stereo ones.
And I had to have the mono CDs. We tend to think of stereo being superior to mono, but this is not the case with the Beatles. Most people in the UK during the Beatles’s era owned mono record players and so the band mixed their music for mono rather than stereo hi-fis. Towards the end this changed: the White Album was only released in stereo in the US and Abbey Road and Let It Be were only issued in stereo period. The stereo mixes were done without Beatle involvement and in far less detail. So the music was intended to be heard in mono and there is a major difference. The drums are heard with their full power, the music is all together – listening to, say, Sgt. Pepper in stereo with headphones on is a jarring experience, with big gaps in the mix, and the music is just fuller in mono. Furthermore, the mixes often differ considerably, with some songs having different tracks added or subtracted, sped up, different endings, and all sorts of things – this site has an album by album list of the variations.
So I bought the box set. This was a major purchase and not something I took lightly, but it was the Beatles, so I needed to get it. I couldn’t wait to hear the Beatles in glorious, as-nature-intended mono. The set arrived, I opened the package, opened the box set and took a peek at the CDs, which are all in little paper envelopes patterned after the original album artwork. And then…that was it. I put it on my bureau, out of reach of the girls, and left it there. How could I play the CDs and possibly scratch them? The set was a limited edition – someday soon it might be out of print! I felt like Nigel in Spinal Tap when he shows off a favorite guitar that he has never played and will never play. I had to make myself content with going to youtube to hear a song in mono when I felt the need, despite my expensive purchase.
And then I found a solution. I was hankering to hear Sgt Pepper in mono while driving. So I very carefully took the CD out, loaded the content onto iTunes, and then put the CD back in its place where it likely will forever stay. I burned a copy of it from my iTunes and now I can listen to it anytime I please! It loses a little punch because of the compression but it is still great. Now onto the other CDs!