OPINION: What’s next after The Beatles remasters?

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Unless you haven’t had a television on for the last month, then you should know that next week will be a huge day for Beatles fans. September 9, 2009, a/k/a 9/9/09, b/k/a “the sacred day of the 9”, is the day that the long awaited Beatles remasters will be released on CD, as individual stereo discs, all of the stereo discs in one box, and a monaural box set for the audio junkies. What’s also coming out is The Beatles: Rock Band video game, where you are able to play along with The Beatles in animated form, with optional guitar, bass, and drum set to play along with. Deep Beatles fans also know that the video game contains digital multi-tracks of the various songs used in the game, which will make it possible to hear isolated bass, guitar, drums, and vocal tracks depending on how they were designed for the game. The CD’s have been put on the floor in some record stores in the U.S., while there were reports that a few of them have been sold at Wal-Mart’s before release day. Some people are also reporting that at a few Wal-Mart’s, some cashier’s will say that the title cannot be purchased until September 9th, but not all of them. In other words, the CD’s hit streets before the release date, so it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that the remasters (and the video game) are now available online if you know where to look.

The question remains: what’s next for The Beatles in terms of releases? Critics had predicted long ago that people would lose interest in the compact disc by 2009, and as fans move over to the MP3 for convenience over quality, it seems there’s a bit of merit to what those critics were saying. If you are to look at what’s being released and reissued, 2009 has shown a mad rush to get out as much music as possible, almost as if record labels are trying to give one last hurrah to their catalogs before it gets purchased by Verizon or Google. To a casual fan, it probably seems like EMI is doing all it can to milk the Beatles teet until it truly dries up. Before the CD, EMI in the UK and Capitol in the U.S. compiled Beatles music in countless ways to sell it to the market, making it possible to hear the same songs again in a new package. The 1987 CD pressings pretty much made compilations like Love Songs, Rarities, and Reel Music pointless, and when thousands of Beatles fans were not satisfied with some of the mistakes found on those 1987 CD’s, they pushed for justice. Over the years, EMI would release their BBC recordings and also come up with the three-part Anthology, something that fans felt was a relief over the same ol’, but it also showed how much of an influence bootleggers had on what appeared on the comp.

Nonetheless, a casual fan will see the hairy Beatles on the front cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and go “again?” I’ve heard some of the stereo remasters, I’ll have a formal review later on, but I’ll briefly say that soundwise, The Beatles have not sounded any better. Mindblowing. However, what does the future have in store for Beatles fans? As with anything related to the group and their music, no one knows and no one is saying.

In terms of music, there has never been an official release of their Christmas album.
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The album was made by Apple Records in 1970 exclusively for fan club members, who would receive a flexi-disc or cardboard record during the holiday season between 1963-1969. These records had not been heard by most fans until the Christmas album was counterfeited. In the digital era, the Christmas album has been packaged countless times, including outtakes from the recording sessions. The album is no longer a secret, as many radio stations around the world will play them alongside regular Christmas fare during the holiday season, but still no legitimate release. Considering how widely available the album is online, perhaps EMI/Apple feel no need to release it but I’m sure someone is saying “when the time is right”. Well, best to do it now so that Paul and Ringo will be able to talk about it for inclusion within liner notes.

Another side of The Beatles recordings that have been praised by fans are the acetates, where only a small handful were made for each member of the group, perhaps producer Sir George Martin, and close associates. Acetates, known to some as dub plates, were made when a song was recorded in the studio and one of The Beatles wanted to take the recording home for review. A rough mix of a song, the audio equivalent of a “rough sketch”, would be made into a one-off record and given to the intended person. What is of interest is the fact that most of these rough mixes were never released in this form, as they are unpolished and not produced, you’re hearing these songs in the most primitive form without the additions of strings, percussion, vocals, or other elements that may have been added during post-production. These acetates can go for $200+ when put on the market, which is a rare occasion. Existing acetates have also been bootlegged over the years, compiled into CD compilations so fans can hear songs develop from one take to the other. A very small handful are sourced from existing tapes, which would prove to be of value. A lot of times, the rough mix of a song was solely documented for an acetate, it was not saved on tape so the only way that mix can be heard in that fashion is by doing a vinyl transfer from the records.

Over the years, fans and Beatles scholars have claimed that there isn’t much left in the tape vaults to dig up, that everything that needs to be heard has been released. As time goes on, there seems to be stories of newly discovered tapes, adding to the already valuable cliche of recordings. Another option would be to create alternate mixes of the songs directly from the multi-tracks, similar to what they did with the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Or a series of isolated tracks from the multi-tracks where Beatles fans can hear just the drums, or just the bass, or maybe the string section? By doing that, it would lead to an endless amount of remixes, mash-ups and variations, which essentially opens the music of The Beatles to anyone and everyone, which arguably would diminish the value of the catalog. Almost 50 years after Decca Records rejected The Beatles, their power has yet to fade, but that’s now. There will come a time when the glory of The Beatles will be nothing more than a 20th century memory, and maybe a conspiracy theory will surface, claiming that The Beatles never existed, that the songs that have moved generations to listen to music differently, look at the world with broader strokes, and perhaps pick up an instrument or sing for the first time, were put together by session musicians from Los Angeles while waiting for Frank Sinatra to come in. Yet with all of the books, videos, and of course the music that exists, it’s all there.

If anything, it will become one of the greatest phenomenons of the 20th century, how four goofy kids from Liverpool were able to inspire with something as simple as music. Even when there’s nothing left, people will continue to ask for more. Since there is more left, give the fans what they want.

Here are some other resources you can take a look at for more information on some of the topics discussed in this article:

  • BeatleSource.com, featuring descriptions and photos of the many Beatles acetates that have surfaced over the years, along with promos, photos, and much more.
  • Beatle.net by Bruce Spizer, an author, fan, and collector of The Beatles whose many books on the band are criticially acclaimed and are considered essential by other fans and collectors around the world.
  • Recording The Beatles by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehey, by far best and most in-depth book on The Beatles recorded legacy ever made, period.
  • Rare Beatles, a look at some of the more collectible Beatles albums, from records to ticket stubs and more.
  • Beatles Worldwide, a 2-part book showing the many variations of Beatles records around the world.
  • Doug Sulpy, one of the premiere Beatles collectors and scholars, founder of the 910 Beatles fanzine and author of a number of Beatles-related books
  • SOME STUFFS: The Beatles’ remasters will finally arrive on the day of the sacred 9

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    Huge news in Beatleland. After years of taunting, impatiently waiting, hoping, weeping, sobbing, and every other -ing out there, it seems as if hell has officially been frozen over for millions of Beatles fans. It was announced officially today that Apple/EMI will be reissuing remastered versions of all of The Beatles’ proper album catalog and a few other key albums with a few tracks that may have been released as single-only tracks (i.e. Past Masters.)

    For those who don’t know, fans in the mid to late 80’s were waiting for The Beatles to be released on CD, as the only thing available at the time was a very expensive Japanese edition of Abbey Road (which currently commands high prices today). Unfortunately fans were not happy with it because their early albums were released on CD in mono-only, not stereo. Each of those CD’s could have have both the mono and stereo mixes for each album but back then that wasn’t a consideration (record labels were still uncertain that the general public wanted older music on compact disc). Also, some felt that the sound quality was not as good as it could have been, even though in the late 80’s mastering techniques were not as developed or complex as it is today, which means most likely fans were hearing quality discs. In fact, the CD for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was almost universally praised as a 5 star disc. Knowledge of the remastering business has made people become more aware of sound quality issues and what is possible from an old master tape.

    Word of Beatles remasters has been rumored for years, as fans have wanted to have something better than what exists. It would eventually develop into such underground figures as Dr. Ebbett and Purple Chick, both of whom have hunted down vinyl editions of key pressings of Beatles records and released them in bootleg and digital form. Avid/rabid record collectors know that certain pressings of records are considered to be sonically superior, making the initial Beatles CD pressings obsolete. As they have grown in popularity, the people at Apple and EMI have been put into the dark ages.

    The Beatles remasters will be released on the 9th of September, 2009: 09/09/09. It’s the perfect number, especially for anyone who appreciated John Lennon‘s love of the number nine, and these discs will hopefully be the recording industry’s last hurrah as it hopes to make these CD’s sell massively.

    This is what it says at the official Beatles website:

    The collection comprises all 12 Beatles albums in stereo, with track listings and artwork as originally released in the UK, and ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ which became part of The Beatles’ core catalogue when the CDs were first released in 1987. In addition, the collections ‘Past Masters Vol. I and II‘ are now combined as one title, for a total of 14 titles over 16 discs. This will mark the first time that the first four Beatles albums will be available in stereo in their entirety on compact disc. These 14 albums, along with a DVD collection of the documentaries, will also be available for purchase together in a stereo boxed set.

    Within each CD’s new packaging, booklets include detailed historical notes along with informative recording notes. With the exception of the ‘Past Masters‘ set, newly produced mini-documentaries on the making of each album, directed by Bob Smeaton, are included as QuickTime files on each album. The documentaries contain archival footage, rare photographs and never-before-heard studio chat from The Beatles, offering a unique and very personal insight into the studio atmosphere.

    A second boxed set has been created with the collector in mind. ‘The Beatles in Mono‘ gathers together, in one place, all of the Beatles recordings that were mixed for a mono release. It will contain 10 of the albums with their original mono mixes, plus two further discs of mono masters (covering similar ground to the stereo tracks on ‘Past Masters’). As an added bonus, the mono “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” discs also include the original 1965 stereo mixes, which have not been previously released on CD. These albums will be packaged in mini-vinyl CD replicas of the original sleeves with all original inserts and label designs retained.

    Bad economic times? Don’t say that to the millions of Beatles fans who will be buying each remastered album on 09/09/09, freaking out the lady at Best Buy with the piercings on her lip and eyebrow. BTW – this is also the same day that The Beatles: Rock Band video game will be released

    SOME STUFFS: Two new gold remastered CD’s from The Cars & Alice Cooper

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    If you’re a rock or pop music fan and you have foolishly not purchased a CD in the last few weeks, months, or even years, you’ll want to bust open the piggy bank for these.

    Audio Fidelity are back in the audiophile CD market again after taking a brief break, and with the help of mastering engineer Steve Hoffman you’ll get a chance to hear two classic albums in a way you’ve never heard them before.

    First title is The Cars‘ hit album Heartbeat City, which featured such MTV staples as “You Might Think”, “Magic”, “Hell Again”, and “Drive”. The other album is Alice Cooper classic School’s Out album, which featured not only the hit title track, but also “Street Fight”, “Blue Turk”, and “Public Animal #9”.

    They will be released on February 10th, and you can order them directly from CD Universe through the following links:

  • The Cars-Heartbeat City
  • Alice Cooper-School’s Out

    On March 10th, Audio Fidelity will be relasing their new remasters of the following albums:
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    They can be pre-ordered now:

  • The Band-s/t
  • Beach Boys-Pet Sounds