April 7th, 2009
02:29 PM ET

A Beatles fan on the Beatles news

Finally. Apple and EMI today made the announcement people have been waiting over a decade for, that they are going to release remastered versions of the Beatles' albums on September 9, 2009.

Why that particular date? Well, it is the date that the Beatles’ “Rock Band” version comes out - but you really need to listen to “Revolution 9” for the answer.

To quote that … um ... “song,” “Number nine … number nine … number nine.” What better day than 9/9/09? John Lennon would be proud.

And fans will be happy … finally. Beatles fans have been listening to muddy versions of Beatles albums on CDs that were put together in 1987. Remastering technology and CD mastering technology have moved on greatly since then. Every classic artist and band - Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who - have already remastered their CDs. (Some, more than once.)

So Beatles fans have been waiting awhile for this - so much so that in the bootleg world a mysterious Dr. Ebbetts has been making his own meticulous remasters of the Beatles' albums using a turntable, pristine vinyl copies of the albums and computer post-production audio technology. They are very popular downloads with hardcore fans.

But will the fans be happy? With every Beatles decision nowadays it seems there are always a few caveats. To be hippie psychedelic about it, to the yin with the Beatles, there is always a yang.

The best part of today’s announcement is that they are releasing CD remasters. Digital downloads are not being announced yet, but for many of the hardcore fans it is the actual CD remasters that are important and not the digital downloads.

One surefire way for the Beatles to have made a mistake was to have issued digital downloads of their remastered songs on someplace like iTunes and then months later released the CD remasters. The Beatles and EMI probably could have made more money that way, as some people would possibly have bought the downloads and then gone out and then bought the CDs.

That, however, would have dissatisfied hardcore fans who want the Beatles music in the best possible quality, and not in some “lossy” download format. They are still working out the details of the digital downloads and no doubt they will come to some agreement with someone –- or, as George Harrison’s son Dhani recently hinted in an interview, would make them available themselves.

Also, it's good news that that they are releasing both the mono and stereo versions of the albums. This is important because in the 1987 CD incarnations they made decisions that have been debated for all the years since.

Beatles producer George Martin and the Beatles spent more time mixing their albums for mono than they did for stereo, and significant differences are apparent between the mono and stereo versions, which are particularly noticeable in “The Beatles” (the “White Album”). In 1987, they decided to release the first four albums –- “Please Please Me,” “With the Beatles,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles for Sale” - in mono and the rest in stereo. Ever since then people have been clamoring for both the mono and stereo versions of the albums to be released.

This time the Beatles are doing that - although with many of the early albums they could have included both the mono and stereo versions on the same CD because the running times were so short. So people will inevitably complain about having to buy the same album twice when they could have bought one CD with both versions on it. The yin with the yang.

How good will these CDs sound? Extraordinary by all accounts. Mojo magazine got a chance to listen to a few of the tracks back in October and said the newly remastered songs had an “immediacy, intimacy and freshness that, until now has lain half-hidden beneath the patina of old-school digital remastering and even older school master-disc cutting.” However, one wonders why George Martin or his son (and co-producer on the recent “Love” album) Giles Martin are not listed as being on the remastering team. One would hope they were consulted.

The team behind it are “old” Beatles hands, so to speak. While they didn't work on the original recordings during the 1960s they have been working on many Beatles projects since, including “The Beatles Anthology,” “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack and “Let It Be … Naked.” They clearly are trusted by the Beatles and given free rein to make decisions.

In the press release they clearly did not make these decisions lightly. It took them four years to remaster the albums. Considering that is half the time it took the Beatles to record them, the team clearly spent a lot of time on them. The process was described as a lengthy procedure done a track at a time. They used a Pro Tools workstation operating at 24-bit 192 kHz resolution, which must mean something to tech heads. The actual tapes were said to be in good shape although there was a slight buildup of dust, which was removed. There was considerable thought given to what restoration processes were, such as whether they could fix electrical clicks, microphone vocals pops and bad edits. They decided that as long as it did not impact the original integrity of the songs it was allowed. When each album was completed they were “auditioned” in Studio Three of Abbey Road to see if further alteration of EQ was needed.

Now, one of the biggest problems that will be complained about is that these releases do not cover all the Beatles’ album releases - just the core ones the Beatles released. There is no talk of releasing remastered versions “The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl,” “The Beatles’ Rarities” (of which there were U.S. and UK versions) or “Live at The BBC” - nor are there any extra tracks. There are mini-documentaries being included as QuickTime files with archival footage, photographs and studio chatter.

But, again, hardcore fans have been spoiled by online bootleggers, in this case a group calling themselves Purple Chick, that have been collecting all known versions of songs for each album and putting them together in a package for each album. The Beatles would have done well to take them as examples in what people are willing to pay in their quest to acquire everything the Beatles did. Indeed, the Beatles would do well to follow Dylan’s “Bootleg” series or Frank Zappa’s beating the bootleggers at their own game, releasing the bootleg albums legitimately.

In the end, all told, this is a good announcement, one that will take Beatle fans’ cash and make them happier. It has been a long time coming. Surely digital downloads will be sorted quickly, and for audiophiles one would think these releases will probably be duplicated on vinyl, although that has not been announced.

But a Beatles fan is never completely satisfied, so hopefully the Beatles and Apple will move quickly from this release to releasing the film “Let it Be” on DVD, all the Beatles’ music videos on DVD … and then let’s start a discussion about “Carnival of Light” and the 27-minute long version of “Helter Skelter.” The fans want them, Beatles, all you have to do now is put them out.

- Todd Baxter, CNN Chief Cameraman and Video Producer (and unofficial Beatles expert), London


Filed under: Music

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. chris

    I have the beatles let it be film on dvd in digital quality . I also have The Beatles unreleased songs " Many Rivers To Cross and subterranean homesick blues " .

    September 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ted

    Brad is right on the money. This release is really a step backward in terms of sound quality, and a huge oversight in not releasing this on a higher resolution format.

    August 11, 2009 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Barry Grant

    This sounds all very nice, but where is United Artists, " A Hard Day's Night? Nowhere to be seen or heard. Haven't read one so called Beatle freak mention this, just boring remarks about Let it Be on DVD.
    At the cost requested, the above LP/CD should by all means be included in this " ultimate " set.
    It's not even close to being definitive.

    August 11, 2009 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. teddyboy

    bring it on!

    May 28, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brad

    Michael, the first albums were not recorded in mono. Both the original vinyl mono and stereo releases of the first two albums (Please Please Me and With the Beatles) were derived from 2 track masters. The 3rd and 4th albums (A Hard Days Night and Beatles For Sale) were derived from 4 track masters resulting in a modern stereo soundstage with the lead singing in the center. There was some justification for releasing the first 2 albums on cd in mono because the vocals were all in one channel. This was because they were recorded that way on the original 2 track master. However, they also only released the 3rd and 4th albums in mono on the first cds. There was no excuse for this, because the masters were 4 track and gave true stereo on the resultant mix down.

    You are probably confused because the United Artist soundtrack of the movie "A Hard Days Night" in the U.S. was a fake stereo release derived from a mono master (they were in such a hurry and didn't want to wait for the stereo masters to be completed in England before releasing the album). The original Parlophone stereo release on vinyl of "A Hard Days Night" in England was done in true stereo.

    Now the Parlophone Stereo version of "A Hard Days Night" album will be available officially for the first time on cd. When you hear this, you will be blown away by how much better this sounds than the mono cd of this album. You will be able to hear George's Rickenbacker 360 12 string guitar on lead parts that were absolutely buried in the mono mix. You will also hear piano parts in songs where you didn't even know a piano was used. On the title song in the mono mix, the end of the song with the chiming of the 12 string guitar was chopped off – so much for the "care" in making the "official" mono mixs.

    One thing I am troubled about in the press release is that they are going to use compression to raise the volume level on the stereo releases. They care too much about the volume of the cd (compared to others) and the heck with the dynamic range. This is a big step backwards, since they are supposedly trying to make these recordings sound better. I also heard no mention of releasing these albums in a high resolution format such as SACD or DVD-Audio. The quality of these formats is much better with greater dynamic range available, so the music sounds "live". It is incredible when other groups such as the Rolling Stones or the Moody Blues can release all their early albums on hybrid SACDs (they sound fantastic), but EMI is too cheap to release the most valuable catalog (the Beatles) in all of music on a high resolution format. Why do all this high tech mastering in high resolution and then reduce it down to a low resolution format (cds)?

    April 12, 2009 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Malcolm Pollack

    Hear, hear, tb. These volume wars have been very destructive indeed.

    April 8, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tb

    I suspect the new remasters will not sound better to everybody, depending on how "slightly" they raise the volume. To achieve this, important qualities of the music are lost – like the punch of the drums and the definition of the bass. Dynamics that allow the music to breathe is a big part of what is pleasurable and satisfying about listening to music, but these days it is sadly lacking. Most recordings and remasters today are overcompressed distorted messes that quickly tire the ears. And the industry wonders why nobody wants to pay for music anymore!

    Hopefully these new masters will be done tastefully, but I doubt it. I don't need a louder CD, I have a volume knob, thank you.

    April 8, 2009 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Michael

    Since when is it an accepted practice that any time a recording gets "digitally remastered"– it's a good thing? All it means is that they are re-mastering starting at the multi-track level. So the new producers of the "new and improved" tracks will have the opportunity to go in and take the strings down a little on Sgt. Pepper's "She's Leaving Home", take the effects in "I Am the Walrus" down a little, clean up the muddy distortion in "Helter Skelter", or maybe even "punch up" the vocals on "Let It Be" with a little compression– so Paul blends a little better in the mix– as if the recording was somehow flawed by its creative choices.

    Someone in here actually wrote– "just make sure you release them on vinyl, too!" - JUST BUY THE ORIGINAL. Why would you want someone else's interpretation of what The Beatles should sound like? The original mono and stereo mixes should be the start and end of where The Beatles catalog is remastered. Anything else is tampering with music history– and some of the best recordings ever made.

    Incidentally– if you'll allow a Cliff Clavin moment– The first few records were recorded in monaural, so there aren't multi-track masters of their first sessions. The stereo versions were actually derived from the monaural recording– sending certain frequencies to the left channel, and others to the right. It's why you can sometimes turn the balance over to the left or right channel and you can't hear any vocals.

    April 8, 2009 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. James

    Brilliant news, but let's have them in vinyl! I know the miracles and wonders of modern technology will make it sound like The Beatles are playing in yer front room once the laser hits the cd...but they recorded with vinyl releases in mind, not cds – let's have em on good, 180g vinyl, original artwork and inserts, and just be done with it! The recent Doors vinyl reissues for example, sound a whole lot better when the needle drops than when you stick the same remaster on cd in the cd player.

    Failing that, Mr McCartney, if you just let me have your original mono vinyl copy of the White Album, i'd be happy to call it quits and drop the subject!!!!

    April 8, 2009 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. BandontheRun

    As an owner of all the Mirror Spock, Dr. Ebbet's and Purple Chick releases.. this has been a long time coming! I will buy it all and enjoy them all!
    That said, I would also like to see more releases of remixes. I REALLY enjoyed LOVE and the Yellow Submarine Songtrack. As John said, "If you want to reminisce, you've got all the old albums" ...
    I'm 36 and I bought Guitar Hero just because I knew The Beatles were going to release a similar concept, so I didn't want to waste my learning curve for how to play those games on the Beatles.. I bought Aerosmith Guitar Hero and now I really can't wait for The Beatles Rock Band.
    Beatles – Give me more, Give me more...

    April 7, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    Finatra comments are so pathetic. And, since he cannot spell well, I conclude he doesn't hear well enough to judge music or musicians.
    KaKa that Juub, Finny.

    April 7, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ted

    Fernando –

    I Feel Fine, Revolution, and Paperback Writer are all included in the Past Masters discs which will be included as one disc in this forthcoming collection.

    April 7, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ted

    And I am curious, will the collection include the U.K., or the U.S., version of Rubber Soul?

    April 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ted

    In another CNN article, it was noted that the volume of the music is raised "slightly" in these new Beatles remasters. Great. Even the Beatles are not immune from the record companies' ridiculous Loudness War. I never had a problem with the volume of any Beatles LP, cassette, 8-track, open reel, or CD I've ever owned, and yes I've owned Beatles recordings on all aforementioned formats. I question whether these remasters will actually sound better than an LP. I seriously doubt it if what I read is true.

    April 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. M. Levy

    All you need is "Love"! Wonderful news

    April 7, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Bruce

    Doesn't Michael Jackson own most of the Beatles music? Does anyone know how much of the proceeds he will get?

    April 7, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  17. pierre le cornec

    the albums need to be remixed, not just remastered... just listen to how good the old tracks sounded on the yellow submarine remix of several years back..........

    April 7, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Fernando Payerpaj

    When record companies do these type of things they always forget about the songs that were issued only on singles, like Revolution, Paperback writer, I feel fine, etc. They should also be re-released together on a new CD.

    April 7, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Everyone Knew Her As Nancy

    This is wonderful news. And I second, "so hopefully the Beatles and Apple will move quickly from this release to releasing... all the Beatles’ music videos on DVD" big time!

    April 7, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  20. pgannon

    what we really want ..are the individual 4 track recordings of each song...so we can hear the brilliant music of Paul's bass isolated or John and Paul's harmony on If I Fell. Now that would be something!

    April 7, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  21. JO

    I can't wait and its my birth date !

    April 7, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  22. dennisk

    Thanks, Todd. A thorough and informative recap of today's big Beatles news.
    You made two excellent points that I agree with completely: the stereo and mono versions should have been put on a single disc (where length permitted), and they could have taken a tip from Purple Chick by including time-relevant singles and select rarities with the full length albums (instead of making us–again!–buy the Past Masters compilations).
    Ah, well, as you said.. the yin and the yang.

    April 7, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Farley

    Why not just release the new albums on vinyl, so that even fewer young people will get them? Perhaps an 8-track?

    Sarcasm aside, I fear a generation is going to forget the Beatles if they don't get off their rears and get the files in the actual format people use.

    My son doesn't even know from CD's, and I haven't bought one in so long, I literally can't recall the last one I bought, and I *pay* for music, I just do it, you know, in a modern way, downloads

    April 7, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Kenzo the Walrus

    And no one has mentioned...for the first time the first four (UK) albums will be available in stereo on CD!

    April 7, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Kenzo the Walrus

    And no one has mentioned...for the first time the first four (UK) albums will be available in stereo!

    April 7, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Don, Nashville

    On 09/09/09 I will be dropping quite a bit of cash, buying the Rock Band disc and the remastered albums, but it is well worth it.
    Long Live The Beatles – the greatest band in history!

    April 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Frank Frinatra

    The Beatles music is wearing thin in the 21st century. The White Album sounds like a high school garage band. John's awkward guitar chords, George's awful lead guitar playing and Paul's tin pan alley piano and bass really get on my nerves. Even Martins lush production of Abbey Road can't save it from time's inevitable disection of the songs and the lack of musicianship.
    I just don't get the greatest songwriters of all time title they try to hang over Lennon and McCartney's head. Their songwriting sucks. Their early stuff is sophomoric and the later stuff is lyrically confusing and misguided. It's as if they write about nothing to hide the fact that they really have nothing to say.

    April 7, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Baron Von Bluto

    Wicked Cool, class act. This band has set the bar in so many ways.
    Beatles Rock Band...here I come.

    April 7, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  29. TraderWho

    I humbly disagree with Todd. Beatles fans are DYING to get the catelog in downloadable format!! I'll pass on the new albums and wait for the deigital releases – if they ever materialize.

    April 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Jojo Mamma

    As a Beatles fan I can't wait !! , I would love to see the release of a program with the original multitracks for all to create there own mixes.

    April 7, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Joe Bedoni

    What about all the albums in 5.1? LOVE is amazing in 5.1 ... DVD audio? SACD? Com on guys..I want to hear John's voice spin around the room on "Tomorrow Never Knows"...like it was recorded! Hope the bass is full and rich..the vocals are in the forefront... and Yoko is deleted from "Birthday!" Sorry..couldn't resist....

    April 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  32. David from Chicago

    Hmmm, were they all recorded in stereo?

    April 7, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  33. sonic

    They are not REMIXING the tapes...just remastering them. So while they will be much more pristine sounding, you're not going to hear the great "little bitties" of I am the Walrus any higher in volume. But they still may stand out a bit more. It should be worth it.

    April 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Benjamin Davids

    as someone once said of an often anticipated Beatles reunion tour....."DONT SCREW WITH MY MEMORIES!!"

    April 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Benjamin

    It's good to hear that their including the full artwork for these releases. The 1988 CDs were very sparse in that regard, particularly with the poorly edited out Parlophone logos on the early albums and the black text on white background tray inserts. Hopefully they've come up with a better cover for Past Masters, too. Surely out of the thousands of photos of The Beatles taken during their recording career, one would make a better album cover than The Beatles' drop t logo on a black background.

    April 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  36. sonic

    Finally we will hear all the secret messages on the White Album that Charles Manson heard back in the late 60's!!!!

    April 7, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  37. MJR

    Four years in the making. This is fantastic. Yes – I will buy them. (Maybe not the mono collection too, but who knows?)

    I agree with the assessment that putting out the CDs before any digital download availability is good for Beatle fans. And perhaps those digital download will come "one after 909?"

    April 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Rick

    This is awesome and will be a prime reason to buy them all over again and to enjoy the music that reshaped a generation.

    Make no mistake, even if you did not like the Beatles, it is unlikely that they had no impact on your lives!

    Long live the Fab Four!

    April 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  39. pDirt

    If George Martin isnt involved, then it isnt really the Beatles, now is it?
    The sound of the Beatles had as much to with Sir George Martin's talent as the Fab 4 themselves.

    April 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Malcolm Pollack

    Come on now, Mr. Baxter, no false modesty: as a chief cameraman and video producer, I'll bet you know very well what "a Pro Tools workstation operating at 24-bit 192 kHz resolution" means.

    It's a pity the result still has to be boiled down to a 16-bit, 44.1kHz product (the cutting-edge 1980's technology that audio CDs still use), but c'est la vie.

    April 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Dr Sasquatch

    I wonder how some of the more experimental work by the Beatles will sound remastered ie. Pepper & Magical Mystery Tour. There were so many reductions of the various elements so as to get everything on 4 tracks that there was unavoidable degradation of the sound quality. I wonder if any of the original tapes of the individual components of a track like, say, "I Am the Walrus" are available to build a much more pristine version of the song. I suspect not. If there aren't I can see the process of remastering only going so far with the mid period Beatles material.

    At any rate... I will without doubt be buying at least the stereo collection on the day it comes out.

    April 7, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Benst

    Great; now when are they going to release, (re-release), Yellow Submarine and Let It Be on DVD? For that matter; how about releasing all 4 movies, plus Majical Mystery Tour (tv special) on Blu-ray?

    I have most of the Beatles albums on CD, and I wanted to get the Beatles DVD collection, (which does not have Let It Be), but, it sold out, before I could purchase it.

    I even have the Beatles Anthology on DVD, and The Compleat Beatles on VHS, (there is no DVD for this 1984 documentary).

    If the Beatles sell it, I will buy it.

    The best musical act of all time.

    April 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |

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