The Beatles in Mono: The Complete Mono Recordings

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The Beatles In Mono: The Complete Mono Recordings. EMI/Capitol/Apple UPC 5099969945120. (13 CDs; 2009)

The Beatles in Mono poses two questions: what was the historical function of monaural (mono) mixes in the Beatles discography, and what were the consequences of setting in mono the tone and balance as unchangeable by home playback equipment? Thinking on these questions leads to a new answer to the question I posed in the review in these pages of the stereo set (ARSC Journal, 2010[41:1];124-128), that is, whether the innovations in recording technology, sound (tone) quality, and compositional growth in the Beatles' recordings may have been related or interrelated to each other, and if so, how?

To set forth the Beatles' conception of their music to be presented in mono, I offer three quotations. The first is from the group's record producer, George Martin; "All the mixes I did with the Beatles were mono. When I came to do the stereo mixes, there were no Beatles present. In 1967, very few people had stereo equipment. Almost everyone listened in mono; it was accepted as the standard. Stereo was strictly for the hi-fi freaks!" (1) The second is from engineer Geoff Emerick, who worked on the Beatles sessions from 1966 through 1969: "'Stereo took a long time to establish itself in England. The best copy of Sgt. Pepper is the mono version, because we spent three weeks mixing that and the stereo we mixed in only two and a half days. Nobody realises that all the actual effort went into the mono mix because we never monitored in stereo. It was all from one speaker. That's how we all heard it." (2) And lastly, one of the Beatles themselves, George Harrison: "I remember thinking 'what do you want two speakers for?' because it ruined the sound from our point of view. [Before then] you had everything coming out of one speaker, and now we had to come out of two speakers, and it all sounded very naked." (3)

These quotes force us to recognize that the Beatles and the EMI studio teams conceived all of the Beatles' records from 1962 through 1968 to be played back in monaural, single-speaker sound. Despite the capability of EMI's tape recorders to record in two tracks (1962-1963), four tracks (1963-1968) and eight tracks (1968-1969), and the ability of EMI's 1960s mixing consoles to coordinate and set balances for up to 4 recorded tracks, these pieces of equipment were used primarily by the Beatles and the EMI staff for the sake of producing one playback sound through one speaker. The monitor in the recording control room was the right speaker, an Altec 605A model, of a stereo-fitted speaker pair (both speakers were used only for stereo mixing sessions); over time, the right speaker came to sound somewhat worn compared to the lesser-used left speaker. (4) Headphones were not introduced to EMI until 1966, so until that time the Beatles on the studio floor listened and performed along to takes through a single RLS10 model speaker nicknamed "the White Elephant" for its tall height. (5) Only the last two Beatles albums, Abbey Road (1969) and Let It Be (1970), were mixed expressly for stereo.

The Beatles supervised the mixing of each mono release from the source multitrack recordings of the vocals and instruments. As George Martin said, the stereo version was assembled after the mono one. That assembly for stereo--or re-assembly, rather--meant the producer and engineer retrieving the original multitrack recording takes, remembering as best as they could as to which takes, overdubs and edit pieces were used on the mono version, copying the re-selected material to multi-track tape, editing the sequences together and re-balancing the vocals and instruments. Sometimes the memories of Martin and his engineers were faulty, and so different overdub takes were or had to he used, resulting in stereo versions that were more-than-noticeably different from the Beatle-approved mono releases. The primary types of differences were editing differences (including overdubs, duration, and edit pieces) and mix/balance differences of voices to instruments (even of one voice to another in vocal harmonies). …