The Beatles: Stereo Box Set

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The Beatles: Stereo Box Set. EMI/Capitol, 2009. 16 CDs and 1 DVD. UPC 5099969944901.

The number "9" is referenced in two Beatles songs, "One After 909" (1963, 1969) and "Revolution no. 9" (1968). Whether chosen or merely coincidental, 9 September 2009 (09/09/09) was the release date of the new EMI remasters of the Beatles's 1962-1970 studio recordings in separate mono and stereo editions. The present review covers the stereo CDs; the mono remasters will be reviewed in the next issue.

The Beatles remain the most significant rock recording act of the last fifty years. Those who argue that the "King of Rock and Roll," Elvis Presley, is the most significant in all of rock have to concede that the scholarship for the Beatles has been more detailed and more accomplished. The published literature on who the Beatles were, what they did, when they did it, what songs they performed, how they composed and performed them, and with what instruments and stage equipment, how they recorded their music,1 and in what formats that music has been issued,2 encompasses many exemplary classics of rock music research. Much of this literature was informed by the 1987 stereo CD issues, but the accomplishments of these books led many of their readers to listen more carefully to the music, at times delving deeper into questions about the sound quality of the CDs.

Until 1987, Beatles releases on LP varied from country to country, differing with regard to track listing and playback sound. The original British LP releases on EMI/ Parlophone were subject to reduction in the number of songs per disc, the leftover ones being gathered with non-album 45s and EP tracks to create new releases; in this way, Capitol made 10 American albums from the 7 original 1963-1966 British LPs. The 1987 CDs codified the Beatles canon for the world, following the track listings for the original British LP releases, with the exception of Magical Mystery Tour (1967), which adopted the American LP release instead of the shorter British Extended Play version. The playback sound and mixes for each album were made uniform for all worldwide CD issues. The first four albums (Please Please Me [1963], With the Beatles [1963], A Hard Day's Night [1964], and Beatles For Sale [1964]) were available only in mono (which puzzled many buyers at the time); the rest and the Past Masters volumes were in stereo only. The mixes were those prepared for the 1960s British releases, with the exception of Help! (1965) and Rubber Soul (1965), for which the Beatles' producer George Martin prepared new stereo mixes for CD. Over time, though, the digital transfers began to seem pale. I realized this for myself in 2006 when I compared the 1987 EMI/Capitol CD of Rubber Soul (CDP 7 46440 2) to my 1982 Parlophone vinyl LP (PCS 3075) and the Capitol CD reissue of the US mono and stereo versions issued as part of The Capitol Albums vol. 2 (Capitol CDP 0946 3 57497 2 4). Long-known variants aside (such as the "false start" beginning of "I'm Looking Through You" on the Capitol album), I thought the LP held up very well, the Capitol CD comparable to the LP for several tracks, and the EMI CD a near third.

The black stereo set encompasses 13 British-version album packages containing 14 CDs (The Beatles having two CDs), the Past Masters 2-CD set collecting those 45-rpm and EP tracks not on the British albums, and one DVD containing 13 "mini-documentaries." In sum, all 217 performances authorized by the Beatles for commercial release between 1962 and 1970 are presented here. As one listens to the albums in chronological order, one wonders whether the innovations in recording technology, sound (tone) quality, and compositional growth may have been related or interrelated to each other?

When Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, and Beatles For Sale were reissued only in mono in 1987, fans who prized the stereo LPs had to come to grips with the fact that the group and their producer envisioned those albums to be played back in mono. …