NOTE: The following is based mostly on remastered versions of Beatles songs released from 2009 onwards, as those are what I have available. A full index is included at the end. Furthermore, as I don’t want Apple Corps to sue me for using clips without permission, I’ll describe what I hear with rough time-stamps included where applicable.
Beatles mixes are a seemingly endless source of fascinating information for me, as there are multiple variations of a given song because of how a song was mixed. Some of these are obvious: every Beatles album from Please Please Me to The Beatles (aka The White Album) was mixed in mono, with a stereo version created afterwards, usually as an afterthought.
Mono vs Stereo
Listen to the mono and stereo versions of the 1963 track “Thank You Girl,” found on the Past Masters compilation. The stereo mix of that song contains harmonica parts that don’t appear on the mono mix. Furthermore, the limitations of two-track mixing means that the vocals are pushed far into the right channel, while instruments are pushed to the left.
US vs UK
Still more variations exist depending on where a song was issued. The Beatles albums released on Capitol Records in America (the US-based subsidiary of EMI) contain mixes of songs not present on their UK equivalents. Consider the mono mixes of “I’m Only Sleeping” (from Revolver) that appear on the UK album, and on the US album Yesterday and Today. The UK mono features short reversed guitar phrases at roughly 0:51 and 1:25. The US mono mix lacks both of those, and instead has a completely different short phrase at 1:22. Likewise, the US mono version of “I Feel Fine” contains additional reverb and limiting that was added by the engineers at Capitol, and therefore not present on the version of the song issued in the UK.
Mixes Through the Years
So far, the mix variations discussed have all come from the 1960s, when the Beatles were still recording together. However, changes in technology have meant that their music has had to be remastered for release on other formats, as the ‘60s mixes were designed to be heard on vinyl. The first of these new mixes came in 1987, when the catalogue (that is, the UK albums plus the American version of Magical Mystery Tour) was released on CD for the first time. Those mixes were done by George Martin, the Beatles’ producer.
In 2009, the catalogue was remastered again, this time in mono and stereo for CD and vinyl. Giles Martin took over mixing duties for this set, as his father George had grown too old and deaf to continue. Smaller-scale remixes include Love, a 2006 soundtrack album made for the Cirque du Solei show of the same title. Nearly all of the songs featured are drastically altered, though not all of them. From 2010-2015, various albums that hadn’t been included in the 2009 sets were remastered, these include:
- 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (remastered 2010)
- 1 (remastered 2015)
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (remixed 2017 for 50th anniversary)
For the next part of this piece, I’ll be analyzing differences between various versions of “Help!” (all in stereo) and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967 mono mix vs 2017 stereo mix).
To start with Help!, the differences between mixes are relatively small. The 1965 version has the vocals in the center with the instruments, including drums, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and some bass spread across the left and right channels. The same is true for the 1987 version, though that mix is also louder.
The version made for Love holds true to that template, though the low end has been given a bit of a boost, giving the hits punctuating each repetition of the title during the opening a little bit of added oomph.
For the new version of 1, practically everything has been remixed. Interestingly, Paul and George’s backing vocals in the opening are now sitting in the left and right channels, rather than in the center, but only for that section. After the third guitar riff heading into the first verse, they’re back to the center again.
Perhaps the biggest difference of them all though comes with Sgt. Pepper. As 2017 is that album’s 50th anniversary, it was announced in the spring that Giles Martin would be remixing the album using the original 4-track tapes. It’s a commonly accepted fact that if you want to hear The Beatles the way the lads themselves heard it, you listen in mono. However, Martin understands that contemporary listeners don’t listen in mono, stereo is the dominant form of music these days. So, Martin did his best to embrace the possibilities of stereo while staying true to the mono mixes at the same time, which is why “Lucy” and “She’s Leaving Home” are played at their original mono pitches.
The new stereo mix really brings out the low end in the music, with a particular emphasis on Ringo’s drums. George Harrison’s guitar sounds harder and sharper than ever, and you notice it more, especially during the verses. Paul McCartney’s vocals have been brought forward, producing little details like a soft “Ow!” just before the first chorus. The horns are brighter, with more reverb than was present on the original track. In a lot of ways, it’s like removing a layer of dust from an old painting to reveal the true colors underneath.
Obviously, these are just a few of the many variations scattered throughout the Beatles’ catalogue. If you’re a particularly die-hard fan like me, you’ll spend a lot of time looking for and listening to those differences, because you’ll gain a new appreciation for the band, and of course, the music. They make the singular phenomenon that was The Beatles all the more special.
- Thank You Girl
- Mono: Mono Masters (2009)
- Stereo: Past Masters (2009 remaster)
- I’m Only Sleeping
- UK Mono: Revolver (2009 remaster)
- US Mono: Yesterday and Today (2009 remaster)
- I Feel Fine
- US Mono: Beatles ’65 (2009 remaster)
- UK Mono: Mono Masters (2009 remaster)
- 1965 Stereo: Help! (Bonus track from 2009 mono remaster)
- 1987 Stereo: 1962-1966 (2010 remaster)
- 2006 Stereo: Love (2007)
- 2015 Stereo: 1 (2015 remaster)
- Sgt. Pepper’s
- Mono: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2009 remaster)
- Stereo: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2017 remix)