Pop music comes and goes. What’s hot now will surely not be in a couple of years. Unless, of course, it’s by The Beatles.
Forty years after the Fab Four folded, their popularity continues to cross all age groups. Recent polls show they appeal to a greater cross section of generations than any other artist — more than Sinatra, Elvis, or even Michael Jackson.
So mark today as something of an historic occasion — the day EMI releases the Beatles Remasters, a box set containing the band’s complete original works, digitally remastered for the first time. These albums are what the folks at EMI call “the core catalogue.” They’ve made the date easy for us to remember — 9-9-09 as in “… Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine.”
Besides offering a bigger, brighter sound, the digital remastering represents the first step in making Beatles music available for download to your iPod. Negotiations continue on that big-money deal, but it’s only a matter of time. First they’ve got plastic to peddle.
Sales will be brisk. Pre-orders for the coveted mono version have already sold out on Amazon.com. Suggested list price for the stereo version is $293.79, but major retailers will offer it at closer to $190. If that’s too steep, you can still purchase the CDs individually. (To draw in the kids, a Beatles edition of the Rock Band is also being released, at a price of about $250.)
The box set contains all of the Beatles LPs as originally released in England, plus the American version of Magical Mystery Tour with its five added singles.
There’s a double disc called Past Masters, a compilation originally issued in 1987 containing 33 singles never placed on albums. The set also includes a documentary DVD, as well as mini-docs embedded in each CD.
For true aficionados, there’s an alternative box available with the first ten discs remastered in original mono, the way they were first mixed by producer George Martin. That’s priced $30 to $60 more.
So does “remastered” sound better? Well, yes and no. It’s cleaner, fuller, more immediate. Highs are higher and lows lower. Some clicks and pops were removed, but always with the integrity of the original in mind.
The vocal separation is extraordinary. Check out the “oohoohs” in Fixing a Whole. The guitars of John and George come through so big and bright they glisten, while Paul’s adventurous bass lines are revealed like never before on tracks such as And Your Bird Can Sing.
Ringo’s innovative cadence on tracks like Ticket To Ride comes through loud and clear.
Sometimes, however, the clarity works to distraction. The opening chord of Hard Day’s Night has never rung truer, but the incessant cowbell on I Should Have Known Better, and the bongos on Ticket to Ride were better lost in the mix.
And there’s those little things that you may not have noticed before, like John’s yawn on I’m Only Sleeping and his“bye-ee” at the start of the Sgt. Pepper’s reprise.
The true value to this remarkable box set, however, is the fact that it’s all there … in one place … to be savoured. Thirteen wondrous albums over just seven years, each one a creative breakthrough.
Take a long weekend, listen to them in order and marvel at how they did it.
The Beatles Remasters Box Set
• Please Please Me, Originally released, March, 1963. Available on CD for the first time in stereo.
• With The Beatles, November, 1963l. Available on CD for the first time in stereo.
• A Hard Day’s Night, July 1964. Available on CD for the first time in stereo.
• Beatles For Sale, December, 1964. Available on CD for the first time in stereo.
• Help! August, 1965.
• Rubber Soul, December, 1965.
• Revolver, August, 1966.
• Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, June, 196. Includes 1987 CD notes, updated, and new introduction by Paul McCartney).
• Magical Mystery Tour. Originally released n England as a six-song double EP in December, 1967, and as a LP in the United States with five additional tracks drawn from recent singles. The Americanized version was released in the U.K. in November, 1976, and added to the core Beatles catalogue.
• The Beatles (White Album), November, 1968. Double disc. Includes fold-out poster and lyrics.
• Yellow Submarine, January, 1969. Also includes original U.S. liner notes.
• Abbey Road, September, 1969.
• Let It Be, May, 1970.
• Past Masters, 1987. Double disc. Includes new liner notes by Kevin Howlett.
• The Mini Documentaries: DVD containing 13 mini-documentaries about the making of the albums. Note, each CD, except Past Masters, contains an individual QuickTime mini-documentary embedded within it, playable on computers.
• Notes: Each CD also contains a booklet with photos and original liner notes, as well as updated historical and production notes.
• Cost: The suggested list price is $293.79 for the stereo box set and $349.79 for the mono set. Most large retailers will be charging substantially less. Expect the stereo box set to be closer to $190 and the mono more like $220 (if you can find one).
• Individual Discs: The remastered stereo CDs can also be purchased individually. The suggested list price is $19.71 for single discs and $32.79 for the double discs. Expect them to be closer to $12.99 (single) and $26.99 (double) in major retail outlets, however.
Even more Beatles
• Each CD, except Past Masters, contains an individual QuickTime mini-documentary embedded within it, playable on computers.
• Each CD also contains a booklet with photos and original liner notes, as well as updated historical and production notes.