The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Return To Pepperland

Last week was Beatles week. They’ve re-released all their studio albums in remastered mono and stereo in terrifically expensive box-sets.

I can’t quite remember how I got into the Beatles. My mum had a copy of The Beatles’ Greatest Hits, a German LP of songs from their first four albums. And my sister did me a tape of the White album that left off all the songs she didn’t like.

I do, however, remember listening to Sergeant Pepper for the first time. I’d ‘borrowed’ a copy from next door, recorded it extremely carefully on a brand-new chrome cassette, then listened to it on headphones, lying in bed, in total darkness, at about one in the morning.

And it was terrific. Nearly all the songs were new to me, all strange and exciting. And, because this was the mono version, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds had freaky phased vocal effects, Good Morning Good Morning was a heavily-distorted freak out, and my favourite track on the album, the reprise of the title song, was like taking a bath in expresso.

It’s hard to explain why the mono sounds better. It’s like the difference between a movie in black-and-white and a movie in colour; if it’s been made in black-and-white, that’s how you should see it. Stereo adds a lot but you lose something along the way. It’s also because the mono mixes are more compressed, heavier, and punchier. You can’t make out the individual instruments; which, to modern ears, is a bad thing - listeners like to discern each individual part – but back then the idea was to create a wall of sound by combining instruments to make new effects (cf Brian Wilson’s production of Pet Sounds).

So if you are a millionaire, buy the mono box set first.

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