Why the Beatles' recordings shouldn't be tampered with.
| There's been a lot of buzz lately in Beatles fandom, what with the remastering of their catalog and debut on iTunes. All Beatles fans can agree that having their albums available in improved sonic quality is a fantastic thing. As far as the question of the presentation of their music, however, there is a fair amount of controversy.
Some feel that the Beatles' records, as marvelous as they sounded in the Sixties on vinyl, need not just a remaster but a remix into stereo or Dolby 5.1. They believe that this would improve the sound and make the records even better. I respectfully disagree. Here's why.
Many of the Beatles' early records--their first singles, Please Please Me and With the Beatles--were recorded on two-track tape equipment. Basically, the instrumental tracks were recorded on one channel and the vocals on the other. The result was then mixed down to create the mono master. These records weren't recorded for stereo, and were never intended to be released that way. That's why the Beatles' first couple of albums sound weird when they're heard in stereo, with the vocals on one side and the instruments on the other. Parlophone/EMI was being cheap, unfortunately [but understandably, since the Beatles were an unknown quality at that time]. If these records were remixed in either stereo or Dolby 5.1, the results would be hideous. These instruments and vocals are "locked in" to their balance on the tape. Any playing around with it would merely sound horrible, even with modern computers and the like. You can't separate the ingredients after you mix cake batter, to use a simile.
Later records that were recorded on four-track would probably sound better, I admit. But there's another factor here. Any remixes would be done without the participation of John, George and George Martin, since the latter is going deaf and has retired from the recording industry. Paul might participate, but even if Ringo did, mixing was never his forte. So anything they came up with would not have the group's Seal of Approval; at best, it could only be a guess as to what John and George "would have wanted". This is like trying to retouch the artwork on the Sistine Chapel by guessing at what Michelangelo "would have wanted". You just don't do things like that.
The Beatles, George Martin, and their engineers spent a fair amount of time mixing their records to get the best sound, particularly in the later years. Remixing them dilutes the punch of the recordings. I know, because I've heard the job they did on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. It sounds awkward, as if the instruments are no longer playing together. For an excellent example of why the Beatles shouldn't be remixed, listen to the Yellow Submarine Songtrack album, which remixed the recordings. Some of the songs were ruined in the process. "Eleanor Rigby" turned a beautifully overdubbed vocal by Paul into an unintentional duet. Same with George's vocal on "Only A Northern Song". "All You Need Is Love" is the worst; the backing vocals are mixed far too loudly, and the orchestra now sounds as if it's playing out of sync. Finally, "It's All Too Much" has the drums and handclaps mixed so prominently that it now sounds like a Beastie Boys number.
A final argument: Some of the Beatles' work contains recording mistakes that the group deliberately left in because they liked the sound of the final result. "Revolution 1" contains a bad edit of the final chorus (the instrumental immediately preceding it has a repeat); John insisted that it not be repaired. "Day Tripper" in its vinyl release has a dropout on the final verse, which alters the entire sound of the line.* Things such as those, which could be "fixed" in a remix, shouldn't be. They're part of the familiar Beatles sound which we all know and love.
I have no objection to remastering the Beatles' songs for CD; it vastly improved the sound. But don't remix them. That's tantamount to "improving" a Van Gogh or Picasso.
*NOTE: The remasters have "corrected" this error, and it's the one thing which I wish they hadn't altered. I much prefer the original version, dropout and all.
If you're interested in hearing my views on the mono and stereo mixes of the Beatles' work, check this out: "One and One Is Two: Mono/Stereo Beatles" . Wonder what I think of the 2017 SGT. PEPPER remix? Read "We'd Like To Thank You Once Again" .