Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mono, it's not just for kissing any more

Today Chris lent me the Limited Edition MONO version of Pink Floyd's "Piper at the Gates of Dawn." I can hear the head scratching from here. "Why would you want to listen to the expensive near impossible to find mono version when there is a cheap stereo version easily available?", you ask. Well it's simple the band and the producer were involved in the mixing of the mono version, but NOT in the stereo mix. The stereo mix was done in a rush by an apprentice engineer at Abbey Road/EMI studios. The Floyd never approved the stereo mix! To this day when asked about the album they are quick to point out that the mono mix is the only one approved by the band.

Interestingly the majority of the The Beatles albums are similar. George Martin and The Beatles spent days, sometimes weeks mixing the mono version of most of their albums. The stereo mixes were done usually by an assistant engineer. Sometimes it was even worse, the stereo mix was done by an apprentice engineer. Paul McCartney briefly mentions this in the extra material on The Beatles Anthology DVDs. Saying roughly, "the stereo mixes were done one day while we (George Martin, the producer and The Beatles) were at lunch." With the possible exception of "Abbey Road", the last album they would record the mono mix was the baby. The stereo mix was the bastard redheaded stepchild at best.

At first blush this sounds like a massive oversight. But as Mr. McCartney goes on to point out ". . . ninety-Eight percent of people were listening in mono." Stereo was new, many thought it was a fad and wouldn't last. Many Hi-Fi enthusiasts resisted it at the beginning. It meant a serious amount of money needed to be spent. They were forced to buy another amplifier, another speaker, a new preamplifier, and a new turntable.

This market seems to be getting some attention lately. The Beatles have issued two boxed sets of Early American albums in both mono and stereo. The problem is these are the American versions which I believe are missing between 1 and 3 songs per album, compared to the British versions. The Beatles American record label REMOVED songs from Beatles albums and would then combined them later to make separate EP releases, to squeeze out a couple of extra bucks. These are also remastered from the American masters (read at least second generation, possibly worse.) Of all major artists it still continues to amaze me that The Beatles back catalog has not been remastered. Does Paul McCartney have too much money? I'm sure that Ringo Starr could use a couple of extra bucks, and Yoko is always up for profiting from the memory of her dead husband.

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