Monday, November 13, 2023

record review: 1962-66 and 1967-70 (remixed)


The Red and Blue albums (officially 1962-66 and 1967-70) are out...again. These were the Beatles' first official greatest hits compilations (released in 1973) and introduced the second generation of fans who were too young to personally experience the Fab Four in the 1960s. In fact, these were my very first Beatles' albums and, like so many, I cherish them.

That said, I had mixed feelings about these double-LP being expanded and re-released in 2023. The Red and Blue have been released many times over the years. Sure, I'm thrilled that Peter Jackson and his wondrous AI software has demixed the pre-1966 Beatles' songs (recorded in mono, primitive stereo or four track), expanded the sound picture of nearly every song and let each instrument and vocal breathe.  (Demixing means separating each instrument and vocal from a mono track, something that technology finally allows.) Many of the results are stunning, reveal nuance and even instruments buried within previous mixes. They add bottom-end warmth and depth to some thin recordings that were original mixed for primitive turntables and basic speakers, nothing like today's high-end equipment and speakers.

However, I'm not so thrilled by the price of these triple-LP sets, costing C$120 (including tax) in Canada, though the CDs can be found for a third of that. Ironically, the Red Album holds better value, because every track has been demixed, including the eight Revolver session tracks in 2022, but the Blue features only six newly demixed songs, plus the Now and Then single (reviewed here last week).

What follows is a track-by-track review of each newly mixed song, with the lion's share coming from the Red album. I listened to these high-rest digital tracks on my phone with my faithful Panasonic bass-friendly earbuds (most earbuds sound tinny). I did not equalize any songs during playback.


The debut of The Beatles's first single in stereo, this new mix was lost amid the hype over Now and Then. (See our review.) This new mix is a revelation and served as a teaser for the new 1962-66. Love Me Do is one of a handful of early Beatles' songs that was released in mono and stayed in mono all these years (see She Loves You below). The result is liberating. John's harmonica shines in the left channel, slightly bleeding into the centre. The right (slightly panned centre as well) hosts the drums. The AI reveals an acoustic guitar that was buried in the muddy mono mix. Each note of Paul's bass rumbles in this track. Paul's lead and John's harmonies are locked firmly in the centre to anchor the song. Also, Apple got it right: this is the original October 1962 version with Ringo on drums (there's no tambourine, as found on the common Andy White version). A superb mix.


Guitars on the left, vocals at centre, and harmonica and drums on the right. Ringo is the winner of this new mix, because his drums are more distinct than ever. As a thrilling touch, they pan across the audio spectrum during the short drum fills. Yes, the sound is little muddy, but they was recorded in mono and the audio originated from 7' vinyl


This is the first of the new tracks added to the running order of the orignal 1962-66 release. A fine choice. Immediately, you notice an improvement in the sonic quality (brighter top, warmer bottom), reflecting the recording equipment The Beatles, George Martin and his engineers used in the February 1963 recordings, whereas the previous two songs were captured in 1962. Right off the bat, everything is brighter and clearer, led by Paul's rousing vocal. Again, his bass notes are defined while Ringo's drums flex muscle. Handclaps on the right and George's rockabilly-style guitar on the left and both distinct. An exciting mix.


Another new song to this album and the first of three covers. This stereo mix is straightforward and packs a punch: drums on the left, guitar on the right and vocals in the centre. One minor complaint: Paul's bass could have been a touch stronger. Overall, good.


Drums on the left, guitar on the right and vocals in the centre. Paul's bass notes are more distinct here than on Twist and Shout. Also, the harmonica breaks burst in the centre, an effective choice.


EMI long lost the session tapes to this song which kicked off Beatlemania in mid-1963. So, Giles Martin and Peter Jackson had only the finished mix to work with. There's a sudden drop in fidelity, sounding along the level of Love Me Do (whose tapes are also missing). However, the AI software has teased out Ringo's propulsive drumming which roar in the left channel, while the guitars chug along in the right. Though Paul's bass has never sounded clearer, Ringo is the star on this track. However, both channels bleed slightly into the centre which preserves the driving power of this song. This marks the first time She Loves You has ever been mixed in stereo.


By autumn 1963, The Beatles were recording in four-track and the fidelity immediately leaps forward. I Want To Hold Your Hand has been released before in stereo, but in annoying hard panning between left and right with little in the middle. Here, the recording's elements are balanced with the vocals anchoring the centre, drums in the left and guitars at right. A good job, but this mix doesn't leap out of the headphones or speakers like the fragment mix included in the Love project.


Another new song, and a good choice. Placing the acoustic guitar on the left, John's rhythm guitar and Ringo's brush strokes on the right with the vocals (and glorious harmonies) in the centre is simple, but works. Also, the awkward tape splice from John's "middle eight" back to the group harmonies is gone. Very good.


The mix is the same as This Boy's and works just as well. Note that this and the followingtwo songs were recorded in basic two-channel stereo and released in mono in stereo with vocals in one channel and all instruments in the other. Needless to say, the 2023 mixes are a huge leap forward.


A new song. This was a minor hit in the U.S. and a single released in Canada during Beatlemania. This mix features hard panning in the left and right channels with little bleed: guitar in the left, handclap in the right and George's vocal at centre. While not a deal-breaking, a touch of bleeding into the centre would have been nice. The hand claps are a tad loud for my taste while the guitar could have been stronger. That said, this is overall good.


A new song and the last of the album's covers. It's a great composition by Smokey Robinson and a Motown classic, but Money features a better vocal by The Beatles (particularly John Lennon) and should have replcaed this. This remains, though, a fine cover, highlighted by the stop-start vocal interplay between John and Paul with George. The sonics are a leap forward from previous mixes where you could easily hear the tape slices connecting various tapes.


The instruments leap out of the speakers with this powerful mix. Drums, bass and guitars are indeed distinct, but partially blended into one another to pack a wicked punch. The guitar solo is mostly centred and it shines. The drums are muscular and drive the song. This is one of the Red Album's highlights.


The B-side of Can't Buy Me Love is a worthy addition to the Red. It's another driving rock song and again the new mix brings up Ringo's drums. Guitars are subtly split between the left and right channels, while the guitar solo bursts in the mix. Very good.


The original stereo mix was nicely balanced, but this 2023 brings out details in the acoustic and rhythm guitars. Bongos are more prominent, though not overpowering, in the right channel.


Straightforward and effective with guitars tastefully split between left and right. I had no idea there were bongos recorded on this track. Very good.


Good and bad. Good are Ringo's drums. His cymbal crash in the intro is a sweet surprise. Bad: not enough bass.


The bass returns. The mix is balanced, and I like how the guitar solo covers both channels. However, I wish there was little more reverb on John's vocals (though not like the original American mix).


True, this song is mixed the same way as the other songs with the vocals anchoring the centre and the various instruments positioned left and right, but the end result lacks the punch of the mono mix found on the original North American Red album of the 1970s. The opening drums found on original mono mix, including the one on my vintage copy of 1962-66, explode, like a canon. Not here, though the bass has muscle.


Paul sounds as if he's singing in the room to you. That's how crisp he sounds. A nice touch: splitting the string octet between the left and right channels. Well done.


Well-balanced with drums on the left and the driving acoustic guitar in the right. George's descending guitar bursts in the centre, slightly right, to great effect.


This has a similar mix and feel to Yesterday. John's vocal sounds vivid and intimate as if he's singing to you. The guitars have never sounded so detailed.


Among the more bottom-heavy mixes on this collection, but not overpowering. A clean separation of the various instruments spread across the channels. Overall balanced with the harmonium in the right.


Wisely, this stereo mix retains the feeling of the mono mix. Heavier, guitar-driven rock songs work better in mono. The two guitars are separated between left and right.The solo is a matter of taste. I would have preferred bleeding more across both channels instead of staying sequestered in the right.


Play this one loud. Paul's Stax-inspired bass line (from Otis Redding's Respect), is an absolute monster, driving the funkiest Beatles song. Hands-down, this is a highlight.


The stereo mix of this song was always awful, with vocals on one side and everything including the kitchen sink in the other. This 2023 mix cures that instantly, with John's vocals planted in the centre. All elements sound clearer, like a dirty car that's been polished and now shines. I hear what sounds like someone slapping his legs in rhythm at certain times. Not intrusive, but interesting. George's sitar is placed in the left while the acoustic guitar remains in the right. The new mix finally corrects the stereo picture.


Like Ticket To Ride, this mix is underwhelming. The accepella hamronies which open this track should leap out of your speakers. Instead, they limp along. Also, the bass is a tad strong, even for me. Something is off. I prefer the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack mix.


An improvement over previous stereo mixes. Nicely balanced with the crucial bass line given a little more prominence.


Like Norwegian Wood, this track also suffered from a brutal stereo mix all these years. This mix is light-years better. Centering the lead and backing vocal are crucial, as is centering George Martin's solo. The tambourine is a touch loud, but this is a minor quibble of an otherwise strong mix.


George's second vocal and first composition on this collection. (The original Red release had zero George.) A good choice, though I'm Looking Through You is also worthy. Like In My Life, If I Needed Someone always had suffered from a lopsided stereo mix that sounded flat. Here, the bass injects muscle into the song, and George sings from the centre. However, the Byrds-inspired guitar solo is buried in the right channel and needs a lift. Overall, a major improvement.


Similar reaction to In My Life. No doubt, this 2023 mix is a leap forward.

The remaining eight tracks on the Red Album are taken from the 1966 Revolver sessions, including Paperback Writer, and previously released on last year's Revolver remix. These mixes are excellent, correcting the harsh left-right panning of the original stereo versions while revealing details across all instruments and vocals. The song selections make sense, but a glaring omission is Rain, one of the greatest b-sides and most innovative recordings in the Beatles' canon. Why is this missing?

The six newly mixed tracks on the Blue album:


An amazing song, but a terrible mix. Actually, the song is fine until the long fade-out, which features a live BBC broadcast from fall 1967 of Shakespeare's King Lear. John found out of serendipity and literally grabbed it during the original mixing session in an early example of sampling. Until AI, all the other elements of this song were locked together and inseparable. Now, we've gone too far—King Lear has been isolated, but it is FAR TOO LOUD, drowing out everything else. The entire point of the Walrus coda is to descend into chaos. Instead, this sounds like John Gielgud performing Shakespeare to some background music. This mix ranks with last year's She Said Said She Said as a godawful mess of a mix. “Oh, untimely death.”


In total contrast, this ballad works perfectly. With piano on the left, recorder on the right and Paul's vocal in the centre, this mix is balanced, elegant and strong. The cherry on top is the bass drum sounding richer.


Amazing. In the left channel, the horns drive the song much like they do in Got To Get You Into My Life, but there's an entirely new instrument in the right: John's rhythm guitar. It simply growls, and helps propel this song and gives it bite. This is a superb mix that surpasses even the Magical Mystery Tour blu-ray.


This new mix is actually not far removed from the existing stereo, but the key change is centering the vocal. Wise move. Drums are in the left while loud, fuzzy guitar screams in the right. Not bad, but I would have preferred both channels bleeding more into the centre in order to resemble the mono mix. Hard rock songs sound best with the elements blended together to create a wall of sound. Still, this is a decent mix and much better than the hard-panning original stereo.


A close call and worth comparing to the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songbook mix. In the latter, Ringo's drum leaps out of the sonic picture. Here, the drums are slightly subdued, though the excellent McCartney bass dominates. Fortunately, the biting guitar solo is centred.


The bass (played by George, not Paul) dominates the track. I love bass, but find it too heavy while the vocals are buried, particularly in the fade. The track does punch harder and remains a pleasure to listen to. Background shouting a la Hey Bulldog is new.

Verdict: Love the Red album's new mixes (most of them), though shake my head that Rain is missing. However, the Blue album is not essential except for diehard Beatlefreaks and casual fans who don't own the remixed Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Coming soon: A review of the Atmos mixes

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