"The Beatles" Re-mixed by Giles Martin: Any Good?

If you want to quickly know if you’re going to like Giles Martin’s The Beatles remixes start with “Long, Long, Long”. If you don’t like that one, you’re probably not going to like the rest, but for me, that remix in particular is far superior to the one on the two original “Top Loader” U.K. pressings I have: more transparent and more spacious, with a holographic George front, center and three-dimensional as he’s not presented on the original.

You can add to that greater textural delicacy and transparency all set against blacker backgrounds. So if that track doesn’t do it for you, I’m not sure what might.

The eager anticipation with which this double LP was met and the way in which it transfixed a generation might be difficult for today’s youngsters to fully appreciate. Following the psychedelic high of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released late May 1967 in the U.K. and shortly thereafter in America came the low on August 27th of Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s surprising accidental drug overdose death at age 32.

The loss of Epstein’s guiding hand affected everything Beatles that followed. John Lennon was quoted as saying “I knew that we were in trouble then. ... I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music. I was scared. I thought, ‘We’ve f---in' had it.”

The group had recorded the song “Magical Mystery Tour” shortly after completing Sgt. Pepper’s…. but McCartney’s Merry Pranksters/LSD influenced movie was on hold while the group finished songs for the animated film “Yellow Submarine” and performed live “All You Need is Love” for the groundbreaking “Our World” world-wide satellite feed TV show.

Epstein’s death put the movie idea in the production hopper but little or none of this was known to fans waiting for the Sgt. Pepper’s… follow up so when, just before Thanksgiving, in November of 1967 the Magical Mystery Tour LP arrived in American stores eager fans gobbled it up.

I remember buying it at a store in Ithaca, NY and running home to play “the next Beatles album”, which of course was a major letdown. Most fans then didn’t know it was a Capitol Records cobbled together “Christmas season product” album that combined the “Magical Mystery Tour” soundtrack songs on side 1 with single releases on side 2 The Beatles never intended to be issued on an album. Magical Mystery Tour was released in the U.K. as a double E.P. only. So rushed was the U.S. album that George Martin hadn’t time to mix the singles in stereo so Capitol’s “stereo” LP was on side 2, fake stereo. In 1971 side two’s singles were mixed for stereo and became available first on the German Hör Zu (Listen!) magazine record label’s edition and then on Mobile Fidelity’s real-time duplicated cassette release.

Even for fans that did not (could not) understand what was happening, it seemed that without Brian Epstein’s guiding hand, The Beatles ship was sinking—which is not to say that the album did not contain some great songs because it surely did—along with some duds. And in America it had the usual Beatles chart success. George Martin was quoted as regretting not including “Strawberry Fields Forever” on Sgt. Pepper’s….. But Magical Mystery Tour was a concocted collection of songs and not an album that The Beatles had intended to release.

Shortly after the Magical Mystery Tour album release, in Feburary of 1968, and still shaken by Brian Epstein’s death and exhausted by being “The Beatles”, John, Paul, George and Ringo traveled to Rishikish, India to receive advanced Transcendental Meditation training at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram—along with an “eclectic” entourage that included wives and girlfriends and Beach Boy Mike Love, Mia Farrow, Donovan and others, and that’s where The Beatles album story begins to unfold.

The trip to India was well-covered in “living color” in Life Magazine and elsewhere. For many Beatles fans this felt like a “WTF” moment, though that term had yet to be invented.

The mess that ensued—unfounded charges that the Maharishi had behaved badly with women in the entourage including Mia Farrow— is well-covered elsewhere but Ringo left after two weeks, McCartney after a month, while Harrison and Lennon and wife Cynthia remained through much of April. During this short Indian interlude group members wrote an estimated 40 songs.

In May, Lennon and McCartney, home tape recordings in hand, met with George at his Kinfauns bungalow in Esher and recorded 26 demo versions of songs, most of which would appear in finished form on The Beatles, which, thanks to the late pop artist Richard Hamilton’s stripped down plain white cover became known as “The White Album” (but you already knew that!).

The Esher demos escaped the bungalow as poor sounding bootlegs but here they are presented as the superior recordings they always were—taped on Harrison’s 4 track Ampex recorder. The Esher tapes’ inclusion is but one of the vinyl and digital set’s attractions and offers irrefutable documentation that the studio effort that followed was more cooperative and collaborative than was at the time reported.

Blocked booked time at Abbey Road studios began May 30th, 1968 through July with all sessions and mixing ending October 14th,1968. Some recordings took place as well, at Trident studios.

As Giles Martin pointed out during the recent presentation at Power Station at BerkleeNYC Studios, the recording process here differed from that of previous Beatles albums. Instead of being planned out, rehearsed and then produced and recorded, the sessions were open-ended with take after take recorded “live” and overdubs added later.

This was both costly and eventually drained both Apple Corp bank accounts and George Martin, emotionally. He split for a vacation late in the process while the band toiled on, leaving a very young (20 year old) Chris Thomas in charge of producing The Beatles ! Geoff Emerick too, quit some time July over this recording method. 20 year old engineer Ken Scott came on board. And there was also the famous late August Ringo walkout, said to be caused by Paul’s criticism of his drumming.

While the team spirit prevailed at Esher, it frayed once in the studio. For the first time, wives and girl friends appeared at sessions (Yoko’s presence was said to have seriously damaged the Lennon/McCartney camaraderie) and individualism took hold over group efforts, though this was later exaggerated into “this was a series of solo songs” and not a Beatles album. Of the 30 songs on the album all four Beatles participate on only 16 of them.

The final editing and track assembly plus some final overdubs took place in a 24 hour session that final day in October with songs razor edited to butt up against one another in some cases, added snippets of music between tracks in other places and cross-fades in others. On the original U.K. album there are no visible track breaks between songs, which added to the album’s minimalist feel.

None of this drama nor the opinions of the various Beatles that were later reported (such as Lennon characterizing “Ob-La-Di,Obla-Da” as “granny shit music”) made its way to the 400 or so freezing souls standing outside of The Record Runner Record Store November of 1968 as I drove up in the owner’s Volvo P-1800 sports car with boxes of the English import “White Album” filling every available cavity. I wrote about this in the review of the stereo album in the stereo box set.

COMMENTS
Hats Domino's picture

A 24 TRACK MACHINE WAS USED FOR THE FINAL EDITING AND SEQUENCING ACCORDING TO LEWISOHN.

Tell Mark Lewisohn Abbey Road didn't have a 16 track at the time, much less a 24 track. And there would be no need to compile an album on a 24 track. 4 track machines were used to crossfade one song into another, or they simply played the two tapes into and recorded the resulting crossfade to another 2 track machine.

The next two Beatles albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be, were done on 8 track machines. 24 track machines didn't even exist in 1968.

And I don't understand how anyone couldn't identify Yoko's voice until this remix. That's just silly.

AnalogJ's picture

What is your source to counter the information in the article?

Hats Domino's picture
AnalogJ's picture

Common knowledge? Apparently it's not necessarily common knowledge. I'm not trying to be contentious, but why don't you cite information regarding the details of your assertions.

Michael Fremer's picture
Some is from the Lewisohn book "The Beatles Recording Sessions/ The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes 1962-1970" (Harmony Books). Other information is from Wikipedia with sources cited and checked.
AnalogJ's picture

Whether The Beatles did or didn't have access to higher numbered multi-track recorders is interesting, But you can't both be right.

Michael Fremer's picture
Was an error corrected. However it’s obvious that HatsDomino has an anger management issue.
Michael Fremer's picture
You are too angry to read with comprehension. I did NOT write that I couldn’t tell it was Yoko until this remix.
dfsdave's picture

I suggest you re-read his comment about Yoko's voice,You misunderstood what he wrote. And I too would love to hear the source for your other assertions.

Michael Fremer's picture
Was my error not Lewisohns. I will correct it.
Hats Domino's picture

Awesome! Thanks, Michael.

Keen Observer's picture

A 24-track deck was available in 1968, albeit as a custom built deck (they modified an Ampex 300 deck) for a studio in L.A. None of the UK studios used for the white album sessions had more than 8-track machines. I don't think commercial production of 24-track machines began until the following year, but the previous commenter's claim about a 24-track deck is, of course, suffering a lack of accuracy.

alucas's picture

A very good article. I remember well when The White Album came out. It was different. It was a grouping of songs from 4 separate people with the help of the others. I loved it but it was less of the Beatles and more of a collection of songs from 4 artists, John, Paul, George and Ringo. They did correct this singular collection with the next two albums, that were more from The Beatles as a group effort, than the four that were starring at the beginning of a break up.

homersoddishe's picture

Feel free to remove them. My iPod kept reporting an error, so I kept trying. :)

bwright's picture

Another favorite waiting in the advance order queue. And many thanks for the great review. Nice to know it's another winner, like the 50th Pepper.

I have to ask - how does it compare to the '78 UK white vinyl?

audiophilewannab's picture

The article's last sentence cracked me up...Thanks for that. Well spun. LOL!

Findog3103's picture

Michael, how did you like the new stereo version compared to the mono in the box set?

cundare's picture

i) OK, not the most important question, but still: Is the poster the "censored" airbrushed version, or are Paul's pubes intact? Michael, inquiring minds need to know.

ii) What's most annoying to me about this otherwise-praiseworthy project, especially given the precedent set by Steven Wilson's terrific "Defnitive" Yes BD-As, is that the WA Blu-ray is being made available only as part of the most expensive package. As great as I'm sure the LPs sound, as interesting as the Esher demos are, the BD-A is the format I'm really interested in. And I hate that obtaining a copy will force me to buy CDs & albums that will likely be played once, if at all. Maybe Tidal will offer the 94/24 versions, but there will likely be no other way to hear Giles' 5.1 mixes.

cundare's picture

Just noticed that Michael's unboxing video has been posted and I see that it answers my poster question. I should have had more faith.

But isn't it pronounced "ee-shir"? That's the way a couple of old friends of mine in Surrey have always pronounced it.

David Andrews's picture

As far as the Kinfauns tape official release sounding "plastic," let me share an experience with its bootleg incarnations, of which there have been several, with the KF tape sometimes packaged with other material.

I hate .mp3, but I received a CDR from a friend with a particular KF bootleg title that sounded great - airy and ethereal. I downloaded (don't tell anybody) several lossless .flac KF versions because I could not locate the identical bootleg title in lossless - and these versions all sounded one-dimensional and "blah."

Surely, I thought, a lossless download of the exact title would be best! But when I finally downloaded one months later - it sounded like the other "blah" lossless versions and not like the .mp3 burn that I cherished, though it was demonstrably the same release. How'd that happen? Was there something beneficial in removing information? Could this experience be relevant to the sound of the official release?

mmaterial1's picture
mmaterial1's picture
mmaterial1's picture
mmaterial1's picture
rexlibris's picture

That must have hurt.

StonedBeatles1's picture

Rubbish..

zeus's picture

Are the 4LP and 2LP versions both mastered by Miles S. at Abbey Road and just pressed at different plants? Or are they both mastered differently also?

Atomicmod's picture

Wow - you aren’t kidding about “Long, Long, Long” - what an incredible upgrade in imaging, clarity, and gorgeous dynamics. The result of all of this, is that the emotion in George’s voice and the performance as a whole is far more impactful.

M1chael's picture

As Don Corleone said in the godfather, Look what they did to my white album, they made a mess of it. Loud vocals,soft instruments,switched channels, all I wanted was the album remastered keeping the same tone and character, just cleaner and clearer with higher resolution. Mikey, you forwarned us about sgt pepper but this one got me, a lot of money for a nice book.

swimming1's picture

Now I've got an original UK st top loader,mono reissue,red japan mono,blue box stereo,purple capitol,original US apple st, and german weiss. Which is best?

swimming1's picture

Oh I also have a cd and a cassette version. I sort of like the cassette version played on my old Akai tape deck.

kavorka's picture

Michael, I'm always finding your reviews right on the money, but this time you caught me by surprise. I don't think I'm hearing what you're hearing.

Like everyone else, I could barely contain my excitement while waiting to grab my copy of the 50th anniversary White Album reissue. I knew it's going to be a remix (not a big fan of remixes), but I was hoping that at least it will deliver the improved sound quality.

I went for the 2 LPs (I'm not a big fan of alternate takes -- certain things cannot be 'unheard').

Now, it could easily be that the 2 LPs release is inferior to the more lavish 4 LPs, in terms of pressing quality, and I hope that's the case, because my copy of the 2 LPs verges on unlistenable.

I'm comparing it to several copies I have (most of which have been procured in the 1970s). I'm doing comparative listening on the medium quality stereo chain -- Heavily modded Systemdek IIX turntable with Jelco 12" tonearm with Nakamichi cabling, Ortofon OM 20 cartridge into iFi Micro iPhono 2 phono preamp into DSP 2000 preamp (via Audioquest Golden Gate interconnects) into DPA 200s power amp (via Audioquest Red River interconnect) driving a pair of Magnepan MG-1 IMP modded speakers (via Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cables). Fairly revealing system that boasts tonal neutrality and razor sharp imaging, tall and wide soundstage and convincing dynamics.

When listening to the old White Album pressings, I get plenty of sparkle, rich and fairly elaborate soundstage, and lean and taut, but very deep bass.

When listening to the 2018 remix, I hear lush, warm and cuddly sound, with plenty of bloom, exaggerated mid-bass, and deadened sparkle.

I'm mystified. It sounds as if the original tapes had a lot of hiss which the remix crew intended to remove and in the process chopped off the transients. I honestly find that hard to believe -- I mean, it's only been 50 years, tapes do not deteriorate that quickly.

Or, seeing how the contemporary trend in speaker design is to really go overboard with boosting the highs (probably addressing the hearing loss that baby boomers are experiencing as they age), the remix attenuated the highs.

Another theory of mine is that the remix crew wanted to transform the White Album to sound closer to how Abbey Road sounds than how it originally sounded in 1968. I mean, there's gotta be an explanation for such drastic alteration of the very nature of the sound of that album. There's gotta be a good reason for changing its character.

I think you are right that "Long Long Long" is the ultimate litmus test, since that song suffered most alterations compared to the original. This may come as a shock, but I vastly prefer the original mix. It is mysterious, eery, evoking spiritual seance, while the remix is just a soft, mellow ballad.

Overall, the 2 LPs remix I'm holding in my hands is a barely recognizable, pale shadow of the mighty White Album. Yes, it is a pleasant sound, no doubt, but it's the kind of a sound that is catering more to the 'audiophile' crowds, to those listeners who enjoy the sound of Diana Krall's albums, which you can play in the background during a sit down dinner without the fear that the music might interrupt frivolous conversation.

What we really need is an equivalent of the 2014 mono remaster. Go back to the original White Album stereo master tapes, follow to the letter the notes engineers made during the prepping for the pressing, use highest possible quality equipment and highest quality virgin vinyl, and please give us the AAA remaster of the White Album in stereo!

David Andrews's picture

If so good and holy, then why is the lead guitar that pops in at about 2:13 in "Back in the USSR" so greatly diminished as to be non-existent compared with McCartney's vocal? It's not like this on my US 1970s LP pressing nor on my British early 1980s pressing. Rather than "Long, Long, Long," this moment sets the tone and the bar for the remaster as I heard it. Where were your ears, Giles? Not hearing the vinyl, I'll swear.

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