NEW YORK (NY) - Could it really be getting better? That was a fair question on the lips of the crowd assembled last Friday, April 28, at New York City's World of McIntosh Townhouse. The Second Disc was privileged to be among those members of the press assembled for a "first listen" to the upcoming 50th anniversary stereo remix of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, due for release on May 26 from Capitol, UMe, and Apple Records.
Jeff Jones, the chief executive of Apple Corps, and Giles Martin, producer of the Anniversary Edition and son of the late Sir George Martin, hosted this intimate playback session in which they debuted the stereo mix that will be presented in the upcoming 4CD/DVD/BD box set on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray (the latter two formats in high-resolution audio, naturally) - as well as on standalone CD, and 2-CD and 2-LP versions. (Read all about those right here!)
Following an introduction from Jones, the genial, dapper, and passionate Martin took the stage to explain how this new stereo version was crafted (with selected A/B demonstrations). Explaining that the original stereo mix was "kind of a throwaway" for The Beatles - who did not attend the stereo mixing session, whereas they had taken a great interest in the mono mix - he also explicated the various differences between the 1967 mono mix and stereo mix. The stereo treatment of "She's Leaving Home," Martin revealed, was "not what Paul wanted." As for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," John Lennon's lead vocal lacked the same "beautiful quality" as on the mono mix. Martin's mission for his new stereo mix was to recreate "the feel of the original mono," by paying homage to its balances and imaging, while adapting them for a stereo soundscape. Martin stressed that the mix was intended to pay respect to both his late father and (the very-much-alive) engineer Geoff Emerick, as well as to accurately capture the sound and spirit of the remarkable, and remarkably youthful, "24, 25-year olds making noise in the studio."
Martin also offered tantalizing previews of the bonus material that will be featured on the reissue, playing Take 3 of "Fixing a Hole" with a false start and studio chatter. Describing his father George as a "satellite dish for [The Beatles'] ideas," Martin pointed out that the hope for the additional material was to better illuminate "the journey" and "the background of how [the tracks] were constructed." Based on the material played, it's clear that he more than succeeded. The producer also broke down "A Day in the Life" by playing an abortive, alternate ending, and astutely noting The Beatles and George Martin's willingness to explore various sonic avenues. Indeed, "the greatness comes from choosing the right idea." After all, The Beatles were simply "people with great ideas - who changed the world."
So did Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, often voted as the greatest album of all time. When the time came to hear the entire new stereo remix from start to finish, the assembled crowd was more than ready. As soon as those familiar notes began, each journalist in attendance had a different physical reaction. Heads were bobbing. Feet and hands were tapping. Bodies, seated, were moving and swaying. Still others, eyes closed, were completely still, while other heads were lowered and furiously scribbling. One thing was clear: this is music you can feel - and particularly, for this project, feel anew despite however many years of history you might have with this record.
For those who ever felt The Beatles were "soft," Martin and his collaborator Sam Okell's remix - as promised, faithful to the spirit of the original mono but with the dimension and spatiality that only stereo can deliver - quickly disposes that notion. This Sgt. Pepper's is undoubtedly a "heavy" record. Keith Allison (a friend of The Second Disc) revealed on Facebook that he had listened to the remix with his longtime friend Ringo Starr, and Ringo was pleased that his drums could finally be heard. Indeed, it's as if a veil of haze has been lifted from both the drums and the bass. Both instruments have newfound clarity and presence throughout the remix, resulting in a driving rock sound that's nonetheless completely faithful to the original playing and the punchy attack of the mono mix. That Sgt. Pepper's is a benchmark of melodic rock has never been clearer. "Lovely Rita" has never sounded more dreamlike, nor has "Within You Without You" sounded more transporting or "A Day in the Life" more powerful. There's still nothing like Sgt. Pepper's, and this remix offers a vibrant new way to experience it.
"It's a good album," Martin observed in his dryly witty manner upon concluding the playback. He and Jeff Jones then closed the afternoon with a Q&A session, offering further insights into their process. Some effects had to be recreated for the new remix, while others were preserved on tape. (Happily, the team was able to use the same gear at Abbey Road as during the original album production.) Martin noted "Fixing a Hole" and "A Day in the Life" as two of the more difficult tracks to remix, requiring multiple attempts before they were able to get it right. Jeff Jones stressed that there is no template or "five-year plan" for future Beatles releases, and that each proposal from within is considered on a case-by-case basis. Apple Corps' hope is to grow the audience "from the ground up," from 10 to 80...and based on fresh yet faithful projects such as this, one can only hope they succeed in furthering the legacy of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
Could this classic album actually be getting better? Yes, indeed. Look for The Second Disc's review of the Anniversary Edition of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on Friday, May 26.