Pop Culture

Meet the (remastered) Beatles

Get ready to meet the Beatles again.

On Wednesday, Apple Corps. and EMI will jointly roll out the long-awaited remastered editions of the Beatles studio albums on CD with Digipak sleeves as well as two box sets of the albums, one in stereo and one in mono. The same date will see Harmonix’s release of the “Beatles: Rock Band” game. What’s missing is the availability of the Beatles recordings for digital downloading. A statement from Apple said discussions about this “are continuing,” but rumors are flying that the other Apple may have something in the works, since it announced its annual iPod meeting will also happen Wednesday.

For a band that broke up almost 40 years ago, the Beatles sure have a lot happening. Of course, the Liverpool foursome was no ordinary band, having changed the history of rock with their innovative music. But the CDs contain no bonus cuts, so why is their record company reselling the same old stuff?

Well, there are several reasons. First, the remasters will mark the debut of the stereo versions of the Beatles’ first four U.K. albums, “Please Please Me,” “With the Beatles,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles for Sale.” The mono box set, on the other hand, features the mono CD debut of all the band’s CDs from 1965 onwards, as well as the long out-of-print mono 45 and EP mixes. Finally, the sound quality of everything will be improved, according to Beatle author and historian Bruce Spizer.

“The core catalog was first issued on CD in 1987 — that’s 22 years ago — and at the time those were done the digital format was really in its infancy,” Spizer said. “CDs then often sounded harsh or tinny and engineers often had trouble capturing the warmth of analog recordings. So what we have here is a case where these CDs are being remastered using the latest technology which will have significant enhancement in the sound quality.”

“(The sound engineers) have done an amazing job at just restoring any glitches or faults in the original tapes using the latest computer technology,” said Kevin Howlett, who co-wrote the expanded liner notes that will be included in each CD

The remasters series will include the 12 studio albums by the Beatles, as well as the American LP version of “Magical Mystery Tour,” which was a larger version of the British EP set and later became the standard issue of that release. Howlett said a decision was made not to tack bonus cuts onto the CDs to maintain the integrity of the original albums. As such, the Beatles non-LP singles, B-sides and EP tracks will again be compiled on two “Past Masters” CDs, which will now be combined into a double CD set.

“We probably had more requests for the first four albums in stereo than we did for the remasters,” said Mike Heatley, who also wrote liner notes. Those titles had previously only been issued in mono at the behest of Beatles producer George Martin, who back in the 1980s, claimed these recordings were never designed to be heard in stereo.

Purists might be less happy to learn that the stereo remasters of “Help” and “Rubber Soul” will not use the original 1965 mixes. Instead, they’ll feature the 1987 remixes Martin made for the initial CD releases — mixes that alter the sound by using digital reverb and a different stereo soundscape.

The original 1965 stereo mixes will get released, but they’ve been put on “The Beatles in Mono” box set (see below), appended to the end of the corresponding CDs. “The reason for doing it that way is we felt that the collector is probably going to be more interested in the original (1965) stereo mix than the (average listener),” Heatley said.

Besides the expanded liner notes, each remastered CD will also be packaged with rare photos and QuickTime formatted “mini-documentaries” that examine how each album was conceived (see an excerpt here). The films will also feature previously unheard studio chatter by the Fab Four.

Boxing the band The Beatles stereo box set will compile the remasters of the original albums along with the “Past Masters” set plus a DVD featuring all 13 mini-documentaries.

But it’s “The Beatles in Mono” box set that’s sparked the excitement of fans. The limited edition release has already sold out its pre-order copies at Amazon.com and other retailers, according to BeatleNews.com. “The new generation of CD buyers will probably be mystified by this mono and stereo thing,” Howlett said. “But the Beatles were recording at a time when there was this transition from mono, so they really only got to grips with stereo at the very end of their career.”

Since mono was the industry standard in the Beatles’ day, more attention was paid to the mono mixes, which were done independently (and not just single-channel versions of the stereo mixes, as people might assume). These are the “mixes of record” which the Beatles signed off on, Howlett said.

Fans should especially welcome the mono “Sgt. Pepper,” considered superior to the stereo version. The mono “The Beatles” (aka the “White Album”) never even got a U.S. vinyl release and will make its first stateside appearance ever on CD.

The mono box also contains its equivalent of “Past Masters,” which is a double CD called “Mono Masters” that collects up mono mixes of stray single and EP tracks. These are the mixes fans originally heard on their old records, which differ from the stereo versions. For example, Heatley said, “In the mono ‘Revolution’ there’s more distortion and it’s a harder kind of ‘Revolution.’”

Finally, the mono box will mark the debut of “true mono” mixes of five songs once planned for an unissued 1969 “Yellow Submarine” EP: “Only A Northern Song,” “All Together Now,” “Hey Bulldog,” “It’s All Too Much” and “Across the Universe.” Individual mono CDs will not be sold.

‘Rock Band’ mania The other big news for Wednesday will be the release of “Beatles: Rock Band,” which will feature 45 Beatles songs. Several video trailers have been posted on the game’s Web site to whet fans’ appetites and Rolling Stone recently announced titles for 44 of the songs (the final one remains a mystery, they say).

According to Beatles fan André Conover, it was “Rock Band” that generated the most excitement at this year’s annual Beatles convention, Beatlefest, held in Chicago. “I would say talk about ‘Rock Band’ outweighed the re-releases, really,” said Conover who, despite being just 26, has attended seven conventions over the years. “It was huge.”

Thanks to Blockbuster, the convention got an early release and allowed visitors to play. “There was a line clear out the door,” Conover said. “It was so crowded you could barely get into the room that Blockbuster had set up.”

“Beatles: Rock Band” will be playable on Xbox 360, Sony’s Playstation 3 and Wii. The game’s sequences let players “perform” at concerts, participate in recording sessions and wander around in “dreamscapes” that visualize the group’s more psychedelic songs.

According to Harmonix, “Beatles: Rock Band” will be the first music game of its kind to let players attempt to sing harmonies (which should prove especially daunting on vocally-rich songs like “Paperback Writer” and “If I Needed Someone”). It will also include replications of the band’s instruments, like Paul McCartney’s Hofner violin bass.

“It’s very similar to ‘Guitar Hero’” Conover said. “The colors — which correspond to notes — appear on the screen and you hit the button on the guitar that corresponds with that note.”

Conover says she thinks the release of “Beatles: Rock Band” will let fans of her generation stake a claim to the Beatles legacy: “It’s going to be history eventually. People want to own a piece of Beatles history and I guess this is it.”

That, along with the spate of CDs coming out, should make Wednesday a day fans of the Fabs won’t soon forget. “We’re talking about some of the greatest rock music ever recorded,” Spizer said. “CD upgrades were something the Beatles’ musical legacy demands.”

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