It certainly isn’t everyday that you encounter a band like the Beatles. They were game changers like almost no one in the history of music, with the exception of the inventors of the individual instruments and of the phonograph. The Beatles, compiled from a foursome of Liverpool lads who wore leather and played in clubs, accomplished so much in their 7 years recording career, with 13 studio albums under their belt and countless number one singles. They wrote some of the most memorable music ever to hit the radio waves. In 2006, the Canadian circus extravaganza Cirque du Soleil decided to create a Beatles-themed show, the story revolving around the Beatles and incorporating a Beatles-only score. George Martin, the original band’s record producer, and his on Giles Martin took the original Beatles tapes and, OH NO! mashed the tracks up and remixed them! The final product: amazing. And could we really have expected less from the two them?
Because George Martin was there for the original sessions and because his son would be using newer technology to create the album, it was a great pairing. But what they did was not some contemporary mash up or remix, using gratuitous synthesizers or sounds; the duo mixed in different elements of the original songs to create a most pleasant sound. For example: The piano riff from “Hey Bulldog” is layered on top of the Eric Clapton guitar solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and that is mixed into the song “Lady Madonna”. It sounds perfect. All three elements sound completely in synch. It would only be those two who would think that those track sections would go so great together.
The album starts off very serenely, with the vocal track from “Because” and the bird and nature sounds from the single release of “Across the Universe”. This sets the mood that the Beatles are here and it’s “because” we love them so much. It transitions to “Get Back” and then to “Glass Onion”, incorporating elements from “Hello Goodbye” and “I Am the Walrus”. Some of the most moving moments on the album are the subtle things, such as the string climax from “A Day in the Life” (which is used throughout the album). It continues on a journey, as vast as the stage at the Mirage in Las Vegas and as fun as witnessing the Beatles perform live.
Some really great finds are on the album. A heartbreaking rendition for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is on the album, an original acoustic demo that George Harrison recorded that never ended up on The White Album. (It can be found on the Anthology.) The strains are so heartfelt and so emotional, it creates an entirely new feeling for the song. A brand new string back track was composed by Martin and placed in the background, again adding an element of both sadness and true emotion that seems to have been vacant from the released track. It has become one of my favorite songs by the Beatles, and even without Clapton to give the awesome solo; it reaches a new height of emotional resonance.
There’s a great remix of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” as well. If it didn’t sound psychedelic enough, then have a listen. It doesn’t sound too different, but what’s different about it is that it sounds, if anything, a little spookier. At the end of the big climax of the song, it bursts, bangs, explodes into the long, moving, and awesome chords of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy”. It’s a full bodied move from psychedelic to amazing and larger than life.
The most fun part of the album for die-hard Beatlemaniacs is trying to spot and name all the elements in the songs, even the smallest measures or only a couple words from a song. Picture you and your friend listening as “Get Back” plays and you suddenly realize something and you smile, probably sit up, and say excitedly, “Oh, that’s the intro to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’!” It’s so much fun for the ones who have been in love with the music and know it by heart; the ones who used to have the original LPs and the posters on their walls; the fans who watched them at Shea Stadium and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Not a travesty, buy any means, this preserves the original intent of the music and keeps it fresh, making it sound new and exciting.
It also provides the younger generation, probably just getting exposed to the music their parents and possibly grandparents listened to, an excellent introduction to the Beatles. Love by no means changes the music or makes it any more different than the original songs; it just adds a fresh element. It gives an introduction to one of the greatest bands in history, which will lead them to discover the original albums and go back to the great Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road. The Beatles sound new, not to say that they’ve ever sounded old, but—(says in old timer voice) kids these days…they don’t know what real music is.
If you didn’t know about this album before but you were indeed a Fab Four fan, you probably nearly had a stroke when I said remix and mash up. But, have no fear, the album is much more. Both fun for the old fans and a wonderful way to introduce the music to a new generation, Love provides a totally amazing experience for the ears. Sounding fresher and newer than they have in years, the Martins did a tremendous job. Each chord resounds more clearly; each piano note sounds more emotional, and each song sounds more fantastical. But, then again, what more can we expect? This is the Beatles.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” Acoustic Love version:
Even if you hate their music, you can’t deny that the Beatles is one of the most, if not the most, influential band in music history. Their transitions from prudent pop stars with mop tops to their psychedelic period (Think “Day Tripper”, not “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), to their spiritual and political transition made them what we remember today. And the Beatles were particularly excellent and making those moves, always making them smooth, and they would always include a song or two from their previous period, as if to say that they weren’t quite done with that style. On September 9, 2009, EMI and Apple Corp. released the Beatles in a stereo box set containing all 13 studio albums (in their original UK track listings) and a limited edition mono set with 10 albums. Both sets contained the two disc set of EP B-sides and non-album singles called Past Masters (for the mono set, Mono Masters). I’ll review each album and note the sound quality in particular. The digital upgrades took for years for engineers to perfect and George Martin was most proud of the mono mixes. The sets include mixes of songs and albums never before released. I will be reviewing the Stereo mix.
Please Please Me
The Beatles took only 12 hours to record this album, basically a compilation of their repertoire when they played at the Cavern Club. Many may say that the stereo mix give them a headache, due to the separation of vocals and back tracks in different channels. That may be a valid point to some, and George Martin even condemned the mixes when they had been released in 1987 for some of the albums (first four albums mono, rest stereo, all crappy), but what it does enhance is the music itself. I would recommend not listening to them with ear buds, but on a good sound system like in a car. The bass is stronger and adds a layer of fun to everything. Some choice songs are “I Saw Her Standing There”, where this whorl of fun lifts you up and makes you promise you won’t dance to another band again. “Twist and Shout”, where John shredded his vocals, sounds cleaner and so much more fun to dance to. According to my mother, the sound hasn’t sounded this great since the original LPs were released. Grade: A
With the Beatles
The second album contains some songs that didn’t end up on Please Please Me. It doesn’t really matter, but it just gives you another opportunity to pop in a disc. The guitar in “All My Loving” suggests more fun and heart than before and on most of the tracks, there isn’t a sharp pang in the notes that ends up leaving your ear buds sounding like static and having you rip them off after a time. “Till There Was You”, a song from the musical The Music Man is included and the charm and sweetness of that boy band makes you remember (if you can) your first love. There’s a cover of “Please Mr. Postman” and it sounds great. The Beatles kept it going great with their second outing, proving they were here to stay. Grade: A
A Hard Day’s Night
Released the same year as With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) served as sort of a pseudo soundtrack to the film that Paul, John, George, and Ringo had starred in. The soundtrack is probably the best that they would ever produce, with the title song rhapsodizing about working as a pop star 24/7 and being chased by females around town. “If I Fell” sounds clearer than ever before and you can hear Paul’s voice crack in one of the verses, which adds even more emotion to the song. “And I Love Her”, a song declared by John Lennon as “Paul’s first ‘Yesterday’” is a beautiful tribute to the one he loved and is perfect for a dedication to someone. The sound quality on the guitar solo makes it sound all the more amazing. “Can’t Buy Me Love” in the film is very silly and kind of pointless, but alone on the album, it sounds fantastic. The album is a strong disc filled with classic and after hearing it, will make you wish you had the film to watch again. Grade: A
Beatles for Sale
Of their early work as somewhat prudish artists, Beatles for sale isn’t my favorite. Not to say that the album doesn’t have its merits, but it sounds as if the band is getting slightly tired of coming out with cutesy songs declaring their love for their girls in the same style three years later as when they first began. You can hear the transition as they mature with songs like “I’ll Follow the Sun”, a song that sings about how I’m going to leave you because I want to. This tired feeling isn’t evident in the sound quality, as it makes it far more enjoyable if you aren’t a fan. But the weariness would disappear and they would be back to their old selves with the next album. Their cover of “Rock and Roll Music” will have you shimmying on the floor. I used to think “Eight Days a Week” was the stupidest song I had ever heard, and that was because I was applying too much logic into its title. Now that I hear it now, I love its quaint ability to tell you that they don’t have enough time in the world to show how much they love you, a wonderful message for a song. Grade: B
With Help!, you can definitely notice a change of style in the Beatles style and writing, as they progress to more emotional songs and a less pop standard feel. “Yesterday” is one of the most beautiful ballads that has ever been written and the bass guitar that Paul plays in it resounds like it hasn’t since the LP was released back in 1965. They still have their good old kitschy love songs in there, as witnessed by listening to “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, but songs like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” are proof that these boys from Liverpool were growing up. The title song is a lot of fun and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is a crazy bit of just pure joy. Grade: A-
The Fab Four were growing at a very fast rate and even in 1965; they continued to break the barriers of music. “Drive My Car” sounds giddy and raucous, and the separation of the vocals is no longer becoming an issue, as their engineering process was abandoning that method. “Norwegian Wood (Your Bird Has Flown)” sounds sweet and mellifluous. The album utilizes the 1987 stereo remix, which doesn’t make it sounds as noticeably different as the others (the same is with Help!, but that album does have an enhancement in sound). The original 1965 stereo mix in remstered form is included with The Beatles in Mono box set as a bonus. Paul’s song “I’m Looking Through You” was the nastiest song that had been released on one of their albums up to that point. It shows an unwillingness to admit he was wrong and its guitar riff in the beginning, albeit acoustic, is still oddly sweet. “Girl” was also written in malice, but that doesn’t really take away from any magic that their music on the album creates. Grade: B+
The Fab Four went from boys to men in this album, writing some of their best ballads on this and using techniques that had never been used before. “I’m Only Sleeping” (a song that perfectly describes what I feel like when I have to wake up for school) contains guitar played in reverse, “Eleanor Rigby” sounds amazing as it tells a story of loneliness, and “Yellow Submarine” continues to create speculation about its meaning, some of the theories being a head trip when taking drugs. Honestly, that is the dumbest thing ever. Ringo, on the All Together Now documentary (about creating Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE show) said he was merely writing it as a kid’s song. And it was a good idea. “Got to Get You into My Life” doesn’t sound as harsh as it did in 1987 and “Here There and Everywhere” improve on the vocal sounds impeccably. Think you hate the IRS and Obama’s bailout giving spree; well have a good time listening to “Taxman”, an ode to the government’s bizarre need to tax us on everything. Grade: A-
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles were tired of touring all the time and Beatlemania (that thing where girls scream at the Beatles), so they decided to create an alter-ego band called the Lonely Hearts Club band, whose head would be called the ever mysterious Billy Shears. The album is like a show you go to, beginning with an overture and a brief introduction and then letting you go on a whirlwind of fantasy and discovery as you listen to each new song. The title track resonates with a happy “Let’s get this show o the road” feeling and its sound quality is far better than its original release. Clearer and more precise are the notes, lacking the flat tone that the 1987 release was afflicted with. “When I’m Sixty-Four” sounds fuller, “A Day in the Life” sounds sadder, “She’s leaving Home” sounds more heartbreaking, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sounds more psychedelic (though, contrary to prominent rumors, the song is NOT about LSD). Ringo’s vocals on “With a Little Help from My Friends” sound so much clearer than before. You can hear the quaver in his voice, which, depending on your view of how the rest of the band let him sing sometimes, is better or worse in result. The show is on the road and it’s not stopping. This album ranks in my favorite CDs of all time list, as well as one of the greatest albums ever released. Grade: A+
Magical Mystery Tour
This is my weirdest disc of the set, mostly because the sound is so wacky and so obviously drug induced, it makes me uncomfortable. Though it’s my least favorite album as a whole, the track list is great and sounds awesome. The songs, when they leave the territory of “Oh, I was high when I wrote that”, sound marvelous, but that happens seldom on this album. The supposedly nonsense song “I Am the Walrus”, while not directly pointing to the death of Paul McCartney, still sounds freaky, and with the upgrade in sound, sounds even freakier. The effects, such as an ominous laughing that sounds like it came from the Devil, give an air of John’s idea of a fun time using weed. For me, it isn’t really fun, but the song itself remains a classic, and through all its nonsense or drug references or death allusions, it remains one of my favorites.”The Fool on the Hill” reminds me of stupid people or people who have fallen in love. They aren’t that much different, but the ballad’s lyrics have a distinct sound as if to give a nod to that village idiot. “Blue Jay Way”, there’s only one thing to say, what the hell were they taking? “Penny Lane” is a very nice ode to a street that you may live on. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is another nice song and “All You Need is Love” is either quite amazing on occasions or simply annoying. “Hello Goodbye” I will say is one of the best tracks and I suggest that you listen to it here and not the cover by the Jonas Brothers. Grade: B
The Beatles (White Album)
Another one of my favorites, the Beatles had compiled more songs than ever for this album after spending some time in India. I track list containing about 34 songs, and all but four of them are top notch. The cover is simple; the songs however are deeper than ever before. You have one of their first real rock and roll songs (“Back in the USSR”) and it sounds mind blowing. The airplane noise shakes your sound system and your body and it touches ground and then Paul starts singing about the flight. The transition to “Dear Prudence” is perfect, “Glass Onion” is a really great song about rumors, “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” is a fairy tale with a fun riff, and on and on and on. The album is perfect, with Eric Clapton playing guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, a truly amazing song. John then sings about how “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and creates a masterpiece out of three unfinished songs and melding them into one haunting track. “Blackbird” is a beautiful commentary on the Civil Rights movement, and “Piggies” is a wonderfully amusing commentary on the middleclass (though, like “Helter Skelter”, the infamous Charles Manson interpreted it as a rising revolution against blacks). “Helter Skelter” is one heck of a piece of rock and roll, as the thrashing really gets loud and it becomes a memorable piece of history. “Honey Pie” is a wonderful homage to the songs Paul’s father used to listen to, those of vaudevillian sweetness and it works quite well. Ringo does a great job on vocals on the album’s last track “Good Night”, a sweet lullaby, and “Revolution 1” in its slow version seems dull and slow. “Revolution 9” is just basically having fun with sound effects and “Mother Nature’s Son” is a pretty tune that has a guitar sound that sounds great in stereo. One of the best albums of all time, this gets the Beatles on a great start as rock and roll masters. Grade: A+
Technically, this doesn’t really count as an album at all, and even the group admits that. It’s the soundtrack to the animated film, and the animated film is the trippiest animated film of all time. What the soundtrack does is compile some of the songs used in the film (not all, in 1997, EMI released The Yellow Submarine Songtrack) and includes some of the score from the film. Because of this, it ends up being the weakest albums of the set, only containing about 13 tracks total and six being by the Beatles, two of which had been released previously. The remaining four were songs that had already been written but remained unreleased. “Yellow Submarine” remains a classic kid song, the guitar and piano riff in “Hey Bulldog” is simply masterful (if you want to hear two awesome riffs in one, check out the remixed version of “Lady Madonna” from the Love album. The song also includes part of “I Want You”.), and the rest of the songs are silly, but forgettable. The score is interesting and has a unique melodic quality to it, but it does nothing much as an album by itself. Grade: C
Another of my personal favorites, this meticulously constructed album was the last one the Beatles worked on, even though it was released before Let It Be. “Come Together” makes an excellent socio-political song and with the improvement in the sound department, you can actually make out the eerie utter of “shoot me” by Lennon in the introduction. “Something”’s beginning guitar introduction sound pure and “Oh! Darling” shreds all vocal chords in a very sweet song. Ringo makes another kid song in “Octopus’s garden”, because everyone knows that if it were for an adult, it would be slightly idiotic. The simply words of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” clash well with its intense and complex music, an 8 minute long piece of music artistry. “Because”, inspired by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” has a very moody quality that enhances the overall feel. “Here Comes the Sun” improves significantly with the remaster, as its beginning guitar drift lightly but powerfully from the speakers. The album marks a period of when the Beatles were drifting apart and we should be glad they created this wonderful album. Grade: A
Let It Be
Their final album released is noted as one of the most difficult creatively and collaboratively. The sessions were recorded amidst tension and walkouts from the members and the recordings themselves are like listening to each process of development. “Across the Universe” is a nice song, and the first to be broadcast in outer space! The beginning bit resonates very sweetly, thanks to the sound quality. The title track is beautiful and one of the most miserable to record. And “Get Back” is fun, as it includes some of the babble before and the dialogue from their rooftop concert. “The Long and Winding Road” is a long and boring song that never made that much of an impression on me. But, the final album is good. Not great, as some of their previous ones, but good. Grade: B+
Exclusive to the set is Past Masters, a two disc compilation of all the non-album singles and B-sides the Beatles released. Originally, the set was released in two volumes in 1988, but in the stereo box set, it’s one set on two discs. The album features stereo remasters of all the songs except for “She Loves You”, “I’ll Get You” (Volume 1) and “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number”)” (Volume 2), which are included in a reastered mono mix. The mono box set includes the mono remasters in a set called Mono Masters. Like the early albums, the early singles suffer from the separation of vocals and music in different channels, but with some of the songs, like “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, this is a great improvement. “This Boy”, which was an instrumental in the film A Hard Day’s Night and called “Ringo’s Theme”, has a sweet tone to it that also is rather woebegone. The guitar riff in “I Feel Fine” sounds absolutely fantastic, as the beginning twang introduces you to the world’s most famous band. And volume 1 even includes their German singles! Yay! Included are “Komm, Gib Mir deine Hand” and “Sie Leibt Dich” (“I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”, respectively) Volume 2 features their later singles, like “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Rider” (which sounds less headache inducing in mono, by the way). The song that probably improves the greatest on volume 2 is “Lady Madonna”, where Paul’s’ piano paying skills are observed here. “Hey Jude” sounds better than ever and the “nature version” of “Across the Universe” is included. The better version of “Revolution” is here and the political message, though blatant, doesn’t match the actual enjoyment of the song. A great compilation set and if you’re a new to the Beatles, I think you should start with Past Masters. (I think they should have called it Past ReMasters.) Grade: A+
The set is simply amazing. The sound quality is better than the original LPs and gives Beatles fans something to sing about it. But the question is: will people with regular sound systems notice the difference? Well, on some of the albums, like Past Masters, Please Please Me, White Album, and Sgt. Pepper’s, yes, the sound is noticeably cleaner, more pure, and better. Louder, yes, but the subtleness of certain notes and vocal arrangements can be heard on the remasters. The bass is better and palpable, the guitar is amazing, and it makes sound even better than remembered. The albums come with new liner notes and photos, which aren’t that big of a deal. Each disc, with the exception of Past Masters, has a 3-5 minute mini-documentary. These don’t really tell you all that much, but offer small but interesting anecdotes. These are embedded as QuickTime files and with the stereo box set as a DVD. (Note: They were compiled and aired on the History Channel as The Beatles on Record.) This is simply an amazing box set and will thrill a Beatles fan or someone who is being introduced to the Beatles. It allows you to recapture music history and relive the best seven years in music. This set doesn’t let me down at all. There’s certainly “Something” great about the band. Even though musical bliss only lasted seven years, those seven years were of “Revolution” and you can now look back as if it were “Yesterday” to all the great music.
Please Please Me: A
With the Beatles: A
A Hard Day’s Night: A
Beatles for Sale: B
Rubber Soul: B+
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: A+
Magical Mystery Tour: B
The Beatles (White Album): A+
Yellow Submarine: C
Abbey Road: A
Let It Be: B+
Past Masters: A+