Monday, November 15, 2010

Layla & Other Assorted Mono Mysteries

So completely enthralled for the last year by the stunning sound and revelations to be found on The Beatles' Mono boxed set, I've become a bit obsessed with the word "mono." That's all I want to hear- mono recordings of my favorite music, because, if it was recorded in mono, isn't that the way it was meant to be heard? Just ask Phil Spector. (You can bake a note inside a cake.)

It's not just the purity of it all. It's also the fun of hearing the mix, which more times than not, offers something different than what is to be found on a stereo version. (And vice versa, of course, but in this digital age, most of us have forgotten the mono hits we used to hear on the radio.) Punchier drums, acoustic guitar where you never thought there was before, a vocal inflection that may have been buried, these are just some of the many nuances that may surprise you when A/B-ing your favorite song.

One example that made me go "Oooh," was "I'm So Tired" from "The White Album."  The stereo version has Lennon's voice on top of Paul's on the chorus. The mono has Paul's voice on top of Lennon's. Maybe I'm a bit cuckoo, but when you've heard something the same way for so long, that little shocker is one of the many joys of being both a Beatles' fanatic and a lover of music in general.

I think the last remaining record labels have caught on as well, with Sundazed Music, often releasing vinyl-only editions which feature the "long lost original mono mixes" of everyone from Bob Dylan and The Byrds to the Vanilla Fudge and most recently, The Hollies & The Mamas & The Papas.  (All of which are fantastic.) Sony got on the bandwagon too, with the just released Bob Dylan Mono Recordings. I must say, I am all for it.

So, when I have a minute, (and when don't I), I search for "mono lps" on eBay, as well as trolling the net looking at many other blogs, hoping someone will have posted some rare mono edition of a classic.

A recent find on eBay was the debut from the Grateful Dead, a record that in its first mono state, just sold for $115.00. I snagged a copy about a month ago for $30. The cover has a few seam splits, and the vinyl looks worse than it plays, but for $30, I was thrilled. The difference between stereo and mono on this release is jaw-dropping. It sounds as if the band recorded it twice, in two different sessions, with different musicians and instruments.

I also found a mono mix of Derek & the Dominoes' "Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs" on a bizarre little website, but I'm not sure of its authenticity. Just when did record labels stop releasing both mono and stereo editions? I would think 1968 or 1969, and "Layla" came out in 1970. This claims to be a "needle drop upload" from a "white label/mono DJ" LP,  and unfortunately I have nothing but a sound file to go on.  I came up empty when trying to find any more information.

Listen to "Little Wing" in both stereo and mono and tell me what you think. I admit, I would have preferred to illustrate this phenomenon with tracks from the first Dead LP, but I just don't have the ability to upload vinyl. Plus, I was really hoping someone could should shed some light on this supposed mono copy of "Layla."

LITTLE WING (stereo)


And please don't tell anyone, but here are both the stereo and mono versions of "I'm So Tired," just for fun.




Anonymous said...

Hi, great blog! US record companies made the switch to stereo in 1968, the UK followed in 1969, other territories (Mexico, Brazil, ...) in 1970. For example, Bob Dylan's last record to have a true mono mix is "John Wesley Harding" which was released in the US in late '67/early '68. There are mono copies of "Nashville Skyline" (1969) and even "Self Portrait" (1970), but those were "fold-downs" from the stereo, made for overseas markets.
DJ/radio copies were still produced in mono 1970/1971 and even later, but those were always "fold-downs" from the stereo. I guess your version of "Layla" falls into that category.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thank you for that info. I often see Argentinian pressings of late 60's or early 70's classics like the first three Zeppelin LPs, or Yes, and I'm always intrigued. But they are always priced too high to experiment.

steve simels said...

The one that REALLY needs to be heard in mono is "Surrealistic Pillow."

It was cut at RCA in L.A. in a studio that was the size of an airplane hangar, and in stereo it sounds it. It's almost unlistenable due to the over-arching echo -- might has well have been recorded in the Grand Canyon.

The mono mix is a lot drier sounding, and closer to the band's live sound.

Kwai Chang said...

I agree with Anonymous. I own many post-1968 U.S. 'monophonic' radio station vinyl records. I once lost a bidding war for a mono Led Zeppelin III. In retrospect, I'm glad I lost. I was obsessed with mono at the time (the 90's) and willing to take almost any risk to satisfy the craving. However, these are straight fold-downs and, despite any collectable attributes, are generally unlistenable. I do not know how these records were suitable for broadcast. The mono treasure hunting we read about refers to vintage mono releases (which generally enjoyed a separate mono mix - not fold-downs). The Beatles were always present for the mixing of the mono, but almost always absent for the stereo. Regardless, the Layla disc is a fold-down supplied to AM radio stations. The problem is that combining left and right channels of a stereo mix results in a form of dynamic mayhem in terms of signal becoming distorted or cancelled. Most of these type of discs that I've seen have been in perfect condition. That makes me think that there just wasn't enough forgiveness (fidelity-wise) - even on AM radio - to use them. So, in terms of Mono-Worship, post-1968 should be considered heresy! The Beatles U.K. Yellow Submarine mono record contained NO mono mixes...only stereo fold-downs. Conversely, the Mono Beatles Box is the taking of Communion without the bread or wine.
In closing, please do not misunderstand me. I wish I owned a copy of Layla in mono on's just that simple. Besides, such records are proof that mono did not simply roll over and die. It was merely left for dead - way out in the desert of Capitalism (remember, stereo discs retailed for a dollar more)...
So, is mono on it's way to (rightfully) reclaiming the crown as industry reference standard? Well, we already know that the accountants (and DTS) will never let that transpire...5.1, 7.1, surround, etcetera, etcetera. But where are such accountants with the ability to hear in anything but stereo? Or, as in Brian Wilson's case, 'doomed' to a monophonic existense forever.
Bring it's already hear.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thank you for your candor. There's nothing to misundertand there.

You've been very helpful and I appreciate the information.

I've seen white label, mono copies of Zeppelin III and I am always tempted to bid. But the few I've seen get very high, very quickly and I just don't have the nerve...or the money.

soundsource said...

just downloaded mono vinyl versions of surrealistic pillow, JA Takes Off, After Bathing at Baxter's and Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets

George Price said...

Hey Sal! Look at my Youtube channel [texs2007],I posted a video showing the Mono promo of "Layla"! Cost me $3.98,but from what I heard of "Little Wing",it's a well spent $3.98.