Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Is It Really Getting Better All The Time?

My friend Michael Giltz seems to be a tad confused and even slightly disappointed over the upcoming 50th anniversary release of "Sgt. Pepper," which will feature a new stereo mix of the album proper, and oodles of Beatles outtakes we may actually not have heard before. He texted this to me-
"I’m all for doing a new stereo mix of the original album and of course it had everyone’s blessing. But to celebrate the album, I still think Mono should come first and the new stereo mix as a bonus on the second CD. And I’m all for The Ultimate Sgt Pepper adding in Fields and Lane, which they don’t seem to have done in any official capacity."
I, on the other hand, am really looking forward to this. So, I replied-
"I understand what you're saying. The two extra tracks are not incorporated into the sequence of the original record. Still, I don't think that they are trying to push this release as a definitive version. They are offering a new stereo mix, with extra material, which is something The Beatles camp haven't done as often as everyone else, and have never abused their catalogue, like say both Elvises or The Who."
He said-
"Buy a CD of Sgt Pepper and all you get is the new stereo mix. But two cds and you get extra tracks. Buy the massive boxed set and you'll find the mono on CD four.  If I were the Beatles I'd have the U.K. Mono mixes as the albums available on default up to White Album w the stereo relegated to the boxed set collections of stereo or the boxed set of US album versions. To me the monos are tremendous and sound awesome -/ no casual fan would know or think twice. It's just the album and it doesn't sound weird or less in any way. The serious fan I assume would prefer mono. (But happy to buy both.) the way it's packaged, from now on if you go to the store or type in sgt pepper on Amazon you're being offered the 2017 stereo version only.  I feel that's a mistake. Make a dozen versions available but to me they made a dreadful mistake going w stereo on the original CD releases and the chance to correct it has been missed. Again."
I said- 
"I think you're missing the point completely about this release. No one is pushing mono versus stereo. It's simply a new package with the new stereo mix and unreleased material. No one has said, this is better than the mono mix, which is readily available for $20, albeit, on vinyl, but not stand alone CD. But that's not what this is about. It's about a celebration of a record and to change things up a bit, you've got a new stereo mix, which is exciting. Plus you have all this extra stuff, which is exciting. The mono CD box and the mono LP aren't being deleted. It's the 50th anniversary of the record, all involved want to know how to celebrate it. If someone suggested, how about we rerelease the mono mix on a CD, or worse, how about we take the perfect mono mix and fuck it up for everybody and charge them more, how would that pan out? Plus Ringo is on record, saying he prefers the mono. Paul, of course, loves both."
What say you, Beatles fanatic and cynics? And, if you were to sequence both "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Field Forever" into "Sgt. Pepper," where would you put them?


buzzbabyjesus said...

I grew up on the US releases, which were tinkered with sonically for American ears. I've really only listened the Sgt Pepper mono mix once. A lot of these Beatles records I've heard about 15 times too many.

So I don't have a horse in that race. I'll download it if I see it, but I've already got my original vinyl album and cd.

Last week I downloaded Biggy Daddy's version, where every song is filtered through '50's Rrock n roll. It's great fun. I'll listen to it again.

I'd put Penny Lane after Lucy. And start Side Two with Strawberry Fields.

Days of Broken Arrows said...

Interesting points of view. But I think the issue here is that they're giving us unreleased takes of some songs, yet still holding the as-yet-unheard "Carnival Of Light" on the can, and that's what a lot of people want.

For "Sgt. Pepper" to really connect with me, I don't think adding in the single sides would have mattered. They would have had to hold up the release date and add "It's All Too Much," preferably in place of either George Harrison's other song or "Fixing A Hole" and "Mr. Kite," neither of which seem essential. I think that the psychedelic rocker that would have galvanized the LP, plus its lyrics really embody the spirit of '67.

The 2009 CD reissues disappointed me with their lack of high end, although few others seemed to mind (or notice). But play them against the vinyl and the differences are apparent. The toppermost part of the sonic range was lopped off. Examples: The cymbals on "She Said She Said" were muted as was the breathiness of the vocals on "Because," and you can't hear the top notes of the keyboard triads Paul is playing on "For No One." I hope the engineers didn't do the same thing this time around.

wardo said...

The 2-CD version is for casual fans who don't have the album but are interested in how it came together. The 4-CD version is for any more-than-casual fan. If there are actually things on the outtakes discs that nobody's heard outside that control room, I'll be very pleased. That says a lot for an album that's hardly my favorite.

As for mono vs. stereo, they were made available in 2009. I prefer the mono, mostly because I haven't heard it as much as the stereo.

As for the two other songs, I'd follow a rumored early tracklist for the Deluxe Edition that put them between side one and side two. (I like the sequence of Mr. Kite -> SFF -> Penny Lane -> Within You.) I'd also find a place for Only A Northern Song -- probably between Getting Better and Fixing A Hole.

Rodger Stroup said...

I put all cynicism on hold when it comes to the Beatles. I have the mono version of Pepper that I play regularly over the stereo version. Since stereo was an after thought for the original release, I'm hoping for a better result from the stereo version of the 50th anniversary.

I have plenty of Pepper boots for outtakes, but I never mind getting officially released versions of those.

I would place Penny Lane after Mr. Kite, and I would place Strawberry Fields after A Day in the Life. No lightning struck me down for suggesting that, so I'll continue.

After listening to the sequence for almost 50 years, I've grown pretty fond of it. Introducing two additional songs into the sequence took a minute or two of thought, but I would probably place them differently on another day.

Good to see a Big Daddy reference today too!

Anonymous said...

I'm with BBJ, Penny Lane after Lucy as a palate cleanser. Strawberry Fields after When I'm Sixty-Four for the same reason.

cmealha said...

Penny Lane after She's Leaving Home
Strawberry Fields after Good Morning Good Morning

Anonymous said...

They don't belong in the sequence at all, so I'd put them after it, following a pause, like the old Elvis Costello bonus tracks.
I don't like it when an album sequence is fucked with like that ( see: Pink Floyd The Final Cut re-release) I like Rodger Stroup's quote above about putting cynicism aside when it comes to the Beatles. I wish everyone did that everywhere.
That said, I do like the question of where WOULD you place them, and so if I couldn't just say "after" like I'd like to, I think BBJ comes closest.
As always, thank you for doing this blog, Sal.

Michael Giltz said...

Rodger, I can't believe you'd suggest following A Day In The Life w Strawberry Fields and NOT be struck down by lightning! Very brave and a fascinating thought. If anything could follow that epic it would surely be Fields; makes sense. All the other suggestions are cool, including putting them between side one and side two. To clarify, Sal originally told me the new release had a grand "Special Edition" take on the album that would include these rethought stereo mixes (rather than the after-thought of a stereo mix we've been living with all these years) and include the two songs that could/should have been included if they weren't already released as one of the best singles of all time. To me, the challenge of including them is more about the time limitations of the era which means cutting two songs to make room for them. It's just a game of course but fun. Again, it sprang from Sal's belief that this new release was very different.

I disagree with Sal that they HAD to do something to gin up excitement. The 2009 boxes were impeccable. But it's been eight years. All I expect is that they treat Sgt Pepper like 99% of all other classic albums. On an anniversary, REMASTER it to take advantage of tech advances. That's all. The two CD set includes the mono plus bonus tracks, the four CD set includes mono, a new 2017 stereo mix that rethinks what they did in 1967, bonus tracks and more! It's how every classic album you can name is usually treated and it's only the fact that Pepper came out during the transition to stereo that it's been bungled.

I am delighted to be in the main body of Burnwood! But here is my stance on the matter.

I don't care how many versions of Star Wars George Lucas releases -- if he puts out a 12 hour black and white version, I'd line up on opening day. But it's absurd that the classic original cut of the film can't be seen except as a bonus feature on certain BluRay releases in a crappy, almost VHS version of poor quality. For most people, if they buy or rent the film, they're seeing a version he tweaked decades later. Tweak away, but for historic purposes, the original version that made history should always be available and preferably the default version people are offered to purchase or rent.

Similarly, Sgt Pepper can be released in ten thousand versions in any 5.1 or new stereo mix or virtual reality edition (with Beatle glasses in a limited edition!) from now until the end of time. Great! But the fact that the mono mix is ONLY available in a very expensive boxed set or on vinyl is absurd. Ask Alexa or Siri to play the Beatles in mono and they'll respond "What the hell are you talking about?"

It's the mono edition that seized the attention of the world and it's the mono mix that should be streaming online or offered first when someone is buying a CD. The stereo mix or the 2017 new stereo mix should be the one people have to seek out, not the other way around.

Rodger Stroup said...

Lighting is all around me this morning, so I'm staying inside. I thought Strawberry Fields would be an interesting segue from A Day in the Life. Since the song gaps are minimal on Pepper anyway, a fade out-fade in transition from A Day in the Life to Strawberry Fields sounded great in my head.
I believe the Purple Chick boot of Pepper starts with Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields before going into Pepper, which would be good too.

Shriner said...

I am surprisingly indifferent to this release. Like many, I've heard numerous Beatles outtakes/sessions, etc. One more release of more outtakes is just not that exciting this time around and I don't know why. Sure, if I stumble across it, I'll give it a listen, but it really seems a been-there, done-that at this point.

And as far as resequencing goes -- in the words of one Mike Love: "don't fuck with the formula" -- if they haven't been able to ever dig up a George Martin document of how they would sequence it with PL and SFF on the album -- leave it the way it is.

Peter Ames Carlin said...

I love outtakes, b-sides, related singles, etc., but as far as I'm concerned the 'Sgt Pepper's' that was released in June, 1967 is exactly the album they wanted to make, sequenced exactly the way they wanted to sequence it, and on this of all albums we should leave it at that.

Yes of course I'd love to have remastered versions of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry..." in the box set, but definitely NOT as album tracks. If John & Paul had wanted to have them on the album they would have been on the album. Back then the expectation -- culturally and contractually -- for the Fabs, along with nearly every other pop artist of the day -- was to produce X number of albums PLUS x number of singles as gap-fillers/pump-primers. I get that both tunes share the same sound/aesthetic/themes as the other 'Sgt P' songs, but still, they made their decision and were/are, by everything I've read (which is quite a bit given 50 years of fandom (not kidding....I was a precocious toddler) and research for the Paul McCartney book i wrote back in the days when the USA still existed.

I have even more passionate arguments about the new "Flowers in the Dirt" box set (which is simultaneously the best and worst box set ever released!) in case anyone is interested.

Sal Nunziato said...

"I have even more passionate arguments about the new "Flowers in the Dirt" box set (which is simultaneously the best and worst box set ever released!) in case anyone is interested."

Peter...you know I am interested!

Shriner said...

Well, the FITD reissue -- the 2-disc version -- *should* have had all the officially released B-Sides on disk 2. That's *my* main complaint with it.

jeff said...

I like my outtakes but to me anything other than the original sequencing of Pepper, which is probably the album I've heard more than any other, would be too jarring. I'd put the two songs after the dog whistles at the end.

Am seriously looking forward to the boxed set.

Michael Giltz said...

Again, we're all in agreement that a Special Edition of SGT PEPPER in a new 2017 stereo mix including Penny/Fields along with the album proper or even cutting two tracks to make room would have been a dreadful idea as an official release.The album is the album. That only came up because Sal thought that was the gist of this new release in its single CD or two CD w extras version. Fun game to play but it should be limited to mixtapes we create on our own, not official releases since they weren't literally prevented from doing whatever they want a la some film director who had the movie taken away from them.

Second, many love out-takes and the such. I'm not a fanatic and haven't listened to take 17 of such and such more than once. But of course a new boxed set should include lots of out-takes and bonus features like a making-of and a nice booklet.

My main complaint is that the original, classic, definitive edition of the album (the 1967 mono mix) has been missing in action on LP since the early 1970s for most listeners, it was completely ignored on CD for 20 years, it's now being ignored on streaming and if you want to hear most of the Beatles music the way they actually intended it to be heard, you have to buy an elaborate boxed set or seek out vinyl. The opinion of Paul and Ringo today isn't important, because artists often second guess themselves or tweak and tweak until they die. Having grown up with the stereo mixes and not even knowing I should be hearing mono, they were a revelation to me. Eventually, in movies and books and theater, new editions bring us closer and closer to the original vision and intent, whether that means restoring what was presented way back when or actually presenting it for the first time (as with Orson Welles and Touch Of Evil, which was bastardized by the studio). It's not about opinion or preference, it's about honoring what was created AT THE TIME as best as possible, undoing censorship and studio/label interference. It's not second guessing or "improving." (I quite like the stereo mix, says Ringo!) It's just respecting the work and restoring/presenting it as close its original intent as possible. With Sgt Pepper, that clearly means the mono mix should be the main default option when someone streams it or buys it on CD.

PS I won't kvetch any more. The box raises so many issues I wanted to refocus on the main one.

Sal Nunziato said...

"That only came up because Sal thought that was the gist of this new release"

Okay Giltz, you said it the first time and I let it go. But you said it again.

I did NOT think it was the gist of this release. Our discussion started because you, like many, felt it to be sinful to touch Pepper, and you further explained that a definitive version should be a MONO VERSION. I simply defended the release. That's all. I have NO problem with a new stereo mix, or adding songs, or fiddling around with outtakes. It's The Beatles. I'll take anything new or at least somewhat different. Nowhere did I say, the gist of this release is to show the original vision of ANYONE!

Chris Collins said...

I'm interested in the thoughts on the Flowers in the Dirt box set as well!

Anonymous said...

Michael, I've got to wonder how the mono Pepper sold compared to the stereo version back in '67. Within two years, mono had been phased out entirely on LPs. So I'd assume mono sales were petering out by the time Pepper was released. I wonder if info on mono vs. stereo sales exists anywhere.

That said, I've got nothing against a more widely available mono Pepper. But what I'm really excited about is the new 5.1 mix on the super mega ultra mondo deluxe box!


Michael Giltz said...

Sal, my apologies. Clearly I completely misunderstood you when you were suggesting what you thought the boxed set was AND when you clarified what was going on with the set! Miscommunication all around!

Why is this hard? Treat Sgt Pepper exactly the way you treat 99% of all classic albums.

It's an anniversary? Present the classic original album in the best sound possible -- any extras are welcome. But regardless of sales (which is an interesting point, Anonymous), there is no question that the original Mono mix is what they labored over and released to the world in 1967 as the definitive version of the album. Please don't bury it. That's all I ask.

mauijim said...

There is no way I would like to hear another song after Day. I listen to Pepper only on vinyl so I am ok with adding PL at the end of side 1
SFF can begin side 2. I have both the mono and stereo albums and prefer the stereo. It's what I grew up on and like the effects on it.

I too am interested on your thoughts on FITD.

Sal Nunziato said...

I've been thinking about this. "Penny Lane" would be a great opener, with a crossfade into the crowd sounds of "Sgt. Pepper." But then, I'd remove "Lovely Rita" altogether, and replace it with "Wildfire" by Michael Murphy. "A Day In The Life" must close the record, so "Strawberry Fields Forever" should come before it, but only as a cassingle.