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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Beatles: All they've got to give

The Beatles: Who's buying the new box sets?

Currently, there is not a day put aside to celebrate the musical legacy of The Beatles. So why not today? September 9 -- or the marketing-friendly 09/09/09 -- sees the release of a bonanza of new collectibles for fans of the Fab Four, from the highly anticipated video game, Rock Band: The Beatles, to the release of two new career-spanning box sets: The Stereo Albums and The Beatles in Mono.

The Stereo release is the first complete set of The Beatles' studio recordings -- 13 albums (four of which are being released in stereo for the first time), as well as a remastered version of Past Masters. The Beatles in Mono includes all of the original mono recordings, and Help! and Rubber Soul include the original 1965 stereo recordings. Packaged with replica original vinyl art, it makes a unique, almost museum-like collection.

Complete and stunning as they are, the cost of the box sets must be considered. The Stereo Albums retails for $290, while the The Beatles in Mono goes for $350 (if you can find it -- its initial print run of 10,000 has been upped by EMI after overwhelming pre-sales). At those sums, the question might be: who exactly will benefit from this wealth of material?


If you own a set of John, Paul, George and Ringo bobblehead dolls or have made a pilgrimage to The Cavern Club, these sets are, foremost, for you. There is material here you won't find elsewhere, including the first-ever stereo release of The Beatles' first four albums, Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night and Beatles For Sale. In addition, the remastered stereo versions bring new surprises to old songs, such as an emboldened piano line on I Want To Tell You and a more vibrant horn section on Got To Get You Into My Life.

Also embedded on each of the studio albums are new mini-documentaries containing archival video, rarely heard studio chatter and photographs from individual studio sessions.


Perhaps as a youngster you were more of a Stones fan. Maybe you found The Beatles too poppy, didn't like their haircuts or were turned off by all the screaming and fainting. Then, over time, you couldn't help but feel like you'd missed a signifant part of the cultural dialogue. Time to catch up, friend. Start with the Mono set, which replicates the look and feel of the original British vinyl run, right down to the record protectors charmingly touting the use of "Emirex cleaning cloths to preserve your microgroove records," and reminders to "check your gramophone stylus regularly." By the end of it, you'll feel like you didn't miss a thing.


The Stereo Albums serves as an aural history of the band, from fresh-faced Motowninfluenced head-boppers to long-haired, raga-influenced head-trippers, and would make for a great Beatles 101. Starting at Please Please Me, take your class to a time before Autotune was king right through the birth -- for better or worse--of world fusion.


Some of The Beatles' early recording sessions sound less like glossy studio arrangements and more like today's hip, lo-fibedroom recordings, and a good lesson in how to properly use a four-track can be found in the Stereo set's liner notes. Plus, in any Beatles recording, there are lessons to be learned in weaving harmonies with your band-mates, and the Beatles' vocal intricacies are only highlighted by remastering. Take No Reply, the first track on Beatles For Sale. On the stereo version of the track, unlike previous versions, you can really hear the way Lennon's vocals mesh with McCartney and Harrison's on the chorus.

Legendary Beatles producer George Martin was no slouch in the studio, and he had some great mixers and recording engineers. People like Geoff Emerick, who at 20 years old was brought in to work on Revolver. According to the recording notes, Emerick "embraced the spirit of experimentation that characterized the sessions," which "took an unprecedented 300 hours to record and mix." If you're a fledgling record producer looking to up your game, the tales told in these notes are in themselves worth the price of the Stereo box set. More valuable than upgrading to the latest version of Garage Band, at any rate.


Brad Frenette


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