The Beatles in Mono

Worth the Wait

The Beatles in Mono

One of the real surprises in these LPs is the degree to which they capture more of the inside information of Ringo’s drum timbre and transient action, and also his percussion accenting from the pop off the skin of a tambourine during “Norwegian Wood,” the vivid cow bell center right during “You Can’t Do That,” or the clatter of castanets and tapping of wood blocks during “Martha My Dear.”

Moving into the heart of the catalog, “Taxman” (Revolver) relaxes the incessant forwardness found on the CD reissue, allowing the backing vocals some added depth. During “Good Day Sunshine” there’s a rush of energy and vitality missing from the CD, which comparatively sounds overcast and sodden. “Yellow Submarine” is not as “loud” as the CD but certainly more detailed with robust low-level information and vocal detail, particularly John’s glib echoing of Ringo’s lines toward the song’s end. A real treat is “Eleanor Rigby,” which truly soars with greater tonal expression and dynamic transparency and string octet detail, as if a dark cloud had been removed. From Magical Mystery Tour, the sweet piccolo trumpet solo in the middle of “Penny Lane” is spotless, and the full-bodied bass response during “Baby, You’re A Rich Man” is resonant and extended to a degree that would have been unheard of on a recording back in the day.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remains the jewel in the crown. From the eponymous opening theme to the final crashing piano chord of “A Day in the Life” the mono LP paints a more vivid and complete sonic picture. Unlike the stereo LP, Paul’s lead vocal isn’t ghettoized in the left speaker, the band jailed in the right. During “With A Little Help from My Friends” the timbre and tunefulness from Ringo’s snare is restored; there’s more dynamic impact along with its ringing decay. Plus the lead guitar melody of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is more bell-like and prominent, the vocals and vocal effects more finely focused. Ringo’s distinctive percussion work is more grandly featured in “Fixing a Hole,” and “She’s Leaving Home” gives the listener more harp to follow, with more of the tactile sensation of the artist’s fingers plucking the strings.

By the time I got to “Within You, Without You,” it’s just no comparison with either the CD or the stereo vinyl reissues. The latter mix shuttles the tabla off to the right channel, and George’s lead vocal is dry and wiry. Also, the closing chorus of voices isn’t nearly as lively as the mono. Of equal note, I found Paul’s vocal during “When I’m Sixty-Four” much warmer as compared to the thinner, whiter, right-panned stereo version. One of the biggest poke- in-the-eye differences arrives during the reprise to the Sgt. Pepper theme. The limp vocal energy of the stereo CD is replaced by a more aggressive and satisfying lead linked with more intense crowd noise. Paul’s vocal riffing at the end is restored to prominence while the orchestra rising slowly to crescendo during “A Day in the Life” is more textured and dynamically alive, almost alarming in its intensity, unlike the more pacified stereo mix.

The White Album was the last of The Beatles albums to be mixed to both stereo and mono. Both versions are equally listenable but the differences still make me waver in favor of the mono. A typical example would be “Cry Baby Cry,” where Lennon’s vocal is placed a bit more forward, the track itself shedding the slightly shrouded character of the CD. “Honey Pie” is portrayed with a broader and more open soundstage and a heightened midrange presence. “Stunning gradations of texture and timbre” is the only way I can suitably describe the heavier bloom of the drum fills and the high harmonies near the end of “Long, Long, Long.” And “Yer Blues” flat out rocks, dynamically more explosive with the searing guitar solo that just blazes. “Mother Nature’s Son” trends toward more bloom and bass while “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” rumbles forth with more bass information, extension, and resonant warmth. The charming “I Will” possesses greater vocal intimacy and a fuller, more articulate bass voicing—that is, Paul literally singing the bass part. And if you haven’t heard the sped-up mono version (the stereo is normal speed) of “Don’t Pass Me By” you’ll have to admit that it has an air of Alvin and the Chipmunks about it. In comparison, the CDs often have tighter and more controlled bass, but they can’t match the resonance and decay detail of these LPs.

The bottom line is that with few exceptions The Beatles in Mono is a sonic triumph running the gamut from gritty to gorgeous. And considering that an original mint Parlophone costs $200, $300, or more a pop, TBIM represents an almost impossibly great value. Now, thankfully, we can all rediscover what was once the exclusive territory of a handful of lucky collectors. I think the Beatles themselves would certainly agree, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”