"The Beatles": Why Don't We Throw It in the Road? (When Everyone is Watching)
First now let me tell you about my original copy of The Beatles No. 0441033. I was at Cornell November of 1968 and working part time at Record Runner, a record store in "Collegetown", defined as a small area adjacent to the Cornell campus.
The store owner, Rick Mears imports a few hundred U.K. copies that land at the docks on New York City's Westside docks a few weeks before the American version's release. When the call came in early one morning that the records had landed, he handed me the keys to his white Volvo P18 coupe.
My job was to drive the nearly five hours from Ithaca to Manhattan, pick up the records and drive back the same day. It's a three and a half hour drive now (max) but back then the Route 17 highway hadn't yet been completed.
I got in the car around 10:15AM and drove as quickly as I could (which was pretty fast!) to NYC, picked up the records and drove back, arriving in the early evening on a very cold evening. As I approached the store I noticed a line had formed around the block.
Word got out that a shipment of two hundred copies of The Beatles was arriving from NY by car that afternoon and at least a hundred and fifty kids had lined up and were standing in the cold waiting. I drove behind the store and before getting out of the car, I opened a box and removed the one on top, No. 0441033.
When the kids closest to the door saw the records being unpacked from the cardboard boxes, they started cheering. You could hear the excitement spread down and around the block. All two hundred copies were sold that evening.
I played that copy in Ithaca, then I played it in Boston, first in a basement apartment at 10 Beal Street, Brookline the street on which J.F.K, was born, then at 1404 Commonwealth Avenue, down the block where the unknown Aerosmith hung out, then at two other Beantown apartments then in Venice, CA, then Hackensack-ak-ak-ak-ak, Glen Rock and finally where I live now.
Same copy played can you imagine how many times? I picked up a second U.K. copy in the Islington area of London back in the early 2000s. The store had eight copies in varying conditions priced from around $50 to $100. I didn't know how to read the EMI pressing codes at the time so I was buying blind, at least in terms of how early the pressing really was. I bought a very clean copy for around $70. I also bought a German original at I think Saturn in Haight-Ashbury. The record looked pristine and that's how the store described it but I am sure they knew there was a pretty nasty scratch in "Blackbird". That's the way it goes.
So first I played this reissue, noting that EMI had passed on the original U.K. "top loader" jacket configuration. No big deal. The color was way too white, too. The original was a graceful eggshell color. I have to tell you, running the original through my hands and reflecting on where it's been and where I've been with it over the past forty four years I thought about kids who only know music as files and what they will be missing one day.
The reissue's poster is very well done. Did you know that Capitol "censored" the poster? If you have an original Capitol and this box compare Lennon's squiggly line drawings of himself and Yoko. Capitol airbrushed out Lennon's genitals and Yoko's pubes. Swear! And they also airbrushed Paul's pubes in a split panel photo. On my Capitol copy there's a black blog next to John on the telephone. On the U.K. copy it's Yoko. Of course that could just be sloppy printing but I doubt it!
Then I played this remaster, which is so far the worst in the box. If this double record sounds good to you, well then you just have no idea what you're missing. For some reason, someone in the reissue chain went really soft here. I mean what should be sharp transients, like Ringo's snare, are just cotton ball soft.
This mastering has softened overall transients to an almost shocking degree. After forty plus years playing this double album on a wide variety of systems there are certain expectations and this record was in many ways unrecognizable.
This record can sometimes be bright, but transients are so right, particularly on Ringo's drums. His snare has a distinctive sound on record and on this reissue it was way too soft and barely recognizable. Acoustic guitars were also soft and sometimes tonally recessed. Depth was flattened on everything, producing a two dimensional curtain of sound between the speakers. Voices lacked believability because of a textural discontinuity and vague imaging.
On the original of "Rocky Raccoon," McCartney's three-dimensional voice floats solidly and convincingly in space. The acoustic guitar strums have rhythmic authority. The reissue turns it all to mush.
The original separates each instrument in three-dimensional space, producing a pronounced floating soundstage utterly independent of the speakers. The reissue didn't come close. This reissue also sounds dynamically compressed, mastering engineer Magee's claims to the contrary.
I also listened to the early '80's Japanese box I have as well as the Mo-Fi. In this instance both of them are better than this, though both are on the bright side. Still, that's preferable to this dead pillow, especially since those maintained the correct overall transient attack.
A huge disappointment and easily the worst so far. However, at this point I can say that my box, which I purchased, is pretty well pressed. Not "state of the art," but more than acceptable.
I should have written more about the music, but I'm so disappointed by the sound that I'll pass, except to note that I compared a forty four year old record played hundreds of times and it had sharper, more realistic transients and extended high frequencies compared to a brand new pressing. What is that about?