Please Please Me AAA Mono Reissue: So Far So Great!

On the afternoon of September 4th, 1962 The Beatles arrived at Abbey Road for their first official session. They rehearsed, had dinner, returned to the studio and recorded “How Do You Do it” chosen for them as their first single by George Martin.

The Beatles didn't like the song and wanted one of their originals to be their first single but they recorded it anyway and it was mastered and prepared for release.

The group then recorded onto one track of the two track tape recorder the rhythm track to “Love Me Do” requiring 15 takes to get one good enough to use, after which they performed the vocals. The session went late into the night and required a great deal of editing. Engineer Norman Smith recalled that Paul wasn’t pleased with Ringo’s drumming.

Both “How Do You Do It” and “Love Me Do” were mixed that evening and despite his original decision, Martin chose in the end “Love Me Do,” but not the version recorded September 4th. It wasn’t good enough for the group’s debut, mostly because of the drums.

Drummer Andy White was booked for the next session, scheduled for Tuesday September 11th, 1962.

First up was “P.S. I Love You” finished in 10 takes with Andy White on drums. 18 takes of the “Love Me Do” redo followed, with Ringo playing only the tambourine.

Late that night mono mixes were made of take 10 of “P.S. I Love You” and take 18 of “Love Me Do”. On Friday October 5th 1962 The Beatles first single “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You” was released but with Ringo on drums, recorded at one of the earlier sessions.

When the EP “The Beatles Hits” was later released, the Ringo version of “Love Me Do” was replaced with the Andy White version and the decision was made to use that version on all subsequent releases of the song. To assure that yet another swap might take place in the future, the master tape of Ringo’s version was destroyed. Thus, only the original "Love Me Do" single has the version with Ringo on drums.

The group returned to Abbey Road on Monday November 26th to record "Ask Me Why" as well as uptempo takes of “Please Please Me”, after George Martin had rejected a slower version recorded at an earlier session.

After the "Please Please Me" single hit #1 on more than a few charts, the pressure was on to follow up with a full length album.

On Monday February 11th, 1963 The Beatles recorded an astonishing 10 songs in fewer than 10 hours. In addition to the originals they recorded five covers: Arthur Alexander’s “Anna (Go To Him)”, The Shirelles’ “Boys”, Goffin-King’s “Chains” and another by The Shirelles, “Baby It’s You.” With one more tune needed, the group chose a cover of Bert Berns's "Twist and Shout" originally recorded by The Isley Brothers.

By that time 12 hours had passed since the morning session had begun and all, but especially John, were beat. According to engineer Norman Smith John sucked on a couple of cough drops , gargled with some milk and then proceeded to sing the one, vocal cord shredding take of "Twist and Shout", thus completing Please Please Me

The above chronology is based upon Mark Lewisohn's extraordinary and highly recommended "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions—The Official Story of the Abbey Road years 1962-1970" (Sterling, 2013).

You might want to refer to the stereo box set review.

To assess the new all-analog mono record here's what I did: I played the new record first using a Miyajima Labs ZERO mono cartridge into Miyajimi Labs's ETR MONO step-up transformer feeding a Tektron monophonic tubed preamplifier, which is a very basic MM unit featuring a pair of 12AU7 tubes. I insisted upon that set up because it's how I heard the original absolute first pressing at a friend's and wanted to know how much of what I heard was the pressing and how much was that set-up.

Then I played the reissue. Then I played both again using the Transfiguration Proteus into the Ypsilon step up transformer and VPS-100 phono preamp. Finally I played the mono CD box set version. I'm going to do another pass using the Ortofon "Tribute" mono cartridge but I don't expect any surprises.

First, while the original first pressing was especially mesmerizing, much of the presentation resulted from the unique sound of the Miyajima Labs step-up/Tektron combo, because I got the same hypersonic effect here. So pronounced is the particular sonic personality of that combo that when I played the reissue it sounded so close to the original and so ethereally pleasing I stood up and applauded! But I was suspicious that the electronics were masking what must be differences between the two pressings and that turned out to be true and more easily revealed with the stereo cartridge but with the preamp's mono switch engaged.

However, the differences were relatively minor with a few favoring the original and few favoring the reissue.

What you really hope to not hear is sterile, antiseptic sound, juiced up bass or hard, thin high frequencies. You hope to hear a generous sense of front to back depth and a generously sized, stable, three dimensional front-to-back image—a centered ball of see-into-it "it's alive!".

What I particularly listened for generally was how the reissue dealt with instrumental attack, the generosity of the ample sustain produced by the generously applied echo chamber and the gracefulness of the decay. Specifically I listened for how natural Ringo's tambourine sounded, for how believable and bathed in reverb were the drum sticks Ringo hits together after the break on "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" and especially how "John" John sounded, how "Paul" Paul sounded and how "George" George sounded, if you know what I mean. Finally, did the micro-dynamic gestures that communicate musical intent survive the decades and the solid-state mastering?

And finally the real test: if you feel like cranking up the volume because you're having such a good time, does doing so improve or destroy the experience? That's one of the things that makes CDs so annoying: when you turn up the volume on the ones that don't sound bad, they do.

While I was hopeful that the reissue would sound great, I still had a bit of trepidation as I lowered the stylus onto the record. Not to worry: the presentation was top to bottom coherent, big and "analogy". The bottom end had not been jacked up. It's relatively weak on the original and on the reissue too. On bottom they sound just about identical. In fact, tonally despite the years and the different playback and mastering gear the overall picture was a faithful reproduction not a dramatic revision.

Paying such close attention produces a bonanza of previously unappreciated micro-events like when in "Please Please Me" when John emphasizes "oh yeah! (why do you make me blue?)". I'd never before appreciated the way he sounded as if he was surprising himself when he delivered it. Listening to "Love Me Do", I heard for the first time a connection to The Everly Brothers' cascading harmonies on "Cathy's Clown", which was a #1 single in the UK for 7 weeks in the Spring and early Summer of 1960.

Within 10 seconds of "Love Me Do" you'll know you're listening to AAA and you'll know that Magee and Berkowitz treated the originals with full respect—and that includes not trying to tuck it in where the vocal recordings occasionally get hard or bright. They remain so as on the original. This is a bright vocal recording but in the analog domain there's far less pain involved.

If you know this recording only by its stereo version, I think you'll be a mono convert after the first play. The generously applied reverb produces a big, billowy image between the speakers that has depth and great transparency. Its coherence is guaranteed to let you in on details obscured in the stereo mix, where your mind tends to wander between the vocals and the backing tracks. Here, for instance, on "Ask Me Why", John's voice projects forward directly in front of you with a compelling immediacy lost in stereo.

Does the original have slightly greater upper frequency transparency? And a bit more "creaminess"? Yes, but that could be the 50 year old record's somewhat worn grooves talking too. When I compared the old and new through the Miyajima set-up they sounded more similar than different. Through the Proteus/Ypsilon combo, which is somewhat more analytical and way less "tubey" (though the Ypsilon has tubes), the reissued sounded cleaner, somewhat leaner and "faster". The original had more midband "glow" but both convince on Ringo's tambourine on "Love Me Do". You hear the skin and the metal zils in just the right balance. Through the Miyajima/Tektron combo, the pronounced midrange and probably excessive bloom and rising top end produce a verisimilitude that's creepy even though you know you're being punked by colorations and in between tracks the noise level is so high it sounds like a pipe burst in your walls. But it sounds so real!

On whichever cartridge and phono preamp I played this reissue, what comes through is the sensation of the event unfolding before you. I cannot imagine a digitized edition of "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" sounding this transparent and ethereal, nor can I imagine those drum stick hits sounding so "woody" and the reverb around them having such graceful and believable decay.

But why imagine when there's a mono CD box set I hadn't played for a few years. I forgot how well the jacket reproduction was there compared to the stereo box both on CD and vinyl. The mono CD box jackets featured fold-over covers, the stereo CD box jackets didn't. That tells you which EMI then considered the more important and that they had the fold over covers in mind all along for the mono LP box set as well.

Less was done in the mono CD transfers too as I recall, compared to the revisionist stereo box, so I expected the CD and LP versions of Please Please Me to sound more similar than different and they do. The mono CD box set is very good sounding tonally and in fact it's really one generation earlier than the LP (as long as you don't count digitization as a generation but then again so is cutting to lacquer) since the CD is directly transferred from the master tape while the LP is a tape copy assemblage. But spatially and emotionally the CD is flat. Nothing reaches out and grabs you. It's all behind a spatial, if not tonal scrim as if you are watching from a distance and not experiencing it directly. Every time I hear "Chains" all-analog at the beginning it has this inviting "bloomy" quality. Not so on the CD. It just lays there. "Ask Me Why" is one of the best sounding tracks on the record, with John's vocal projecting well in front of the backing track on vinyl but on CD it just sits flat against the instrumental track.

LP detractors will call those differences on LP "colorations". I think CD colorations cause the loss of life that's so vital on the LP.

The pressing quality of this record was outstanding: flat, quiet and without an audible pop or click. It looks and feels good too.

So far so great, though of course this wasn't a great recording to begin with. However it was recorded "live" and in haste and that gives it a unique vitality and energy that survives (and prospers) all these years later.

That said, if you own an original and compare this reissue generated from a copy of a 50 plus year old tape with an original cut when the tape was fresh, you won't be surprised to hear a transparency difference favoring the original. However, this reissue manages, in my opinion to get all that can be gotten from the old tape. You'll never confuse it with a digitized tape transferred to vinyl or to CD.

rakalm's picture

I'm about 180 miles south but the review made me feel like I was in the room listening to it all. Not to pick on numbers but how did the stereo vinyl release get a 10/9 and a 9/8 for the mono? It was one of my favorites in the Stereo Box Set, so I can't wait for the Mono. I have to order that Y adapter. It's evident this is a labor of love for you, thanks so much.

Michael Fremer's picture
I didn't reference the stereo review but should have!
recordhead's picture

I know I'm not seeing things. The link to the stereo review in the new mono review had the stereo as 10 music & 9 for sound. The Mono a 9/8. I was going to ask the same question about the numbers as previous poster but he beat me to it. Did someone change the numbers change for the stereo review?

Michael Fremer's picture
As charged. I changed for the sake of consistency. I think in retrospect that the lower rating is more appropriate....
recordhead's picture

Now the numbers for the stereo review and mono match. Are we both going crazy?

AnalogJ's picture

Mr. Fremer, you have outdone yourself on this review. As someone else mentioned, you did a fanTAStic job of giving us a sense of being there in the room and putting what you were hearing/experiencing into words. I'm not sure I have ever heard you write in so emotional terms, as opposed to merely intellectual ones.

It's hard to describe the kinds of differences one FEELS about hearing CD (and to me, any kind of digital) compared to good analog playback. I have gotten shrugs from certain audio engineers who don't get this.

I look forward to reading and comparing notes (as I have a box on the way as well). I will do my own video in the form of aboriginal interpretive dance.


bill lettang's picture

Michael.. very reassuring!!! I had my fears (50 year old original master, 2nd generation new master) but it looks like everyone involved has done their homework, and who's judgement better to trust than yours...

Bigrasshopper's picture

context is everything and you paint the whole experience. It sounds like you aren't sacrificing, completely, a social weekend and invited some friends over for some serious fun. Makes me wonder which I would have prefered. I am confused though, now, by the reference to a tape copy. I was under the impression that these lacquers were cut directly from the original master reel of assembled album tape that was used to create the first original lacquers, just as the first issues would have been. Is there a new generation inserted for this project? Can you clarify? Thanks

AZ's picture

IIRC, these are the only ones mastered from copy tapes.

rakalm's picture

I thought only the Mono Masters used a copy tape. I thought copy tapes were used for the other LP's to get the right original recording engineers settings and than the originals were used for cutting the lacquers?

AZ's picture

Please Please Me master tape is unusable for cutting because the glue from the splices is all over the tape and is a threat to the tape heads. This tape was copied track by track to assemble a new cutting master. Mono Masters (and, IIRC, Magical Mystery Tour too) was cut from new tape copies because there are no original cutting masters for this title. For safety reasons, they decided to assemble the cutting masters for these LPs by copying the original masters. And by the way, they used digital transfers, not tape copies, to evaluate EQ settings etc. before cutting the lacquers from the analogue tapes.

Bigrasshopper's picture


AZ's picture

Hi Michael,
Do you have a copy of "Twist & Shout" EP? I've got an original -2N/-1N cut and IMO, despite being sourced from copy tapes, "Twist & Shout" and other cuts sound better here than on the original PPM LP.

Michael Fremer's picture
I have it but didn't reference it to the LPs. I figured different format....
Michael Fremer's picture
I have it but didn't reference it to the LPs. I figured different format....
boogieman's picture

I'm just wondering how the 1982 Japanese mono series Please Please me compares to this re-issue, as the master tape was in better condition then. Any chance of performing this comparison?

Michael Fremer's picture
I have some of those but not that one. When I get to the ones I have I will compare....
detroitvinylrob's picture

Outstanding coverage, as we've come to expect here on Ap, nice work Mikey. You aren't making the wait for my own personal box any easier, except for the fact that I'm just that much more confident that this was a good purchase decision. Missed the bullet on the stereo box and do hope the reception of this mono box will help leave an indelible mark to how future work on vinyl should be offered to us. It is a great time to still be into vinyl.

Cartel's picture

Thank you Michael for a very enjoyable read.
Yes/but in, you talked about mastering, cutting head, etc.'Lacquers were cut using Abbey Road Studios’ Neumann VMS-80 lathe, equipped with a Neumann SX-74 cutter head. The originals were cut on a Scully lathe, perhaps with a Westrex cutter head.'
I'm puzzled! I don't get it. So my question is: were the brand new mono LP's masters cut the same way they used to be done in the olden days? To ask it bluntly: are these real 'hardcore' mono LP's?
I found this on the Web: 'Systems that cut mono records had only one drive coil and it moved the cutting stylus back and forth creating a lateral, constant-depth groove. There was little concern about the depth of the cut as long as it was deep enough to hold the playback stylus in the groove.'

annalog's picture

Hi Michael
I wonder what set-up you use when listening to a mono recording read by a mono cartridge? A single speaker or a pair of speakers? How do you handle the unwanted crosstalk between left and right speaker?

Martin's picture

Your work, your writing are very, very much appreciated.
Great review and looking forward to the reviews of all the LPs in the box set.
Your ability to write reviews, placing the music, the context and times in which it was made, combined with your knowledge and background feel for the soundtrack of lots of peoples lives is always very much appreciated.

My set should arrive around the 17th. I am inviting some friends over the weekend.
I think we'll start with the first record in the box and work our way through.
Start with the single malt. We're all too sensible (allegedly) now to start with the finest herbs. And we have to work, not like at University...
More's the pity.

I'm looking forward to sharing this unexpected present with some friends.
Remembering what it was like to have everything in front of us. Remembering what it was like to have all the time in the world but no money. Instead of the reverse, like now.

storym's picture

Not sure I understand the whole change of numbers for the stereo vs mono Please, Please Me , but a great in depth review as always. Would still like to know where you bought your mono box. Did you get it earlier because you are a writer reviewer? Elusive Disc shipping on Sept. 9. Thx.

Keen Observer's picture

Were you aware of this?
PPM new master tape

AnalogJ's picture

I think compared to my mid-'60s mono, this reissue sounds like it's missing a little bit of inner harmonic detail. That, I'm guessing, is due to being one extra generation away from the original.

That being said, it gets the essence of the music, and is well done. I'm just not replacing my early press.

Jack Gilvey's picture

Andy White lives in my town! :)