Rubber Soul   Reissue Rules!

Help! was released in August of 1965. The Beatles needed to produce another album for release well before Christmas. But they first were obliged to visit America at the end of the month to once again play The Hollywood Bowl.

They didn’t have much unrecorded material left and little if anything from their stage act upon which to draw. They began recording the Help! follow-up the second week of October, 1965 for an album that needed to be in the stores early December, but instead of a slapdash effort they produced Rubber Soul.

Out came “Norwegian Wood”, “Drive My Car,” “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work it Out” (the latter two needed for singles release), “If I Needed Someone”, “In My Life”, “I’m Looking Through You”, “Nowhere Man”, “Michelle”, “What Goes On”, “Think For Yourself”, The Word” and “Run For Your Life” (John hated it because the key, shocking for Beatles fare line “I’d rather see you dead little girl……” was lifted from a song Elvis Presley covered).

The singles were catchy pop tunes but many of the others were adult-themed, reflective and dug far deeper than had previous Beatles songs that targeted the preoccupations of adolescent girls.

According to Mark Lewisohn, at deadline time October 11th the album was short three songs. Paul and John each came up with one while “Wait”, a Help reject, was reworked until it was good enough to be added to the new album’s playlist. Paul’s contribution was “You Won’t See Me.” John’s was “Girl”, with its heavy sighs and ethnic feel.

While The Beatles were at Buckingham Palace getting their MBEs from Queen Elizabeth on October 26th, much of Rubber Soul was being mixed to stereo. The more critical, time-consuming mono mixes were never accomplished en masse.

The original stereo mixes of both Help and Rubber Soul so bothered George Martin that in 1986 he chose to remix them for the first Beatles CD releases. The original stereo mix pans hard left/right and has little to do with “stereo”. Unfortunately, though the remixes centered the vocals, they had reverb and other issues that left most listeners unhappy. Worse, the mix was done to 16 bit/44.1K “redbook” CD specifications, which meant that the stereo vinyl box set versions of Help! and Rubber Soul were essentially CDs transferred to lacquers.

You can listen to the original stereo mixes of both albums on the mono CD box set. While the vocal overdubs spread across the soundstage are enjoyable, the hard panning and arbitrary placement of the various mix elements makes a great case for the mono mix, though the mono mix itself makes a far better one!

Again this new mono all-analog vinyl release perfectly captures the tonal essence of the original and it destroys the mono CD, which sounds congealed and flat. If you have the mono CD set compare “Norwegian Wood” with the vinyl reissue. The acoustic guitar sounds dull, the bass soft and wooly. Even the cough at around 37 seconds, so clear and obvious on the vinyl is buried in the muck. Listen to Ringo’s finger cymbals. They hover in space sparking as they would played live in front of you. On the CD they are dull with no air around them. Try listening to the CD. See how many hard, metallic tracks you can listen to until you don’t care anymore.

Then play the record. The bottom end has plenty of weight but the notes play a tune and occupy a space. Paul’s voice is as spotlit and in places as harsh on the record as on the CD but the harshness occupies a space around his voice instead of infecting and splashing around on the mono stage. There’s just way more to listen to when the individual instruments and vocals are clearly defined in three-dimensional space and the high frequency transients sparkle naturally instead of sounding muffled.

Try “Michelle”. On the CD the background vocal harmonies blend into an indistinguishable mush. On the record the individual vocal elements are more easily identified. Paul’s vocal is out front in space and the roundness and dimensionalit of the image make it far more convincing. The simpler the production the more devastating the difference.

The original UK pressing and all of the original UK pressings by the way are cut at a hotter overall level so comparisons require level adjustment. At similar SPLs the original and reissue are remarkably close in terms of tonality but the original has a bit more midrange energy and “rational exuberance”. Again the tapes, though in great shape, do lose some energy as they age. All things considered this reissue is everything one could hope for. Beatle fans are lucky to have this reissue of one of the group’s best efforts. And again the pressing quality was perfect physically and sonically: quiet and flat. These are good looking records!

Music Direct Buy It Now

bill lettang's picture

hello Michael..Even though it seems like a real pleasure so far, it can't be easy making such critical (as in important)observations on first listenings and limited time. Hats off as usual!!! At this point it would seem I'm gonna want a new turntable with a good cartridge that won't break the bank..My old Technics linear isn't gonna cut it. Any suggestions in the $500.00 to $1000.00 range? Thanks again for all and keep having fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Michael Fremer's picture
I have played originals and the reissue plus mono CDs over and over and over to hopefully get it right. $500 to $1000 offers a great deal. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is many steps above what you've got and it costs considerably less. The Music Hall MMF 5.1 at about $875 is a good choice, or a Rega RP 1 for under $500 or the RP3 for $900. Some of these are with cartridge and some without but most with could probably use an upgrade for you to get the most from the 'table so see what kind of packages deals you can make with the dealer.
RobWynn's picture

I was thinking of getting a select few but these reviews now have me seriously considering placing my order for the whole box this weekend.

After this Beatles Mono Box is the CAN box set up for review next? Kidding… sorta.

Michael Fremer's picture
To have the entire box reviewed before Monday's release date.
recordhead's picture


2_channel_ears's picture

Michael, are you sticking with the "Music" ratings you gave for the stereo set or as it moves you with the new mono?

Michael Fremer's picture
Is for this version but please don't make TOO much of the digits. I mean numbers...
gce's picture

I' m thinking about just getting the LP's for $293. Is the booklet really worth the extra $82?

julio's picture

Please please me, With the Beatles, A hard days night, Beatles For Sale, Help, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper all at 22.98 = 183.84 and Magical Mystery 24.98, White Album 38.98 and mono masters for 69.99 for a grand total of 317.79. All the sites ( elusive disc, music direct, acoustic sounds, soundstage direct etc.) have the entire box for 336 with Free shipping. That is a difference of $18.21. I'd say the nice box, book, and barcode free albums (including a numbered white album) are well worth the $18.21

recordhead's picture

Most have hit the $19.99. After tax it's $21.19 for single LP's.

Bix's picture

I believe the barcodes are only on the plastic sleeves that the albums come in, not the jackets.

Bix's picture

The ever-present coupon code they have set up for the Steve Hoffman forum (the code is pretty simple: "SH") takes 11% off the individual titles, so you still save a considerable sum if you don't want the box (which is 10% off w/o a coupon and not eligible for further discount).

recordhead's picture

I was going to buy them separate but at Music Direct NO TAX when I ordered plus FREE SHIPPING!

JC1957's picture

Some people say the -5/-5 recut of the UK original really nailed RS. I'm assuming you compared it to a -1/-1. Also have you auditioned any of the 1981 UK mono reissues?

AZ's picture

Believe me, even this cut is very compromised. I believe -1/-1 is the closest to the master tape.

Michael Fremer's picture
I have only a -4/-4. The point is, perhaps a -5/-5 "nails it" (compared to what?) but this reissue based upon a comparison to a -1/-1 and listening to the actual master tape is damn good, is available and doesn't cost much. I will let the collectors/fetishists (I know on some level we all are) duke it out for "Rubber Soul" pressing supremacy.
Mark Fleischmann's picture

I always thought the breathy sounds on Girl were sharp intakes of breath, not sighs. Am I the only one who hears them that way?

Bigrasshopper's picture

in hearing it, that way. That is the sound of the breath of desire as it fills the heart of the artist. Positively, it is an irrational exuberance that rushes by a rational contraction of teeth, and so naturally sets a counter tone of tention against the otherwise slow moving pace and pervading resignation in a song about the pain of irrational disire. This, clearly is to me, more than a display of good technique or musician's craft, but also spontaneous expression of a artist playing in tune with his own heart. A dual mono instrument in every sense in every sence of the word, including by design.
Someone at Acoustic Sounds was thrilled to report to me that they just managed to ship 600 Boxes of Beatles
yesterday!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( another display of I.E. ) It's looking like we are going to have a winner on our hands come Monday.

2_channel_ears's picture

that accounts for the glassy eyed looks on the cover.

Bigrasshopper's picture

The "sigh" is the "girl" spoken on the release of breath and to me connotes an expectation of letting her go. Disire and Release tinged with regret in one cycle of breath. The Beatles music is so immediately human.

Richard Cook's picture

I've seen a few others ask this question in various forums but have not seen Mr. Fremer's take on the subject. Do you recommend cleaning the new out of the box records before playing them? I have a friend with an Audio Desk RCM who is willing to clean all 13 discs for me when they arrive next week. Is that a good idea or just being anal? I'm concerned more about the possibility of release agents from the stampers contaminating the cartridge than I am about dust and dirt.


Michael Fremer's picture
They come out of the jacket fairly clean but I routinely clean new records on the Audio Deske just "because".
blueskiespbd's picture

Yes, it will be best to clean all those new records. The records are dirty since they were made in somewhat dirty Not a NASA
whiteroom. Of course there are mold release chemicals on there too.
The best way is of course to use an UltraSonic record cleaner to do
the job right and there are 3 of those machines on the market.

DRL's picture

Back at the time when the Mono Box CD set was issued, I followed all the advice and bought it. It was claimed to be superior to the Stereo CD Box for all the reasons which I won't go over again.
Now I'm reading, here and elsewhere, that the new Mono vinyls are vastly superior, with expressions like "congealed and flat", "buried in the muck", "hard metallic tracks" and so on being applied to the Mono CDs.
Were we wrong all along in thinking the Mono CDs were the best yet - or were they the best versions until the vinyl came along. I can't remember those expressions being applied to the Mono CDs when they came out.
This question is in no way intended to be criticism - I ordered the new box yesterday!

Michael Fremer's picture
Was certainly better than the stereo. Less revising was done to the tapes in the mastering plus you get the original STEREO mixes of "Help" and "Rubber Soul". Nothing wrong with that! I just don't find that 16 bit/44.1K rebook CD sounds at all like tape. These LPs do. Not identical to tape but on the same page.
vinylsoul1965's picture

How nice to be able to hear Michelle in mono without noise or groove wear :) I think this title might be my favourite sounding record of the new set so far (I started my listening with Please Please Me). In comparing a -4/-1 cut, the -5/-5 1982 UK reissue and the new one, I am preferring the tonal quality of the new one. I'm not hearing a whole lot of "lost energy".

Michael Fremer's picture
Not a lot. Just a little... nothing important that is for sure and only heard by comparison...
AnalogJ's picture

I have done shootouts with originals and '82 UK reissues. They're not all that close. The '82s are tonally good and very natural, but they're not as extended nor nearly as dynamic. They're just not nearly as impactful. On the other hand, these reissues are clearly on the same page and plain as the originals.

bill lettang's picture, I don't feel that we were. I still listen to the mono cd's but usually in casual circumstances like while driving. They sound fine for what they are and were a good bargain for what you got. I look at it this way...the mono cd's are like playing a dvd in a portable dvd player and the original UK's/reissues are like "home theater" blu ray presentations where you sit still and actually watch what's goin on because the medium delivers the goods. In comparison, vinyl has the same wow factor!! Unless you have original 1st pressing UK's what were you suppossed to do? Spend tons of money experimenting with various imports? Well, thanks to people like Michael Fremer and others in the Beatle community EMI was convinced to take the best route and we can now, once again at a fair price, enjoy real HiFi mono Beatles!!!! Maybe someday (for those who also like the stereo mixes), they'll get the same treatment.

Rberretta's picture

The -1/-1 mono Rubber Soul is the "loud cut" mix which was abandoned after the first pressing. I own a copy, and it is vastly inferior, but quite fun. It is astringent, hard, popping and definitely "loud!" It really rocks, though it is no match sonically for the more balanced and warmer final version, which I believe is the -4/-4 lacquer that Mikey has. I would bet the new pressing was modeled on the -4 /-4. I think the -4/-1 cut referenced above is a hybrid version!

pianoman99's picture

I always thought George Martin mixed into 24bit/44,1KHz in 1986. At least it is presented in that format on the USB Apple.

AZ's picture

There were no 24 bit options back then...

pianoman99's picture

Does that mean that the 24bit/44,1KHz-stereo-files of Help! and Rubber Soul on the USB Apple were "up-conversions" from 16 bit files? It's interesting that these two albums sound better on the USB Apple than on the 2009 CDs.

bmilwee's picture

-1/-1, -4/-1, -4/-4? What does this refer to exactly?

kammerathdk's picture

The first UK mono pressing of Rubber Soul has XEX579-1/XEX580-1 (side A/side B, respectively). This was the so-called 'loud-cut' quickly replaced with the 2nd press XEX579-4/XEX580-4. The third pressing (late sixties) has XEX579-5/XEX580-5 in the matrix. The -1/-4 is a transition. Anyone, please correct me if I'm wrong. I've compared a -4/-4 to a -5/-5 and to me the sound was identical.

bmilwee's picture

Thanks for the concise answer. I have seen this type of shorthand recently and was wondering about it!

azmoon's picture

I thought the first 4 albums sounded great so I skipped over "Help" and went to my favorites "Rubber Soul". Thought side one had way too much bass and the vocals were not out front enough. Side 2 was a bit better but overall disappointed. My late 70's import from Germany sounds much better. Also think the stereo, despite the hard panning, is a better 'sounding' experience. Yes,I have the mono button on and am listening with a VPI Classic through McIntosh equipment. This one has been way over rated in reviews, in my opinion. Unfortunately, "Help" was no better - same result with my import easily besting it. Here's hoping the next few are not the same. Just as a sanity check I re-listened to one of the earlier LP's from this set and thought it was great. But I suspect this euphoria that has been attached to this set is turning into a placebo effect.

Dual's picture

I am swimming in the sonics of this pressing. The Mono Box is a real landmark.

(Thank God it wasn't done at 45RPM.)

Jenn's picture

I just heard this for the first time. GREAT!