"Beatles For Sale" Is The Best Yet In the Box——Could There Be Better To Come?

"Product", "Filler", whatever you want to call it, the appropriately titled Beatles For Sale was a "have to meet the two album a year schedule" interim album due out for the 1964 Christmas season—a hodgepodge return to covers, George really asserting his country and western licks, John feeling his inner Bob Dylan, John and Paul channeling the Everly Brothers, Ringo given a real chance to stretch out in the percussion department and Paul rocking, rolling and screaming on reissue and breaking your heart on one of his achingly beautiful ballads.

According to Mark Lewisohn's book "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" A Hard Day's Night had been out but two months when work began on this album in August with "Baby's In Black". "I'm a Loser" was started a few days later. That same day they began tackling the cover "Mr. Moonlight" the opening scream of which from Lennon never fails to astonish, and the never released cover of "Leave My Kitten Alone".

The group flew to America late August to play the Hollywood Bowl. Lewisohn writes that Capitol wanted to record The Beatles at Carnegie Hall on February 12th, 1964 but the American Federation of Musicians wouldn't grant permission. At the end of September of 1964 the group again began working at Abbey Road.

In October while on tour, they returned to the studio to attend mixing sessions—perhaps, says Lewisohn, the first time they did so—as well as record the final tracks needed to produce the completed album. And they recorded the material for the fan club's Christmas flex-disc record.

Probably without the boys in the studio, on October 27th five songs from the album were mixed to stereo in half an hour. The rest were mixed on November 4th. The amount of time and attention lavished on the mono mix and the stereo mix toss-off make clear which was important to The Beatles—and to all involved—and which was not.

Beatles For Sale was not one of George Martin's faves. According to Lewisohn, Martin quipped "They perked up after that." But looking back now there's plenty of great music on this album and the singles they recorded during this period not included here— "I Feel Fine" and "She's A Woman"—were standouts. The covers were a mixed bag with "Words of Love" in particular capturing well the Buddy Holly ether. Ringo's "Honey Don't" was one of his playful best and John's singing on "Mr. Moonlight" was yet another highlight even though it's not among the fans' favorites and the organ part takes it almost into parody territory.

"Eight Days a Week" was probably the first hit single to open with a fade up. Ringo's tympani work on this album was a new addition to the arsenal and even though the album can be taken as an aimless grab bag, it's never less than an enjoyable play.

The digitally sourced stereo box set review is worth a read (in my opinion) especially the sonic comments compared to what you'll read now about this reissue.

I've had an original for about 15 years and the 1982 Japanese red Odeon reissue for about 8. The original Parlophone pressing had been oft played when I got it and I didn't know if the warmth was on the tape or caused by wear. The Japanese red Odeon was always brighter and more vibrant but also cooler and bass shy. It almost sounded like the D word but not quite.

So I listened again to the original using a variety of cartridges: the Miyajima Labs ZERO mono, the Ortofon 2E mono—both with Shibata styli, the Transfiguration Proteus and the Lyra Etna. I didn't play every track on every cartridge. Just enough to get the sonic picture. And the sonic picture is that the original even on the Proteus— the most open and extended cartridge—the original had a warm balance that was seemed so carefully finessed, it had to be purposeful.

The vocals—particularly John's on "I'm a Loser" sound so life-like and natural, the handclaps on "Words of Love" so fleshy, the tympani on "Every Little Thing" produced so much texture, it couldn't be as a result of record wear especially since George's guitar parts had plenty of top end air and transient detail and Ringo's tambourine had wood, skin and sharp rattle.

About the digital stereo remaster compared to the original stereo I wrote: "....you do lose the sense of intimacy and being on the other side of the microphone the original provides. Instrumental textures are lost in the slight hardening of transients and the reverb clearly heard bathing the original's vocals dries up. As the liner notes reveal, George plays an old African drum on "Mr. Moonlight." Listen to the distinctive skin texture on the original reduced to an indistinct cardboard hit on the reissue."

Once I was 100% sure of the original's sound I played the Odeon. It sounded completely different from the original. Far cooler and brighter almost like the Mobile Fidelity stereo box set on top. But while the Mo-Fi box also boosted the bass, the Odeon cut the bass—something common in Japanese mastered LPs. The Odeon's top end was "hyped". The tambourine rils were over accentuated, the acoustic guitar body stunted in favor of the strumming. The original's full bottom weight was MIA. You can hardly hear Ringo's insistent bass drum hits on "Baby's In Black".

My conclusion was that whoever EQ'd that one hadn't a clue about what it was supposed to sound like if the original pressing was supposed to sound as it did. I'd say the mastering engineer was as accurate with his work as the translator was with his. Here are some of the "Rock and Roll Music" lyrics in the Odeon insert:

To me that is a modern
rock and roll music
....I took my love on over across the tracks
Where she could have been man
a wail of a sax
....Way down south they had a jubilee
They go to vote to have a jamboree
They took it home a wooden cow

Those lyrics mirror the mix's accuracy in my opinion.

So time for the moment of truth. What did Steve Berkowitz and Sean Magee do here? So far the first three records sound more alike than different, though they all have their individual qualities intact—no cookie cutter EQ—but would Beatles For Sale be distinctly warm with a deep, powerful, well textured bottom? Would Ringo's rapid kick drum hits on "Baby's in Black" be deep and distinct? Would the handclaps on both "Words of Love" and "No Reply" sound like flesh? Would George's African drum have distinctive skin textures? If the original was tube amp mastered would the solid state mastering capture it all or would it sound more like the stereo digital master?

Within a few bars of "No Reply" it was obvious that the warmth of the original wasn't record wear. It was obvious that this was EQ genius that perfectly captures the original's inviting warmth in the mid bass while also getting right the top end of the "cush" of the cymbal splash on "No Reply". Lennon's vocals on I'm A Loser" were warm and natural, the tambourine on the track just right and plenty sharp and George's guitar fills liquid. All of the tracks fell into place as expected based on the opening few.

100% success! And if you are only familiar with the stereo mix and like it as I did, you'll quickly understand why that one took a few hours and this days. Despite the lack of lateral separation the amount of revealed detail will amaze you and the overall coherence will probably have you not often playing the stereo version. The mono CD tries hard to manage this but, well, play it for your digital friends followed by this.

Another perfectly flat, dead quiet pressing too. As Flounder so famously said in "Animal House" and right to the point: "This is GREAT!"

wao62's picture

Interestingly, the age of the tapes have not seemed to be an issue!

PeterPani's picture

I own several hundreds of reel to reels dating back to mid 50's. No loss on my tapes at all. Either a tape is dissolving in parts or it is perfectly okay, is my experience.

PaulK's picture

Thank you!
Ok after defending the mono mix for years to people who only thought the stereo was the audiofile wet dream, it's nice to see someone come to the defense of the original intention.
Each review you are posting here is wearing down my "I have these already" defenses! Might have to purchase this thing after all!

AnalogJ's picture

I don't have this on Japanese red vinyl (I have both a beautiful original stereo and mono), but I do have Revolver and AHDN. Neither of the latter two sound bright in my memory, nor bass shy, but I'll revisit them for sure after I get the set.

Regarding my original mono, it's full bodied, but awfully compressed. So much so that I prefer the much more dynamic stereo. Have the dynamics been improved here?

Michael Fremer's picture
If it's dynamically compressed in the mix there's no way to restore or improve it. I so like the cohesion I can forgive the compression.
KeithWrites's picture

I've pre-order the box set, but... I've got a Vpi Super Scoutmaster with a Shelter 501 cart - currently going to a Linn Linto Pre. - Possibly in the future going to a Parasound P5 (build in pre) Short of buying a mono cartridge and learning how to install and set one up. What's the best way to maximize the sound quality of this set.

Martin's picture

is very much appreciated!
Great review. Letting people know that this reissue really is the real deal.

kozy814's picture

Great stuff here! My intial sense was that I'd be OK just buying certain single titles. It's looks like that plan is all but cashed :). I will say that's I've very much enjoyed the mono CDs. If the vinyl is that measurable bump in quality, how can we say no? I looks like The Beatles have done what the vinyl loonies (myself being in that group) have asked for: A definitive collection of analog LPs that regular people can own.

timorous's picture

As you can see from Michael's box opening videos, the inner box is well protected from any damage in shipping. The same could not be said for shipping a single vinyl LP, depending on the retail source.

thomoz's picture

Anyone who heard the 1986 mono Beatles For Sale cd before they heard BFS on mono vinyl might think that the album was mixed badly. Considering the gear on 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help' was virtually the same, and it was the same people at the console, how could BFS in mono suck so bad? Well, it doesn't. The 1986 cd was badly transferred, end of story.

I've been listening to my own vinyl to cd rips of the 2012 stereo 'Beatles For Sale' and 'A Hard Day's Night' and I still think that 90% of the criticism directed at the 2012 box boils down to this: people were shocked to hear the digital transfers without added compression. Stuff sounds less full or pumped up. The 2009 cds sound very plump by comparison because they are so compressed.

DavidFell's picture

EMI manufactured its own tape stock, called Emitape. It has a good reputation for lack of deterioration.

Mark Maloof's picture

Ok, I have the 1982 (supposed to be better than the 1986) Japanese red monos of everything from Rubber Soul onward (none earlier), so I can't comment on the Beatles for Sale Japanese red monos, but I popped on Rubber Soul tonight and it's certainly not bass shy, sounds pretty damn good, better than the lates 70s UK mono reissue I have (unfortunately, I don't have an original UK Beatles mono, save for the White album). But, cursing myself, I took the plunge and ordered the box. Who knows, maybe my Japanese monos will hit ebay some day, unless they sound "as good, but different" than the box set, if you catch my drift. It's interesting that I have an original UK white album mono top loader and the 1982 red Japanese pressing, but prefer the Japanese version to the original! (Two of my other audio friends also liked it better, but it may be a case of the Japanese pressing not being accurate to the original, but mastered in a way that made it more dynamic/fun for us to listen to). Anyways, I'm excited that so far it seems EMI did this right! If I'm gonna shell out $ for music I already own, I want to feel it was a worthwhile purchase (why I avoided the stereo box set, though I would have liked the book). Thanks for taking us through the box set, Mike!

Michael Fremer's picture
Part of it is system dependent and part of it is what "jazzes" your brain cells. When I heard my first Japanese pressings I flipped out! The vinyl was so quiet. And the EQ created excitement. Unfortunately for me, I traded in many great UK originals to buy the Japanese versions only to later realize what a horrendous mistake I'd made. Fortunately for me, I realized my mistake in the late 80s when people were giving away their records so I was able to replace every UK original I'd dumped. These comparisons convince me that the new reissues mirror the originals and that the Japanese versions are "re-imaginings" created by mastering engineers tickling their own fancies. In the end it's what you prefer but in terms of authenticity to the originals, the box set rules.
Lothar's picture

I used to have a full set of the '82 red monos as well as the UK '82 mono set. Had several of the Japan '86 red monos too. Got rid of them all. On one forum I ranked them for SQ this way:
1. '82 Japan reds
2. '82 UK mono box
3. '86 Japan reds
So yes, I thought '82 reds were better than the '86s (ironic because everyone I talked to in Japan said the '86s were better), but I thought the '86s were harsh and strident while the '82s were a bit more natural and relaxed. The '82 UK mono box, with super thin early 80s vinyl and high matrix numbers didn't impress me at all. I remember thinking Rubber Soul sounded pretty good, but the rest were really thin sounding and unsatisfying, while the mono White Album, something I really wanted, was a wall of mud. These were clean, NM copies being played first on a Dynavector XX-2 then on a Lyra Helikon mono. I played with VTA to compensate for the thin vinyl and tried to like the set for a long time, then sold it. The Japan '82 reds really impressed me at first and even though it's kind of Beatles heresy I liked the EQ choices, especially bringing out some bass with a gentle hand on the board. Nice. And no one in Japan went wild with the biting high end so many Japanese masterings are infamous for. But there was something wrong I could never 'unhear.' That was what Michael Fremer alluded to when he wrote they almost sounded like the 'd-word.' They never sounded digital to me, but there was an equipment sound on each and every release, consistent, something electronic not present on any original, a kind of processsed 'sheen' over the top of each recording like a sheet of glass or something. Really unnatural and finally I could not take hearing it. Finally sold off the set. Really a shame because otherwise the series was very nice. Silent vinyl, nice, if thinnish packaging, original covers. Had they sounded like what reports are of the new mono vinyl mono box (mine is on its way) I'd have kept them. Kind of glad I didn't. I expect the new issues to give the handful of UK originals I have a run for the money and perhaps beat them. These reissues are really something I never thought would see the light of day and since all reports are the quality control is good ("Los Angels" not with standing) I think this is a time when a company should be rewarded with brisk, huge sales. I would like to see this attention to SQ and detail become, if not the norm a lot more common than it has been.

Mark Maloof's picture

By the way, the stories you hear about tape shedding, master tapes becoming unplayable, etc, have mainly to due with everything from the 70s onward. Tape formulations had to be changed to meet EPA standards in the 70s, and the binders used were not as strong as those from the 50s and 60s. So it's more likely that WELL STORED tapes from the late 50s and throughout the 60s will be in better shape than tapes from the 70s and later. There may still be some high frequency loss (as I think was the case with Zappa's Hot Rats, while my Classic Records version has better bass, it lacks the top end "liveness" of my original pressing, which I ultimately prefer). Yet overall, it's likely that a pre-70s master tape could be in better shape. And it looks like EMI really took care of these masters.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes, these tapes, especially The Beatles, are well cared for and these were made when tape formulations were more robust. Nonetheless, high frequency information degrades somewhat regardless of physical formulation.
bongo-hifi's picture

sorry to go slightly off thread, but some years ago I bought a Japanese vinyl copy of Pet Sounds, just out of curiosity mainly due to my eyes being caught by the binder on the sleeve in Japanese text (is this whats called an OBI?) I got it home to find that it was pressed on a thinnish but perfectly pressed red vinyl. Would this be of the same source as The Beatles Jap Reds referred to in these posts?

analogkid14's picture

Listen to Ringo's intro on What You're Doing. and George on Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby. Man Oh Man, Even on my extremely modest setup (Technics Sl-D30,AT cartridge and stylus, Tiny Bose computer speakers) this is just stellar. All of these reissues have been absolute top notch. Pressings centered, flat and quiet.

I know I am preaching to the choir, but you must get these. Put it on your letter to Santa.

Bob Levin's picture

I've had the Parlophone (two box) Stereo version for nearly 40 years. I agree 100% with Michael that it's the best mixed of all the early Stereos. For once, George & Norman nailed the sound-stage.
The Beatles wouldn't sound this good through two speakers until "WA".
My first exposure to "BFS" in Mono was the dreadful '87 CD. That completely soured my experience and made me vow to not waste my time with any further reissues of it, unless it was the '64 Stereo mix.
Well, thanks to Mr. Fremer's review and this being the last LP in the set I needed to make up the Mono box on the installment plan, I bought it today.
The sound is basically a 9 to my oft tortured ears. A significant improvement over the mushy low-fi first-issue CD.
It's true, the Mono has the advantage of more resonant bass than its' Stereo counterpart.
What it IS missing is some of the little production touches I like so much from the Stereo. The gentle echo that has John & Paul sounding like they're singing in a Cathedral on "Words Of Love". George's close-miked AC-30 on "Honey Don't". "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" fares far worse in Mono. It sounds something like THIS happened. GH: "I want it to sound like I'm singing it in Sun Studios." GM:"Where's that?" GH:"In Memphis." GM turns off the talkback speaker and asks Norman Smith, "Isn't Memphis in Egypt?" NS: "Yes, I think it is." GM: "Allright then. If he wants to sound like he's singing inside a pyramid, well indulge him this time."
Next time the Stereos get a full AAA treatment, this one, "Abbey Road" and "LIB" are no-brainers. I'm gittin' 'em and that's that!
No buyers remorse over the Mono, however.