Giles Martin’s “Sgt. Pepper’s….” 50th Anniversary Remix Strategy

As the 50th anniversary approached of the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Apple Corps and its president Jeff Jones set about deciding how best to mark the occasion (or not).

While many of us might wish for an all analog vinyl reissue of the stereo album, that would not be an appropriate way to honor the record, because as Giles Martin pointed out during his recent presentation at The McIntosh Townhouse, the four Beatles had not only been present for the mono mix, but were actively “hands on”.

Even though stereo had been available on vinyl for almost a decade, The Beatles had grown up with mono and felt that most of their fans would be listening that way too, both at home and on the radio. Stereo was for older folks. Once the mono mix had been completed the four couldn’t care less about the stereo mix and left it for others to accomplish.

The differences between the mono and original stereo mixes go well beyond track levels. Both Lennon and McCartney wanted some of their vocals to sound different than what was on the tape and in at least one case there was a speed change. Mr. Martin demonstrated a few of these differences but unfortunately the posted video was blocked until the music had been ducked. This was not a conscious effort, but rather a “decision” made by an algorithm that detects and then blocks Beatles music on YouTube.

So, much of what we hear on the stereo mix of the album resulted from decisions made by others and had nothing to do with the intent of the musicians or the producer. That goes for many of the panning gimmicks.

But more significantly, much of the stereo presentation resulted from compromises created by technical limitations, including “off-center” vocal placement. So the original stereo version of the album was both technologically and artistically compromised. And since the mono mix was both “the document of record” and had been re-issued cut directly from the original mono master tape, a stereo AAA reissue would simply repeat the past mistakes.

What if, someone within the organization imagined, we could release a stereo version of the mono mix imagined as The Beatles themselves might have wanted had it been technologically possible? In other words, keep all of the elements The Beatles themselves had insisted be in the mono mix, but mix it in stereo without the compromises?

Abbey Road had four track tape recorders when the album was produced. George Martin would fill up tracks on one four track recorder and then mix the results to a single track of a second recorder and work from there.

Fortunately EMI saved the unmixed multi-track tapes, which is how Giles Martin was able to create the mixes and mash-ups used for the Cirque du Soleil soundtrack and Love album. He knew the tapes well.

So, after careful analysis of the original mono mix, Martin set about creating what he imagined The Beatles might have wanted a stereo mix to sound like. The vocals would be centered, background vocals could be split left/right and all of the Beatles’ mono mix requests could could now be incorporated into the stereo mix.

Instead of losing sound quality in the mixdowns, the original elements could be used once, of course, all had been digitized at high resolution.

Martin made use of all of the vintage gear originally used for the signature sonic manipulations and where appropriate, used tube-based compression (which is not the same thing as “smashing” the final mix!).

There would be no need in 2017 for overall dynamic compression or bass attenuation, on either the digital or vinyl version and based upon hearing the album at The McIntosh Town House, the dynamics are full bore and the bass is muscular and not at all polite. Ringo’s drums sound explosively “right there”. Of course a cynic might say “Well the two living Beatles are out front, what a coincidence”, but I’m not a cynic.

On one level Mr. Martin had to make decisions and choices that were his own and not those of The Beatles’ but all of this is infused in his DNA and based upon a single listening so far, it’s safe to say this stereo version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is closer to what The Beatles intended than was the original.

Of course once the record and files arrive, there will be more to write.

COMMENTS
tparker14's picture

Generally speaking, I'm a little leery of attempts to "freshen up" recordings or movies from another era, but it seems Apple and Giles Martin have attempted to do something 1. that couldn't be done very effectively during its time period, and 2. that respects the provenance of the recording. I don't have the slightest doubt that if 24-track recording and mixing for stereo had been widely available during the "Sgt. Pepper" sessions that the Beatles would have seized on it and exploited that technology for all it's worth.

Montpier's picture

Curious if anyone is aware* if this could be also accomplished for Revolver? I'm one of those that think Revolver is probably their finest album (you're welcome to disagree), but guessing that it was not created with as many separate "tracks"/less, if any, "bouncing" from one tape machine to another as was the case for Pepper (?) and if so, perhaps less likely the original separate component parts still saved?

* was about to say "knows" but sure some wit would respond "tomorrow never" -- which as I recall some tape loops were mixed in "real time" and could never be duplicated?

firedog's picture

Also was done on 4 track and tracks were bounced down during production. But I'm sure, like Pepper, the 4 tracks used to make the master exist and could be used in a similar remix.

I'm sure in the near future we will see such remixes of Rubber Soul and Revolver. The White Album has an actual stereo mix - which the Beatles worked on - and at least some of it was done on 8 track machines, so a real stereo remix is probably possible. Abbey Road, of course, wasn't done in mono, so a stereo remix will probably come out relatively soon.

genesplitter's picture

I noticed Steve Guttenberg's audiophiliac article on cnet mentions an atmos mix on the blu-ray. Is this correct, or did Giles Martin actually create an atmos theater mix and the blu-ray includes a 5.1 surround mix?

firedog's picture

The Deluxe Box has DVD and BlueRay 5.1 versions.

malco49's picture

curious to hear michael's take on the new stereo mix.
for me sgt pepper's always seemed lacking until i heard the mono mix in the 2009 mono CD box.
the album then made sense to me.
am tempted to go for the 2 CD set but want to get your review.

azmoon's picture

Mikey - you stated "So, much of what we hear on the stereo mix of the album resulted from decisions made by others and had nothing to do with the intent of the musicians or the producer."

But isn't it fact that the producer, George Martin, approved it? I think he did from everything I have read on this. Please let us know if you have other information on this.

I certainly don't feel that the decisions Giles makes are what John and Paul would make. I just hope it sounds good. Giles remixes on the ONE CD were horrible to me.

StonedBeatles's picture

Absolutely 100% horrible and unlistenable.
In my opinion, the people involved with The Yellow Submarine remix did a great job. Not knowing about it being remixed I was pleasantly surprised when I 1st heard it.
Additionally, Giles Martin's work on The Beatles Love release sickened me as well although it had some nice things going sonically (again, in my opinion).

I just wished they'd leave well enough alone and do the best mastering possible from the original tape source (or 2nd or 3rd generation if they must).

wgb113's picture

I'd love to hear his take on stereo remixes of every album. It's a shame that it hasn't been done over the past 8 years since the big '09 re-releases.
I'm excited to hear his take on Pepper, even though it's not in my Top 5 Beatles albums.

RR's picture

hmm

thomoz's picture

The Beatles had nothing to do with that mix.
It sounds less like the mono than the stereo does.

Have you heard the quad-from-4-track? It's a mess.

TOOL's picture

How many times can you milk the same DRY COW? Keep selling the same stuff over and over and over,and over.

StonedBeatles's picture

They're also weakening the value and rewriting the history of what may be the greatest catalog of pop/rock music ever recorded.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

Rock n Roll consumer engine (as we knew it) is dead. So the answer to your question "How many times can you re-sell old stuff" is until the seller goes bankrupt. There's been a lot of that happening over the last ten years or so.

TOOL's picture

TANG, remove all the moisture and try to sell it as orange juice AGAIN and AGAIN

TOOL's picture

At least add new words to the singing, so it's something new?

bill lettang's picture

so far only a few Beatles remixes have stoked me, and none of them were Giles' efforts....who knows, maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised, but I'll wait for Michaels take on it before I fork over any cash.....

hppyromz's picture

Romil
Romil
HBNJKXJHBNKMA

bill lettang's picture

Hello Michael, I'm a bit confused, maybe I'm reading wrong (or getting old).. Are you saying there exists unmixed elements before any "mixed" bounce down to a single track on a 4 trk machine.. for EG: do drums, bass and guitar still exist on their own separate tracks un-bounced? Sorry for the DAH!!