"Music From Big Pink" Gets Double 45rpm Remix For 50th Anniversary Reissue

Startling when first released in 1968, The Band's debut continues to evoke mystery, grandeur and an abundance of musical depth that few rock records achieved then or now.

Books have probably been written about the album and certainly have been about the outfit known as The Band, the members of which though mostly unknown to buyers lured by a Bob Dylan cover (literally and musically), were touring and recording veterans—not that experience alone can explain what the group achieved here—with Levon Helm's contributions somehow increasing in significance over the years.

Only the rock cognoscenti knew "The Band" was formerly known as The Hawks and had backed Bob Dylan on his 1966 tour. And even then, the record, though well received by critics, didn't sell well.

Whatever was in "the ether" was well-captured by the engineers (not in that basement but at Phil Ramone's A&R Studios in New York [where Howard Stern's father once worked at a maintenance engineer] and at Capitol and Gold Star in Los Angeles) and by John Simon's atmospheric production that combined organics and subtly placed electronic fizz.

More than enough has already been written by many about the album. The editor's notes can be found in the review of Mobile Fidelity's fine all-analog reissue. Capitol previously released a forgettable vinyl edition a few years ago.

For the 50th anniversary, the label hired Bob Clearmountain to produce a remix from the original multitrack tapes, which probably numbered at most 8—at least that's what A&R at the time had.

Did the record need a remix? Arguably "no". It's not like Sgt. Pepper's... where 3 tracks were filled, mixed down to one (etc.—you know the story) and a much better and cleaner sounding mix was possible and was accomplished.

The good news here is that Bob Clearmountain didn't try to re-invent the album. Instead he treated the original mix with respect and made for the most part only modest "nips and tucks" that bring out subtle shifts in musical emphasis, none of which are going to be documented here, though I wonder why he felt the need to move the drums on "Tears of Rage" from the right channel to the left.

You can compare Mo-Fi to Capitol here:


Clearmountain re-mix

One example of an improvement can be heard on "The Weight" (which is from where came the above samples—Clearmountain leaves in an engineer's verbal "slate"). The original has Levon Helm's vocals (and appropriately his drums) on the right channel. Clearmountain's mix places Helm and his drums in the center. It's well known that Clearmountain has embraced the digits and has little good to say about the analog holdouts, who he probably likens to a voodoo cult, so of course the mix was to high resolution digital.

If you have only an original Capitol 1968 pressing with its rolled off bass (below 80Hz) resulting from Capitol's rejection of Bob Ludwig's full, robust bass original cut (or so the story goes), either the Mo-Fi or this remaster is must-have (Ludwig mastered the files here so gets his "bass revenge").

This cut at 45rpm has robust bass, outstanding clarity, an obviously differently sourced reverberant backdrop and a somewhat less "organic" character than the Mobile Fidelity cut from analog tape. The staging is somewhat flatter, with images that are less round, but the clarity and precision of Clearmountain's deft mix and the 45rpm cut more than compensate (yes I wrote that) and provide a fresh perspective.

If I had to choose one, I'd still go with the Mo-Fi but if you're a fan of the record and you can afford a second edition (and you don't mind getting up twice as often), you will probably enjoy a subtly different, though equally enjoyable take on an album that truly deserves to be called a "classic". I'll be playing both.

The gatefold packaging is okay, though not as good as Mo-Fi's paper on cardboard "Tip on" style jacket. The GZ Media pressings (I think) were dead quiet, physically pleasing and flat.

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elliotdrum's picture

Sgt. Pepper was recorded on 4 track recorders.

Michael Fremer's picture
They recorded on 3 tracks and mixed them down to the 4th, which is what I wrote: " It's not like Sgt. Pepper's... where 3 tracks were filled, mixed down to one" (the fourth track!).
Chemguy's picture

I’m really looking forward to the 45rpm treatment...I have this arriving at the end of next week! My other copies at 33 rpm run out of gas with a bit of IGD during The Weight. I’m the kind of listener that has never had an issue with 45 rpm 12” vinyl...the listening experience is so much superior.

Martin's picture

The digital makes it a non-starter.
Not when there is the analog Mo-Fi to go with.

azmoon's picture

Digital vs. MFSL analog? Analog all the way.

Martin's picture

I have the Dylan MoFi 45 rpms. All of them.
Mono and Stereo.
They are great.
Would I have got them if they were digital?
It just does not do it.
Like the Doors reissues. Did I get the Rhino reissues? Well, I had a listen and liked them. But no sale. Or.. buy.
The 45rpm analogue reissues? Yes, I got the first three doors albums on those.

azmoon's picture

..and the Sgt. Pepper remix is an abomination.

Martin's picture

I had a listen.
I have to say I was not tempted. The original mono is still the one for me and the 2014 Beatles mono box set, well - just superb.

Michael Fremer's picture
I like it better than the original, which is not what The Beatles ordered. However, the mono rules IMO.
StonedBeatles1's picture

We had many pressings available of both the original stereo and mono mixes over the years. Was just another money grab and to me sounds like the original mono mix, only dryer and more compressed sounding. I Hate Giles Martin's guts and hopefully I'll be wrong but I'm dreading his remix of The White Album. Just reissue the original mixes, adding outtakes and demos, and Let it Be! Greedy Bastards. Next time I see Paul I'm gonna give him a piece of my mind..

AnalogJ's picture

While the MoFi may sound more organic, the new one sounds more alive, more contemporary. I find myself sitting up a bit more. But then I was paying attention to the pitch (I have perfect pitch), and noticed that the MoFi was running a little slower. I'm playing the two cuts through QuickTime. I have two windows up and am playing sections at a time, back and forth. The MoFi runs slower, not only resulting in a slightly more relaxed tempo, but may a 1/4 pitch down. I don't know what table you're playing these on, but have you checked for accuracy at each speed? If your table is running at proper speed for 33 and 45, then one of the cuttings or tapes was running at an incorrect speed.

How much of what I'm hearing is affected by the slightly different speed? I don't know. The voices on the MoFi sound more real. There's more meat to them. The Capitol's voices and instruments sound a bit more hollow (and the Capitol sounds brighter overall). There seems to be more clarity, more separation of instruments and voices, but tonally the Capitol seems a bit cool, perhaps too mucb so.

Of course, we're talking .aiff files and on Monsoon (planar) computer speakers.

But you might want to address the speed difference and let us know so that we can assess these two pressings properly.

Thanks Michael!

Michael Fremer's picture
The problem is these recorders back then ran fast or slow by as much as a few percent so exactly what is correct is difficult to know.
AnalogJ's picture

So who and how is the speed at which a reissue is going to be used determined? I mean, you're meticulous about a turntable running at 1-2% off. The slight speed variance seems to affect the perceived energy.

melody maker's picture

Right, even for us musicians. You can often get a hint on this pitch business by picking up your acoustic guitar and playing along for a moment - but that's not decisive when talking about Sixties records, before tuning became more standardized. Lots of the rock/pop/soul music we love was tuned by ear, and the whole band is a bit sharp or flat by absolute standards. Though happily in tune with each other - usually (with some horrific exceptions, including a few otherwise-superb Dylan songs).

Ciceroslim's picture

I thought we were supposed to respect, if not venerate, the original, in terms of what the musicians and producers were trying to achieve.

For example, Exile.

If you only have an original Capitol pressing...I'm envious.

Chemguy's picture

...but not at any sonic expense. For instance, the bass response for the original pressings was toned down to comply with the audio equipment of the time. Re-establishing this is only right and proper, and is certainly more in line with what the artists had in mind. Just ask Robbie Robertson who oversaw this...he’s happier with this overall result.

Ciceroslim's picture

I don't doubt he's happy.

But his Basement Tapes version was improved. For the opposite reason?

I bet my reissue copy of the original Big Pink sounds great on AM radio.

AnalogJ's picture

There's no harmonic or rhythmic underpinning on the original rainbow Capitol. The midrange on up is excellent. Rich and wide open. But, honestly, you can barely tell that a bass guitar is there at all. It wasn't just reduced. It was completely eliminated below 80hz.

Jay's picture

The problem with original pressings of popular music, is that they can be a bit like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's little girl. "When she was good, She was very good indeed. But when she was bad she was horrid."

hans altena's picture

I am at a loss here, wrote about it before. I have a Capitol pressing from the UK, made in 1981 in The Greenlight Series, and it has a beautiful bass. My bass player agrees, and he is very strict in those matters, I always have him high in the mix. Do I posess the album from the unadultered RL mix? The eighties were hardly a good age for vinyl, yet sometimes you get lucky, as with Laurie Anderson's Big Science done by RL also and impeccably pressed in Germany. Anyway, I like it better than the MOFI, which is very good!

Michael Fremer's picture
No doubt Capitol send a flat transfer to the U.K.
AnalogJ's picture

Michael, you have great praise for the new one, albeit acknowledging it being from hi-rez. Still, you have some monster engineers involved in this reissue, which certainly piques my interest.

I only have what is pretty close to a NM US original, which has great presence and energy in the midrange, and open and sort of bright on top. It lacks in bass, as we have noted.

While the instruments and vocals seem richer on the MoFi cut you posted, it also sounds comparatively rolled off, certainly compared to the new one.

Could you go more into why you slightly prefer the MoFi, now that you have more hindsight and with the new one as a reference?

melody maker's picture

These comments fired me up to evaluate the sound on my humble purple late-70s/early-80s reissue of "Big Pink." I agree that in this case, the original doesn't cut it (I got rid of mine) and I thought I'd throw this version into the discussion. I'm listening to the middle songs on Side 1 as I write. "To Kingdom Come" had a bright bounce and propulsion, and you can feel Rick and Levon moving it right along, Memphis-soul-style. Now here's "In a Station," one of my two or three fave Richard songs. The vox are appropriately front-and-center to the point where I'm having fun trying to decide who's singing the harmony: sounds like falsetto Levon in the chorus and RM harmonizing with himself in the last verse, but I could be wrong! Anyway, I give the presentation on this pressing an A-: I can hear everything clearly and enjoyably; the top-to-bottom frequency balance is mostly good though a bit "sizzly" on top (but my amps are being retubed and I'm listening through a budget solid-state amp, which could be at fault there). Bass could be clearer, but is still rich and pleasant: you can hear the kick drum and bass working together. The voices and instruments in the all-important midrange are good, which is (to me) the top priority for this material. I'm intrigued by the reissue, but for me this album is a "strong like" as compared to the second album which is All Time Top Fifty, so I'm probably good with what I've got.

Chemguy's picture

...there just can’t be a better iteration out there, because this 45rpm release is perfection. I don’t have the MoFi, so I’ll just have to say that it must be perfect too, then. Wow. I am literally hearing new things, and that should be impossible at this stage of the game.