Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band  Mono Almost 50 Years Ago Today!

After a few month’s break during which the Beatles were apart they reconvened on November 24th 1966 to record “Strawberry Fields Forever” the first song for the as yet untitled new Beatles album. It was among the most complex and difficult to produce songs the group had yet attempted and it took months to complete and mix to everyone’ satisfaction.

Released as a single on February 17th 1967 with “Penny Lane” on the flip side, the double sided dose of nostalgia may very well have influenced The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society and probably much of XTC’s Andy Partridge’s nostalgic output. Because singles were not included on U.K. albums both of these exceptional Beatles tunes were excluded from the upcoming Beatles album. And because by this time The Beatles controlled their albums worldwide, Capitol couldn’t chop up the next album and add the singles.

“Strawberry Fields Forever”, written by John Lennon about a Salvation Army home around the corner from where he grew up in Liverpool was perhaps The Beatles' most accomplished song, musically and technologically. It certainly was the group’s most innovative studio production. It included the first use of a Mellotron, a device invented in England, which was a primitive “sampling”-based keyboard instrument that used pieces of recording tape and multiple playback heads.

Fortunately for all involved (and especially John), by this time The Beatles were not on anyone’s schedule other than their own and they could take as much time as they wished to complete the song. Dozens of takes were involved not to mention too many overdubs to easily count. The final version was spliced together using two different takes performed in different keys and tempos at Lennon’s insistence despite George Martin’s insistence that it was impossible. As it turned out, splicing together the two takes was possible. Slowing down the faster, higher pitched take magically matched both the pitch and tempo!

“Penny Lane”, McCartney’s nostalgic exercise named for a street in a suburb south of Liverpool, took somewhat less time to complete though it was no less a perfectionist production commenced on December 29th but not completed for almost a month. A rejected mix made it to America as an advance broadcast single and according to Lewisohn, is among the most valuable Beatles singles.

Meanwhile production continued on songs like “When I’m Sixty-Four” (the final version of which was sped up a semitone to give Paul a more youthful sound), “Fixing a Hole” (recorded at Regent Sound because Abbey Road had previously been booked) and of course “A Day in the Life,” the history of which every Beatles fan should read in Lewisohn’s book. Ringo’s distinctive, syncopated drumming pattern on that song—his innovation—was copied by rock drummers for years hence.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was at first but a song and not an album title nor an album “concept”, until at some point soon after the first take on February 1st 1967 McCartney realized his tune could be used to launch an entire album performed not by The Beatles but by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was also the first time his bass (or perhaps anyone’s bass) had been plugged directly into the board instead of recorded via a microphone placed adjacent to the bass amp.

George Harrison wrote “Only a Northern Song” for inclusion on the album but it never made the cut. It was yet another George bitching song (“Don’t Bother Me”, “Taxman” “Think For Yourself”, etc.), this time about his being a contract songwriter and thus cut out of publishing royatlies (50% to Dick James’s Northern Songs, Ltd., 50% to NEMS Enterprises Ltd. owned by Lennon, McCartney and manager Brian Epstein).

While most of the sound effects heard on the album were filched from Abbey Road Studios’ collection, the opening orchestral tune-up came from the mega-orchestra session produced for “A Day in the Life”’s enormous crescendo, while the audience scream used to hide the edit between the opener and “With a Little Help From My Friends” was extracted from the then unreleased recording of The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. According to Geoff Emerick, the glue that holds together the album concept—the sense of it being almost a vaudeville show—was also a McCartney concept.

On March 30th photographer Michael Cooper shot the iconic, celebrity-saturated album cover featuring artist Peter Blake’s set, as well as the inside jacket’s close-up. Upon returning to the studio at 11PM, the group completed “With a Little Help From My Friends”.

The “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" was another brilliant McCartney idea. The 1’18” song was recorded in one eleven hour session in Abbey Road’s mammoth number one studio, usually reserved for symphonic and film sound track production.

Final assembly of a pop album with no “rills” (gaps) between the tracks began on April 6th 1967. This necessitated crossfades between the title song and “With a Little Help From My Friends” and between the reprised title song and “A Day in the Life” using three tape decks: two with the songs to be cross-faded together and one recording the cross-fade. These edits had to be accomplished for both the mono and stereo mixes and so it’s no surprise that these transitions produced among the most jarring differences between the mono and stereo records.

Engineer Richard Lush said “The only real version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the mono version. The Beatles were there for all of the mono mixes. Then, after the album was finished, George Martin, Geoff Emerick and I did the stereo in a few days, just the three of us without a Beatle in sight. There are all sorts of things on the mono, little effects here and there, which the stereo does not have”. Emerick also states that almost all of The Beatles recording sessions were monitored through a single speaker.

Fourteen remixes of “Good Morning Good Morning” were required on April 19th to get a satisfactory bridge between it and the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise). The enterprise was saved by a chicken cluck that well matched the song’s opening guitar note. Martin recalled it was by chance but Emerick disagreed claiming it required a time shift to match. Whichever it was, writing or reading this we can all hear it in our minds. Emerick said it sticks in his.

The famous concentric run-out groove gibberish was produced the evening of April 21st 1967. It was gibberish and not a secret message, whether you played it forwards or backwards. John Lennon suggested as a wake up call for dogs the 15K tone between the end of “A Day In The Life” and the concentric gibberish. Harry Moss added it during the disc cutting process, which took place for mono on April 28th and stereo on May 1st.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released a month later on June 1st, 1967 at the head end of “the summer of love”. That same day The Beatles went into De Lane Lea Music Recording Studios and recorded a crappy jam session, according to all accounts, best forgotten.

Revisionist music historians now downgrade the importance and quality of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, calling it “self-indulgent”, or a “musical dead end”, or the antithesis of rock’n’roll or whatever. Perhaps helping them to that conclusion was a John Lennon quote in a magazine interview in which he supposedly said “We don’t want to make another album like that rubbish.”

Lennon went through a post-Beatles period where he was the anti-Charles Mingus. Mingus would say about every record he made, regardless of its actual quality “This is the greatest record I’ve ever made” and Lennon would say the opposite.

In a later Rolling Stone interview Lennon was particularly vicious to everyone involved including George Martin, without whom it’s quite clear, The Beatles would never have happened and if they had, it probably wouldn’t have been as glorious a run as it turned out to be.

Martin, ever the gentlemen, semi-excused Lennon saying the “strange person” was never satisfied with anything he’d done, though Martin also said he “hardly forgave him” for the comments.

Once upon a time I couldn’t imagine how one could listen to a monophonic version of this album with its dazzling pans and spacious, three-dimensional soundstages.

I remember (uh oh! Here he goes again) walking into E.J. Korvettes in Douglaston, L.I. where when I was home from college I’d go weekly to see what’s new on vinyl and spotting this large display rack filled with hundreds of copies of whatever it was. It had to be a big group I figured, unable to read any print across the jacket. Of course when it turned out to be the new Beatles album, I bought it along with a few others I can’t remember.

I took it home (still living at home), got suitably “prepared” and because I didn’t want to wake the folks, played it on a pair of Koss Pro4A headphones. To say it was a dazzling, unforgettable experience buzzed on headphones, would be an understatement. All was fine until the foxhunt literally crossed my mind at which point I burst out into hysteria, unaware of the volume. Next thing I knew my mother turned on the light startling me. I took off the headphones and she asked if I was “high on potsy”. “You gotta hear this!” I said but she really didn’t and she didn’t.

Which reminds me of another story. In 1969 I'd invited some friends over for the first moon landing. By that time parental control was null and void and I no longer hid my vices. So we sat around the TV room smoking a joint watching and a short time later after the air had cleared my mother came down to watch with us. Maybe she got a contact high because as Armstrong was going down the ladder she said" Wouldn't it be funny if he slipped and said "oh shit!"? Then forever the first words of the first man to land on the moon would be "oh shit!"

Listening to this album in mono today, with more mature ears (“mature” in every way), (even compared to when I reviewed the stereo box set a few years ago and uh oh, just noticed same Koss Pro4 story, sorry) has me thinking that much of the “gimmicky” charge coming from detractors has to do with the ham-handed stereo mix. What might have been exciting fewer than ten years into the stereo era today sounds disjointed and almost incoherent. I’m not just writing that because of my enthusiasm for this box set.

When you hear elements panned here, there and everyone for no reason other than that they had to be put somewhere other than in the center, the rationale for it all falls apart.

Yes, a few tracks do work well in stereo, but they all work in mono. There’s more to hear and more obvious is the greater finesse that went into the mono mixes where all of the elements perfectly fit together into a far more cohesive blend.

When you read the recording history and consider all of the many overdubbing sessions, the instruments and effects added and subtracted to make the elements “just so” and how carefully they were blended together for the mono mix and not so for the stereo mix, I don’t hear how you could conclude that the stereo mix is superior (something I thought for decades, BTW).

Now when I hear the stereo mix I want to reach out and push it all together into the center! Never thought I’d think that—not even as late as a few years ago when I reviewed the stereo reissue. I’ve had mono copies for years but always played the stereo. This has been an educational exercise for my ears. I don’t think I’ll often play the stereo version but I will the mono.

There are many interesting though subtle differences between the stereo and mono mixes, like Paul’s more prominent screaming at the end of the reprise. You can literally hear the engineer start the applause playback too. Mostly though you’ll easily hear what how superior is the overall mix. The coherence in my opinion refutes charges that this is a “gimmicky” record. Instead what shines through are the musical and production innovations probably never again to be heard on any pop/rock recording by any group.

I compared this mono reissue with an original mono UK pressing, with an original mono American pressing, with the Japanese Odeon 1982 red mono pressing and with the mono CD box set version.

The original is not a hard, bright record. It is nuanced and well-textured overall, though when it’s intended to jar it does. After reading Lewisohn’s account of the recording I paid particular attention to the tabla recording on “Within You Without You”. Emerick remarked “The table had never been recorded the way we did it. Everyone was amazed when they first heard a table recorded that closely, with the texture and the lovely low resonances.” Also on the track is a dilruba—a bowed sitar-like instrument and a tamboura (a stringed instrument).

Comparing the various versions, the original UK pressing version has believable drum textures that you can feel and the “low resonances” Emerick extols have believable, almost rubbery contours. On the Japanese Odeon and on the CD the drum textures are hardened and cardboard-y (it’s cut far hotter than the others and levels were equalized for all comparisons). The “low resonances” have a harmonically indistinct quality and seem to turn off and on rather than develop, swell and recede. The overall picture is flat. The volume has to be turned down to make it sound pleasing. Not so on the original UK.

Play “When I’m Sixty-Four” and despite the pitch change the lead clarinet has a convincing woody roundness. It really sounds like a clarinet as does the bass clarinet as does the second standard clarinet. Listen to the tubular bell and the brushwork mixed well down.

The Japanese Odeon is harder, flatter and less engaging than the original and the bass is not as fully fleshed out. The brushwork is harder and coarser. Also, not that it’s critical, the ending gibberish is not in a locked groove. It’s there and gone.

That is what I feared the reissue might sound like but it doesn’t. It sounds remarkably similar overall to the original though it’s more dynamic and better extended on top (than my one -1 lacquer pressing so take into account).

When (if) you get this record, play first “Within You Without You” and you’ll hear to what Emerick was referring and you can turn it up to increase your pleasure and unless it’s your system talking, it will not harden and turn unpleasant. You’ll hear space behind the instruments and sense genuine depth missing from the Odeon. The differences aren’t subtle. What is subtle are the differences between the original and the new reissue.

I heard a bit more prominence on Harrison’s sibilants on this track but it’s smooth and doesn’t at all sizzle and since it’s not on every track it’s not a characteristic of the remastering. It’s on the original too but just not as prominent though the rest of the track sounds like a clone of the original. Perhaps it’s related to the number of plays the original has had. Whatever it is it’s a very minor difference.

What’s key is that there is not one overriding coloration heard on this or any of the reissues so far auditioned. The original is cut at a lower level than the reissue, the reissue is cut at a lower level than the Japanese reissue.

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band reissue is, in my opinion, another complete success. The pressing quality of my sample was like the others so far: perfectly flat and perfectly quiet.

Sadly for me, while the 15K tone was audible to me in 1967 and well beyond, I can’t hear it anymore on the original so I can’t tell you if Sean Magee added it to the reissue. Hell, I used to be able to hear the 15kHz “flyback” transformers of my neighbor’s televisions outside their homes too when I was a kid and UHF store burglar alarms too.

Music Direct Buy It Now

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

I went into HMV's store here in Dublin yesterday and was delighted to see all The Beatles Mono LPs in the store, my elation didn't last long unfortunately, because when I got close to them the price knocked me back on my heels.

Reading these reviews of The Beatles Mono LPs had me really excited, but now I am totally deflated! The reason: HMV are charging $44 dollars for a single LP.

I would expect to that price for a US import but not for an EU pressing. It is unheard of, the recent Led Zeppelin reissues only cost $23 each.

The record company has made their money ten times over on The Beatles, why go way over the top on these reissues?

I love vinyl, have stuck with vinyl through the CD era, put my money where my mouth is, but this is just too much to take!

Thanks for the wonderful information on all these releases Michael! You have put a lot of effort into bringing us what to expect from these releases but I am going to have to pass because of the prices!

James, Dublin, Ireland

Michael Fremer's picture
Perhaps the price will return to normal once the records are officially released tomorrow? That is ridiculous. Can't you order by mail?
Mazzy's picture

I feel for those in Europe. For some reason all of these LPs cost at least twice the price than pretty much anywhere in the US. Someone blamed the conversation rate but that has not affected other LPs like the latest Zeppelin issues. These are reasonable priced here in the USA and I would love to hear the reality of why they cost so much there. Especially since they were pressed and printed there.

That would be interesting for you or someone else to uncover

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

I certainly hope so! Maybe after a few weeks things will settle down and the prices might come down. I checked online and they are cheaper in Germany and the UK but the postage would probably bring the price back up to $44!

Generally the highest prices charged here for an LP is about $36 for an EU pressing. So this was a shock!

Wonderful stuff on The Beatles Mono's by the way! You must be all 'Beatled' out at this stage!

Keep up the good work!

James, Dublin, Ireland

PS: Picked up Ryan Adams new LP for $24!

bill lettang's picture

well, I'm thankful that the most famous Beatles mono album received an 11 for sound. It's certaily the one that had me shaking my head in disbelief wondering "what are they gonna do next?"....

rakalm's picture

I always play my stereo reissue version of Within Without You(Optimal Media, just sounds way better than the Rainbo, I have both) to impress Beatles fans. It sounds great despite not being AAA, so I can't wait to hear the Mono. Up till now, I have only had the Mono CD and the American Stereo to compare, now for the real thing. I have been warming up by playing everything in Mono I can find through my Monacor box setup. I may not add a switch box (to switch between mono/stereo) until I give the box set a full listen. I want to be sure it doesn't detract from the sound quality. Anyone know of any decent source switch boxes? I bought an el cheapo as I didn't see anything available that looked decent. Will be watching for the White Album review, that has to be a dramatic improvement over the stereo reissues.

thomoz's picture

One cable with male at one end and two females at the other end.
One cable with two males at one end and one female at the other.
Plug the two single lines together. This makes a sum-to-mono X cable.
Plug the male RCAs from your turntable into the two females on the X cable you just made.
Plug the two males of the X cable into your phono preamp.
Enjoy quiet background mono lp playback.

rakalm's picture

My Monacor box does what the doubley Y cables do. It's just a small box with 2 inputs on each side, stereo in and mono out. But I want to be able to switch without pulling cables.
This is the link to the Monacor
Surprised, German made and quiet, quite nice for the money. But I don't want to degrade the sonics, so I and am looking for a decent A/B switch box. Want to be setup for both mono and stereo with the turn of a knob or flip of the switch, after I listen to these Mono Beatles LP's I am anxiously awaiting. Mikey has really wet the appetite. These reviews are what I was hoping for when I ordered the set months ago. Fortunate time for Beatle fans wanting the true vinyl experience without the collector's price tag.

happykev's picture

Is it a female RCA jack to male RCA plug or is it male mini-stereo plug?

I am still trying to visualize this setup as I'm not sure what would turn the stereo output of the turntable into mono.... Thanks!

JC1957's picture

I find that the segue from Good Morning, Good Morning into Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise) sounds sloppy and amateurish on the mono mix and much better in stereo. A Day In The Life I think works better in stereo too. More effective but hey, that's just me.

arrozcomfeijao's picture

Wouldn't it be nice if you made another one of your blind tests like the one with the cartridges or the phono stages? I'd love to hear one Beatle track from each one of these pressings I keep reading about in these great reviews of the Mono Box. Encode one single track from this reissue, the same track from the original UK mono, the original US mono, the Japanese red vinyl mono, the mono CD plus one stereo version just to prove the superiority of mono. Now that would be some challenge.
By the way, nice to discover that you finally inhaled.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Sorry, what is that?

timorous's picture

It is said that normal human hearing spans a range from 20Hz (or cycles per second) at the low end, to about 20kHz at the upper end. Anyone who hasn't destroyed their hearing by attending too many loud rock concerts or regular use of loud power tools, can likely still hear up to 15kHz or higher. This upper range is largely upper harmonics of instruments like cymbals and triangles, brass instruments and such.

The 15k tone (a pure sine wave test tone) was put on the lead-out groove on side 2 of Sgt. Pepper, just because they could, you know...for fun.

If your speakers can reproduce these higher frequencies, you should be able to hear the 15k tone on the original pressings, if the disc hasn't been played too much. I'm guessing it's there on this new re-issue as well, if they're being completely faithful to the original.

Paul Boudreau's picture

never noticed that.

lesdoanj's picture

I can still hear it.

They say that along with the loud sounds you hear around you - jet engines and shotguns - having an effect on your hearing, so to does the simple act of aging. At 37, I can still hear up to 18 kHz.

Businesses have been using it to ward off kids, because they hear it and are annoyed by it. I don't like to visit the Ellis County Courthouse in downtown Waxahachie, TX, because they pump the "mosquito noise" tone outside the building and it's loud and annoying!! Darn my decent hearing ability.

boogieman's picture

Didn't you once say that you played the 1982 Japanese Odeon of SPLHCB for Geoff Emerick, and he said it was spot on? What kind of system did you play it on?

bill lettang's picture

Hello Michael..was the re-issue cut flat as per original instruction notes and if so, how does it compare to the cd Mr.Emmerick gave you?

vinylsoul1965's picture

So many things seem clearer on the new mono version than on the original:

The midrange on "Lovely Rita" really shows what is going on under Paul's vocal. The wine bottle cork sounds ALMOST as loud as on the stereo mix. Always felt that in the mono it got lost.

The reverb on the vocals for the Sgt Pepper bigger than ever (thanks to Studio One!). The reprise rocks VERY hard on the new version

And I agree Michael, Within You Without You is a revelation.

The 15kHz tone IS there btw, just before the almost perfect run out groove.

Yep, Pepper is at this point my fave mono vinyl remaster. MMT next!!!

Martin's picture

I completely agree, Sgt. Peppers works better in mono than stereo.
I have first, second, third UK stereo pressings of Sgt. Peppers and a first UK mono. My UK first press looked unplayed when I found it years ago sitting innocously in an antique shop...

The mono is the one that gets played. To me, the whole thing just fits all together more nicely.

I'm looking forward to how the box set version sounds.

thomoz's picture

turntable at left, phono preamp at right, two Y cables in between:

criswood1's picture

I have a very modest setup DebutIII w/2M Blue, but I could not be happier. I was hoping it was going to be awesome. But it is beyond awesome. Makes a lot of my other 180 gram vinyl sound weak. If only all other music was put out this way (all AAA) it would flat out end any discussions about not being able to hear differences in formats. Thanks Mike, you never steer me wrong. You Da Man!!

atomlow's picture

Just curious but I just received Sgt. Pepper and the spine title is upside down. Is this how it was on the original? Anyone else notice this? It isn't like this on my stereo reissue. By the way that stereo reissue even if it's digital sounds incredible. On the first track of the mono and it sounds great!

atomlow's picture

I watched your video of the box and I see that the record was placed in the back sleeve which I would have expected. Mine came with the record in the front and the goodies in the back. I wonder if the front and back got printed upside down because of the spine issue in my last post. Also, both Revolver and Sgt. came slightly warped but play just fine, just not as flat as I like, but what's new that's how all records seem to be today. It must have to do with the shrink wrap. If you don't buy the box it looks like they are shrink wrapped and they are wrapped tight!

atomlow's picture

I should have googled it before posting ;) I can't hear that frequency which doesn't surprise me at all. I'm on side two and I'm very happy!

take that for a triple post...

Dual's picture

It seems fast
Submitted by Dual on Sun, 2014-09-14 12:27

I attempted to post this but couldn't get past the 'preview' stage so I'm posting again. Please delete any duplication.

In short: it seems fast to me. It's faster than my MFSL box set. Any comments on this? I LOVE the mono mixes, the packaging and the sonics, but it does seem rushed, Side One perhaps a bit more than Side Two.

empirelvr's picture

Quote: Engineer Richard Lush said “The only real version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the mono version. The Beatles were there for all of the mono mixes. Then, after the album was finished, George Martin, Geoff Emerick and I did the stereo in a few days, just the three of us without a Beatle in sight."

I wish this myth would go away. While some songs did have their stereo mixes done shortly after the mono's were completed, Lewisohn's book clearly shows that most of the songs on "Pepper" were mixed to both mono and stereo at the same mix sessions, back to back in some instances. The album was NOT first entirely mixed only to mono, and then mixed to stereo very quickly at a later date. The EMI paperwork is very clear about this.

Knowing this though makes the mix differences all the more fascinating. Was it sloppiness that so many little (and a few big) things were different, or were the differences intentional in an effort to use the stereo medium on it's own terms?

analogkid14's picture

I got this reissue the other day, and it is indeed glorious. I had an eighties mono pressing, which was OK but was slightly off-center. This new pressing is close to perfect!

The Mono IS a little faster, some tunes sped up; She's Leaving Home and When I'm 64 the most obvious. I've always heard this faster overall, whether on vinyl or CD

The Stereo Pepper isn't bad at all, but the Mono is the one for me. It reminds me of how I heard these songs on the transistor radio when I was a kid.

PaulMossUK's picture

I grew up listening to my parents stereo copy.
Listening to this mono version was simply jaw dropping, like I was hearing it for the first time.

AZ's picture

Is it out of print???