Tag Archives: The White Album

Rocks In The Attic #793: The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road (3LP Anniversary Edition)’ (1969/2019)

RITA#793Christmas continues to come twice a year for fans of the Fab Four, with 2019’s banner Beatles release. 50 years and a day after its original release on 26th September 1969, Abbey Road  has been given the same makeover afforded to last year’s White Album anniversary set.

Packaged in a similar sized box to the White Album / Esher Demos package, the set is comprised of the new 2019 mix by Giles Martin (with credit given to mix engineer Sam Okell on the hype sticker) in its own sleeve, two LPs of outtakes from the sessions presented in an ‘alternate’ cover sleeve, and a four-panel booklet of liner notes, featuring forewords by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin.

It’s a wonderful package down to the smallest details. The blue font used on the hype sticker and in the ‘3LP Anniversary Edition’ labelling on the side of the box echoes the blue sky that takes up the negative space on the album’s world-famous cover shot. Or is it the blue of the dress worn by the girl blurrily walking out of shot on the rear cover? Maybe it’s just the same blue as gravedigger George’s double-denim?
RITA#793aAs with the White Album’s 2018 mix, the 2019 mix of Abbey Road is intimately revealing. Casual listeners probably won’t be able to spot the changes, but if you grew up listening to the album on headphones during your formative years, the differences are massive. Following on from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s remastering campaigns in recent years, the key words here are clarity and presence. It isn’t merely a money-grab release by simply making things LOUDER, although I’m sure the EMI accountants will all be in line for a sizable end-of-year bonus. Thankfully, Giles Martin and team have done more than just ‘make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder.’

John’s vocal on the first stop in Come Together – ‘got to be a joker, he just do what he please’ – reveals the first tweak. You can hear him bite down – or hold back? – on that last word even harder than before. George’s jangly guitar on Octopus’s Garden is even janglier, strengthening the song’s Country credentials. And Ringo’s fills, particularly on The End, have more weight in them. ‘The sound was the result of having new calfskin drum heads,’ Ringo explains in Kevin Howlett’s liner notes. ‘There’s a lot of tom-tom work on that record. I got the new heads and I naturally used them a lot – they were so great.’

The biggest change in the remix however is in the bottom end. Paul’s bass is pushed further into the front of this mix – if such a thing is possible given how front and centre it already was in the original 1969 mix. This is a good thing; the bass playing throughout the album represents the peak of McCartney’s playing, and his fluid, walking basslines are one of the album’s key ingredients.

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In terms of bonus content, it feels like a missed opportunity that Martin Jr. wasn’t tasked to produce a mono mix of the album. With the White Album being the last Beatles record to enjoy a mono mix upon release, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be have only been available in stereo, the decade’s eventual winning format (even though Martin Sr. and team were still mixing the singles in mono in 1969, with Get Back appearing in April of that year as the band’s final mono single in the UK). If mono mixes of Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be don’t already exist somewhere in the archive, even as reference mixes, then it seems a missed opportunity to not hand this challenge to Martin The Younger. Of course, nobody really needs a mono mix of these albums, but given his achievements, from 2006’s Love soundtrack album of the Cirque du Soleil show, to the remixes of Pepper, the White Album and now Abbey Road, he’s the perfect candidate to do something a little different sonically to compliment the respective stereo mixes.

What we do get as extras are still brilliant: twenty-three tracks of demos, outtakes and orchestral instrumentals. As with the outtakes in last year’s White Album set, some have seen the light of day in one form or another across the Anthology project, but the vast majority have been officially unreleased until now.

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The studio chatter preceding the first track – a run-through of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) at Trident studios – offers a glimpse at the joys that lie ahead:

“Is it possible, without affecting yourselves too much, to turn down a little?” somebody politely asks in the background, off-mic. “Apparently there’s been a complaint.”

“From who?” asks John.

“Somebody outside the building,” comes the reply.

“Well, what are they doing here at this time of night? What guy?” fires back a frustrated John.

Several voices debate for a few seconds. In the background, Paul says ‘It’s his own fault for getting a house in such a lousy district!’

John then comes back on the microphone. “Well, we’ll try it once more very loud, and if we don’t get it, we’ll try it quiet….Last chance to be loud!”

As much as I love hearing the alternate versions of these fifty-year old songs, it’s the banter in the studio that’s just as revealing. As we’ve heard before, Paul is always the most playful in the studio. At the beginning of a take of You Never Give Me Your Money, a croaky Paul – at exactly half-past-two, he tells us, presumably in the A.M. – sings ‘You never give me your coffee.’ At the start of the first take of Golden Slumbers, he changes the piano chord from minor to major (specifically from Am7 to D6), singing ‘Day after day…’, the opening line of The Fool On The Hill, before stopping abruptly to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s annoying when the later, solo-years McCartney peppers his releases with this kind of studio tomfoolery. Listening to him larking about as a grown-up feels akin to tolerating a precocious child. Here, as a fresh-faced 27-year old, he’s just endearing.

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As for the album itself, fifty years young, for me it represents their artistic peak. It’s always been in my top 3 Beatles albums, and contests that top spot on an almost daily basis with Revolver and the White Album. It has such a magical vibe, and seems to be full to the brim with positivity. Even John’s default songwriting setting – pessimist – doesn’t seem to derail the proceedings.

Speaking of which, forget other contenders (The Who, The Byrds, and the Beatles’ own Helter Skelter) for the first heavy, heavy sound. Surely the roots of heavy metal can be traced back to John’s doom-laden arpeggios in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). It’s surely the song that feels it’s opening the door for Black Sabbath’s debut just five months later. Lennon and Harrison’s use of arpeggios thoughout their Beatles career – from songs as varied as And I Love Her to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – feel like one of least celebrated aspects of their musicianship. Mark Lewisohn, in the first volume of his Beatles mega-biography, goes to great pains to point out that it was the band’s vocal harmonies that made them stand out from their contemporaries in their early years. I hope Lewisohn will give the band as much credit for their intricate rhythm guitar lines, in the eagerly anticipated next volume of his biography (currently due in 2020).

Abbey Road also represents the songwriting peak of George Harrison, with two of the album’s songs penned by him. It’s a peak that would last at least as long as his debut record, arguably longer, but there’s no debate that in terms of maturity, both Something and Here Comes The Sun are miles ahead of anything he submitted to the White Album or the Let It Be sessions.

Those calfskin toms on Ringo’s drums get the spotlight at the end of the record, with the break leading into The End serving as a brilliantly held-back bit of drumming. Some might see it as a half-hearted drum-solo, but Ringo’s subtlety and less-is-more ethos, as always, works wonders.

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More than anything, it sounds like McCartney’s enthusiasm – the driving force of the band since the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967 – has led the band to this point, from movie-making and the aborted attempts to get back to their roots as a performing band, to getting together to record again with George Martin. The studio banter on the sessions discs sound as good natured as the biographies would have us believe all these years, and there doesn’t sound to be any kind of tension from the business affairs that were looming in the background.

The album’s very special to me for one specific reason. Once, during my teens, I was on a holiday over Christmas in the snowy highlands of Scotland. My parents fell sick with food poisoning for a few days, and so I was left to my own company. Out of boredom one day, I decided to walk to the next village and back – a 6-mile round trip, through heavy snow. I took off, with the last Beatles album to be unlocked in my brain – Abbey Road – sitting in my portable CD player. I probably listened to the album 6 or 7 times, back to back, as I made my way through the snow. Those magical elements to the album seemed to be heightened in the landscape and even now I associate it with that hike from Newtonmore to Kingussie and back. In terms of location, it’s not a million miles away from the Mull Of Kintyre, where McCartney might have been wintering with Linda at the time, and so the connection feels just right.

Hit: Here Comes The Sun

Hidden Gem: Goodbye (Home Demo)

Rocks In The Attic #724: George Harrison – ‘George Harrison’ (1979)

RITA#724You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time of George’s eighth solo album, he was bereft of ideas. This 1979 effort finds him not only running out of ideas for album titles, but he also re-uses earlier material: the second-track, Not Guilty, is a leftover from the last self-titled album he was involved in, the Beatles’ eponymous 1968 release.

But there’s lots to like about this record. It’s a bit happier and a bit more laid-back than his previous work, having married Olivia Arias and become a father to Dhani a year earlier.

Side-two opener Faster – “inspired by Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda” – is perhaps one of the last hidden gems of George’s solo career – a non-charting single, released as a picture-disc (a first for a Beatle past or present) with all proceeds going to charity (a cancer fund set up following the death of Swedish F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson in 1978). George must have had enough invested into the song to go to the trouble of filming a promotional video for it.

RITA#724aSpeaking of chart positions, this album comes a full five years after George had a #1 single anywhere in the world – 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the sole single from Living In The Material World, which topped the US Billboard. His poor chart performance through 1977 and 1978 correlates with the rise of punk, and his more mature songwriting was probably at odds with Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and the rest of the new breed of youth music.

Here Comes The Moon is lovely, the first single Blow Away is great, and there really isn’t a weak song on the album. But that’s probably the rub – while George might not write or record bad songs by this point, he also doesn’t write or record anything particularly outstanding. His next single, All Those Years Ago in 1981 performed much stronger in the wake of John Lennon’s death, and it wouldn’t be until 1987 before he topped the charts again (with his Jeff Lynne-produced cover of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You).

Mention must be made of George’s hairstyle during 1979. The rear cover image shows him walking across his garden, not only in the largest pair of flares this side of the 1960s, but with a perm long enough to make any poodle-breeder proud.

Hit: Blow Away

Hidden Gem: Faster

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Rocks In The Attic #718: The Beatles – ‘The Beatles & Esher Demos’ (1968)

RITA#718You can hear the differences straight away. Paul’s snare beat on Back In The U.S.S.R. is punchier and his vocal ad-libs in the fade-out are much clearer. Then John’s acoustic guitar fades into Dear Prudence and Paul’s pulsing bass sounds on top of everything, front and centre.

Released yesterday to celebrate the record’s fifty-year anniversary, Giles Martin’s new 2018 stereo remix of the Beatles’ ‘self-titled’ White Album is an early Christmas present for fans of the band.

Repeating the successful formula employed on last year’s stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s, Martin Jr. has broken down the White Album recordings, and built them back up again. Untrained ears might not be able to tell the difference, we’re talking subtle changes. Clarity and focus are the operative words, not revisionism.

RITA#718aThe sliding, uptempo bass line in Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da transforms one of my least favourite Beatle songs into a stormer. Eric Clapton’s swirling guitar lines in George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps feel even more hypnotic. Paul’s bassline in Why Don’t We Do It In The Road sounds funkier. Birthday sounds as insane as the band probably intended it to. Paul’s screaming salvo into Helter Skelter sounds at war with Ringo’s drums. The horns in Savoy Truffle are sharper, the electronic piano line closer to the front of the mix.

The 2014 mono remaster was previously my favourite version of this album. I didn’t think anything could beat that. How wrong I was. All in all, this new release is like listening to the album for the first time, with fresh ears. And if that wasn’t enough, the other half of the box-set is just as revelatory.

In May 1968, fresh from their Rishikesh trip, the Beatles convened at Kinfauns, George’s house in Esher, Surrey. There, they recorded demo versions of 26 of the White Albums’s 40 tracks, plus songs that didn’t make the intended album.

Glimpsed on 1997’s Anthology 3, Giles Martin has now remixed these tapes and re-sequenced them into a double-LP with – where possible – the same running order as the 1968 album.

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Hearing McCartney doing a loosely double-tracked Back In The U.S.S.R. on an acoustic guitar – complete with a sung guitar solo – is just fantastic, and really fills me with hope that there’s more material like this yet to see an official release.

The songs that were worked out in the White Album studio sessions – Wild Honey Pie, Martha My Dear, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, I Will, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle, Revolution 9 and Good Night – don’t appear here in demo form. Instead we get a raft of songs intended for the album, but which appeared elsewhere: George’s Sour Milk Sea (a single for Jackie Lomax), Not Guilty (re-recorded for his 1979 record, George Harrison), and Circles (re-recorded for 1982’s Gone Troppo), Paul’s Junk (soon to be heard on 1970’s McCartney), and John’s Child Of Nature (reworked as Jealous Guy from 1971’s Imagine). Two other Lennon demos presented here – Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam would be reworked into the medley on Abbey Road in 1969.

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The demos make for a fantastic listen. Complete with between-take chatter, coughs and sniffs, the sound quality is mostly very good with the occasional bit of tape-hiss evident on some tracks. In hindsight, the Beatles probably didn’t need to go to Abbey Road and Trident to re-record these demos – they could have just released this back in 1968.

While it now seems inevitable that Giles Martin will provide similar remix duties for next year’s half-century release of Abbey Road, followed by Let It Be in 2020, I really hope he continues with the pre-Pepper albums as they begin their sixty-year celebrations from 2023.

And hopefully he’s training his son in the finer techniques of audio engineering, ready for the next generation of reissues…

Hit: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Hidden Gem: Helter Skelter

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Rocks In The Attic #384: The Beatles – ‘Mono Masters’ (2009)

RITA#384So the plan was to buy the Beatles In Mono vinyl box set, and then sell the stereo box set that I bought a couple of years ago. That was the plan. But then I got it home – from supporting my local independent record store, I like to add – and plonked it down on my shelves next to the stereo set. I couldn’t split these two up, could I? Not when they’re both so…different.

The differences – both minor and major – are a wonderful thing between these two sets. I do agree that mono is king, especially here when the Beatles contributed to the mono mixes, and left the ‘after the fact’ stereo mixes to the studio engineers. It’s just such an oddity how some of the changes can be so noticeable. For a band known for their high quality control, it’s amazing that the stereo mixes were handled so poorly. People applaud George Martin and the Beatles for being so innovative and forward-thinking. Here, they were largely disregarding an audio format that would go on to dominate the music industry by the end of the decade.

It’s nice to see that they expanded this record into a triple, rather than reduce the running time due to some of the later singles not receiving a mono mix. In place of those later singles, we get some tracks mixed in mono intended for a Yellow Submarine EP that never saw the light of day. As welcome as this is, it does change things slightly – in the past I always say the two Past Masters discs as representative of each half of their career. Past Masters Vol. 2 begins with Day Tripper, recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions just as the Beatles were starting to wholeheartedly reflect outside influences, in this case the Motown sound. On Mono Masters, Day Tripper turns up halfway through the third side.

With the Beatles In Mono box set, I now own the core catalogue three times over (I already owned them all prior to the stereo remasters). Do I need three copies of the White Album? Three copies of Revolver and Rubber Soul? Three copies of Sgt. Pepper’s? Damn right I do!

Hit: She Loves You

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog

Rocks In The Attic #281: The Beatles – ‘1967 – 1970’ (1973)

RITA#281The lines have since been blurred by subsequent compilation albums, but the Red and Blue Albums used to serve as an excellent line in the sand. Did you prefer the moptop Beatlemania of the Red Album, or the maturing experimentation of the Blue Album? The turning point chosen was the Blue Album’s opener, John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever­ – a key moment of evolution in studio production, and a chance for the Fab Four to try out their new moustaches.

The Blue Album is definitely a more balanced offering than its counterpart. Whereas Allen Klein topped up the Red Album’s shorter running time by including many songs from Rubber Soul (presumably his favourite album), here the tracks are more evenly spread out: four album tracks from Sgt. Peppers, three from the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, three from the White Album, four from Abbey Road, three from Let It Be, and the rest of the songs coming from singles and b-sides. If anything you could say that the White Album is the least represented – a sprawling double-album with only three songs present – but given that this compilation collects all of their lengthier late-period songs, I guess some allowances had to be made to be able to make it a double-album, symmetrical to the Red Album. These four years could easily have been extended into a triple-album, but maybe Klein figured that a triple-album wouldn’t have had any more pulling power than a double.

I do question the inclusion of George Harrison’s Old Brown Shoe – the b-side to The Ballad Of John And Yoko. There are definitely stronger album tracks from around that period, which I would probably have substituted in its place – but I welcome its obscurity, a song that would later see the light of day on Past Masters Vol. 2, but at the time a definite hidden gem in their back-catalogue.

While I see the point of the 1 compilation – 2000’s attempt at putting all of the band’s number one singles in one collection – the Red and Blue Albums have the luxury of including album tracks. On 1, the years between 1967 and 1970 are represented by just eleven songs, while the Blue Album manages to cover the same period with twenty eight tracks (and doesn’t ever seem overlong or outstay its welcome).

For me, the only real sour note on this compilation is the inclusion of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – one of my least favourite Beatles songs. It’s definitely the catchiest track from the White Album, and probably only included here as it was such a hit single for Marmalade in January 1969 – with this single they achieved the notoriety of being the first ever Scottish band to hit number one in the UK singles chart.

Hit: Hey Jude

Hidden Gem: Old Brown Shoe

Rocks In The Attic #127: Paul & Linda McCartney – ‘Ram’ (1971)

Rocks In The Attic #127: Paul & Linda McCartney - ‘Ram’ (1971)I’m with Moo on this one – mono is pretty pointless. It makes sense if the artist originally mixed it in mono, and intended its release in mono, but most of the time it’s a marketing ploy aimed at audiophiles.

Take this release for example – the limited edition release of McCartney’s second solo album in mono, complete with the most minimal sleeve I’ve ever seen (aside from the scrawl on the top left of the sleeve, the only mention of the album name and artist is on a small slip of paper inside the inner sleeve – it makes the packaging of The White Album look like Sgt. Pepper’s). There’s no reason for it to exist. Mono had been left behind by this point, and all releases were universally in stereo. It exists merely as a curiosity.

However, it’s by a Beatle, it’s a limited collection, and therefore it’s collectable – hence why I bought it. I have the stereo version, with its garish sleeve (possibly the reason this mono release is so minimalist?) and it’s always been a firm favourite. In fact, I swapped my CD copy of the album for the vinyl version back in the late 90s. My Huddersfield friend Dom Beresford had it on vinyl and wanted it on CD. I felt the opposite, so we did a fair trade. The record is forever marked by this transaction – a sticker on the label around the centre of the disc proudly declares it is the property of Kirklees Libraries & Arts.

There’s been a hell of a lot of love for this album of late. It is very good – about a million times better than his hotchpotch debut album; but as much as I love it, and regard it as my favourite McCartney album, it’s not as good as Band On The Run.  I don’t subscribe to the theory that his Wings material is more of a group offering – to me, they’re McCartney albums with a couple of hired hands to play some of the instruments so he didn’t have to play everything.

In terms of the quality of the songwriting here, he matches the strength of his output on Abbey Road. The melodies are strong enough to support an orchestral version of the album – something I’ve been listening to a lot recently. To me, Ram is as strong an album as Imagine – in fact they’d make a killer double album – but it’ll never be as loved by the public as Lennon’s album. There are no big hits, and definitely nothing close to the universality of Imagine’s titular track.

Hit: Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

Hidden Gem: Ram On

Rocks In The Attic #30: The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine Songtrack’ (1999)

It’s odd that they released this, as though admitting that the original Yellow Submarine soundtrack released in 1968 was a bit of a mistake. That album has four previously unreleased songs of varying quality on one side, bookended by the title song and All You Need Is Love; with the flipside covering George Martin’s orchestral score for the film. Of the studio albums in their official cannon, this has to be the weakest as half of it isn’t them playing, and the rest is half-hearted, at best.Released in 1999 to promote the re-release of the animated film, the Yellow Submarine Songtrack tries to wrong those rights by removing the George Martin tracks and filling the album out with the other Beatles songs that appear in the movie.

Hey Bulldog takes pride of place as the first song on the album (after the title song), and this was released as the only single from the album. Of those 4 previously unreleased songs that appeared on the original soundtrack, it’s clearly the best one – a nice little riff-driven rocker by Lennon that wouldn’t have been out of place as a B-side around the time of The White Album when it was recorded.

This is a nice addition to my Beatles collection – the tracks are fully remixed from the original multitrack tapes (something that they didn’t even do for the 2009 remasters), making it a pretty unique release. And of course it’s on yellow vinyl, and who doesn’t like coloured vinyl?

Hit: Yellow Submarine

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog