Tag Archives: Yellow Submarine

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 #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 #332: The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#332Strangely it took Apple records a long seven months after the Yellow Submarine film was in cinemas to release this soundtrack accompaniment.  That wouldn’t happen these days. In fact these days, the soundtrack albums typically beat the films to the marketplace in most cases. I guess Apple records was a relatively new to this sort of thing, so they can be forgiven. Still, it’s not a great album, is it?

The 1999 rerelease album (the Yellow Submarine Songtrack) is a far better collection of songs – being made up of the actual Beatles songs – both old and new – which appear in the film. The first side of the original soundtrack is bookended by Yellow Submarine (from Revolver) and the All You Need Is Love single from 1967. The excellent Hey Bulldog and the forgettable All Together Now were recorded especially for the soundtrack, while Only A Northern Song was a leftover from Sgt. Pepper’s and the delicious feedback of It’s All Too Much was from a session not too long after.

The second side of the album is taken up with excerpts of George Martin’s orchestral score for the film. This is probably the main reason why the album seems to sit uncomfortably in the Beatles’ official studio canon – for half of its running time, the Beatles don’t even appear.

Yet, despite the soundtrack album’s misgivings, the film itself is strangely enjoyable. The animation is great, and there are plenty of in-jokes and references for adult audiences. It’s almost a precursor to the type of film that Pixar would make a couple of decades later.  It’s probably a good film because the Beatles themselves didn’t have very much to do with it (aside from their very short appearance at the end of the film, in all their sideburned glory), because let’s face it, the quality of their films went quickly downhill after A Hard Day’s Night.

Hit: Yellow Submarine

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog

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