In Mono (Box Set)
REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/30/2012
Even though two of the four Beatles are dead and they haven't played together as a group in decades, if there is one thing that The Beatles enterprise is good at it is marketing. For years, fans clamored for The Beatles to have their music on Apple's iTunes, which had been held up for various reasons, including the fact that The Beatles felt that Apple had ripped off the name of their own company, Apple Corps. When the decision was finally made to jump into invisible digital media, The Beatles empire did so with an entire rerelease of their catalog, fully remastered on CD, and a couple of box sets were issued along with the rerelease to CD and iTunes. One of those boxes, The Beatles In Mono, gives true audiophile Beatle fans something not available to them for years unless they kept their old mono records over all these years. This box offers the mono productions of The Beatles records up through the White Album.
But why mono? In a world where nearly everyone has multiple speakers, why would anyone want to care about a one channel method of sound reproduction that blasts everything out of a single speaker? The answer lies in the fact that mono was ubiquitous in the early ‘60s. Stereo came around and gained popularity, but up until Abbey Road, the mono mix was the one the group cared about the most. As such, on days where the mono version was mixed in the studio, The Beatles were actually there, whereas the more novelty stereo mix was mixed by engineers after the group had gone home. Paul McCartney has explained the group's feelings about stereo at the time as almost being one of annoyance at a superfluous invention. Once at a party, McCartney said that he was standing next to a speaker and wanted his friend to hear a great solo, but it was on the other channel which was piped out of the speaker across the room. Who needed two speakers?
There is also the point to be made that mixing in mono is arguably harder and requires more skill as an engineer to set the levels of all the instruments and vocals right. This task would have been easier on earlier Beatles recordings that employed a more traditional band approach, but also keep in mind that productions like Sgt. Pepper were also primarily done in mono. The skill it takes to provide the entire nuance to all of those overdubs and sounds out of one channel is immense and should be appreciated.
The folks at Capitol also did Beatle fans a favor by remastering all of the albums for the 2009 rerelease. Previously, all of the digital releases relied on the 1987 remasters, which left much to be desired on some tracks. If you have the old CD remasters, it is worth playing them side by side with these discs. There is much more clarity in these productions and there are even a few surprises along the way where a guitar level has changed or backing vocals are more clear. A couple of tracks are actually faster in mono than in the stereo mix. The only downside to the set is the fact that you lose out on Abbey Road, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be because by then stereo had taken over the medium, so rather than mono being the main mix and stereo the afterthought, the tables had turned.
The set also contains a booklet explaining the importance of the mono process to the band as well as some glorious reproductions of the original album packaging (although this is not as great as the originals were since, of course, they are less than a quarter of the size). And despite missing three Beatles albums, you are treated to remastered versions of Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and the White Album, all of which were the mixes the group cared the most for. Plus, a Mono Masters disc contains mono mixes of some singles not contained on the albums. This set plus the stereo remasters of the remaining three albums will equal a happy true Beatles fan.