Review – The Beatles 50th Anniversary US Albums Releases

Sometimes a press release is just empty hyperbole. However, the release from Capitol Records and Apple Corps to announce the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Beatlemania is anything but. It states, “On February 7, 1964, The Beatles arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, greeted by scores of screaming, swooning fans who rushed the gate to catch a glimpse of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as they took their first steps on American soil. Two nights later, on Sunday, February 9, 74 million viewers in the U.S. and millions more in Canada tuned in to CBS to watch The Beatles make their American television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Not hyperbole at all, but facts about a time that some critics and historians consider a tectonic shift in American attitudes toward music, culture, and an increasing generational gap. Capitol and Apple Corps have recently released the original Beatles albums American releases, complete with original art and both stereo and mono mixes. The famous “butcher” cover of “Yesterday and Today” is here, as well as the sanitized version that quickly replaced it. The original remastered release cycle in 2009 forced consumers to buy two separate sets of discs, the stereo set, available as individual discs and the expensive box set of mono-only releases. But this time around they have packed both versions on each disc, along with original artwork that replicates the original vinyl releases.

We grew up with the American releases, and to this day we prefer the track sequence of the American “Rubber Soul” over the original UK release. During our college years, most of our Beatles-loving friends made it a point to purchase the UK releases, which offered extra tracks and better quality sound due to the imported vinyl. A decade ago in 2004 and 2006, Capitol released "The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 & 2" with both stereo and mono mixes, but supposedly (it’s hard to ascertain definitive truths will all the various mixes, transfers, and releases)based on the original early digital transfers, so those were for hardcore collectors only. Many fans are suddenly clamoring for those sets today, since they reveal all the bad sonics that the engineers imposed on the material for the American market. The real shift came in the 2009 digital remasters, which were done with a sensitive restoration mindset, and were quickly embraced by audiophiles, fans, and the public.

What is gained with this new set of releases? Is it worth a revisit by fans and music lovers? After listening to these our conclusion is mixed, dependent upon your tastes and wish for purity. Why? While these sound great, they really don’t represent the mixes American audiences grew up with, which sonically had reverb added, fake and real stereo mixes, and more sonic misadventures which U.S. engineers thought would work better in the U.S., and are included on the 2004 and 2006 releases. This set of releases is based on the 2009 UK releases, and they sound great, but not as you might expect. In our minds, much of this amounts to better attention to artwork, a track listing that matched the U.S. vinyl. The mono mixes still remain superb, and it is lovely that most of the tracks are now available as individual releases. For us, this is worth the price of admission. If you have the mono box set already, and the set of stereo 2009 remasters, then this release might not be worth an additional purchase, since the difference is not a huge gain.

A few releases such as The Beatles’ Story,” “Yesterday And Today,” “Hey Jude,” and the U.S. version of “Revolver” make their CD debuts with this release. “Rain” is included on “Hey Jude,” which is the only track on that CD that isn’t available somewhere else in the 2009 releases. The Beatles’ second album contains U.S. mono mixes of "Long Tall Sally" and "I Call Your Name" but the rest of the tracks are UK versions.  The soundtrack to “A Hard Day’s Night” is finally available on CD, with mono and stereo mixes.

“Something New” is pretty much the same as the US release, with less echo added. “The Beatles Story” was a double LP release in 1964, and never issued on CD. At the time of this article we didn’t have access to the disc, and we plan to update this story once review copies are available. “The Beatles 65” features all UK 2009 mixes, while the original LP contained Duophonic stereo releases of "I Feel Fine" and "She's A Woman." “Beatles VI” was released in stereo, and the new CD reportedly has the 1987 stereo mixes, "You Like Me Too Much," "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," and "Tell Me What You See" and a true stereo mix of "Yes It Is," while the mono mixes seem the same as the 2009 versions, with the reverb removed, so not identical to the original U.S. releases. “Rubber Soul” features the US mono mix of “Michelle.” “Yesterday and Today” has the original butcher cover, and the mono version is the same as the original LP release.

So, as you can see the actual differences aren’t that significant in terms of the content and mixes if you already own the 2009 Beatles stereo and mono releases. Depending upon your viewpoint, the decision to use the 2009 remastered versions, instead of the fake stereo, added reverb versions so common in the early Beatles releases in the U.S. is either a great decision, or somewhat misleading. Personally, we enjoy the new releases, and having the mono mixes for the same price is great, especially since the CDs start with the mono mixes first, respectful of the band’s priorities at the time when mono was king. True, it’s not the “Capitol Sound” we grew up with, but even the 2004 and 2006 box sets didn’t even get the track and mix listings correct according to most purists. If you haven’t yet upgraded your Beatles catalog, we still think this new collection is highly enjoyable. The logical next step would be to have the entire catalog available in high-definition audio, so that listeners will have an entirely new format to argue about! Till then, we recommend The Beatles 50th Anniversary U.S. Albums releases for you or the Beatles lover in your life.

Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 2/7/2013

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