The Beatles, The Beatles in Mono, album review: The repackaged Fab Four still sound great

this isn’t just four gifted individuals you hear here, it’s a band, and one heck of a great band, at that

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Initially devised to represent on home equipment the concert layout of instruments in an orchestra, stereo is fundamentally unsuited to rock’n’roll, which has always been heard at its best in small clubs, hitting punters as a solid block of sound.

Hence early rock musicians’ lack of interest in stereo mixes, which were an afterthought catering to a niche audience of enthusiasts often more interested in the technology than the music. Witness the proliferation of steam-train and special-effects albums in the stereo racks. Most record players were mono, as was radio; accordingly, even The Beatles, while paying acute attention to their mono mixes, attending every session, would leave the stereo mixes to assistants whose efforts sometimes left much to be desired. John Lennon, for instance, claimed that while the mono “Revolution” was “a heavy record”, the stereo mix transformed it into “a piece of ice-cream”.

Different vocal tracks were sometimes used, as on the stereo album versions of “Please Please Me” and “If I Fell”, and mixes were often littered with mistakes and miscues. Sometimes, it’s swings and roundabouts: the mono version of “I’m Only Sleeping” has extra backwards guitar, while the mono “Tomorrow Never Knows” is missing the final feedback note. “She’s Leaving Home” is much slower in stereo, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” loses phasing in stereo.

Add to these changes the subsequent shortcomings of digital transfers for CD, and the value of this box set of 11 180gm vinyl remasters becomes self-evident (being mixed only in stereo, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be aren’t included). This was how The Beatles heard themselves, and what comes across strongly is the sense of indivisible unity they convey. Shortly after, stereo would usher in overdubbing and an emphasis on individual ability that tore groups apart. By contrast, this isn’t just four gifted individuals you hear here, it’s a band, and one heck of a great band, at that.

The Beatles, The Beatles in Mono