By no means am I an audiophile. Play an MP3, ACC, and WAV file of the same song back to back and I most likely couldn’t tell the difference. (Correction: I definitely couldn’t tell the difference, having failed this quiz.)
But when I listened to the newly remastered 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I could tell the difference.
That’s because this new edition does more than just reformat the original tracks. Since the original album was configured for mono rather than stereo, the mix when played in two speakers or earbuds is often awkwardly lopsided. This new version was remixed from the ground up, using the original master tapes to create a balanced sound that’s optimized for our modern stereo ways.
(Looks like #BetterTheBeatles goes beyond this blog.)
That’s what I read anyway. I wanted to listen for myself to hear just how different the mixes were. After loading up both versions, I eschewed my typical earbuds and opted for my Sennheiser headphones to go back and forth between the old and new cuts. Even my simple ears noticed a huge difference.
Play, for example, the original version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Notice the opening organ only comes through one ear. This is the version we’ve had to live with for 50 years, until now, where the notes in the remix float evenly across the soundscape.
Paul’s melodious bass lines and Ringo’s drumming are the overall winners of this remix. On top of the overall songwriting prowess, those two elements are what make Sgt. Pepper’s such an aurally rich and relistenable experience.
Would that they performed this sonic sorcery on every Beatles album!
This article comparing The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, both released in 1967, got me thinking about what one hypothetical album that combined the best of both albums would look like. So as part of my Better The Beatles project, I’ve determined a track listing for Sgt. Pepper’s Magical Mystery Tour. Thirteen tracks from both albums, shuffled into an ideal song order for your listening pleasure.
- Magical Mystery Tour
- Hello, Goodbye
- With a Little Help from My Friends
- Lovely Rita
- She’s Leaving Home
- Getting Better
- Strawberry Fields Forever
- Penny Lane
- When I’m Sixty-Four
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
- Baby You’re a Rich Man
- All You Need Is Love
- A Day in the Life
The cuts from Magical were pretty easy: “Flying,” “Blue Jay Way,” “I Am the Walrus,” and “The Fool on the Hill” are either too weird or too instrumental. “Your Mother Should Know” was the toughest goodbye.
Sgt. Pepper’s was a bit more difficult. I won’t miss “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning Good Morning”, but ditching “Within You Without You” eliminated the remaining George Harrison song, and “Fixing a Hole” is interesting but not interesting enough.
I pondered what to do about the two title tracks that bookend the album. Theoretically they provide the framework for both albums, but I figured “Magical Mystery Tour” performs the same upbeat and psychedelic invitation that the first “Sgt. Pepper’s” track does, so that allowed me to ditch both songs and let the album name do the storytelling.