My friends know how much I love the music of the Beatles. I recently discovered something new that motivated me to write this blog post. In other blog posts, I have written about audio, both analogue and digital. I have also written about the mixing process in studio when making records as well as the mastering process for putting the mixes to vinyl which takes place in a lab.
You should also know that I am a huge fan of alternate mixes and alternate takes of Beatles songs. There was a time when somehow a lot of alternate mixes and takes of various Beatles songs hit the streets. Most of this collection appeared on the Yellow Dog label. I happen to own pretty much every alternate mix and alternate take of every Beatle song. As a result, I get to hear quite a bit of the Beatles song variations. Writing and studio recording variations and alternate takes and versions of these songs.
Recently, Apple Corps Ltd released remastered Beatles albums on compact disc. I just had to make a playlist on my iPod of songs from the alternate mixes and takes combined with the remastered released tracks (songs). The variety of sound fidelity is a carnival for the ears! While listening to this playlist on my premium Sony in car sound system, I realized something that hit me right between the ears. To explain, I must digress.
In the early days, when the Beatles made records, they recorded on a two track reel to reel analogue tape machine. They would record a rhythm track consisting of bass, drums, guitar and vocal most of the time on track one. They would then go back to listen to the rhythm track on track one and record overdubs onto track two. The overdubs would be doubled vocals, lead guitar and some of the time percussion like maracas or tambourine.
For the first couple records, this process worked great. But as the Beatles songs became more complicated, additional tracks were required to record more layers of instruments to the songs. So, Beatles producer George Martin consulted with the audio engineers employed by Apple and they came up with the process of synchronizing a second two track analogue reel to reel tape recorder adding two additional tracks for the Beatles music.
Once the first two tracks were recorded, the Beatles would record two additional tracks of music layers. While recording the second two track or tracks three and four, they would wear headphones to listen to tracks one and two and play while recording tracks three and four. Once the song was finished, the engineer would mix everything together and voila, a new Beatle record.
Then, the Beatles out grew this four track method and incorporated a recording method called ‘bouncing’ which allowed them to actually mix tracks one through three onto track four while recording another live track in the studio. Bouncing is the single most important reason the early released Beatles songs did not sound absolutely amazing. The second reason was because of the vinyl mastering process.
So when audio engineers went back into the Beatle archive to make the current remastered versions of the Beatles records, they took first generations of track one and two reel to reel tapes and laid them off in Pro Tools using a multi track format. You could say they went back to the egg. These earlier generation tapes had much higher sound quality than the mixdown mastered versions because they are originals. Listening to this remastered set of recordings back to back in a playlist is amazing. What a huge improvement in sound quality the remastered music has! Since they used the best microphones, pre amps and other recording equipment when recording their songs, these original tapes sound amazing. The engineers pieced these recordings together using first generation recordings instead of bounced and multi tracked mixdowns.
Now, I do not know for a fact that I have every detail 100% of this process accurate. What I do know is the theory is correct. Listen to the new remastered Beatles music by purchasing the CDs on Amazon. In my opinion, the CDs sound better than the downloads. You will hear what I am trying to communicate. If you have early released audio CDs or even records, compare the mixes and sound quality. It a wonderful experience.