Friday, September 11, 2009

Review: The Beatles In Mono Box Set

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the actual Beatles music, the real reason anyone cared about my opinion this week. To put it into perspective: Like any honest music fan, I consider the Beatles to be one of the most important rock bands to ever come down the pike. But I’m not an obsessive by any stretch of the imagination. I have no idea how the “mono single mix” of “Help!” differs from the “stereo album version,” for instance. (Apparently, John sings a different word in one spot. Yes, I looked it up.) I never heard the original vinyl releases, so I have no ties—nostalgic or other—to the way these albums were “supposed” to sound. Heck, I don’t even own all the 1987 CDs… though I do have all the “essentials” (Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, and so on).

To be bluntly honest, I made my decision to buy The Beatles In Mono box set—as opposed to the stereo set—for one very simple reason: Availability. There are no plans to cease production on the stereo box, or any of the individual (also stereo) discs, whereas The Beatles In Mono is extremely limited. (We’re talking $350 on eBay limited.) And there is no way to buy any of the single albums in mono, either: You want that original sound, you cough up the big modern bucks. I hope EMI realizes the error of their ways and eventually makes these versions easily available—not because I want to devalue my set, but because of the blunt, nostalgia-free honesty of the following statement:

The Beatles In Mono is the definitive way to hear The Beatles. Case closed.

And I’m not even talking about the early albums, obviously mixed for mono all along. Classics like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sound more alive, more vibrant, more in your face in these mono renditions. It’s not just the stellar remastering job, although I can’t praise it enough: Crystal-clear harmonies, deep bass, the heavy “thunk” of drums, all with albums recorded on 2- and 4-track machines over 40 years ago. You can hear the same improvements in stereo as well, but the extreme spacing so common in the Sixties—vocals on one side, drums on the other—does the music no favors when heard through modern ears.

No such problems with mono. “Yesterday,” a chestnut bordering on cliché, suddenly sounds revolutionary, like Paul is singing two feet away from you. When the drums enter on “Ticket To Ride,” they now hit like a freight train. “Revolution” is nasty and raw, “Got To Get You Into My Life” wonderfully funky, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” even more trippy… You get the idea.

Throw in the amazing packaging—mini-album replicas complete with the original packaging, right down to Sgt. Pepper’s cutouts, White Album photos, and replicas of the paper sleeves—and you have a box set bordering on a work of art. Does it live up to the months of hype and speculation? You bet. Does it exceed expectations? Shockingly, it just might.

The Beatles. Never bet against ‘em.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

15 Minutes Of Fame (Part 2)

As promised, the link above lets you watch all the segments from both days on FOX News Rising, ending with perhaps the most ridiculous version of "A Hard Day's Night" ever broadcast to actual television sets. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Beatlemania All Over Again, Or My 15 Minutes Of (Local) Fame...

God bless the Beatles. Or, more precisely, God bless the Beatles' promotional staff.

Not a month goes by without some artist re-mastering and re-releasing his (or her) back catalog. It's a fact of life in the ever-dwindling CD market. In fact, Neil Young just unveiled a twenty-years-in-the-making box set ($300 for the BluRay version!) this summer. It was big news within the usual music magazines and blogs. Everywhere else, not so much.

But when it's THE BEATLES doing the ol' back catalog re-release, people pay attention. Not that I am complaining in the least. By setting aside a unique date (9.09.09) and dropping the "Beatles Rock Band" video game on the same day, the good folks at AppleCorps managed to create a true event... something that rarely happens in the music world anymore without tragedy being involved. (See my June blog immediately below.)

The immediate, (semi-) selfish ramifications of this full-out marketing blitz? For the first time in a long time, the media was interested in good ol' fashioned music stores again. Specifically, the local media in Charlotte, NC gave a lot of great press to the store I've worked at for over ten years, Manifest Discs, a fantastic indie record store that is very much alive and kicking. And it was especially gratifying to field phone calls from newspapers or let camera crews roam the stores, because they were just pointing out what we already know: People still love music, and people still BUY music. Thanks to the Beatles for reminding us, once again!

Links to the local features running today are listed below. I also appeared on the local morning show FOX News Rising in a "Beatles round table" discussion... wonderful group of folks there. No video link online, but I recorded the segment and will try to upload it in the next couple days.

Charlotte Observer article
(This appeared on page 2A of the 9.09.09 paper! Lovely shot of Kyle. Not staged at all!)

WBTV story and news segment
(A nice segment highlighting our store and our customers. Unfortunately, out of my 15 minutes of interview footage, they used about 5 seconds where I look like I'm having a seizure. Can't win 'em all!)