Recording of February 2019: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition

The Beatles: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition

Apple B0028831-01 (2 LPs). 1968/2018. George Martin, orig. prod.; Geoff Emerick, orig. eng.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., remix; Sam Okell, reissue eng., remix; Miles Showell, mastering. ADA. TT: 93:27

Performance *****

Sonics *****

The Beatles, aka the “White Album,” was first released on November 22, 1968. On November 9, 2018, in honor of that event, Apple Corps Limited issued the new 50th Anniversary Edition. My comments here refer to listening to the two-LP edition of the newly remixed The Beatles, pressed for Apple by Quality Record Pressings. Also included in three other varying editions are 27 of what are now known as the Esher Demos, 50 out-takes and alternate takes, and a 5.1-channel hi-rez surround mix on BD (footnote 1).

This music was great in 1968, and it’s great now. Technology marches on, however, and that is where Giles Martin, son of original Beatles producer Sir George Martin, came in.


Giles and his team have gone beyond the usual remastering process, remixing the original multitrack audio elements. We hear something new—the music we’ve long known and loved, but in new ways. During the months of 1968 during which the Beatles were recording this album, the sessions transitioned from using four-track tape machines to some of the first eight-track decks. Those varied building blocks have all been digitized, thus reopening the possibilities of sonic manipulation.

Verdict: I love this. It sounds gorgeous. I admire Giles Martin’s taste and restraint, and the final result is innovative, daring, and brave. The faint of heart might have hesitated to tackle something so exalted—like painting an alternate version of the Mona Lisa. When The Beatles hit, I was in 10th grade. I came home from school one afternoon to find my dad lying on the floor in the living room, listening to “Revolution 9.” When it finished, he said, “Now I know what it feels like to go mad.” Rock on, Dad!

I still own that first copy of The Beatles, its cover embossed with its unique serial number (they can pry it from my . . . etc.), so I was able to directly compare the original album with the new LPs. When I heard some selections from this set on various systems at the New York Audio Show last November, I already felt some significant differences compared to my memories of the original. At home, listening through my reference system, I was able to hone in on them.

Parameters that can be altered to varying degrees in any remix include: the tone quality (or equalization, EQ) of individual tracks or the album overall, the positioning of sounds on the stereo soundstage, the relative volumes of various tracks, any additional reverberation or other special effects, and the amount of compression and/or limiting. Giles Martin has stated that one of his goals was to “decompress” The Beatles—this would extend the album’s dynamic range.

Each of you will savor and choose your own, but here are new aspects of some of these songs that jumped out at me:

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”—Giles Martin describes The Beatles as “sounding a little less hi-fi” than its predecessors in the Beatles catalog. The sound of the tack piano in this song seemed rather strident and jangly to me on the original album. Now it’s gentled and lightened, and I think sits better in the mix.

“Julia”—The Beatles 2018 strikes me as particularly outstanding in terms of the quality of the vocals—with increased detail and somewhat come clearer diction without greater harshness. “Julia” is a lovely example—intimate and emotional, as if John were sitting in my listening room.

“Helter Skelter”—The Fab Four never rocked harder than on some tracks of The Beatles. The new mix of “Helter Skelter” is “sorted,” if you will—more cohesive, but with no loss of visceral impact.

“Long, Long, Long”—The heavily processed sound of the original somehow seemed to convey even more longing, coupled to that romantic, scary crescendo at the end.

“Honey Pie”—By strengthening the instrumental background tracks, the entire song becomes stronger, creating a firmer foundation for Paul’s voice. As a result, it swings more.

“Good Night”—Enhancement of the background vocal chorus, as well as improved sound for the strings. The net result is a richer flavor and emotion to Ringo’s vocal.

The Beatles is an elemental compound bonded to my personal and emotional chemistry; like Voldemort and his Horcrux, I have given a part of myself to it. It is a fine gift, 50 years on, to still receive the musical energy and life force that George, John, Paul, and Ringo created in The Beatles. To loosely quote Friedrich Rückert: “in their heaven, in their love, in their song.”—Sasha Matson

Footnote 1: You can watch a video of Michael Fremer unboxing the 4LP “deluxe edition” here.—Ed.

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