Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Beatles Box Sets

The big day for Beatles fans is September 9 - every one of their CDs is being re-mastered, re-packaged, and re-released.

This is big news because the discs currently on the market - released in 1987 - are of relatively inferior audio quality. Anyone who has ever had to crank up the volume when listening to Abbey Road can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Of course, your old CDs aren’t magically going to spring to life - you’ll have to buy the brand new ones - with better sound, modern packaging and sadly... absolutely NO BONUS TRACKS.

Herein lies a problem.

Some will purchase these discs intelligently; upgrade a few classics like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, or perhaps splurge on the double White Album (which appears to be packaged with the poster and individual pictures of the Beatles again).

Then there are people like me - sad completists compelled to buy the entire catalog. Yes, I need to have the whole set - even Beatles For Sale and that version of Yellow Submarine with all the instrumentals on it.

This isn’t necessarily a problem. I’ve enjoyed listening to the Beatles for most of my life. I’ve been waiting for better CDs for years (the Stones and Bob Dylan got their upgrades... why not the Beatles?). I’ll gladly pay for a new set of discs.

My problem isn’t with what’s on the box set (which sells for $199 on Amazon) - it’s with what’s not on it.

Many bands (The Beach Boys and the Monkees come to mind) have taken to including the mono tracks along with the stereo ones for their CD reissues. Even the Beatles did this on their Capitol reissues. It’s a nice extra - especially for older albums that run less than 30 minutes in length.

This time around, the Beatles (or more likely EMI) are selling you the mono tracks separately.

Now let me just say that the mono tracks are not just monaural versions of the stereo tracks. In most cases, they are completely different mixes of the songs - often resulting in a unique listening experience. The White Album mix is often cited as being significantly different in mono - notable on the "Helter Skelter" track, which runs longer on the mono album.

Despite containing three less albums (Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let it Be were never released in mono), the Beatles Mono Box Set is more expensive ($239 on Amazon) - and, in a move straight out of the Walt Disney playbook, limited to just 10,000 copies. So not only do you have to pay considerably extra, but you better hurry ‘cause it’s going fast.

Now where have I heard that line before?