Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Beatles (the White Album) Pt. 1

I recall when the “White Album” first was released on vinyl in 1968. It hit the stores on November 22nd, a date that lives in infamy in American history. It was a clear,cold early Winter morning and I decided I must get the record on opening day, so-to-speak. So I walked from my house to Florissant Records. I believe it was approximately a mile from my parents house and got my first copy of The Beatles, aka The White Album on vinyl. The recording was unique; the record label was very unique; the packaging was unique.

As mentioned in my Abbey Road review, I bought the first issue CDs when they came out in 1987. ‘And I loved them.’ Like Abbey Road, the new remastered White Album has an overall sound that is better than the first CDs. Unlike Abbey Road, there are certain songs that almost sound totally new on this CD set. And the packaging is superb, including the use of the B-side label on disc two and the more recognizable Granny Smith green apple on disc one’s label. That is still one of the coolest labels ever made. You would expect that from The Beatles.

I’m not going to spend time with each and every song. After all, there are 30 tracks on this two disc set; and even the not-so-good stuff sounds good on the remastered issue. What I will do is talk about some specific tracks that as stated above, almost sound totally new.

The White Album has more stuff going on behind the music than any other Beatles record, including Sgt. Pepper; well, the new CD set brings those little things to the front. This is another “listen with the headset on” CDs. And when you listen, listen to everything. ‘Don’t pass tracks by.’

Side one starts with the plane landing in Russia on Paul’s Beach Boy inspired Back in the U.S.S.R. We hear it all loud and clear as a bell. The piano on the opener rings across the roar of the jet engine. Hand clapping, background vocals, enhanced bass guitar and the lead guitar blast across your ears like a rocket. Then track one fades out and John’s Dear Prudence fades in as it always has; but this time it’s clear, crisp and downright haunting. Listen to all the sounds and that guitar work and those backing vocals. Outstanding stuff. Glass Onion is next sounding like a reborn piece of art. Hear that flute on the last verse. And then it’s Polka time as Paul gives us the classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; listen to that “banging on the piano,” and all the hand clapping and the voices in the background. “Swing your partner round and round” and sing, sing, sing along.

Now please don’t overlook a thing on these CDs, including Wild Honey Pie; you hear it in a refreshingly new way along with The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill. I used to play that one at parties. “All the children sing.”

The next two songs continue with an underlying theme of haunting sounds that are peppered throughout this collection. At least I’ve always thought they were haunting tunes.

George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a masterpiece of recording excellence; much thanks to Eric Clapton for that lead guitar that now pierces the ears over all the other instruments. The organ, the castanets, bass and drums blend with the harmonies. Then there’s John’s VERY haunting Happiness Is a Warm Gun that never sounded better then on this new collection. Listen to yet another ear piercing guitar lead after the first movement of the song. Tell me that’s not spooky sounding.

What was side two on vinyl is the second part of disc one. Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, and Blackbird sound so good they must be heard to understand what I’m talking about.

The next two songs deserve a little more here. Piggies is another of those born again tracks I’ve been eluding to here. It sounds brand new here. The harpsichord chimes out and the acoustic guitar can be heard plain as day along with the strings and tambourine. I love the ending on this one. Sounds great; sounds better then great. Now on Rocky Racoon, it is my opinion that Paul’s A string on his acoustic guitar is slightly out of tune. But it still sounds clear along with the harmonica, honky-tonk piano, and everything else that’s heard on this one.

The next two songs continue with this little silliness going on. Ringo sings about his lady friend who lost her hair in Don’t Pass Me By and Paul asks the musical question Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? Well, why don’t we?

Disc one finishes with Paul’s tribute to Don and Phil Everly, I Will; and it sure sounds good on this new remastered set. Then it’s back to that haunting theme with Julia, an most underrated gem from John Lennon.

That’s it for disc one. Disc two is coming up in the next installment; so stay tuned right here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seeing might be believing

Following up on the Abbey Road remastered CD review, here is a comparison picture of the actual wave file of Come Together from the original 1987 CD release, and the new remastered version. These files are unaltered. You can see the difference as well as hear it on the CD.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Saving the Best for First Pt. 2

We turn the old record over, if we had the old record, and get onf of the most classic album sides of all time, all crisp, clear and sounding better than we’ve ever heard it sound. I think these songs speak for themselves so I’ll talk about some of the neat parts about the side.

I must have listened to Here Comes The Sun over a thousand times in the past 40 years; now when I listen, I really hear the song. The acoustic guitar, bass, drums and that mellatron really come out. George’s vocals ring out over the music. One thing that stands out is the separation of the lead vocal and the background vocals. All the instrument layering is brought to life anew now.

Because and it’s multi track vocals are outstanding. As I’ve said over and over already, it all sounds so crisp and new. I love the synth flute at the end, always have loved it.

Now we get to the part of the CD where you have to take these next songs as one unit. When You Never Give Me Your Money starts, you hear a much sharper sounding guitar over Paul’s piano; then, the rest of the stuff all falls into line, as it always has. The guitar under Paul’s vocals, “Oh that magic feeling,” resonates like never before, as it does going into the last part of the song. Then the vocals fade out and we get the clear sounds of night, the clanging ship’s bell, then the crickets come in and listen for the talking. And then we get the Sun King and it’s panning guitar from left to right and Oh those Beach Boys’ like vocal harmonies.

Then Mean Mister Mustard, with the piano, tambourine, overdrive bass and vocals and then POW! Polyphene Pam blasts over the speaker. Listen for the break after the first verse and the little guitar riff that may have gone unheard before. I hear a woodblock during the guitar solo and some background chatter, probably somebody counting; I never heard that before. Then Paul takes over with She Came Into The Bathroom Window. Listen to the acoustic guitar; you might have paid attention to it before, but you will now. How ‘bout Ringo on the tom toms. Loud and clear.

Golden Slumbers sounds fabulous. When Paul’s voice cracks when he sings, “Smile awaits you when you rise,” we really hear it now. Then we Carry That Weight and it really carries through with all those sounds. I get lost in this stuff. And then, it’s The End and does it end with a bang. Ringo’s legendary drum break, and John, Paul, and George, each with their guitar solos ripping through your head as you listen, over a continuing drumbeat. Then the boys sing their famous, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Maybe they did know it was the end for the Beatles as a group.

Oh, don’t forget Her Majesty. We better not forget Her Majesty.

And one more thing about the new CDs is the packaging. It’s as outstanding as the discs. There’s lots of pictures and even a little video you can watch on your computer. Simply marvelous.

I recommend getting the new CDs, especially if you’re a die-hard Beatles fan.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saving the Best for First PtI'' 1

I'm going to talk about the new remastered Abbey Road CD in two parts.

The Beatles remastered Abbey Road is great, from it’s packaging to the famous Apple label on the CD itself, to it’s sound; it’s great.

I knew when I bought the remastered Abbey Road that it was going to be the best of the bunch as for as overall
sound quality. Well, I was correct.

The first thing I noticed is the enhancement of Paul’s bass throughout the album. It’s a lot better than the first CD reissue from back in 1987. I should point out I thought the original CD releases of the Beatles material was great; and I still think so, especially the mono issues which I will discuss later. That being said, the remasters are even better.

Come Together does just that; it comes together, from the opening salvo when John says “shout, to the drum roll, to the guitars, to John’s once-echo vocals and everything in between.
The guitars sound bright and ring through during the whole track. The sound of Ringo’s snare drum punches through and then the electric piano break comes through will brilliance. The lead guitar at the end of the song rings out over all the other instruments. What an opening number.

Then we get George Harrison’s masterpiece, Something, with the same overall sound as the opener but with the addition of the organ, symbols, and mellatron. Outstanding to say the least. The harmony is clear, the guitar solo sounds better than ever. Ringo’s drums ring over all the layered sounds. And as I said, that organ just sounds brilliant.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer has always been one of my favorite Paul McCartney songs; I’m pleased with how it sounds on the new CD. The clanging anvil on the chorus, the mellatron again all throughout the
song, the piano, and Paul’s vocals all ring out. Oh yeah, there’s that enhanced bass sound again. Great!

I should point out that Abbey Road utilizes a lot of panning instruments and vocals that sound even better through headphones. I remember when I was younger listening to this album, laying down on the floor, taking the stereo speakers and putting them on either side of my head, so I could hear all the neat recording techniques. Well, they really bellow out on the new CD.

Oh Darling is outstanding as well. I dig those background vocals, the constant guitar strum and Ringo’s drumming. Wowsers! All of it is crisp and clear like you’ve never heard it on the new disc.

Next we go under the sea with Ringo and Octopuses Garden with it’s great guitar intro and the panning underwater sounding vocals on the instrumental break. Put on your swim fins and you won’t be disappointed with this goodie.

Finishing up what was side one on the old record is I Want You (She’s So Heavy) which is the biggest surprise for me on this CD. I’d never been a major fan of John’s Rock & Blues ditty but this remastered gem has changed that. The crisp sound of the guitar, organ, bass and drums, underneath John’s screeching vocals really comes across on the new CD. I make special note of the organ and the instrumental interlude between verses. Sounds like I’m right there at Abbey Road with the boys. The song ends with it’s famous guitar riffs and the crescendo of sounds building up and coming to a sudden stop at the end, and I do mean sudden. You hear things you may not have heard before; sounds like a windstorm or something that keeps going until the end.

I'm Back

Well, it's been all summer plus since my last post. I plan to make up for that in the next few days so stay tuned.

With the release of the Beatles remastered CDs, it’s time for me to talk about what we’re hearing on these CDs. Yes the vocals are brighter; there’s definitely more bass, especially with the earlier albums.

There’s always those little things going on in the background that you swore you’ve never heard before. But wait a minute. Those sounds were there on the older CDs, and even on the vinyl.

I remember back in the 80s when I bought a CD from ACE of England called “Dion Hits.” At the time, it was the absolute best sounding collection of Dion’s Laurie recordings. The folks who do the remastering at ACE always do a good job to this day. One track, “Runaround Sue,” stuck out. I heard the drummer hit one drumstick with the other during one of his fills. I knew the sound the sticks made because I had played drums myself and often hit the sticks together in that fashion. After convincing myself that I’d not heard that sound on any other copy of “Runaround Sue” that I had on vinyl, I went back and listened to one of the particularly bad recordings and low and behold, the sound of the drumsticks hitting each other was there. I just never noticed until that CD.

Yes I know there have been some very bad, some criminally bad mixes of songs over the years in the Rock & Roll era. However, with the advent of the digital age, which began with the first CDs in the 80s, there have been some masterful remastered, remixed, recordings.

These CDs sound great. But are they really better then the first generation of Beatles CDs that came out in 1987; only time will tell.

Coming up: Abbey Road