The U.S. Albums
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Audio CD, Box set, January 21, 2014
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On February 7, 1964, The Beatles arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, greeted by scores of screaming, swooning fans who rushed the gate to catch a glimpse of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as they took their first steps on American soil. Two nights later, on Sunday, February 9, 73 million viewers in the U.S. and millions more in Canada tuned in to CBS to watch The Beatles make their American television debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ In what remains one of the world’s top-viewed television events of all time, The Beatles performed five songs on the live broadcast and ‘Beatlemania,’ already in full, feverish bloom in The Beatles’ native U.K., was unleashed with blissful fervor across America and around the world. The British Invasion had begun. The new 13 CD box set THE U.S. ALBUMS commemorates the 50th anniversary of these history-making events, spanning 1964’s MEET THE BEATLES! to 1970’s HEY JUDE. The Beatles’ U.S. albums differed from the band’s U.K. albums in a variety of ways, including different track lists, song mixes, album titles, and art. The box set includes the following titles: (Disc 1) MEET THE BEATLES!, (Disc 2) THE BEATLES’ SECOND ALBUM, (Disc 3) A HARD DAY’S NIGHT [ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK], (Disc 4) SOMETHING NEW, (Disc 5) THE BEATLES’ STORY, (Disc 6) BEATLES ’65, (Disc 7) THE EARLY BEATLES, (Disc 8) BEATLES VI, (Disc 9) HELP! [ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK] , (Disc 10) RUBBER SOUL, (Disc 11) YESTERDAY AND TODAY, (Disc 12) REVOLVER, (Disc 13) HEY JUDE. These albums were originally issued between 1964 and 1970 by Capitol Records, Apple Records, and United Artists in the United States. These new releases seek to replicate the unique listening experience heard by Americans at the time by preserving the sequences, timings, and artwork found on the albums. Capitol’s engineers in the 1960s took great care to produce what they believed to be the best possible sound for the playback equipment in use at that time. Due to the limitations of the record players of the day, engineers often compressed the sound by raising the volume of the softer passages and lowering the volume for the louder parts of the songs. They also reduced the bass frequencies since too much bass could cause the record to skip. In some cases, reverb was added to the tracks to make them sound more “American.” The CDs are packaged in miniature vinyl sleeves that faithfully recreate the original U.S. LP releases down to the finest detail, including the inner sleeves. 11 original U.S. albums presented in both mono and stereo. Hey Jude and The Beatles’ Story are in stereo only. A Hard Day’s Night [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack], The Beatles’ Story, Yesterday And Today, Hey Jude and the U.S. version of Revolver are presented on CD for the first time. Yesterday And Today features the original album cover of The Beatles posing with raw meat and baby dolls. The package also comes with a collectible sticker of the subsequent Yesterday And Today cover art. Also included is a 64-page booklet which includes a new essay examining the U.S. albums and their historical significance, written by American author and television executive Bill Flanagan. The box set’s dimensions are: 6 inches wide x 6 1/8 inches tall x 3 ¼ inches thick.
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Allow me to qualify myself; I am a musician and mastering engineer by profession, a life-long audiophile and a Beatle fan from the beginning (actually a little before they were really known in the US).
The set overall sounds great. No worries there, many of the unique mixes are present, and several 'firsts' on CD. It is a worthy compilation for the true fan.
But, it becomes obvious that these are not the actual 'final' Capitol mixes, especially on the earliest albums for the most part, as they are lacking the hard compression and reverb that the Capitol engineers added to make the records sound 'more American'. I have the original LP's and the Vol. 1 Capitol box, which is from those tapes.
From what I am hearing, it is perhaps fear on EMI's part of offending the sonic sensibilities of fans that fall in the category of millennials and Gen X'ers that are accustomed to more refined audio reproduction, when in fact, many in this demographic have been responsible for driving the revival of the vinyl LP, and who also revere these early Capitol efforts. Or it may be that they decided to give us a sonically superior version of those unique Capitol versions, which is a great idea, I just would have liked to have known before hand. I would still be on board to buy.
We are missing the few fake stereo mixes, being replaced with mono mixes, or actual stereo mixes. Audibly superior, but missing the point of a reissue like this. We want those crunchy, loud, reverberated chaotic environs Capitol created, as that is our first experience. This is less about audio quality and more about nostalgia.
Now, having said this, some tracks have the correct mixes, but lack the post production processes.
If you want to really hear what we heard back in 1964, I, like many others, would recommend either buying the original Capitol Box Sets, or start cruising eBay for good used copies of the original LP's.
I have a bit of an advantage because of my background as an engineer in dismantling 'mixes', and I have both a great stereo system, and a reference workstation with the ability to quickly do A-B analysis. Most of this box set doesn't sound much different than the 2009 remastered box sets at first listen.
But that's OK too.
On the plus side, we finally get A Hard Day's Night, the United Artists version, on CD, although some of the logic eludes me as to having I'll Cry Instead in both versions as mono, since the shorter version has a stereo mix. The original U/A release had only the musical score in stereo, and all of the Beatles' music were 'fake' stereo mixes from mono masters, with even more reverb. They are true stereo mixes here, with the exception of I'll Cry Instead. Love the score on this one!
The Beatles' Story for the first time ever on CD. This isn't for everybody, but is a fun piece for those of us that remember it.
Allow me to address 'fake stereo' issue, or as it has been mis-titled by the fan base for decades now, 'Duo-Phonic', (Duo-Phonic and Duo-Sonic were the names of the process for any stereo release by Capitol, in much the same way RCA had Living Stereo as a process brand, not as an indicator of fake stereo).
Most fans insist that The Beatles Second Album is entirely fake stereo. It isn't. It's mostly real stereo, but what the Capitol engineers did, with the heavy reverb and compression, and also panning the left channel slightly right, with all of it's channel bleed, it is very nearly like the (forgive the contradiction in terms) 'real' fake stereo mixes when listened to casually due to it's poor separation as a result.
Creating a stereo track from a mono source involves splitting the signal to two channels, and alter the EQ of each channel (roll off high end on one lower the bass on the other for example), add stereo reverb to give the illusion of two discrete channels. The stereo reverb gives a slight channel delay and channel bleed to enhance the effect. Love Me Do is mixed like this, for example, as is She Loves You, but not on this box set version. They are mono.
The later albums had less affectation from the Capitol guys, but were still very tightly compressed up until Sgt. Pepper's.
This is where I differ from most fans; I only bought singles until 1967 when I got my first stereo open reel deck, with the primary goal of getting all of The Beatle albums on pre-recorded reel. There was good reasoning for this, as the open reel tapes did not receive a lot of the heavy post production compression, and were just better sounding overall. Those of us that grew up with the Beatles in this medium are the smallest fan niche out there, but we also had the best representation, at the time, of The Beatles' recorded works.
My first tape was Revolver, and it was about 3 times the price of the LP, but well worth it. I only lately heard the Capitol LP of Revolver for the first time, and it was incredibly stressful to listen to (and I have a high end archivist turntable and signal chain)! While the tape had a certain amount of compression added, it was over the top on the LP! The 2009 remaster out performs either, as pure audio, but when nostalgia calls, I pull up that 47 year old reel.
My point is, the Capitol mixes are what they are, (or were) and are best experienced via the medium they were intended for; LP. The original Capitol Box sets capture this sound and vibe beautifully, but may not be for everyone, and may be stressful listening for most.
In the 60's I wanted the best quality possible in recordings by The Beatles. These are here now, in this set and the 2009 remasters.
And for those of us that really want those original mixes; do you think EMI will set us adrift when there is money to be made?
If you have the first two Capitol Box sets, just buy the titles you need to fill the gaps. But if you are a 'completist' as I am, you will want this Capitol set as well. It has more going for it than against it. Think of it as an audiophile version of the Capitol albums.
I love the packaging, the while the sound isn't exact to our first experience, the rest of it gives a tangible link to those early days via the artwork, play order and vibe.
If you have doubts, go to iTunes, and sample the tracks there before you invest, but do have a good audio system connected to your computer, particularly of you want to conduct your own A-B comparisons. For me there is enough difference to go for it.
I need to upgrade this to 5 stars. Capitol tapes were definitely used on at least a good portion of this collection, based on a discovery i made over the weekend.
I can only speak to Rubber Soul and Revolver at this point. True, they do lack the really heated and compressed sound of the LP, but are a dead match to my pre-recorded reels which are period to the original releases.
I bought the open reel versions as opposed to LP because they sound better and lack a lot of the post processing used for the lacquer master tapes. The tracks on Rubber Soul are from the 1965 original mix, for one, Capitol enhanced and a totally match to my later Ampex reel, warts and all! When I did critical A-B on Revolver, between the original Captiol tape and the new CD, the wave forms, compression levels, harmonic distortion (a small matter) were an absolute match sonically and in the software. Amazing! I need to do further analysis on the other albums, and it appears that while the sound is better than the original LP, these masters at least are from Capitol. I never thought i would hear this particular sound outside of my 47 year old tape, and the digital remaster i had done on it some years ago.
But meanwhile, I am just enjoying this set! I suggest you do the same!
A Hard Day's Night, was, at least on the orchestral score, the same as the LP. I was hoping for a bit of an improvement on these ate least, but sound about the same as the LP. I have the LP, so I already have the fake stereo mixes of The Beatles for that one (I remastered that particular LP to hi res digital sometime ago).
I have no absolute conclusion on the overall set in regards to whose tapes were used for which album or track, but I'll do more forensics as my mood and time permits, and if i find any other amazing aspects, I'll update here. I'm having a blast otherwise!
So, I now have a box set that rarely demands play. The only thing in this box that I need as a completest is the US version of the album "A Hard Day's Night" and "The Beatles' Story". The US "Hard Day's Night" features instrumental versions of the songs by the George Martin Orchestra. I could have lived without them, but George Martin is cool and it's also cool to have those. "The Beatles' Story" is an interview album that offers very little that the average Beatles fan doesn't already know. It's not important to have this, but I'm glad that I do. It's also fun to have the "Hey Jude" & "Yesterday & Today" compilations, although I could have easily burned them from my collection.
The packaging for "The U.S. Albums" is stunning, to say the least. It's also a nice touch that they used the original "butcher cover" for the album "Yesterday & Today". If you don't get "The U.S. Albums", you aren't missing much at all. If you find it used for cheap, go for it.
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