After re-issuing studio albums over the past few years, Paul McCartney recently completing his ‘Got Back’ tour in Australia, and The Beatles officially releasing their already ranked number one final single ‘Now And Then’ last week, the band have now reissued their Red and Blue albums as 2023 editions. A masterclass in stereo mixing and arrangement, this reissue adds textures and exposes nuances from multi-track recordings that will sure leave fans critical of whether the original or the remixed version was sonically better. One thing we can all agree on, is that with the addition of the final Beatles song, we have a truly complete anthology that spans the fab four’s career.
The Beatles 1962-1966 (2023 Edition) also known as the red album, celebrates the very beginning of this musical enigma, highlighting the songs that launched the band into the stratosphere and beyond. Love songs abound, effervescent rhythms, bright sounding guitars and cherry group vocals characterise the early years for the Beatles. Somehow the band managed to capture the essence of the swinging sixties, songs that were short and sweet, straight to the point and held an unknowable energy that can’t really be compared with another era. Almost all the tracks on this album are newly mixed in 2023, seeing as they haven’t had any special aural enhancement since a remastering in 2009. This is great, as every track has a new life to it. Most importantly, this album should be listened to through headphones or a set of speakers, in order to gain an authentic experience which will leave you appreciating all the details.
Distinction between each member’s contribution is welcomed and gives these oftentimes mono recordings an edge. It feels as if the levels have been equalised well, with modern mixing capability, allowing for all key instruments to be given a raised profile compared to the originals, which did leave some elements feeling washed out. The recording technology in the early sixties had limitations, but justly so, some purists might still prefer the originals. Giles Martin, a producer on this reissue, is aware of this critique, but overall, he’s reported to be very pleased with what they have managed to do with these old recordings. As the son of famed Beatles producer George Martin, Giles is particularly proud of the new life that has been brought to the red album. He is most proud of the power from Ringo’s drumming that has been released through these fresh mixes. It is very much like The Beatles to be using modern technology where possible, and so it is likely that past members Harrison and Lennon, would likely have enjoyed the opportunity to hear their music in a new light. By no means does this reissue dismiss the magic of the originals, it takes care to politely exhibit the talent all four members had in creating something timeless.
Changes are present with the first single from the band, and the first song in the track listing, ‘Love Me Do’ presents the version with Starr on the drums this time, as opposed to Andy White who featured on the previous edition of the compilation. This version with Starr previously only featured on the original single UK pressing in 1962! Of course, the song gets a fresh mix for 2023, and it stands out with the harmonica sounding extra punchy.
And with the third song in the line-up, we are treated to an addition of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, and it’s a wonder it was left off the original compilation, given its pinnacle early Beatles status. With left and right channel distinction we get such a rewarding listen, the vocals are given greater licence over the centre alignment, which feels like they have more energy, and more cheek than the original recording. There is a real harmless innocence so believable in the delivery. The hand claps are crisp in the right ear, it’s such a fun song, and you can’t help but want to join in the boogie. Another addition to the red album is ‘Twist And Shout’. This newly mixed version strikes hard, as John’s rearing vocals have more impact with equalisation, giving it more breadth. The drums are centre to this hard-hitting song, and its thankful for the new mix, which raises the presence of the toms and bass drum on the left channel and leaves some room for the prancing cymbals in the centre during the riff.
A notable addition is ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, which pays homage to another golden age artist, Chuck Berry, who originally wrote and performed the song. The separation of the rhythm section, with the vocals allow for this nice dynamic of the two sides meeting. This is more pronounced when the solo guitar slides in, giving this sense of the two virtuosos meeting one another. What is nice, is that both are equal in presentation, leaving room to appreciate the nuanced tone of each. The new mix is tastefully sharper in treble too, leaning into the tendency of lower fidelity recording technology that produced the original.
Disc one of the red album is closed by ‘Yesterday’, a notable deviation into the sincere and slower ballad style performance for the band in their early days. The song sits contrastingly in the track listing as it poses such a thoughtful sharing of tender woes, compared to the majority of the first half of the compilation which features the more upbeat and happier go lucky tunes.
And although the original version of the compilation ends disc two with ‘Yellow Submarine’, which clearly signals the evolution into psychedelic music, this 2023 edition bookends the transition with notable inclusions of five of the best from Revolver. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ completes the listing of this new version of the red album, and it’s quite a contrast to the beginning. The song is characterised by some unusual soundscapes and arrangements, including reversed guitar work and the 2022 mix of the song gives some wonderful psychedelic panning effects, welcoming in the magical sounds that hallmark the blue album.
Overall, the red album boasts this more well-rounded listen, with mixing technology today allows for centre alignment as well as left and right. Many songs in this compilation receive a refreshed placement of vocals in the centre, which allows them to hold better presence throughout the listen. These decisions are of course dynamic and to some listeners will sound better or perhaps not to their liking, its personal preference at the end of the day, we are just lucky to have explorable variations at our fingertips.
The Beatles 1967-1970 (2023 Edition) is colloquially known as the blue album. Within a shorter chronicled period than that of the red album, this compilation albums features all the songs that hallmark the Beatles as pure innovators. It highlights their deviation into the weird and wonderful, as well as doubling down on their stylistic origins and tropes. What amazes me is the breadth that this compilation album exposes. Listening back to studio albums in isolation provides a coherent listen, whereas with a collection such as the blue album, we gain this new perspective on the range that band held. The album features new 2023 mixes for a handful of tracks, new additions, as well as versions of songs that have recently been remixed and released under anniversary editions of original titles.
One of the highlights must be ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, which presents a 2021 mix that places the listener at the centre of Ringo’s drumkit, making anyone feel as if they are right in the middle of the performance. Billy Preston’s keyboard contributions on this track are given freedom of expression upon the left channel and nails the expression of pure consciousness that song represents. Soon after, ‘Old Brown Shoe’ receives a fresh mix on this edition of the compilation. George’s vocals are crisper, and Paul’s bass is slinky with its rolling licks. Overall, this leads to a renewed appreciation for this song, that was not included on any studio album recordings, it is a great spotlight. Speaking of freshly mixed versions, ‘I Am The Walrus’ is also newly presented, and it boasts such clarity in the classical string inclusions and the numerous eclectic sound bites. The coda is a true psychedelic auditory experience. The outro presents so many details and interesting sound layers, which renders its imaginary visual capability, boundless. This cannot be missed, it’s such a treat.
‘Oh! Darling’ is another addition to this new issue of the blue album, and boy what a Paul McCartney staple this one is. A 2019 mix from the Abbey Road: 50th Anniversary Edition is used, and it spotlights Paul’s vocal ability, to hit the screeching hard hitting high notes. Not to mention, this song is just such an ear worm. This issue also includes The Beatles’ longest ever cut, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, again sporting a 2019 mix from the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road. This version enables us to appreciate the two guitar tracks, and the ensemble they play off each other. This is a striking inclusion at its shear runtime of almost eight minutes, we can only hope that for some, this will be a welcome discovery. It is one of the hardest hitting progressive songs that just doesn’t give in with its immortal bass line from McCartney, a hypnotically dark persuasive force – something well beyond its time.
George Harrison gets more love on this compilation issue, with inclusion of his mind-bending commentary on philosophy of the ego, with ‘I Me Mine’, for which has received explanation from the man himself historically, yet it still perplexes audiences. This rocky number has had a resurfaced awareness around it following Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary film, giving context to the song’s origin as an ‘out of the back pocket’ number to launch George back into the band given a intentional absence. The song has a noble spot near the end of the compilation, with ‘The Long And Winding Road’ depicting the journey we have been on, and leading to our closer ‘Now And Then’, as the final offering from the fab four. ‘Now And Then’ stands out as a poignant number with its nostalgic and sentimental vibe. It ties up the Beatles’ story well, but leaves it hanging too, letting us know we can always come back to appreciate more…
A perceived luxury with the Beatles’ catalogue, is that it was presented during the evolution of stereo sound as mono playback became the standard of old, which allows us to appreciate some of their music from two perspectives. This unique option is a personal choice to make at the end of the day, but to have grown up in an era where stereo is the norm, having comparison ability enables us to appreciate the innovations made. Details previously hidden among layers of sound are unearthed in this 2023 edition of this musical journey, which reaffirms its timeless nature. These compilations keep it simple, by ordering songs chronologically. This decision allows the listener to audibly witness the evolution of the band, hearing their output mature and result in classic hit after classic hit. It’s a statement of their influence on human culture, documenting a story that will be revisited time and time again. Their accessibility is larger than ever with this release, and the music simply spans generations.