Last Friday morning I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sound better than ever. That might not seem possible, but to celebrate the iconic album's 50th anniversary on June 1, a brand new version of the album will be released.
Giles Martin, son of the late Beatles producer George Martin, and engineer Sam Okell went back to the original tapes in order to create new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes for the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Anniversary Edition."
Lots of classic albums are remastered, but few are remixed from the ground up, so the press eagerly gathered at the World of McIntosh townhouse in ultra-hip SoHo in New York to get a preview of the "Sgt. Pepper's" reboot.
We weren't sure what to expect: Messing with an album of the stature of "Sgt. Pepper's" was a daunting task for Martin and Okell, but Martin had previous experience remixing tracks for The Beatles' "Love" -- a soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil stage show back in 2006. For that project both Giles and his father George went back to the original premixed four-track masters and had a free hand creating totally new sounds from the tapes.
For this new stereo "Sgt. Pepper's," Giles Martin wanted to remain faithful to the balances of the original mono version of the album, because as he explained, the four Beatles were present for the mono mix sessions, but absent from the stereo mix sessions in 1967, when mono was the top priority and stereo wasn't that big a deal.
One not so obvious difference between the original mono and stereo "Sgt. Pepper's" is the way the Beatles purposely altered the tape speeds for separate elements of different tunes for creative effect, which wasn't done for the 1967 stereo mixes. So Martin set out to make the new stereo mixes match the speeds of the mono mixes. He said John Lennon frequently told his producer to "screw up my voice," so it would sound different from one song to the next. The Beatles were always trying to make new sounds.
Martin and Okell also selected choice, early takes from over 400 hours of the "Sgt. Pepper's" studio sessions, so fans can now hear 34 previously unreleased recordings of the Beatles at work.
Martin also mentioned that over the months he spent working on the project there were times when he heard the music coming from the monitor speakers and felt like the Beatles were back at London's Abbey Road studios playing live. Even for a guy who grew up as close to the Beatles as Giles Martin, it was still a thrill to hear their music that way.
After a short introduction, Martin played the entire remixed album from start to finish, and it was such an incredibly moving experience. Only one out of around 80 people in the room checked his phone! The rest of us were under the spell of "Sgt. Pepper's" because the Beatles' music never felt more completely present and alive as it was that Friday morning.
The very first song, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" rocked harder than ever before. Ringo's vocals on "With a Little Help from My Friends" made everyone smile and John Lennon's trippy "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," with Paul McCartney's brilliant bass playing, energized the room. When the album concluded with the astonishing orchestral climax from "A Day in the Life" we all sat there in silence. No one moved, we were in awe. I relished every minute of the album's 38-minute running time.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released on June 1, 1967 and went on to be the No. 1 selling album for 27 weeks on the British charts; in the US, the album held the No. 1 spot for 15 weeks.
The new "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Anniversary Edition" will be released on LP, CD, DVD and high-resolution audio Blu-ray (including full surround Dolby Atmos) on May 26, 2017. I'll review it here on the Audiophiliac.
Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.
Technically Literate: Original works of short fiction with unique perspectives on tech, exclusively on CNET.