The Beatles

Eight days a Week (RL246)

Merlin and John talk about the Hulu-exclusive Beatles-documentary "Eight days a Week" made by Ron Howard. In order to watch it legally, you have to download the app and after your 30 days free trial, they will suck $15 a month out of your life for the rest of your life. John found a place to watch it for free with Japanese subtitles but about halfway through it suddenly stopped and after refreshing the page it was gone. John was literally watching a pirated movie while it is taken down. It is like the light from another sun: When it reaches you, the sun is already dead. You think there can be no news about The Beatles under the sun. There is no new footage and you heard it all before. The more wonderful is it when you discover that there is more great Beatles stuff! All this live footage with cleaned up audio that lets you hear how great they were live. You can feel the melancholy. Merlin also read the book "Beatles '66" about the topic. They continue to talk about the documentary for some time. 20 years after WWII, the phenomenon of The Beatles was something above and beyond what anybody had ever seen. To hear people talk who grew up pre-Beatles, trying to make sense of it was so fascinating. There were tons of popular bands and nobody understood how long this is going to go on.

Sgt. Peppers remix (RL247)

A week later, John and Merlin talk in depth about the new remix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and how it sounds compared to the original.

The bigger question is whether or not you should remix Sgt Pepper at all? The involvement of Geroge Martin and his son Giles makes a huge difference! If Danger Mouse had gotten hold of the original tracks and remixed Sgt Pepper, John is not sure what he would be thinking and saying. Love was the trial run for Giles helping his dad putting together this mashup album. John has always been astonished by the parts he has heard out in the wild, but when he realized it was Love, he didn't want to listen to it anymore, similar to a 6-year old who finds a piece of parsley in their food. George Martin touched this with his finger on his way out the door and gave it his blessing, so it is within the larger canon. This is the last thing that can be given that imprimatur. It was the 50th anniversary of the album and Giles got the original tracks to the extend possible and wanted to reconstruct it mainly for sound quality, making it still the version you are familiar with, but in a well-sounding stereo mix, bringing out sounds that you could not hear in various versions of the past.

John was comparing this latest mix to the original stereo arrangement and they are markedly different listening experiences. The stereo mixes of the time were all bad, because everybody focused on the mono recordings and left it to a skeleton crew as an afterthought. They didn't know how to mix back then and how to pan the different tracks into the right and left headphones. Nowadays it is understood that the drums, the bass and the lead vocals are in the middle and all the other stuff, like the pianos, the reverb, the backing vocals, the guitars, the strings, are panned around the sphere. You don't want to mix an entire drum kit hard left. What made those mixes terrible is that they hard-panned a lot of the instruments and they did a different thing for every song. How did that pass the sniff test even in the early days of stereo? With headphones on it is not fun to listen to, but they were not mixing in headphones back in the day.

At the end of the song "A Day in the life", there is this enormous piano chord. It is easy to picture them in the studio, three to a bench at a grand piano, trying to be really quiet while letting this chord sound and then you can hear the chair squeak. As they were remixing the new version, they would absolutely make sure it was still there, because it scratches that itch for all of us. Who's butt was it? Ringo's butt? George's butt? John bets it was Paul. In the days of 4- and 8-track recording, if you left a mistake in, then you didn't have options later on and that is part of the sound that we love about old records. Today we can monkey with the waveform however we want.

It is clear that something in Paul wanted to write musical style songs for his mom and people of all ages from 9 to 90. They are not dark, but fun and old-timey instead. John Lennon must have felt a resentfulness against those songs, thinking of himself as an avant-garde artist. If they had put Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever on the album, it would be a much better record, but even now it is considered the best record of all times. They didn't put those songs on because they thought that releasing singles off of an album would be cheating. Most of the percussion sounds on the album are mouth sounds, some of the sounds were created by tapping the mic with a finger. You can hear that even in the original mix, but John had never noticed until he listened to the remix and couldn't believe he never did! The remix sounds 100 times better, but is a completely different listening experience. We listen to music differently now and we couldn't listen to the original mix in our contemporary way anymore, it was just unintelligible. With the remix it has been made to conform to the way we hear music now. It has been made for two groups of people:

  1. Everybody! All the people who never heard it before will get a chance to hear it now. It was Top 5 in the charts shortly after it came out!
  2. Beatles historians like Merlin and John who will talk for two hours what pick Paul McCartney used.

When John lived with his dad in Anchorage, he discovered some 8-track tapes hidden among the Count Basie tapes: Revolver, The Jackson 5, and Bridge over Troubled Water. He collected them and put them in his dad's car which had an 8-track player. John's friend had a record store that was capable of recording 8-track mix tapes, so they were making mix tapes for his dad with all this Glenn Miller stuff. This means that Revolver was John's first and only Beatles record for a long time until he got the blue album and then the red album (in backwards order). Revolver is burned into his young emotions so powerfully that he can't separate it from being 10.

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