Images of a beauty queen from University of North Carolina's Yackety Yack annual, 1901
I've been experiencing this cognitive dissonance for a while - it comes from the fact that I've been listening to the Beatles remasters constantly since they came out, but I haven't written anything about them here (I kind of think of Wires and Waves as an online "journal" of my listening habits). I've enjoyed the mono versions of the albums a lot and wanted to say something about them, but I don't want to write a long spiel about how I grew up listening to everything in stereo, so I even love the "terrible" stereo mixes of the early Beatles albums. So I think I'll write about Mono Masters, the only truly new release of all the recent Beatles remasters. And it may be my favorite Beatles release ever.
Intended to be a companion to the stereo Past Masters collection of Beatles singles, Mono Masters compiles the mono versions of those singles for the first time on CD (I think). Obviously, the first disc is a big improvement, because the stereo mixes of those early Beatles singles were not great, pushing all the vocals to one channel for a lopsided listening experience. I was more surprised by the second disc, though - Disc 2 of Past Masters has long been a favorite, primarily because of the first three singles on it, "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out", "Paperback Writer"/"Rain", and "Lady Madonna"/"The Inner Light". Mono Masters gives you those great singles as they were heard on the radio when they first came out (they sound really good!), and then it trims off a single that I've never really liked much, "The Ballad of John and Yoko"/"Old Brown Shoe". There was never a mono mix of that single, but it's no big loss.
The cool thing is that Mono Masters replaces that single with the tracks from the lost Yellow Submarine EP, previously unheard mono versions of "Only a Northern Song", "All Together Now", "Hey Bulldog", and "It's All Too Much". I know that not everyone loves those songs as much as I do, but they sound better here than they did on the "remixed" soundtrack album from a few years ago. Combined with the '65-'68 non-album singles I love so much, these tracks make the second disc of Mono Masters one of the most varied and non-linear collections of Beatles songs outside the White Album.
It's still got the single version of "Hey Jude", which I don't love, and "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" is what it is, but I find myself coming back to this disc again and again. It know it's kind of silly - anyone could make a Beatles mix with these songs, but these mono mixes sound really good, and the alchemy of this new sequence just makes it better. I hope that Mono Masters becomes generally available at some point, because this should be accessible to those who don't want to spring for the Beatles Mono Box. Here's the mono mix of "Only a Northern Song", which has a dense, forceful feel to it that I never got from the stereo version, and the trumpet sounds really bright and immediate. Highly recommended.
"Only a Northern Song (Mono)" by the Beatles