Sgt. Pepper’s Remix…Worth It? (updated)

On the 50th anniversary of the original release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Apple released a brand new mix.  This is not some simple remaster, they went back to the original tapes and remixed them to improve the placement of the vocals and instruments.  This process provides the best possible fidelity and clarity.

(3D cover of my Sgt. Pepper Super Deluxe box set.  The 3-D effect requires two eyes, and doesn’t show with one camera lens.)

The remixing was done over a couple of years by Giles Martin, son of the extraordinary Beatles producer George Martin.  His goal was to make a stereo version that approximated the mono mix that George Martin and the Beatles worked on for weeks, and had considered the main presentation of the album.

There’s no doubt Giles achieved the goal.  This is the best Sgt. Pepper has sounded.  It has a fullness to it, and the voices and instruments are properly centered and mixed.

But…does that mean you should buy it?

The bottom line is…the remastered CD that was done in 2009 is great, and the recordings sound exactly as you remember them.  The new mix is even better, but unless you listen to them closely through a good sound system, you might not be able to hear much difference in quality.   If you never bought the 2009 version, or simply want the best sounding version, get the remix.

Update:  Sgt. Pepper engineer Geoff Emerick, in a discussion with writer Bob Lefsetz, says that claiming the original stereo mix was rushed is “rubbish”.  Emerick says the stereo mix was discussed with The Beatles, and then a lot of time was spent “getting it just right”.  That’s the version you hear on the 2009 remaster, because remastering doesn’t alter the mix of the voices and instruments.

Update 2: Giles Martin wrote to Bob Lefsetz in response.  He said:  “I was initially against the idea.  Let’s face it, no one has ever said Sgt. Pepper sounded bad.”  But…”as Paul and Ringo told us, and my dad had mentioned in the past, something that the mono had, had been taken away by the quick stereo mix that everyone knows.”  Martin went on to mention that “no kids are going to seek out the mono, the record the band mixed.  So we made a stereo mix using the same care, attention and process that the band did 50 years ago.”  In his article, Bob Lefsetz had called it a “cash grab”.  Giles Martin responded…”I completely understand your point, but from those of us involved in the project all we are trying to do is celebrate the music.”

(George Martin and his son Giles)

The Super Deluxe version came out near my birthday, so that’s my excuse for buying it.  Here it is:

Everything is stored in a replica of a studio tape box that is deep enough to hold a 144 page hardcover book of articles and photos, three posters, plus a replica of the original album that holds 4 CD’s and 2 DVD’s.  A 3D photo sleeve slips over the replica of the tape box.

(The 4 CD covers have shots from the cover photo session.)

The extra CD’s are filled with earlier takes of songs.  This gives some insight into how the final versions developed.  But, how interested are you, and will you listen to them more than once?  You may remember that “Strawberry Fields Forever” (recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions) is made up of two different takes.  One take is slower, and the faster take has added horns, strings, and more.  You get them both.  I also really like the complete instrumental bed for “She’s Leaving Home”…strings and a harp, simply beautiful.

One DVD is Blu-ray, and the other is standard.  They contain the same videos, the 1992 documentary “The Making of Sgt. Pepper” and the classic videos of “Penny Lane”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “A Day In The Life”.  Plus, the Blu-ray audio for Sgt. Pepper is 5.1 surround sound.

“The Making of Sgt. Pepper” video is marvelous, though there’s no big improvement in video quality.  George Martin (with a little help from his friends) tells us how the album was made.  He sits at the mixing board and adjusts the volumes on voices and instruments to demonstrate various aspects of the recordings.  What a great format!  This is the basis of so many similar documentaries, such as the “Classic Albums” series.

Everything about the Super Deluxe version is first class, and even though it’s probably overpriced, it was worth it to a spoiled Beatles fan like me.

(Note:  The next remix, The White Album, came out November 9th, 2018.  You can read my review on this site.  It sounds even better!)

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