It may seem like the remixing of Beatles music started recently, but it actually began over 20 years ago.
Although George Martin did a little bit of remixing on Rubber Soul for the 1987 CD release, it was really during the time of The Anthologies in 1995 & 1996 when the modern remixing of Beatles music started.
(I had collected the three promotional posters as each anthology was released from 1995 to 1996. If you put the posters side by side, they formed one large art piece by Klaus Voormann. I had the posters mounted together and framed, and eventually gave it to a record shop in Lincoln, NE when we moved to Eugene, OR in 2008.)
As Apple went through all the original recordings by The Beatles to find alternate versions and unreleased songs for The Anthology series, they also started manipulating those recordings. Most of these “takes” of the songs had never really been mixed before, so it had to be done for this release. I remember some fans being upset that the producers had “flown in” a guitar solo from another take to complete the anthology version of “One After 909”. “How dare they mess with what The Beatles had done!” In reality, The Anthologies were a welcome gift to Beatles fans. We were able to hear the alternate versions writer Mark Lewisohn had praised in his excellent 1988 book The Beatles Recording Sessions.
An early take of “Here There And Everywhere” was not included on The Anthologies, but was an extra cut on a CD single. The track is mostly a solo McCartney vocal, but for the final chorus of the song the beautiful background vocals were added in a stunning effect. The text said the ending was an example of how Beatles songs could be remixed (instead of just remastered) in order to improve the sound quality and stereo mix.
The first big remixing project of familiar Beatles recordings was the release of the Yellow Submarine Songtrack in 1999. This was a clever choice, because instead of remixing a well-loved album, this was a new collection of songs that had been in the movie, rather than the old soundtrack, which only had a limited number of these songs. So how did it come out? The results were, well…mixed. Some of the songs, particularly “Eleanor Rigby”, “Yellow Submarine” and “Nowhere Man” were the best-sounding versions ever. The songs from Sgt. Pepper were less successful, probably because they are more complex recordings. Overall, engineer Peter Cobbin and his staff did an admirable job on a risky project. It was well received enough to allow for future remixing.
Although it wasn’t really a remixing of a Beatles album, George Martin and his son Giles used Beatles songs in unusual mashup mixes to create a soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s Love show in 2006.
The next major project was also a collection of songs, The Beatles 1. The original release of the album was in 2000, and it’s one of the best selling albums ever. In 2015, Producer Giles Martin and Engineer Sam Okell released their remixed version. Luckily for Apple, the reviews for these new mixes were widely positive. That was encouragement to green-light more projects.
Then came the riskiest project of all…the remixing of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2017. The beloved album was painstakingly remixed by Giles Martin (with Sam Okell who works on all the remixes). It was almost unanimously praised. There’s an article dedicated to it on this site.
And now we have the new remix of The White Album. There’s a full review of it on this site, but the short review is that it sounds amazing. It seems the simpler arrangements on The White Album (in comparison to Sgt. Pepper) allowed Giles Martin to do an even more impressive remix.
Giles Martin answered the “What’s next?” question recently by saying we should take some time to enjoy The White Album while he works on a project for Elton John (the Rocketman movie).
Update: The remix release of Abbey Road was September 27th, 2019 (review on this site).
It’s obvious the albums that could benefit most from remixing are the older albums…Rubber Soul and Revolver. My guess is that after Let It Be, those two would be next…maybe going backwards through the remainder of their albums.
Update: The new Let It Be movie is now The Beatles: Get Back. There will be a new soundtrack, but it may be delayed until August of 2021, just like the movie.
No one could have predicted we’d be looking forward to new mixes of Beatles albums more than 50 years later.
Perspective: Those of us who were there at the beginning of Beatlemania learned to love their music while listening to small transistor radios and on car radios that had one low-quality speaker in the middle of the dash. If you played the new remixes through those devices (or today’s phone speakers), they would sound just like the originals.
There should be no backlash against remixes. People can always listen to their own original mixes anyway. Giles Martin has done a great job of recreating the songs the way we know them…only with better sound quality. When we listen on good audio equipment, it’s more like what The Beatles themselves heard in the studio.