After waiting a year (actually years) for the remix of Rubber Soul, Apple pulls a fast one and instead releases the remixes of the Red & Blue Albums, but that turns out to be a good thing.
The Red Album (The Beatles 1962-1966) is the most interesting, because it contains 30 tracks (out of 38) that are new 2023 remixes. Previously, most of the songs were in poor quality stereo. Now, the instruments and voices have been separated and reassembled in wide-spectrum stereo. So, how do they sound?
Wow! You aren’t going to believe how much more you can hear with these wide stereo mixes! I’ve been following The Beatles closely since late 1963, and for the first time I can really hear the individual voices of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison as they sing three part harmony on these early recordings. George’s guitar leads and John’s rhythm parts ring like never before. Paul’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drumming have a new fullness. Everything sounds more real.
We always knew that the poorest sounding recordings were the early ones, because they didn’t have the number of studio tracks they needed, and instruments and voices got shoved together in an unnatural way. Partly that was because mono was king in the early portion of The Beatles’ career. These remixes are a revelation about how good those songs and voices really are. John and Paul’s lead vocals sound great, and listening to George’s vocal and guitar on “Roll Over Beethoven” reveals why that song was added.
Here are the track lists. We’ll cover more of the remixes after that. *Indicates songs not on the original 1973 release.
The last 8 tracks are from the Revolver remix released in 2022. The lack of songs from that album was the biggest flaw in 1973, and the addition of 5 songs from that album is a big improvement for the Red Album. The two-disc set has an excellent selection of tracks…no bad songs…and even more could have been added. Think of the musical progress The Beatles made in four years…from “Love Me Do” to “Tomorrow Never Knows”! By the way, many of these songs were on The Beatles 1 album that was remixed in 2015, but they are newly remixed here.
The first song, “Love Me Do”, is great to hear in stereo for the first time. It’s slightly disappointing that the version they selected is the original British single. The #1 hit version released in America has a better vocal by Paul, but it’s missing Ringo on drums (which is likely why the other version was chosen). As the individual tracks played, I put some letter grades next to many of them, and A+ got used the most. I was afraid that rockers like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist And Shout” would lose their power, but they didn’t, and Paul and John’s voices come across better than ever.
As the songs moved into Help and Rubber Soul the quality of the recordings seemed even better with more sophisticated arrangements. “Ticket To Ride”, “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” come alive, and you feel like you’re in the middle of the band. Really, except for feeling a bit of vocal or a guitar part could have been a little higher in the mix, these remixes are very impressive. (Note to Giles Martin, you’ve done a great job, but please turn up the guitar solo in the middle section of “Drive My Car” before you finish the Rubber Soul box set.)
The Blue Album (The Beatles 1967-1970) mostly has songs that have already been available in their remixed form in the 50th Anniversary releases. Only six of the tracks are newly remixed, including songs from the Magical Mystery Tour album. There are nine added songs that were not on the 1973 release. Those are indicated with *.
The six new remixes are…”I Am The Walrus”, “Fool On The Hill”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Revolution”, “Hey Bulldog”, and “Old Brown Shoe”, plus the new recording “Now And Then”.
The two biggest differences are with “I Am The Walrus” and “Magical Mystery Tour”. The audio on “Walrus” comes close to dropping out at about 2:08 with a stereo-effect transition that was less noticeable on the original version. For “Magical Mystery Tour” the introductory vocal is too buried in the mix (but the rest is good). These are actually minor variances in the two songs, but they’re noticeable because the original recordings have been imbedded in our brains. These two new remixes are sonically better than the old mixes, but with some noticeable changes. Overall, the remixed 50th Anniversary box sets have been very welcome, and the songs included here are excellent sounding. All of the previously remixed albums are reviewed individually on this site.
A few details you might be wondering about… “A Day In The Life” has the intro that doesn’t include a cross-fade from “Sgt. Pepper Reprise”. “Dear Prudence” does not cross-fade with “Back In The U.S.S.R.”. “Within You Without You” includes the laughter at the end, which might have been eliminated since it’s a song on a collection and not actually on the Sgt. Pepper album. The impressive remix of “Don’t Let Me Down” doesn’t have the studio chatter that was included with the Let It Be box set.
The vinyl versions of these two double albums are three-records-long. The first two discs have exactly the same songs as the original 1973 releases, and the third vinyl disc has the added songs for 2023. That’s twelve tracks for the Red Album, and nine for the Blue Album.
Of the 21 songs added to the 2023 sets…11 have John Lennon as the primary writer (or were sung by him), 5 have Paul McCartney as the primary writer, and 5 have George Harrison as the writer (or were sung by him).
In total, the Red Album and the Blue Album have 75 songs that represent the varied musical styles of the world’s greatest group. All of these songs, except “Now And Then”, were recorded while John, Paul, George & Ringo were in their 20’s.
There certainly can be debate about which songs should or should not be on these two albums. Rather than point out some songs that could have been omitted, here are a dozen songs that could have been included (in chronological order). “If I Fell”, “Things We Said Today”, ”I’ll Be Back”, “I’ll Follow The Sun”, “Rain”, “For No One”, “She’s Leaving Home”, “I Will”, “Julia”, “Two Of Us”, “Because”, and “Carry That Weight/The End”.
The new expanded versions of the Red and Blue albums are significantly better. Adding more songs from Revolver, a few cover songs that influenced the group, and some key songs like “Blackbird”, present a more complete picture of The Beatles.
Extra: These new versions have sold very well. In the U.K., the Blue Album went to #2, the Red Album to #3…exactly their rankings in 1973…while “Now And Then” hit #1 on the singles chart.