When it comes to the question of mono vs. stereo, I come down squarely on the side of the former. This is especially true as it relates to the Beatles, who mixed their albums in mono. They were so unconcerned with the stereo mixes that EMI engineers created the mixes after the band had left the studio. The 2009 release of the mono and stereo remasters sealed the deal for me. The mono was, at least to these ears, still superior.
Now a new generation of EMI engineers have taken those stereo remasters and tweaked them for a vinyl release. For review purposes I requested a copy of Abbey Road, which I thought was the best sounding of the 2009 remasters. Since it was in stereo, I didn’t approach it with as much interest as I will next year when the mono vinyl remasters are released.
I knew the album was going to sound great. The engineers labor over these things to get every detail right. I read somewhere that they went through the albums lowering the volume of nearly every “s” sound they came across in the vocals because those tend to distort on vinyl. That’s dedication.
Despite my expectations, I was still not prepared for sonic beauty of the enterprise. If not as revelatory as the 2009 remasters, just the fact that it’s on vinyl instead of CD puts it miles ahead. I remember listening to Abbey Road when it was released in 1969, and in my memory this is how it sounded, only better.
I’ve always listened to George Harrison’s guitar parts, but I’ve never heard them quite this clearly. You can almost feel his fingers bending the strings on “Come Together,” and his acoustic guitar work shimmers with a new clarity on “Here Comes the Sun.” The always under appreciated Ringo Starr shines anew with his perfectly subtle, crisp drumming.
And in the end, Abbey Road is, was, and always will be about the brilliant medley that closes the album. It begins with “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and you feel like you’re sitting in the room as it’s being recorded. The languorous vocal harmonies of “Sun King” appeal with a newfound vibrancy. In fact, the vocals throughout the album sound more up close and personal than ever before, aided by the warmth that comes naturally to the vinyl format.
And then it’s time for “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End” to close the medley. If you’re of a certain age, this trio of songs will never fail to move you in a profound way. They are a touchstone of their era. From the first piano chords to the final drum fill, this perfect grouping of songs has been given a sonic treatment equal to its pedigree.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Those were the last words of the last Beatles song on the last Beatles album ever recorded, “Her Majesty” notwithstanding. Has any artist ever ended on a better note? It is the message that millions of people have carried from that day until this, and it remains the band’s enduring legacy. As long as people are willing to work to improve the sound of this final message for the ages, I’ll be listening.
Of course I don’t have the mono version to compare it to yet, but based on the quality of the stereo remaster, it’s an experience that I’m very much looking forward to.