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The Beatles Vinyl Remasters: #1 Please Please Me

The Beatles / Vinyl Stereo Remasters: Please Please Me

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Given the control and protection of The Beatles ‘brand’ these days by Apple Corps, it’s incredible to think in the UK in the 1970s EMI released Beatles albums on cassette and shuffled the running order of the songs for the convenience of the format.

Incredible, but true. Please Please Me, which starts memorably with Paul’s “1,2,3,4…” count-in for I Saw Here Standing There is replaced by Misery as the first track on the first Beatles album. The tape of A Hard Day’s Night, doesn’t begin with that chiming chord, but instead starts with I Should Have Known Better. Even worse, Taxman which kicks off Revolver is pushed down to track five on the cassette and that tape starts with three tracks from side two (Good Day Sunshine, And Your Bird Can Sing and Doctor Robert). The final calamity is the butchering of Abbey Road which doesn’t start with Come Together, instead, in their wisdom, EMI put two George songs together at the beginning of side one (Here Comes The Sun leads into Something).

Please Please Me 1970s tape

1970s cassette tape – note changes in running order

This arbitrary approach to running orders on the tapes was eventually corrected in the 1980s, when new cassettes were issued, but it is a sobering to reflect on what can happen to great art when left in the hands of the ‘suits’ without any control from the artist.

EMI cannot release any Beatles music these days without the explicit approval of Apple, the company they formed way back in 1967, and although many get frustrated with the continued reissuing of the core catalogue and the relatively conservative approach to the archive (1995’s Anthology series not withstanding), 2009’s superb CD remastering campaign created a significant amount of goodwill from general fans and audiophiles alike.

Since that time, the engineers at Abbey Road (led by Sean Magee) have been working (on and off) to create vinyl versions of the remasters, utilising the 24-bit ‘unlimited’ digital versions created from the original analogue tapes (the CDs were created from the 16 bit digital files that were ‘limited’, which means effectively made a bit ‘louder’ to meet the expectations of majority that use that medium). Various challenges had to be overcome specific to vinyl including anticipating inner groove distortion – where the needle tracks the groove less effectively, affecting mid-to-high frequencies – and correctly reproducing the garbled message that repeats on the inner groove of Sgt. Pepper’s Hearts Club Band.

All the work has been completed and the 12 November saw the release the complete Beatles’ canon on remastered stereo vinyl – 14 records (including the US Magical Mystery Tour LP and the Past Masters collection). Everything is available separately or in a limited edition box set. If you think you’ll end up buying many or all over these reissues on vinyl it’s actually cheaper to buy the box than to get them separately.

The records have been pressed to heavy 180g vinyl, with the original packaging replicated, and starting today with Please Please Me, we will be looking at all 14 records over the next few weeks and reporting on how they sound, how they feel and how they look. The reports are all based on the EU versions of the vinyl.

The Beatles / Please Please Me Stereo Vinyl Remasters

Please Please Me – released 22 March 1963

The package looks great. The familiar cover shot of the boys in Manchester Square has a little more contrast that the art on the remastered CD, and is all the better for it. The layout reproduces the original stereo vinyl with Tony Barrow’s sleeve notes and his references to ‘pop picking’ and the ‘trick duet’ that is A Taste Of Honey (i.e. Paul double tracking his vocals). The anti-static inner sleeve holds thick, deep black vinyl with the famous black and gold stereo label design, familiar to those who keep an eye on ebay auctions and watch original stereo versions of Please Please Me sell for thousands of pounds (the stereo version was very rare originally).

Our record was spotless, flat and sounded distinctly better than the stereo CD of 2009. The vocals on I Saw Her Standing There have a slightly thicker, warmer tone – Paul’s extended vowels of “Seventeeeeen” and “you known what I meeeean” are less harsh on this new vinyl. John’s voice on Misery and Anna (Go To Him) similarly has a little more depth. It’s not as if anything is really ‘wrong’ with the CD, its more a case of the benefits of well pressed vinyl are clearly apparent. Paul’s bass throughout sounds good, perceptively more prominent in places. Some tracks sound almost identical to the 2009 CD – Please Please Me being a good example.

The main issue is not really the vinyl versus CD debate, but rather stereo versus mono. Please Please Me (the album) just sounds much better in mono, something that is obvious when you come to Love Me Do and particularly P.S. I Love You on the album since because the stereo masters were ‘discarded’ back in 1962, the mono versions of these songs appear on the stereo remasters of the vinyl and CD. It’s such a relief to not hear the tiring effect of the vocals panned to the right channel for a couple of songs. The mono version is available on remastered CD via the (essential) Beatles in Mono box set of 2009, but remastered mono vinyl will not appear until late 2013.

Despite the weight of history and the creative heights the band reached with future recordings, Please Please Me is still a great album in its own right. I Saw Here Standing There is a rock-solid classic, right there as track one of the first record (and the last song John Lennon would ever play to a paying audience), There’s A Place a fine underrated early Lennon-McCartney composition, with John’s mournful harmonica punctuating the perky arrangement very effectively, and the irresistible version of Baby It’s You with it’s girl-group “sha-la-la-la-la-la-la” intro. Love Me Do, sounds as limp as ever (with Ringo on tambourine, not drums) but the B-side to that single, P.S. I Love You, is fantastic with the clippety-clop rhythm and first-beat harmonies. Of course the album famously finishes with John’s rasping vocal on Twist and Shout, left deliberately to the end of the day’s recording session (during which most of the album was completed) because George Martin knew his voice would be shot afterwards.

In the end there is just something satisfying about playing The Beatles’ Please Please Me on vinyl record. There always has been. Something to do with synchronicity. The knowledge that as you drop that needle on your record, someone somewhere back in 1963 was doing the very same thing. They were definitely not programming a CD to skip Ringo’s interpretation of Boys, listening to it on a touch-screen iPod or streaming it into their open-plan kitchen via Sonos.

Even so, until the remastered mono version is released on vinyl next year, the 2009 remastered mono CD remains the best listening experience in terms of the new remasters, and the most authentic representation of The Beatles recordings of that era. Unless you have an original 1963 mono vinyl in good condition, that is. The smell of those records adds considerably to the experience…

Order The Beatles in Stereo Vinyl box set below

Order Please Please Me on remastered Stereo Vinyl

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10 responses to The Beatles Vinyl Remasters: #1 Please Please Me

  1. Ron says:

    Nice article. One thing that I would like to add is that I miss a copy of the original innersleeve. I think it came with advertisements etc. The plain innersleeves that are now part of these re-issues for those albums that never had a printed innersleeve look too clean, empty, plain, whatever the word is.
    I think the 2009 mono cd box had replicas of those innersleeves as well.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      A good point. Maybe they are saving that detail for the mono vinyl. You’re right they were replicated for the japan mono CDs in 2009.

  2. Mark Phillips says:

    Just to pick up on a couple of points:
    “the stereo version was very rare originally” what was (and still is) rare, is the original black and gold Parlophone stereo label, as recreated here. The vast majority of Please Please Me albums, both mono and stereo, had black, silver and yellow Parlophone labels.

    In fact, although I’ve seen a few black and gold mono albums, the stereo black and gold is extremely hard to come by, hence it’s nice to see it here.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about the mono mix being far superior. In fact, that’s true right up to and including Pepper. if you’ve never heard the mono mix of Sgt. Pepper, then dig it out, you’re in for a treat! It’s way superior to the stereo version – a harder, brighter sound, with lots of subtle overdubs that are simply missing from the stereo masters. Rubber Soul in particular sounds “wrong” in stereo!

    I don’t think the earliest albums had advertising inner sleeves, apart from the box recommending the regular use of the Emitex anti-static cleaning cloth. I think the sleeves advertising other EMI records such as Cliff, Cilla, Gerry and the like started in about ’65.

  3. Chris says:

    Nice job. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the entire series. I had the box delivered upon its release, and i’ve been listening to it almost nonstop. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Beatles records in particular just should be played on vinyl. At least, for me. Not only do they sound fantastic, it brings me back to my childhood, camped out in front of my parents’ record player and listening endlessly to Abbey Road and all the other Beatles albums (and many other artists as well). I was fortunate to grow up in a rock and roll household :)

    I find the vinyl pressings to be beautifully done. I haven’t heard any flaws or detected any noticeable problems. “Please Please Me” is of course better on Mono, but the Stereo version does have amazing punch. I’m particularly impressed with the power of the bass, and the overall clarity.

    Beautifully done.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thanks Chris. I too had access to more or less a full set of original 1960 mono albums during the 1970s. The first music I got into and obviously has a massive impact.

  4. Kenny says:

    You can’t diss Ringo on Boys! Just a tremendous performance all round.

  5. Richard van Oosterhout says:

    The inner sleeves for the Please Please Me Mono CD box has some advise of taking good care of your “microgroove recordings” and the Stereo CD box version has none inner sleeve.

  6. Wolfram says:

    Yes! It’s the smell! All through Sgt. Pepper, all original pressings have a very distinct, plesant smell! You have to check it out!

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