The Mono/Stereo Wars of 1993<BR>

The Mono/Stereo Wars of 1993

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In article <CI53Jp.5JJ@HQ.Ileaf.COM> pstodd@HQ.Ileaf.COM (Paul Stoddard) writes:

>...I have a letter here in my hand from George
>Martin that states that he had very little input into how the Beatles'
>recordings were put out on CD.

While I don't think I can improve upon Jay C. Smith's response, I'd like to suggest that your letter raises more questions than it settles. Primarily it contradicts statements George Martin has already made about his involvement in the digital remastering of the CDs. I can't help but wonder:

  1. Has time clouded his recollection? He used to insist that he *was* involved with their production. Martin's anecdotes sometimes do change over time, necessitating verification from other sources. As scholars--- which all of us nominally are---we should be wary of citing only one source if other documents contradict it.
  2. Did he misunderstand your original query? Perhaps he thought you were asking what he had to do with the *packaging* rather than remastering.
  3. Did he sense a certain warmth to your words and merely put you off with a distant (if incorrect) assent, hoping to end to the matter?

EMI contracts, invoices, and session notes from the CD remastering session might be what's needed here to determine just what part Martin played in the CD project. Lacking direct access to those, EMI might be persuaded to outline their understanding of Martin's contribution to the CDs. It's a question well worth exploring, since available quotes from Martin indicate that his involvement was hardly perfunctory.

>As far as correct
>packaging goes, both Martin and the Beatles were flying by the seat of
>their pants for the first 4-5 albums.

The Beatles had had little recording experience, but Martin had much. His care and diligence in recording their first several years' worth of work are well documented. Arguably the Beatles got better production treatment from Martin than they would have from another producer who might have taken them for just another damn pop fad. :-)

>Martin had been producing stodgy
>comedy records at Parlophone, which was on the verge of being closed
>down by EMI when the Beatles auditioned for him.

I beg you to acquaint yourself with British comedy of the late 1950s and early 1960s; your description of them as "stodgy" suggests that you are unfamiliar with their reputation, or how radically they differ from traditional British music-hall comics. The comedy records Martin was producing revealed a "new wave" of satire analogous to creative explosions in literature, theatre, and popular music.

Martin's "stable of stars" included various members of the Goons (then the top British radio comedy show), Flanders and Swann, Beyond the Fringe (including Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller). Peter Sellers' records sold very well in the realm of comedy LPs (which must be distinguished from pop and mainstream sales). Martin also produced singers (Matt Monro, Jim Dale, Shane Fenton), band-leaders (Johnny Dankworth, Ron Goodwin), and experienced the delight of seeing two of his records go to top chart positions (The Temperance Seven's "You're" Driving Me Crazy" was number one; Jim Dale's "Be My Girl" was number 2). All this before the Fabs. :-)

Parlophone was admittedly an eccentric arm of EMI, not a great moneymaker, but not in any danger of collapse, as you claim. EMI had experienced far more economic distress through loss of lucrative contracts with its other branches: HMV lost its contract with the American RCA, and British Columbia lost its American connection as well. Joseph Lockwood's attempt to recoup these losses resulted in the purchase of Capitol in the 50's, which did very well for EMI, as you know.

It was George Martin's interest in really doing something for his own label (Parlophone) that led him to take a chance on pop groups. In looking for a Cliff-Richard type, he hit upon the right hunch and solidified EMI's financial footing in ways no one could have expected. And it was precisely Martin's offbeat reputation that made the Beatles' initial success so smooth. A more "stodgy" and conventional producer (Norrie Paramor, for instance) would have ruined the Fabs with with preconceived musical and promotional constructs. The Beatles' own innate talent, and Martin's careful shaping of their oeuvre, made all the difference between just another fad and a pulsing musical presence whose material sounds innovative even today.

>The only thought process
>going on at the time was to get the "product" out there as fast
>as they could. This revisionist stance that you and the other fanatics
>of your ilk like to pass off as "cold hard facts" is laughable.

>From what I can tell, the only record rushed out to the waiting masses
was the Fabs' first LP "Please Please Me", which Martin stated would accomplish a dual goal: capitalize on the hit single of the same name, and represent as closely as possible the intense atmosphere of a Beatles Cavern Club show. Martin could have rushed out one of the numbers recorded at their 6 June 1962 session, if he was really in a hurry to make money. Instead, he called the Boys back *twice* to work on their debut single in September; Lewisohn remarks on the care Martin took to turn out a quality product. And their sessions throughout 1963-1969 can only be described as thoughtful and leisurely. The Beatles quickly established a need---and were granted the creative leeway---to take their time with their music as long as minimal release quotas per year were met; they almost ran out of time on "Rubber Soul", due for Christmas release, but they'd been at it since early October!

>Artistic integrity is a myth. Get used to that idea.

This is a question of philosophy, not logic. If you are convinced that it doesn't exist, I'm not sure anything I say will enlighten you.

>The only thing half-assed about the whole Beatles CD catalog is that the
>first 4 CDs and parts of Past Masters are in mono where known stereo exists.
>That you consider what was released to be "correct" is ONLY an opinion, as
>is my contention that both mono and stereo of everything should have been
>released. The only reason that you state your case so emphatically is that
>what was released pleased YOU.

But you're equally vociferous about having what pleases *you*, whether or not the artists want it. :-)

I'm still a little distressed that the artists' opinions are ignored here as well. Admittedly, we're in a curious world where the existence of certain technology allows us potential latitudes of revision which never existed before. We can add the spectrum to "Casablanca" if we so desire (and some viewers would no doubt argue that it pleases them to do so, therefore it should be done). Visual digital technology might one day make it possible to finish, alter, or enhance films which latter-day viewers find in great need of such emendations (recreate "Magnificent Ambersons" as Orson Welles *really* wanted it? Someday it may be possible... but it would cease to be Welles' film, or even a vital historical document of a studio's battle over "artistic integrity"). A few decades ago a famous classical conductor finished one of Bach's unfinished concerti, basing it on the cantata which provided the source material; nice, but not really Bach, I'm afraid.

There remains a distinction between reconstructive work based on the artists' original intent, and a complete revamping of admittedly-classic works (whether or not they're perfectly satisfying in some subjective circumstance) with new techniques, visions, and desires. You can make anything better. Today you can write a couple better lines for "Hey Jude" if you want; even Paul could do that tomorrow. But in no sense would the "new" version reflect the genius of the old; your modern improvement is a hybrid, and all the angst and passion, the limits and handicaps of a song and its contextual history are lost among enhanced modern pleasures. Even the presence of three-fourths of the original artists, plus their producer, could only bring a dim, distorted echo of original stereophonic intent, if they could even agree *now* that such a project would be worth their time.

You don't often sense the loss till it's long gone. Botanists scurried for centuries to improve the rose---to shore up its delicacy, to brighten its limited palette of colors, to breed for best bud formation. By this century they'd somehow lost the one remarkable component which made Rosa gallica and all its ancient brethren legendary: its fragrance. Hybridizers are now looking back to their source---the old scrub rose, humble and small---for the key to that quality. Some improvements backfire. I fear that establishing a stereophonic precedence where none really existed will distort the essence of the music, however subjectively satisfying it may be. Note, too, that this is entirely my humble opinion. :-)

I do most sincerely hope that, in all the technological wizardry to come during the ensuing centuries, we don't lose sight of the Beatles' own inestimable accomplishments, and how they achieved them, in the context of their own historically distinctive (if comparatively primitive :-) musical milieu.

--
"As music critic I have had to subject my eardrums to more than a little of the cacophony which dominates the hit parade but the stuff shouted by these Liverpudlian tonsorial horrors left me particularly unimpressed."-------------saki (dmac@math.ucla.edu)