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Entire Beatles Catalogue Gets Sonic Upgrade

Thirteen remastered discs hit stores this fall; still no downloads

David Browne May 20, 2009

Prepare to meet the Beatles again. On September 9, for the first time since the band’s albums were originally issued on CD in 1987, all 13 original discs ”“ from Please Please Me to Let It Be ”“ will hit stores in sonically upgraded editions. The albums will also be collected in two separate box sets, one devoted to stereo mixes, the other to mono. “It’s been a long road, if you like ”“ not necessarily winding, but long,” says EMI vice president Guy Hayden, who worked with the Beatles’ Apple Corps on the project. “You want to do it when the technology serves to improve the sound, and that’s worth waiting for.” On the same day, The Beatles: Rock Band video game will go on sale.

Like many vintage albums reissued on CD in the 1980s, the Beatles discs have been criticised for abrasive, brittle sound. The new versions are “a bit warmer,” says former EMI executive Mike Heatley, who contributed liner notes to the project. The late Neil Aspinall, then head of Apple Corps, gave the go-ahead to finally upgrade the discs in 2004, and a team of engineers at Abbey Road Studios went to work on the master tapes. Painstakingly, they spent four years transferring each song into high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz Pro Tools, giving the recordings a richer, more immediate tone. “They sound more like what you would expect a modern recording to sound like,” says Hayden. “A bit more in-your-face ”“ not louder, but that’s the overall effect.”

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Each disc will be packaged with liner notes telling the story of its creation, along with rarely seen photos unearthed from the EMI vaults and a documentary on the making of the album, with archival footage and unreleased studio banter. But at the request of the Beatles ”“ and to the inevitable dismay of fans ”“ none of the new CDs will include bonus material (such as the 14-minute, never-issued ”˜Carnival of Light’ that McCartney has talked about in recent interviews). “Neil always said that they wanted to keep the integrity of the original albums,” says Heatley. “They were the way they were, and they didn’t want to change that. And that situation hasn’t changed.”

Retailers say that the remasters are hugely anticipated, and will profit from one agreement not reached: download sales. At press time, Apple Corps and EMI had not yet come to terms on how to proceed with selling Beatles music digitally. “The Beatles aren’t so good at adapting to the times,” says Brian Davis, rock buyer at the Amoeba Music record store in San -Francisco. “But I shouldn’t complain ”“ that’ll benefit us.”

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