Wednesday, May 31, 2017

50 Years Ago Today
In June 1967, I was finishing 7th grade with British nun, Sister Michael Bernadette. Mornings before school and during recess, the schoolyard conversations with Joey Sullivan, Glenn McCarthy and the guys, revolved around Prime Time television with shows like the still popular Batman, the exciting Man From Uncle and Star Trek and the antics of the Monkees and the ultra cool mod British Import, The Avengers , the coolest of British Spy's John Steed and the adolescent fantasy, Emma Peel and of course, Pop music. The Top 10 the last week of May consisted of :
1 GROOVIN’ –•– The Young Rascal
2  RESPECT –•– Aretha Franklin 
3 I GOT RHYTHM –•– The Happenings 
4 RELEASE ME –•– Engelbert Humperdinck 
5 THE HAPPENING –•– The Supremes 
6 SWEET SOUL MUSIC –•– Arthur Conley
7 HIM OR ME – WHAT’S IT GONNA BE –•– Paul Revere and the Raiders Featuring Mark Lindsay 
8 CREEQUE ALLEY –•– The Mamas and the Papas 
9 SOMETHIN’ STUPID –•– Nancy Sinatra and Frank Sinatra 
10 GIRL, YOU’LL BE A WOMAN SOON –•– Neil Diamond 
The charts that winter and spring had been dominated by the success of The Monkees,  The Stones, Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles, Buffalo Springfield, Mamas and the Papas and a lot of Motown and Stax Soul, the Who were newcomers and Frankie Valli was having a solo comeback with Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. Through it all The Beatles double A sided single of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields rode the top of charts from January until May. The picture sleeve with the band in the coolest Victorian Mod outfits but all featuring facial hair to some degree, John was now wearing little round spectacles as well as the mustache that graced his face along with Paul and Ringo, George also had a goatee. The picture was cool, partially backlit with a star filter affecting the lights. Their new look was a source of much discussion. Girls didn't like it but the guys found the look intriguing. And then Sgt. Pepper came out on June 2nd in the US, (it had premiered on June 1st in the UK). The music press went mad. AM radio stations played tracks off the album which was unheard of in the days of top 40. It was like hearing sound for the first time, almost  unlike anything that came before. The rock of Sgt. Pepper and Getting Better, Good Morning, Good Morning, and Fixing a Hole, the music hall of With a Little Help From My Friends, Mr. Kite and When I'm 64, the eloquent She's Leaving Home and then there was the amazing Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds, Within You, Without You and A Day in the Life, there were hints of the eastern influences on Revolver and Rubber Soul but this was far out far east. Lucy and Day In the Life were , to me the most exciting. These songs cemented  the arrival of what would be titled psychedelic music. Hendrix was playing songs from the album in concert, the day after the release, the music press were in a frenzy and the news media followed. The album cover was a landmark of curiosity. You could sit and listen to the music while studying all the faces and statues, the lyrics were on the back cover, an unheard of first as well. The big gatefold of the band in pseudo military band costumes. The record inner sleeve was a cool swirl of reds and pinks and there was also the souvenir card with cut outs of a mustache, postcard and set. stripes. The band certainly delivered your money's worth.
The local Shop-Rite Supermarket had a downstairs annex where they sold sundries like towels, stationary, lightbulbs and record albums. It was there that I first set my hands on this amazing artistic piece. I bought it as soon as I could get the money and played the grooves out. I had a little portable radio that had a hidden turntable on the back. It had a single speaker, so, I always bought mono. I had no idea or appreciation for stereo. A few months later, I found out my player actually could play stereo but in mono. The rest of that summer was the summer of love and the rise of psychedelic music was championed by the Jefferson Airplane, the Doors and the Beatles follow up single, All You Need Is Love. The effect of Pepper was far reaching. Almost overnight, every male wanted facial hair, long hair got longer, beads, paisley, Nehru jackets and bellbottom trousers were a must, Wearing glasses was no longer an embarrassment as long as they were metal frames and even cooler if tinted. It seemed that every band needed to produce a Sgt. Pepper concept album. The Stones recorded Her Satanic Majesties Request, The Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle, Vanilla Fudge The Beat Goes On, Brian Wilson, whose sonic brilliance on Pet Sounds influenced McCartney to create Pepper, tried to equal it with his soon to be aborted Smile album effort for the Beach Boys and so many more, Many failed some barely succeeded. Still, the real "psychedelic" performers also arrived, Hendrix, The Doors, The Dead and Pink Floyd but it was Pepper that was the catalyst. So, here we are 50 years later and Pepper has  been rereleased and remastered and remixed for stereo and this is monumental. The Beatles recorded and mixed all their albums in Mono. Stereo was an afterthought executed by lower level engineers, I didn't know this at the time. As I entered high school and college, everything was about stereo and i went out of my way to rebuy my Beatle Albums in Stereo. when I bought Pepper in Stereo, I was disappointed, it didn't sound anything like the mono, it was kind of flat and the placement of the voices and instruments were awkward. I didn't understand it but I got used to it. When CD's came out the mono/ stereo arguments came out and the first four albums were only released in pristine mono. The information about their lack of involvement in the stereo mixes until Abbey Road surfaced but it wasn't until 2009 that the mono versions were released and the stereo cleaned up but not remixed except for Rubber Soul and Help! and those were not major remixes. The stereo imaging and separation were still old school. So, now fast forward to the release of the Beatle promo videos where the original tracks were remixed for surround sound. At this point the decision to remix Pepper for better stereo was made and George Martin's son was brought in to execute the project. Let me say what all the press have been saying, the stereo sound is exquisite. Following the road map of the MONO mix, the tracks shimmer and sparkle. The magic sound that I heard on my little mono player are now brought to life in a dazzling way like never before.The bass is driving, the drums  are crystal clear, the guitars shimmering and the vocals evenly spaced in the soundstage. As a bonus for the box set, they also remixed the album in 5-1 surround and it is even more spectacular. Okay, it is different but in a very good way. When listening to the stereo mix it is now like sitting at a concert and hearing the band alive in front of you but if you can listen to the surround mix, it is like being in the studio with them. Most people will not  get the box set with the surround Blu-ray and bonus track CD's but real Beatle fans should not deny themselves. For everyone else, I heartily recommend the ne new remixed 2 CD set with out takes and early versions of the songs on the second disc. A splendid time is still guaranteed for all.