Like Apple the computer company, Apple the record label like to keep things close to their chest. After years of relative inactivity, this week Apple Corps suddenly announced the last fours years has been spent diligently digitally re-mastering The Beatles immaculate back catalogue for release later this year.
The date 9 September 2009, or 09-09-09, will coincide with the release of 'The Beatles: Rock Band,' a video game available for Xbox, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. A stripped down 'Let It Be… Naked,' from 2003, that junked much of producer Phil Spector's sugar coating, and 'Love', a 2006 Cirque du Soleil show soundtrack, have both hinted at the sonic possibilities of re-mastering the fab four.
The re-mastering process commenced with an extensive period conducting tests before finally copying the analogue master tapes into the digital medium. When this was completed, the transfer was achieved using a Pro Tools workstation operating at 24 bit 192 kHz resolution via a Prism A-D converter.
That all sounds like good news as The Beatles have been poorly served by CD, soulful music made soulless by some indifferent 1980's mastering that makes much of the back catalogue thin, tinny and flat. No colour, no light, no shade, vinyl pressings have proved the best way to listen to The Beatles until now.
That said, an entire underground industry of bootleggers and enthusiasts have long toiled away on sometimes primitive home equipment to produce more warm and essentially accurate recordings, often digitising 1970's virgin vinyl sourced from Japan to great effect. Wikipedia lists Dr. Ebbetts, Mirror Spock, den0iZer, Sir Esquire, Silverking, McCanno and the Millennium Remasters series as leading bootleg producers who have tried to recreate the intimacy of The Beatles on vinyl.
The official website of The Beatles hasn't always been a hive of Apple activity.
I have to confess to an obsession with The Beatles that has led to attempting to collect every scrap of tape, every breath and sigh John, Paul, George and Ringo ever committed to history. Like all love affairs it's had its ups and downs. Listening to 17 CD's of the 'Get Back'/'Let It Be' sessions in chronological order proved a chore. Only a small chore but a chore none the less, which I may need to repeat sooner than later. There are only an infinite number of times you can hear the ditty 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' being dutifully bashed out before crying.
Apple Corp’s efforts may put the bootleggers to shame, we'll just have to wait and see. Two collections, 'The Beatles in Mono' and 'The Beatles in Stereo' will be available as boxed sets with the collector clearly in mind, the stereo selection also as individual CDs. I've already started saving, although I already own around a dozen versions of some albums.
All CD packages contain original vinyl artwork and liner notes, extensive archival photos, and for a limited time QuickTime embedded documentaries with archival footage, rare photographs and never-before-heard studio chat from The Beatles. You can get an idea how this might sound at least from the 'Fly On The Wall' bonus disc for 'Let It Be... Naked.'
Here's a break down on what to expect come September.
The Stereo Albums (available individually and collected in a stereo boxed set)
The stereo albums have been remastered by Guy Massey, Steve Rooke, Sam Okell with Paul Hicks and Sean Magee. All CD packages contain original vinyl artwork and liner notes, extensive archival photos. Additional historical notes by Kevin Howlett and Mike Heatley. Additional recording notes by Allan Rouse and Kevin Howlett
* = CD includes QuickTime mini-doc about the album
Please Please Me* (CD debut in stereo)
With The Beatles* (CD debut in stereo)
A Hard Day's Night* (CD debut in stereo)
Beatles For Sale* (CD debut in stereo)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band* (also includes 1987 notes, updated, and new intro by Paul McCartney)
Magical Mystery Tour*
Yellow Submarine* (also includes original US liner notes)
Let It Be*
Past Masters (contains new liner notes written by Kevin Howlett)
'The Beatles in Mono' (boxed set only)
The mono albums have been remastered by Paul Hicks, Sean Magee with Guy Massey and Steve Rooke. Presented together in box with an essay written by Kevin Howlett.
+ = mono mix CD debut
Please Please Me
With The Beatles
A Hard Day's Night
Beatles For Sale
Help! (CD also includes original 1965 stereo mix)+
Rubber Soul (CD also include original 1965 stereo mix)+
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band+
Magical Mystery Tour+
On the same day Apple announced The Beatles re-masters, Apple removed all digital rights management (DRM) from music sold on the iTunes Store and improved audio quality to 256kbps AAC encoding, which Apple says is virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings.
The Beatles, a clear inspiration on Steve Jobs, have long been rumoured to be joining the iTunes Store. "That is constantly being talked of. We'd like to do it. What happens is, when something's as big as The Beatles, it's heavy negotiations," Sir Paul McCartney told Billboard magazine. Now with a lovingly re-mastered back catalogue soon to be released the wait may soon be over.