Why release the first four albums on CD
in mono? Well, why not ...

A 1987 interview with George Martin by Allan Kozinn

This interview with Beatles producer George Martin was conducted by New York Times writer Allan Kozinn on Feb. 23, 1987 for an Arts & Leisure section article (published March 8, 1987) about the release of the first four albums on CD. A version of this interview also appeared in Beatlefan in 1987. We graciously thank Allan for providing us with this interview.

Copyright by Allan Kozinn.

ALLAN KOZINN: I understand your reasoning about the mono mixes of the first two albums, those are clearly more solid and punchy in mono. I'm not sure I understand why "Hard Day's Night" and "Beatles for Sale" are out in mono, though.

GEORGE MARTIN: Expediency, I think, in a word. Because I wasn't brought into this until December, by which time EMI had made up their mind what they were going to do, and they really consulted me I suppose out of old fashioned courtesy -- saying, you know, "don't you think we've done rather a good job?" And when I heard what they'd done, I thought they were dreadful. They had presented me with the stereo versions. And I told them that if they had to issue any stereo versions, they should be specially looked at, particularly in these early cases, and I don't think the first two should have been put out in stereo at all. And I think that because they had so little time, they said, well look, we'll put them all out in mono, and if you like you can have another look at them, and maybe number three and four can be transcribed for stereo later on. Now, this was because they had a date to adhere to, and they had to press up a great many records, and I guess they had to make some kind of decision, which they made. And at that time, they also asked me to look at the next batch of records, which is, "Help!" "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver," which are due to come out in April. And I looked at those and found that the stereos of that weren't very good. They were very woolly, and not at all what I thought should be a good issue. I went back to the four-tracks on those and actually did remix them -- not changing anything, but hardening up the sound a little bit, and cutting down a little background noise. By going back to the four tracks, we get a cleaner sound even than you can get with contemporary recording, because four-track one-inch is a much better medium than 24 track two-inch.

ALLAN KOZINN: How possible is it to precisely recreate a mix that you had done 20 years ago from a four track?

GEORGE MARTIN: It's impossible. In a word, it's impossible. Everything is different. The [mixing] desks in those days were tube operated, they weren't transistorized. All the outboard gear that we have today didn't exist. The EQ characteristics are quite different, much cruder. The echo facilities in Abbey Road consisted of a long cellar like room with old drain pipes standing around; they had nothing like electronic echo at all. So yes, it's impossible to get exactly the same, no matter how much you try. But in fact, I think it would be wrong in any case to get the same mix. The mixes that I did in 1964 were fine for vinyl, issued in 1964. When you hear them on CD, they're not fine. Now the reason for this is that you hear a wider frequency range on CD, and you're hearing things that I never intended you to listen to in the first place, in 1964. I was making a record that was designed to cut through the fog of the players of those days. What I'm saying is that the mixes I did then, when they're heard in the form they were done then were fine; but if you're hearing them as CDs, they should be different in order to be the same.

ALLAN KOZINN: Okay, but by now people have heard those mixes on the Mobile Fidelity half-speed mastered pressings, which are probably as clean an LP pressing as you're going to hear. And they let you hear quite a lot of what's on those masters.

GEORGE MARTIN: I don't think those Master pressings are right, I don't approve of those master pressings.

ALLAN KOZINN: Really?

GEORGE MARTIN: Really. What they were trying to do there, and again, those were done without either the Beatles or myself being involved, what they were trying to do is trying to get the same kind of thing you have on CD, but without the CD itself. And I think they forgot that in translating those to the master pressings, the EQs that were being used were appropriate not for that medium, but for the earlier medium. In other words, what you tend to hear in that way, and in fact, what you're hearing even on the CD you're getting now, is a rather harsher sound than was intended.

ALLAN KOZINN: You said that they put out "A Hard Day's Night" and "Beatles for Sale" in mono because of expediency, and because they had a date to meet. But didn't they know, in the four years CD has been out, that they would eventually have to put these things on CD? Didn't they make any kind of provision for having them ready? Wouldn't that have made sense?

GEORGE MARTIN: Well, Mr. Kozinn, I haven't worked for EMI since 1965 -- it's no good asking me that. I'm asking the same question!

ALLAN KOZINN: I was just wondering if I was being fair to EMI in feeling that they jumped into the CD series unprepared, which is the way it looks.

GEORGE MARTIN: I think the CDs do sound, great, I'm just being a little nit-picky.

ALLAN KOZINN: As a collector, I like having both the stereo and mono mixes of everything, because there are cases where there are different vocal takes, different instrumental balances, and that kind of thing.

GEORGE MARTIN: The first two albums, though, you must admit are an absolute horror.

ALLAN KOZINN: Well, it depends. Sure, they sound a lot more solid in mono. But I kind of like being able to look into the instrumental and vocal arrangement in the kind of detail you get on those old stereo mixes.

GEORGE MARTIN: Ah, well, in that case, you'd like to back to the multitracks, or even the individual mike placings when we actually recorded it!

ALLAN KOZINN: Yes, please....

GEORGE MARTIN: It's fascinating to me, actually, on these later albums, of going back to the original four tracks, and remembering. It all came flooding back what we used to do, and remembering -- because even four tracks was pretty limited, as you can imagine, and I tended to put bass and drums on one track, guitars and another, and then vocals with backing vocals on the third track, and keep the fourth track up my sleeve for possible double tracking or solo work. And that still puts an awful lot of responsibility in running the mix right on any one individual track. So that when we come back to recreate it years later, there are not tremendous amounts we can do. Which is just as well, perhaps. But it is fascinating listening to all those--you listen to the outtakes, you listen to the endless tucks and tails, and a lot of times I was in the studio performing with them, and I hear John's voice talking to me, and me talking back, and it's been absolutely fascinating. I've been going back to my youth.

ALLAN KOZINN: In any case, are you mixing them for stereo for the rest of the series?

GEORGE MARTIN: Not necessarily. I have done these particular ones because I thought they were worthy of it. I think they were not the best. See, I was learning too. When I started in 1962 with the Beatles, we only made mono records. By the time 1967 came along, with Pepper and so on, I'd got five years experience and I was able to make a fairly good stereo record. But in the interval, I was learning how to do it. I was experimenting. I was putting voices on one side or the other, I was trying all sorts of different things. And some of those experiments didn't work out well. And in fact, "Help!" in particular was a very rushed album, because of the pressures of the film, I think it sounded a bit rushed, and I just want it to be a bit better than it was. It's pride I guess that makes me say that.

ALLAN KOZINN: I've heard that part of "Rubber Soul" was not thoroughly mixed because EMI demanded the tapes to be out in time by Christmas release and that you didn't have time to finish them. Some tracks are mixed beautifully, and others are actually like "Please Please Me" mixes, with the instruments on one side and the vocals on the other.

GEORGE MARTIN: That's right, well this is the thing I'm telling you about, when I listened to them again, I thought, "did I really do that?"

ALLAN KOZINN: What I've heard, in terms of "Rubber Soul," was that EMI had demanded it so quickly that you hadn't had time to finish mixing.

GEORGE MARTIN: No, that's not true. Putting a voice on the right hand side doesn't make a record more quick to produce. In fact, there is a reason for it which becomes apparent after a while. One of the things we were struggingling with in the days of "Rubber Soul" was the eventual issue of stereo records and how it was going to vary between mono and stereo. When we started in 62 and 63, mono was the only thing. Gradually, stereo came in, very few people had it, rather like CD in England today; and the first albums, if you sold five percent of your total in stereo form, you were lucky. Gradually that balance changed. There came a point where, instead of doing separate mono and stereo mixes, which I always did, we were looking to produce a stereo only mix.

ALLAN KOZINN: And that didn't happen until "Yellow Submarine," which is the same in both formats.

GEORGE MARTIN: Well, I was working towards it.

ALLAN KOZINN: Still, even as late as the "White Album," you've got a different violin solo in "Don't Pass Me By," the airplanes coming in at different times in "Back in the USSR." They were clearly still entirely separate mixes.

GEORGE MARTIN: Yes, we were still doing different things then, but I was still working towards the compatibility, and in fact my attempts on "Rubber Soul" were to find a decent mono result from a stereo record. As you know, if you put something in the center, it comes up four dB louder in mono than it does in stereo. But if you tend to balance your things between one side and the other....And also, I was aware in those days that the majority of record players in the home were built into kind of sideboards, where the speakers were about three feet apart, and the stereo picture was a very near mono one anyway. So I exaggerated the stereo to get a clearer effect. These were experiments. It wasn't a question of rushing, I really was trying all sorts of things.

ALLAN KOZINN: Brian Southall told me the other day that the very first two albums were not released in stereo until much later.

GEORGE MARTIN: That's right.

ALLAN KOZINN: However, I've found some early Parlophone advertisements -- including one in a 1963 tour program -- that not only gives the mono and stereo catalogue numbers, but shows photos of the stereo album covers. They do seem to have been released simultaneously. (Note: To see the ads Allan is referring to, click here and also click right here.)

GEORGE MARTIN: [silence] I can't believe that. We issued "Please Please Me" in February 1963, and certainly no stereo mixes were made. Not by me. Not by anybody I know.

[Editor's note: "Please Please Me" was released in March 1963 in mono and April 1963 in stereo; the studio paperwork lists Martin as the producer on the day when both mixes were made.]

ALLAN KOZINN: Well, I have another advertisement that shows "Please Please Me," the "Twist and Shout" EP and the "She Loves You" single -- which, taken together, would place that ad in about August 1963 -- and again, it gives the stereo catalogue number for the album.

GEORGE MARTIN: You have the advantage of me. I was not aware of a stereo album being produced. I thought it had been done after I left in 1965. Certainly I wasn't aware of it at the time. Now, that may seem extraordinary to you, but in 1963 I don't even think I had time to have breakfast. Certainly I didn't do the stereo mixes, and neither did the Beatles. Some geezer at EMI probably looked at this and said, for the minority of stereo people around, we'd better put out a stereo record.

ALLAN KOZINN: Back to the CD remixes. You've done the next three; will "Sgt. Pepper" then be the original mix?

GEORGE MARTIN: I'm certain it will be, and I'm certain that from then on all the mixes will be the originals, except that I don't want them to go out unadulterated. I think the EQs on the CDs may be wrong, so I'd like to look at them and see that they are not quite as strident, or coarse as they might be.

ALLAN KOZINN: What are the possibilities of a mono "Pepper" and a mono "White Album" coming out on CD?

GEORGE MARTIN: Highly unlikely I'd think. Why, do you like the mono albums?

ALLAN KOZINN: Well, yes, but it's not a matter of preference, necessarily. It's just that there are some interesting differences. John's vocal on "Lucy in the Sky," for instance, has that nice echoey phase-shifted sound that's perfect for the song. "She's Leaving Home" is sped up a bit, and doesn't drag as much in mono as in stereo. And in the intro to the "Sgt. Pepper" Reprise, there's an extra bar of drum beats.

GEORGE MARTIN: Ah yes. That was probably cut out to make it tighter. We used to do an awful lot of changing our minds at the last moment, and doing different things, mainly because we didn't think it was that important to be consistent. Of course, history found us out. But again, because I very rarely go back and listen -- I haven't listened to Beatle records for 20 years. You know, once I made the record, that was it, I'd always move on to the next thing. And I always look ahead rather than back, so this has been a strange time, going back. And I know the people who have been aware of all these discrepancies and differences, and I've said to them, well, good luck. If they want to make something out of it, that's fine. And of course, fueling that have been all the myths that have arisen too, and I've sort of looked at that and chuckled. So I've looked at it rather quaintly. I don't think it's all that significant. But I can see that it does cause a certain amount of consternation from people who devote their lives to analyzing the differences.

ALLAN KOZINN: I don't think it's a matter of consternation, actually. It's one of the things that makes collecting fun. Finding differences and oddities....

GEORGE MARTIN: Yeah, I guess so. I can understand that. It's rather like finding a rare coin and finding that the milled edge is missing one point, that kind of thing. So I guess, the question of mono issues--Bhaskar Menon spoke to me about this, generally, when I was called in to review the things, and he pointed out that to issue mono and stereo of everything would be a little bit of a problem from a practical point of view--of stock within shops, of manufacture, and obviously, it would give everybody much less of a headache if there was just one version.

ALLAN KOZINN: I understand that. However, until you get up to "Sgt. Pepper," which runs about 39 minutes, you can actually fit both the mono and stereo mixes of each album on one CD.

GEORGE MARTIN: Are you saying we should do a double album on each one?

ALLAN KOZINN: Well, yeah, because it's the same material just sequenced over again in a variant mix. It's not like making of two-fer of, say, "Please Please Me" and "With the Beatles." Collectors would be happy to have both mixes, and EMI wouldn't have to feel it was giving anything away.

GEORGE MARTIN: It's not a bad idea. I'll put it to Bhaskar and see what he says about it. It's an idea that hasn't been presented to me before. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't happen. There may be complications, if the Beatles want to be paid double royalties -- because of that you might have a problem. Or even copyright royalties. There may be a law that says if you do two performances you have to pay twice as much, I don't really know. But I'll certainly mention it to him.

ALLAN KOZINN: Great. Well, I think that covers it for now. Thank you very much.

A huge thank you to Dave for locating the ad scans.