Friday, 13 November 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 47 (Top Five): AAA Albums with the biggest differences between mono and stereo

♫ Well, that’s quite enough division for one review – now onto something safer, out top five which this week looks at the, err, differences between mono and stereo pressings of AAA albums! So this week – the albums with the biggest differences between them and whether each is available or not:

5) Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Pink Floyd, 1967): Continuing with the Floyd theme, this debut album differs wildly on some tracks and yet sounds more or less the same on others. The chief differences are a longer beeped opening for first track ‘Astronomy Domine’, the lack of stereo-panning in the mono version of ‘Interstellar Drive’ (which makes it a better, less gimmicky song in my opinion) and a slightly longer fade on ‘Bike’ on the mono copy. Overall I’d say the mono edition is slightly better, with much clearer mixes of songs like ‘Matilda Mother’ and ‘Lucifer Sam’ to boot, although you can see for yourself as the mono package is only available in a 2 or 3 CD set with it’s stereo counterpoint (plus era singles if you buy the full box-set).

4) Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Beatles, 1967): Not as different as many critics will tell you (‘You haven’t lived if you haven’t heard Peppers in mono!’ is the general cry), this is nevertheless the Beatles albums with the biggest differences between the two formats (barring the ‘Helter Skelter’ reprise on the stereo but not mono copies of ‘The White Album’ anyway). ‘Lucy In The Sky’ sounds especially sharper in mono and ‘Within You, Without You’ sounds more like one tracks with lots of parts rather than lots of parts trying to make up one track, although ‘A Day In The Life’ sounds like a huge let-down in mono, without the surge of the orchestra to set your mind into overdrive. Overall I’d stick with the stereo, although as I haven’t heard the new mono CD mix I might change my mind (I have heard the vinyl, however, and I still think it pales slightly to it’s stereo cousin). You can buy the stereo version on it’s own or as part of the stereo box that’s out – but the mono edition is only available with the mono box I’m afraid.

3) Butterfly (The Hollies, 1967 – what a good year for stereo!): Most people can’t hear any differences between the two but I’ve been playing this record endlessly for so many years that I can! The chief differences are far more electronic sound effects during ‘Try It’, on both the opening and the fade, plus longer sound effects on ‘Wishyouawish’ and a much hazier, spookier mix of both ‘Dear Eloise’ and ‘Butterfly’ on the mono copy. Having said that, though, the stereo edition is by far the better in my opinion – the ‘spread’ of the sound on this album is one of the most impressive things about it and can’t really be given justice to on the mono edition. The current 2-Fer-1 CD editions (Pairing Butterfly with it’s close uncle ‘Evolution) only contains the stereo edition – however all pre-1969 Hollies albums used to be available as mono/stereo editions till recently so keep your eyes peeled for them!

2) Something Else (The Kinks, you guessed it, 1967): This one is really different and, unusually, I prefer the mono mix. The main difference is a whole tacked on repeat of the fade during ‘Situations Vacant’, which adds almost 45 seconds on to the playing time, although other tracks with slight differences include ‘Lazy Old Sun’ (a different mix of the many Ray Davies vocal overdubs), End Of The Season (a completely different emphasis given to different instruments) and a much punchier mix of album classic ‘Love Me Til’ The Sun Shines’. The most recent re-issue, weirdly, contains the mono mix of the album – I say weirdly because every previous CD edition of the album contained the stereo mix and that is now by far the hardest of the two to find! (Most one-mix-only CD releases from 1966 choose the stereo edition – in fact this is the only known exception for a whole record rather than the occasional hybrid you get sometimes). 

1) Aoxomoxoa (Grateful Dead, 1969): A very late entry this – there are oodles of different versions of this album doing the rounds on Cd and without, partly because of the band’s decision to re-mix it in 1971. But the mono mix is pretty different to the stereo too and alters nearly all tracks to some extent – St Stephen has a mini-false ending that you have to turn up really loud on the stereo to hear, ‘Duprees’ has a very different mix which swaps clarity for confusion, ‘Rosemary’ on the otherhand, sounds more straightforward and less electronic with less vocal effects on garcia’s voice, ‘Doin’ That Rag’ gains a whole 15 second a capella reprise, ‘Mountains Of The Moon’ has its own electronic effects rise and fall in the mix in different places and ‘China Cat’ ends rather less subtlely in mono than it does in stereo. Alas the version currently out on CD is the original, lesser mix in stereo – the original mix in stereo is easily the better thanks to all these little extras but it’s a struggle to find I’m afraid!

And that’s it. We’ll see you dear readers, in a week or a fortnight depending on when I’ve got most of my ‘other’ work done, till then keep rocking and don’t divide yourselves – all views of these albums are valid, even those by two 12-foot tall talking heads!

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