Sgt. Pepper’s celebrated its 50th anniversary, on June 1, 2017, with a new Deluxe Version, remixed by Giles Martin.
It took recording/mixing technology fifty years to be worthy of Sgt. Pepper’s. The 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s, remixed by Giles Martin, is everything Sgt. Pepper’s was always supposed to be. It’s certainly not a knock on The Beatles to say it took 50 years for Sgt. Pepper’s to deserve the praise it has received since it’s release. If anything, it’s a compliment.
I can admit to never being a die-hard Beatles fan. I’ve heard all the main albums, but for years the only downloaded Beatles content on my phone was the #1 Hits compilation. I’ve never been one to listen through the Anthology albums or watch the movies just because The Beatles name is on it. So I can say the Sgt. Pepper’s has never been a favorite of mine. I understood the creativity of it and would never argue with anybody who put is one of the best albums of all time, but I never considered it as such.
However, when I listened to the new mix done by Giles Martin, my jaw literally dropped on several occasions throughout the album. I heard so many things I had never heard before. It not that they weren’t in the original mix, they were just not as discernible from the rest of the mix. The insane harmonies on “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Getting Better”, the glorious arrangement and vocals on “She’s Leaving Home”, the power of the tabla drum on “Within You Without You”, everything Paul McCartney does on bass, it’s all magnificent. That’s just a few examples. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is an entirely new song, simply because of the new mix.
Again, this is not a knock on The Beatles, or even George Martin and the original mixing team. Stereo mixes were still relatively new and weren’t the industry standard. George Martin spent three weeks on the mono mix, but only three days on the stereo mix. The original mix is also several tapes down the road from the original recording tapes. Each time tapes are bounced the sound degrades slightly.
Giles was able to go back to the original tapes. Straight from the mic, essentially. That will certainly clean it up all on its own, there’s not even a hint of hiss on this mix. If you didn’t know that this was recorded in 1966-67, you’d think it was recorded last week. It is crystal clear, especially evident on “She’s Leaving Home” and “Within You Without You”.
Here are some of the best highlights throughout the new mix.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is one of the few songs from this mix that doesn’t jump out immediately. The vocals clearly benefit from the expanded stereo field. “With A Little Help From My Friends” was responsible for the first jaw drop. When the background vocals come in, they take over the space and are so clear it catches you off guard. This is also where I first noticed how much better the bass sounds. Paul and Ringo are perfectly in sync while McCartney just walks all over the place masterfully.
Like I said above, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is an entirely new song. I never even noticed the sitar in the intro before. This song finally has the space it deserved. It completely fills it, again a testament to how well each of these songs were crafted. John clearly had a massive vision for this song, it really shows here. “Getting Better” has always been my favorite song off of this album and it lives up to it with a new mix. Paul’s doubled lead vocal and the background vocals got both got an audible “whoa”. All of the guitar parts are much clearer now, and there are several of them I didn’t know were there before.
“She’s Leaving Home” shines especially bright. The string arrangement is magnificent, mixing elegance and sadness masterfully. Both John and Paul’s vocals in the chorus are equally as amazing and important to the song as the string arrangement. It really is one of the best songs on the album. “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” benefits in the same way as “Lucy”. It’s so much bigger and more spacious. It’s able to create the circus atmosphere John originally wanted.
“Within You Without You” is a whole new level of mesmerizing now. All the nuance of the tabla drums can finally be heard, and the strings add so much dimension to the sitars and dilruba. George took tremendous care in crafting this song from top to bottom. It’s a really innovative song and all of that innovation is more noticeable now.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” is one of the few that sounds completely re-recorded. Every single instrument and vocal stands out so much more than the original mix. All the compliments to McCartney for creating something that melds together so magically. There is literally nothing that sticks out more than anything else, or gets lost behind something. Every sound is perfectly placed.
The best thing about “Lovely Rita” is Paul’s bass line. It’s incredible. It stands out throughout the album because it was one of the things easily lost in the original mixes. On the original mix of “Lovely Rita” it is one of the few sound on the sounds on the right side and it honestly sounds like a jumbled mess that doesn’t fit. So far from the truth, it turns out.
“Good Morning Good Morning” is so much more disruptive in the new mix. Ringo stands out, he really played into the chaos that that song wanted. “A Day in the Life” certainly takes a new shape. This is another song where the vision and creativity they had in 1967 clearly surpassed the abilities of the technology of the time.
Also included is a new mix of “Penny Lane” which is one of the best Beatles songs, so it’s awesome, but honestly the original mix holds up pretty well to the new one. There still a lot of sounds you can hear now that you couldn’t before, but that definitely speaks to the quality of the song.
The new mix changed my mind on this album.
Obviously, Giles Martin didn’t re-record anything so the musicianship and songwriting on Sgt. Pepper’s has always been deserving of the praise it has always gotten. But an album needs to be the whole package in order to be considered THE Greatest Album of All Time. Even if people need to hear the new mix to see the flaws in old one, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that this is the mix Sgt. Pepper’s always deserved.
The Beatles created something so ahead of their time, that it took technology 50 years to do it justice. That’s extremely impressive. Not to be lost, Giles Martin did a marvelous job with this. He had a vision of how Sgt. Pepper’s was intended to sound and he delivered. I can’t imagine all of the research and care that went into creating this. Martin is certainly worthy of expanding The Beatles legacy.
I can now put this album in my own greatest album list. I’ve been wrestling between the new Sgt. Pepper’s and The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, for the top spot since I first listened to this new mix. I could make the case for both.
After the initial bewilderment of the quality of this mix, my first thought was wishing Giles would go back and do the rest of Beatles albums now. Maybe one of the other ones would benefit even more greatly than Sgt. Pepper’s. For now, this will certainly hold me over.
Get the new mix of Sgt. Pepper’s on Apple Music. Everybody should give it a chance.