The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording VariationsVersion 2 compiled by Joseph Brennan
Format of EntriesEach listing contains the following information, intended to identify variations or point to where they might occur:
TITLEbasic recording- (date and location of the basic track)
additional recording- (date and location of all other recording)
master tape- (tape tracks and generations of master tape)
All the information given is related to variations. I deliberately omit otherwise important and useful information like songwriters, lead singers, and exact dates of release.
All recording and mixing was done at EMI Abbey Road studios unless some other location is given. All other locations are in London unless specified. Information about the recording and mixing dates and the tape tracks is almost all from Mark Lewisohn's two books. See those books for far more detail than this.
Mixes are identified by arbitrary letters [a], [b], and so on, in the order they were created. Numbers [a1], [a2] and so on refer to variants of mixes, such as mono made by combining signal from a stereo mix, or mock stereo electronically created from a mono mix (see below). Therefore for example [a] and [b] are distinct mixes made from the original master tape, while [a1] is just a variant of [a]. This is significant because a variant cannot contain any authentic sound not on the mix from which it was made.
A mix referred to as "mock stereo" is mono electronically rechannelled to simulate stereo (as it was often called) or duophonic (as Capitol liked to call it), a process of distorting mono sound by feeding different frequencies to right and left channel and possibly delaying some of the sound as well. This processing was popular when it was believed that a people wanted any kind of stereo on a record labelled stereo.
Some songs on the Anthology sets that I call mono are not perfectly mono. They have a very slight difference in left and right channel, almost unnoticeable. Whether this is a processed mono mix or an extremely narrow stereo mix is hard to say, and if it is this hard to tell that it isn't straight mono, I'm calling it mono. I'm still not totally sure the effect is even intentional although it probably is.
The releases I list include all the original UK and US singles and LPs, and the two UK EP releases with new material. However, sometimes a mix first appeared after 1970, or in another country, and this is why I do list selected post-1970 and foreign releases. Records are shown by country, label, number, short title, and year.
The CD issues are the same worldwide (so far!). CD singles and EPs are not listed unless there is something unusual on them. All the songs on the red and blue albums ("The Beatles 1962-1966" and "The Beatles 1967-1970") sound a little better than they do on the original album CDs, which reflects better CD mastering in 1993 than in 1987, and only differences beyond that are mentioned.
Vinyl releases continue in the CD era. All albums are released also on LP, and there have been some vinyl singles not corresponding to CDs. The collector of variations rarely needs the vinyl in addition to the CD. However, even though I do not list the new vinyl, it cannot be ignored. For example, on the 1994 "Live at the BBC", the vinyl has a clean end and start of two tracks that are crossfaded together on CD. Any known differences on vinyl are mentioned in the notes.
Some of the recording and mixing detail suggests there may be differences where none have been reported. There are numerous songs with mono and stereo mixes for which no significant difference is mentioned, for example. Readers may wish to check these. There is often some difference in "feel" in pairs of mono and stereo mixes that is difficult to describe. Listings in this guide usually refer only to specific sounds present in one mix and not another. There are often subtle differences in tone and presence.
The "master tape" line, listing the tape tracks and generations, is there to give an idea how much is already mixed on the master, and therefore how much variation there could be on final mixes. Nearly all the songs were partly mixed during recording, quite unlike what happens today in recording to 48 or more tracks. Very often, input from more than one microphone, such as multiple instruments or voices, was mixed into one tape track during recording, and therefore cannot ever be remixed (well, not without real trickery anyway). Sound-on-sound overdubbing (mixing live sound with playback of earlier recording into one track of a new tape) was used particularly in the twin-track days, and is another form of mixing during recording. "Bouncing down" is yet another form: with 4 or 8 track tape, they sometimes mixed a full tape into 2 tracks (or 1 or 3) of another generation, where there would then be room for more overdubs. Done once, this makes the master a what is called here a "2d generation" tape (i.e. some of the sound is one copy away from the original). Up to 1995, only the very last generation of recording had been used to create mixes for release, so the "generations" remark is relevant. See Mark Lewisohn's "Recording Sessions" book for varyingly detailed descriptions of what is on each generation of tape.
In 1993, I wrote here: "It would be possible to create a digital master with all the tracks of various generations synchronized and to remix from that, but this has not been done (yet)." It's been done. On Anthology 2 is a mix of Penny Lane made from a master that has all the tape tracks from 4 original reels synchronized on one digital tape. Is this a sign of things to come? It makes my listing of generations obsolete, to some extent, and will allow many new variations that had not been possible.