Producer Giles Martin (George Martin’s son) gives his take on the many different “Sgt. Pepper” 50th Anniversary editions he worked on.
By Patrick Prince
1-CD ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Stereo Mix)
GILES MARTIN: The truth is the band and my dad spent a lot of time mixing the monos then they did the stereos. Songs like “She’s Leaving Home” were the wrong speed in the stereos as to what the band wanted. There’s not enough ADT (artificial double tracking) in John’s voice in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” There are examples of where the mono… I mean, John actually said you haven’t listened to “Sgt. Pepper” unless you’ve listened to the mono. So the intention was to create what the band’s intention was for the mono into a stereo record, and on top of that because of the technology we have now, we can now go to the early 4-track tapes and we’re mixing for a much bigger scale. People are actually surprised and delighted that they can actually hear a dynamism to the mixes; it’s purely because we are using earlier versions of tapes to mix off of.
It’s all about feel. Mixing is about the feel and really what we tried to do with this new stereo mix is obtain what the mono feels like. Lets face it, mono makes “Sgt. Pepper.” It’s what made Roger Waters pull off the side of the road in his car and stop to listen and then go and want to make “Dark Side of the Moon.” So it’s getting that feel across to a new generation. All of the songs, I think, sound great. They really do. If you take “Lovely Rita,” for intance, now with the stereo (mix) there’s so much more impact. The same with “Getting Better,” actually. We aren’t limited by the last generation of 4-track tapes. Our only limitation is ourselves and adhering to what the band wanted way back then.
2-CD ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Stereo Mix + Bonus Tracks )
MARTIN: “Penny Lane,” for instance, which is on the bonus track … we found the original 4-track where Paul actually plays three pianos and a Wurlitzer, and Ringo plays some percussions. “Strawberry Fields Forever” we remixed as well. We just talked a lot about how to put “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” onto “Sgt. Pepper.” You know that’s a big forum of debate about whether they should be on “Sgt.Pepper” or not, and I talked to Paul (McCartney) about it. We don’t want to change history here but “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” are the birth of “Sgt. Pepper.” So we felt it important that we mix those at the same time and they sound great. The feedback I am getting from these mixes is people can suddenly hear instruments they didn’t think they could hear before. And the power’s there. We are not dictated by limiting. We don’t have to watch the kick drum, for instance, so suddenly you hear Ringo’s drums. With the extras, the kind of intention was to try and make a version of “Sgt. Pepper” which showed the grace of “Sgt. Pepper.” What the bonus disc has is almost like a quick journey through “Sgt. Pepper” as far as creation goes. You hear how the songs were made in a song-by-song way. It’s almost being influenced by “MTV Unplugged” to a certain degree. The thing you learn from this is that despite “Sgt. Pepper” being a technical tour de force — being seen as a studio album — you realize what’s great about “Sgt. Pepper,” or what makes “Sgt. Pepper,” is the performances from the band themselves. It’s basically four guys and my dad with Geoff Emerick … and they’re the ones making the noise. And that’s what the outtakes show.
2-LP ANNIVERSARY EDITION (180 gram Vinyl)
MARTIN: There is something about vinyl. It’s a good listen. Obviously I have a very good vinyl player and I’m responsible for making the vinyl that you have. It’s not like it’s out of my hands. I think it’s worthwhile. Is one (format) better than the other? That’s not for me to judge. But I think that vinyl is great. I have the acetate it was cut which is the print master. We cut it a couple of times, actually, and we did it at half speed as well, which gives you more low-end.
ANNIVERSARY SUPER DELUXE EDITION (6-DISC SET)
MARTIN: I finally had gotten a copy. They had shown me a copy and then took it away from me again. Here’s the funny thing. When I’m involved in this, which I am heavily involved, people talk to me now about the book. Kevin Howland has written about each song and he goes through them with me, and for me it’s like doing homework. It’s a terrible chore and you go, “Oh God, I have to talk about the book again,” or they wanted me to write some notes or something. Ugh, can’t I just do the music? And then you see what they have done and it’s absolutely amazing. Beautiful. The amount of love that’s gone into it is extraordinary. They put as much love into doing their side of stuff as I put into my side of things. There is a 3-D cover and cool things like a replica of the original poster that was in the original “Sgt. Pepper” album. And then it has the bonuses we put in. It’s kind of super cool. I mean, things like the construction of the piano chord in “A Day in the Life.” Hearing the original hums — a chorus of hums. It’s a really, really complete set. Trust me, I’m Peppered out. I’ve become Dr. Pepper over the past four months. But I saw the box set … and I really wanted it.
To be honest with you, there’s a sense of achievement. I think we’ve really made a difference and an appreciation of what “Sgt. Pepper” is as an album and an understanding of how it made people feel when it came out.
I said this to some of the guys who are the proper people/experts: “You know we’re not making this record for you guys. We’re making this record so that when you tell your kids about this album, “Sgt. Pepper,” when they put it on, they have the same mind-blowing experience as you did about 50 years ago. That’s why we’re doing this.
And I think that’s what I’ve got from the old guard who listens to it, you know, and The Beatles themselves. And just the emotions it stirs in people. And that’s not from what we’ve done, it’s actually from what they did 50 years ago. From what my father did 50 years ago and that’s the appreciation.
The first time I really listened to it as an album since we mixed it — we obviously don’t mix it as an album, we mix different songs and we put it together — I thought, “this album is so courageous.” It is such a courageous and important record because it varies so much. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but you know in my case, it bred a huge appreciation for the music. It wasn’t really my favorite album of The Beatles before I started doing it and now I have such an unbelievable love and appreciation for it, just from working on it.
You feel even closer to the band and I think you’ll find that. You’ll suddenly feel stuff and you’ll think, wait a second, these veils have been lifted and I feel like I am falling inside the record.