Did you see Howard Goodall’s BBC programme about Sgt. Pepper? I thought it was a fine tribute, emphasising how fortunate we are for the existence of the Beatles.
Howard did his usual thing of analysing the finer points of the music and how it relates to classical and other forms, playing the piano and singing to illustrate his points. He showed that twelve of the tracks on Sgt. Pepper contain “modulations”, where the songs shift from one key to another – revealing very advanced compositional skills needless to say. But I don’t think that the Beatles ever really knew or cared that music is ‘supposed’ to be composed in one key and one time signature – they were just instinctive and brilliant. To me, it suggested that formal training might have stifled their creativity, in fact.
He supplemented his survey of the tracks with Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane which although not on the album, were the first tracks produced from the Sgt. Peppers recording sessions.
The technical stuff about studio trickery and how George Martin and his team worked around the limitations of four track tape was interesting (as always), and we listened in on some of the chat in the studio in-between takes.
Obviously, I checked out what versions of the album are available on Spotify, and found that there’s the 2009 remaster and, I think, the new 50th anniversary remixed version..! (Isn’t streaming great?)
Clearly the remixed version has moved some of the previous hard-panned left and right towards the middle, and the sound has more ‘body’ – but I am sure there is a lot more to it than that. The orchestral crescendos and final chord in A Day in the Life are particularly striking.
At the end of the day, however, I actually prefer a couple of more stripped back versions of tracks that appeared on the Beatles Anthology CDs from 1995. These, to me, sound even cleaner and fresher.
But what is this? Archimago has recently analysed some of the new remix and found that it has been processed into heavy clipping i.e. just like any typical modern recording that wants to sound ‘loud’. Archimago also shows that the 1987 CD version doesn’t have any such clipping in it; I won’t be throwing away my original Beatles CDs just yet…