Mar 202021

A mono fetishist captured in the wild

The other day, EPG exulted in passing about having scored a mono copy of “Blonde On Blonde.” At first, I was like, whatever, you’re a record dealer, Dylan crazies will probably pay you a jillion dollars for that album, good for you, etc.

Then I got to wondering: is Gergley one of those people who thinks that mono is inherently superior to stereo? Such people do exist. I believe Joey Ramone was one — the lead singer guy from the Lyres was another. But there are others.

I’m not talking about people who think that music originally mixed in mono should be listened to in mono. I’m one of those people. I’m especially one of those people when it comes to the Beatles, up to the White Album. The Beatles themselves presided over their mixes, tweaking them to their detailed specifications, in mono. Then they went out to have a beer while the boffins dragged all the instruments over to this channel, and all the vocals to that one, and made the band’s stereo “mixes.” No thank you!

But I’m not asking whether you agree with me about the Beatles mono vs. stereo mixes. Anybody who disagrees with me there has rocks in his head. I’m wondering whether there are any arguments to be made for mono’s inherent superiority over stereo, in any circumstance. What do you think?

I look forward to your responses.



  28 Responses to “Mono a Mono”

  1. For the record, I guess my feelings can be simply summed up by the fact that I love the stereo mix of Pet Sounds that was included in the Sessions Box set, It was clearly done with some care and I love the way that it opens things up.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Geo, I have to agree — those stereo Pet Sounds mixes were ear-opening.

  3. I figure most cars made today have stereo speakers. Without any real knowledge, is it true to say cars from the 60s only had one radio speaker? Would a mono mix sound better or the same as a stereo mix coming out of that one speaker?

    You are correct about what should be the superior mix on Beatles songs, but that doesn’t help when you’ve been brainwashed. The mono mix of I Feel Fine is dull to me. The guitar riff is so small. The American version has it washed in reverb and Ringo’s high-hat has that unending aerosol can spray sound throughout the song. Sssssst. I totally prefer that version because it’s how I learned it.

    I know from hotdog snobs that I should enjoy mustard, not ketchup on a hotdog, but that taste got programmed too early. Same thing.

  4. Put me on team Chickenfrank, with some exceptions.

    I like all my Beatles releases in US stereo with lots of compression and reverb. That’s right. All of them. That’s how I heard them growing up. Although I grew up hearing the early Stones in electronically reprocessed stereo, I prefer to hear them in mono, all the way up to Aftermath. Electronically reprocessed stereo is pretty bad. Absolute clarity in the right channel and a trebleless match in the left. Not good. After Aftermath, I want it all in stereo. As far as soul is concerned, I want all the 60s stuff in mono. The stereo mixes loosen up the rhythm. Pretty bad, especially if one is a dancer.

    And just for the record, most of those diehard mono assholes, like Jeff Conolly, never understood and never will understand what a really well produced 60s record should sound like, let alone the pluses and minuses of a stereo or mono mix. Ever hear a Lyres record? File under “Records that Sound Worse Than the First Blasters LP.”

    P.S. The braggin’ rights Blonde on Blonde mono find was a collector thing that had nothing to do with sound. Clean late monos are like hen’s teeth. Mono began to be phased out around 1966 or so as stereo became the preferred consumer format. Similarly, 78s pressed after 1956 or so are rarer than 45 releases as are LPs pressed after 1988 when the preferred format became CDs.

    P.P.S. Anybody who collects records has some hobbyist minutia nonsense that comes with the territory. Some have more than others. I’m one of those geeks.

    P.P.P.S. I actually like HVB’s cut and paste intro photo. With a little fine tuning, that picture could have easily been taken in one of the rooms of my house. What you see is what you get.

  5. I am fine with the fake stereo records of the 1960s that I grew up with. I mean, what was the point of anyone dropping acid to listen to records in mono. This is NOT to say that I think I want to hear Mother’s Basement Dude remix early Stones records.

    And Jeff Connolly and The Lyres suck. No wonder I will never be that happy with this l life.

  6. BigSteve

    Brian Wilson thought mono was good enough. Beethoven didn’t care one way or the other.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    I’m really kind of surprised at how many of you are happy to ignore The Beatles’ creative intentions as far as their mixes were concerned. I’ve been trying to think of a suitable analogy to your craziness, but I’m struggling to do better than “it’s like you prefer the mixes directed by money-grubbing record executives with tin ears over the mixes preferred by The Beatles themselves.” I mean, “Duophonic Stereo”? Really? Chickenfrank dismisses the obvious technical/artistic fraud that is Duophonic Stereo with a yawn and a reference to ketchup on a hot dog, and EPG immediately endorses his trivialization, saying he finds them superior because there’s “more compression,” and (more to the point) because he grew up with them. Seriously? It’s like hearing a kid in foster care say he can’t sleep unless somebody punches him in the face, ’cause that’s what his dad always did.

    Mod, on the recent Rock Town Zoom, you laughed off my confession that I’ve always wanted to produce at least one track by Nixon’s Head by saying that there’s no way anything I, or anybody else, might bring to the mixing/arrangement process that would ever survive your band’s unyielding, white-knuckled death grip on how-you-know-you-need-to-sound. But you won’t extend that privilege to The Beatles? REALLY?


    P.S. EPG, please explain specifically what you mean by the US Beatles releases being more compressed, and why that makes them better. Thanks.

  8. HVB, read this. It’s for bozos like you who’ll never get it.


  9. HVB, I know you are right. I do know on the one example of I Feel Fine, that the fake American mix was intentionally going for a more exciting, in your face type of mix. I grew up with that version, so the Artist version just sounds lower energy to me. I still enjoy it almost like I’m hearing their demo for the song. There are examples where that silly mixing approach does add extra oomph. (at the expense of other things) I Feel Fine is one of those.

  10. HVB, without being able to call in Lou Reed for his opinion on this topic, I think we’re all grasping at straws. I agree with EPG that records should sound the way we grew up hearing them, each of us. I think that’s what Lou was trying to teach us.

    A little more seriously, in an age where something like 95% of people only listened to music in mono, I don’t think we can be sure that mono mixes were always the way the artists meant their music to be heard. It was the industry standard. I mean, McCartney pushed the bass up in the mix like maybe no other bassist before him. Why wouldn’t they want stereo separation and other aural envelope boosts.

    The one thing I am pretty sure they wouldn’t want, however, was for the Mother’s Basement Generation to bring out every trace of tambourine and other high-end trimmings.

  11. OK. I’m not going to get into the discussion of the earliest era, but I think the English Rubber Soul stands head and shoulders above the American version. Opening with I’ve just seen a face creates a completely wrong impression of what the overall sound intention is. Furthermore, the one complaint that the Beatles made repeatedly was the lack of low end, and I think this criticism holds up for Rubber Soul. I’d also say this is the point where the album format became a little more of a focus and, while the inclusion of the hits might make some of the earlier American versions jump. the deletion of tracks from Rubber Soul and Revolver was an abomination.

  12. And despite Mr. Mod’s complaints about “every trace of tambourine and other high-end trimmings,” the Sgt. Pepper remix which reassembled earlier mixdown tracks to produce a less degraded final mix sounds really good. The band has balls which disappeared under the repetitive bouncing in the original four track mixdown. It isn’t jarring at all, just more present. Not as striking as the stereo version of Pet Sounds, but still a nice improvement. Before you pooh-pooh me, give it a Spotify listen. Yeah, you can even here the improvement there.

  13. I think Mr. Mod was traumatized at a young age by the inept revisions to Loaded. I still hold my early CD version with no Sweet Jane bridge.

  14. Chicken: so, in summary, they shined that turd up pretty nicely.

  15. I’ll check out that mix of Sgt Pepper’s, geo, and see if it matches the mix I heard the first time I tripped while listening to it. I wish I could have saved that version. I could clearly hear the balls behind the rhythm tracks.

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    More seriously: compression doesn’t make things “punchier.” If anything, it does the reverse: it flattens out the high- and low-volume bits, so you can turn everything up (except for the bits that were loud in the original recording). What you and chickenfrank are hearing in the American mixes (at least insofar as compression is concerned) is just a *louder* mix. All the shit that was quiet (like CF’s hi-hats) is louder, because it got boosted. All the shit that was loud to tape (not sure what that would be, but I’m betting vocals, snare hits, certain guitar bashes/bass plunks) is lowered… everything becomes more “medium.” Cool! Now you can turn it all up!

    Try an experiment: Get an American false stereo mix song (this will help:, and an original English mix (mono if you can). Listen to the US version first, then try the UK original. Vinyl only — no digital reissues, or this won’t work. I bet you’re both right that the US product is louder. So make up for it by turning the UK version up. Then see which one you like better. You may still like the US version more because the mix is different. But what you’re liking is not compression. You may in fact come to the side of righteousness, and realize that the English mixes are more dynamically varied: loud things are loud, soft things are soft, etc.

  17. Mr. Mod: Very interested to hear your opinion on Peppers’ remix. I don’t know if you remember how the Band CDs sounded when they finally got remastered. but it hits me like they did.

  18. hrrundivbakshi

    Want to hear some interesting side-by-sides of UK vs US mixes? Check this out. There are a few mixes where I like the US version a bit better, but in general, the US mixes just sound silly.

  19. I will check that out. One issue in any of these education exercises is that my computer is probably the least favorable conduit for a musical comparison. I either listen to things out of the computer speaker, or I connect a JBL portable speaker. The JBL gives me a decent sound, but it’s one speaker. (I think? Maybe it’s a different stereo speaker on each end?)

  20. hrrundivbakshi

    Chicken, just check out the first 7-8 minutes of that podcast link I just posted. That’ll open your earbulbs to the issue. Well, the mix/reverb issue. You’ll hear it out of your computer speakers just fine.

  21. HVB, greatly appreciate your explanation of how compression works. All of us already knew all that, but thanks anyway. Zappa, who I continue to find interesting even though I can’t stand any of his work, called it the musical equivalent of ironing a shirt. I don’t think anyone’s ever said it any better.

    Simply put, working with compression isn’t an algebraic exercise.. The purpose of the flattening, mathematically, appears to have much to do with the creation of a louder sound. Those that go beyond the math use compression to tighten up a track’s overall rhythm. A jolt of reverb is used for the same reason.

    On most mid to late 50s and early to mid 60s records, rhythm, not loudness, was king. Most pop records were made for an audience who danced. Plain and simple. They were produced and engineered by people who understood their audience. Hard to believe, but even something like the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” was mixed for those with happy feet. For some reason or another, all that’s now rocket science to a large crew of rhythmically challenged idiots who have somehow or other wiggled their way onto various reissue projects and successfully screwed up a lot of great work with a lot of mathematical remastering.

    Know that I have a very low sense of humor about all this. My fury got triggered today after hearing a remastered “Bernadette.” Here’s hoping there’s a special place in hell for those who thought a mustache on the Mona Lisa might be kind of neat.

  22. BigSteve

    God, I wish we could spend more time discussing Beatles minutiae instead of talking about talking about the question hvb posed.

    I can’t see any advantage to mono as such, but the question them becomes are more channels even better. I’ve always felt that since I have two ears stereo is superior to mono. But some albums (XTC albums come to mind) are now available in 5.1 mixes. I don’t have the capability to hear those mixes as Lou Reed intended, but are they better than stereo, just because our ears can discern front-to-back as well as side-to-side?

  23. HVB, I checked out the side by side listening experience. The remixes seem to get less egregious on the later tracks. The early ones are very muddy. The remixes seem so far away compared to the clarity of the Beatle mixes. She’s a Women does seem better washed in reverb. It’s so dainty otherwise. The original mixes sound better, but it’s hard not to hear one thing jump out on the remixes that my memory expects and wants to hear louder; like a cowbell. Overall though, that comparison is a very compelling argument in favor of the mono mixes.

    I think I’m most upset that you didn’t like my hotdog metaphor. Even the hosts of the show immediately went to a ketchup reference in their discussion.

  24. I’m just working my way through this thread but I need to acknowledge this gem from HVB: “It’s like hearing a kid in foster care say he can’t sleep unless somebody punches him in the face, ’cause that’s what his dad always did.” Excellent stuff.

  25. 2000 Man

    Stones mono records are generally more desirable than the stereo ones because of that electronic reprocessing but I still play the reprocessed ones sometimes because I remember them sounding that way. The Stones did a lot of recording in the US so it’s weird that those stereo recordings from place like Chess got folded down to mono. Jagger always said, “You should hear Satanic Majesties in mono” but I think it’s much better in stereo. It doesn’t have as much bass but mono Psych records sound pretty “meh” to me.

    Otherwise, half of what I listen to doesn’t sound much different in stereo or mono. I never noticed that Dr. Feelgood’s Down by the Jetty was mono. It doesn’t sound much different than Malpractice to me. It depends on how I’m listening, I guess. If I’m listening to rock out and drink a beer and maybe look for records to buy I won’t notice. If it’s just me stroking where my beard would be if I could work one up I might notice, but then I’m usually trying to decide if I like the guitar tone and if I think the drums sound like real drums or Steve Lilywhite’s idea of what drums should sound like. I guess I think of mpnp and stereo about as much as I think about a remastering engineer. So that’s not much.

  26. hrrundivbakshi

    In the interest of promoting “peace and luv, peace and luv” — I want to go on record saying that, yes, there are one or two tracks in the Beatles oeuvre that were in fact enhanced by the otherwise clumsy extra compression/reverb/track duplication/panning/blah-blah. “She’s A Woman” is absolutely one of those tracks. That’s all — I had a spare moment, and wanted to promote Healing.

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