Remixing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Circa 2017 • For The Beatles

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th anniversary boxset) Official album.
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017, The Beatles’ album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was remixed in both stereo and Dolby Atmos by Giles Martin, who is the son of The Beatles’ producer George Martin, and Sam Okell.

In 1967, albums were released in both mono and stereo versions. But since only a limited number of consumers had systems with two speakers, the focus was put on the mono mixes, while the stereo mixes were usually rushed. Although The Beatles participated in all the sessions where “Sgt. Pepper” was mixed in mono, they usually skipped the sessions for the stereo mixing. Instead, they left it up to the engineering team to replicate, when possible, the work done on the mono mix.

In 1967, albums were released in mono and stereo versions. With a limited number of consumers equipped with a system with two speakers, the focus was put on the mono mixes, and the stereo mixes were usually rushed. The Beatles joined all the sessions where “Sgt. Pepper” was mixed in mono, but they usually skipped the sessions for the stereo mixing, letting the engineering team replicate, when possible, the work done on the mono mix.

In 2017, Giles Martin built the new stereo mixes around the original mono mix of the album.

We also devoted a few days to remixing the stereo version of [Sgt. Pepper]. In contrast to the way they carefully oversaw the original mono mixes, the group had expressed no interest in even being present when we did the new ones; that’s how little thought we all gave stereo in those days.

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

True Beatles fans would do well to avail themselves of the mono versions of Sgt. Pepper and Revolver because far more time and effort went into those mixes than into the stereo mixes. The stereo versions of those albums also have an unnecessary surfeit of panning and effects like ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) and flanging. Richard and I would sometimes get carried away with them because of their novelty value… especially if George Martin wasn’t there to rebuke us.

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

The [monaural mix] is the one the band was present at, so we tried to adhere what they were trying with mono, the tape speeds and with effects, the ADT [artificial double tracking] on drums. ‘She’s Leaving Home’ is a good example of that. And then, things like fades, like ‘Good Morning’ with the animals being more present on the mono and the laughter at the end of ‘Within You Without You.’ There are things that Beatles fans cry out for that they experience in the mono.

And on top of that, by using the techniques we used, by using the other generations of tapes, we get a chance to mix from tapes that haven’t been mixed from. And the intention was, I suppose, to make the mono into a stereo as far as the band’s ethic and what they want to achieve from their mixes goes. And also to bring Sgt. Pepper to a new generation.

[…] A good example of the stereo would be my intention to put the bass in the center as much as we could. And then ‘With a Little Help From My Friends,’ which you could have put the bass in the center if you have that, we had enough tracks to do it. I found that there was a loneliness to Ringo [Starr]’s voice when the bassist on the right panned right that I was missing when I put it in the center. And Sam actually put it on the right and I went, ‘Why didn’t you put it in the center?’ And he goes, ‘I’m not sure about it.’ And then I did it and it was like Ringo’s voice didn’t sound as good. So that would be a stereo thing, because the mono has no panning.” […]

Giles Martin From billboard, May 18, 2017

Why remix it?

I mean, it’s the most famous album of all time. It’s not as though it sounded bad. But if you think about when Sgt. Pepper was made, which is 50 years ago, it was really designed for mono, and the band spent a lot of time on the mono mixes. The mixes, in those days, were a performance [there was no automation, all hands were on the mixing console], they were live — and the band, with my father George Martin and with Geoff Emerick, mixed Sgt. Pepper. When the stereo [mixes] were done, they were done very quickly. But no one listens to the monos.

Why it sounds clearer now

We now can go back to the early generations of tapes. It’s hard to explain, but my father had to record everything on a four-track — that means you can record four things on one tape. And that was bounced to another four-track. [Each time sounds are bounced to another tape the sound degrades]. What we do is we go back to the previous generation [the original tapes], so we’re mixing off generations of tape that they never mixed off. [Martin here is referencing the final takes of each instrumental part, which were transferred to four-track tapes, which were then used to create the final mix.] So it’s almost like a car that comes straight out of a paint shop. The tapes are glistening. What was recorded in ’67 sounds pure and crystal clear — there’s not any hiss or anything. And with this version of Sgt. Pepper that’s what we try to do — we’re trying to get you closer to the music.

On making Ringo’s Drums come to life

You know, one of the criticisms of the stereo of Sgt. Pepper was that you couldn’t hear Ringo. Now we can have kick drum, because if you think about that time in 1967, there was a protection [system from producers and mastering engineers] with records then, so you didn’t get the needle to jump out of the groove. We’ve done a great vinyl cut of this, which we did half-speed, so it’s a much more precise cut. We still use the same techniques, we’ve just developed them.

On the weight of expectation

You’re challenged by this weight of expectation, but the joy is actually just finding how great Geoff Emerick’s engineering was, how great my dad was as a producer, how organized the recordings are and, you know, the beauty the arrangements — and how great the Beatles were at playing.

Giles Martin – Interview with NPR, May 23, 2017

There was always a conflict between America and the U.K. with The Beatles anyway. Capitol Records often took the tapes that my father and the engineers had made and changed them. When it came to “Sgt. Pepper”, the band, my dad and Geoff Emerick, their engineer, spent a long time mixing the album in mono. They mixed the monos because that was how the album was meant to be, and that was how “Sgt. Pepper” was released in the U.K., and the stereo mix was done afterwards. Stereo was a new thing and it wasn’t one of those things in the U.K. that was big. It was kind of like a gimmick, so a lot of the techniques that were applied to the final album mix weren’t relevant to the stereo mix. So, the ADT, artificial doubletracking of John’s voice on “A Day in the Life,” the vari-speed on “Lovely Rita” and “She’s Leaving Home” were both a different tempo. With “She’s Leaving Home,” the mono version was stark and it was a semi-tone higher, so there was a completely different feel to it. That kind of validated the procedure of what we were doing, in a funny way. Also, we had a template for what The Beatles wanted. Sadly, my dad is not around anymore and I miss him. And, sadly, The Beatles weren’t around to mix the record with us, so basically I’m a usurper. But, we could use the mono mix as our guide. There’s a lot of people who haven’t heard “Sgt. Pepper” and there will be [more] as time goes on, and you want people to be able to listen to it and go, “Ah, this is just great! Now, I can understand why my parents or grandparents say this is the most important album ever.” So, if you play them the mono, they’re not gonna get it from that, because people’s listening habits have changed; speakers have changed over 50 years, for God’s sake. So, that was our intent, and we had that template we wanted to work from

Giles Martin – Interview with Ken Sharp – From Beatlefan #226 (May-June 2017)

Since the “Love” project, there’s been requests to remix Beatles stuff and I’ve always said, no, why? Why would you want to do it? The records sound great. Then when we did the Beatles “1” record, people asked, “Are you going to remix the songs?” and I said, “No,” but then I was told I needed to prepare mixes in 5.1, so I had to remix it. I didn’t want to do some faux and crappy 5.1 mixes. In the pathways of the 5.1’s we remixed the stereos, because that’s what you do, and people liked it. I didn’t think they were gonna release a CD of it; that wasn’t part of the plan. Fans, the people who really care about this stuff, really liked it, and that gave me confidence when working on the “Sgt. Pepper” project. I thought, OK, if people like this, then I have goodwill behind me. I knew I had the goodwill of The Beatles. because otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it, so that enabled me to push things as much as possible. I sat down with Sam Okell, who I work with, and said, “We need to push this, we’re not doing a legacy product here.” This is important; it’s all about people hearing the record for the first time, whether they’ve heard the record for the last 50 years or they’ve heard the record for the first time. I remember playing it to Bob Clearmountain, a legendary mixing engineer, when I was in L.A. working on it, and he went, “Oh God, I feel like crying. I feel like I’m hearing the record for the first time.” And I went. “That’s the plan!”

Giles Martin – Interview with Ken Sharp – From Beatlefan #226 (May-June 2017)

Was there any thought to including “Only a Northern Song” on [the reissue of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 2017]?

There was, yeah. There was some disagreement over whether it was rejected for the album or not. If that was the case, I didn’t want to celebrate that it was rejected for the album, because I think it’s a pretty good song. I said this to George’s wife, OIivia. “Why should we celebrate the fact that it was thrown off the album by making it an extra?” We have so much material, I could barely get the extras onto two albums. The Beatles were so precise and concise with what they did, and I think we have to treat this in the same way. This is about “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and I think everyone would agree, my father especially, that “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” were a part of that legacy. So, that’s what we’ve kept it to and there’s not too much confusion. Even the elements that aren’t songs but are on the extras are things that are from the songs, so the piano take from “A Day in the Life,” the whole nine takes of that session are on it. For me, it’s all about building a record. There’s no point with putting “Only a Northern Song” on there, because it’s not on the record, if that makes sense. But, of course, we considered everything. We considered whether we should put “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” on the album. I talked to Paul about it and he went, “Well, where would you put them?” You can’t put them at the beginning ’cause the album starts with the audience as the beginning of a piece, and you can’t put them at the end. So do you put them on Side 1? Then it’s like, why? We are already remixing the album and people might get angry with me for that. I think we made the right decision

Giles Martin – Interview with Ken Sharp – From Beatlefan #226 (May-June 2017)

You ran the mixes by Paul; what impressed him especially?

I think it took him back to the recording of the album, as opposed to the mixing of it, if that makes sense, because he could hear everything there. Paul is driven, he’s passionate, but he has a great memory for everything. He has a great memory for music, so he knows what’s there and he knows what he played and what John played and what George and Ringo played and remembers doing it. But l think for him it triggers that memory. This is a homage to their creativity, not to me mixing. It’s not about that and it’s not about hearing stuff you’ve never heard before. Last night, I played the album to some people and one person said, “What’s great about this is I can really hear the drums,” and then another guy came up to me and said, “What I really like about this mix is the way the guitars sound.” and then another one said, “I love the fact that l can really hear Paul’s bass.” Jeff Jones, who is the head of Apple, said, “the thing about these mixes is you can hear the backing vocals really well.” You go, OK, we’re probably doing a pretty good job if that’s the case [laughs] ’cause that’s what it is. It’s pulling back the layers. What’s beautiful about The Beatles is the support mechanism. There’s so much written about bad stutt, but I played “Within You, Without You” and Paul goes, “You know that’s George playing the sitar solo. That’s him.” He said it with such pride, because the music was so complex. My father always said that George was a tapestry guy making a carpet, very particular about each and every thread. And it’s that appreciation of everyone’s talents that they had. I think “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was the culmination of the four of them all working together.

So I sat down and listened to the whole album with Paul, and he believes the same thing as I do; it’s not a technical question, it’s a question of how does this album make you feel? There have been remix projects done with bands where they take the songs and they try and change them. I think people will listen to this and think, “That’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles.” Hopefully, it’s only when they flip back to the [original] record that they knew [that] they’ll go, “Oh, now I get what they were doing.”

Giles Martin – Interview with Ken Sharp – From Beatlefan #226 (May-June 2017)

The journey to bring a contemporary sound to the Beatles albums, aligning these remixes with the 50th anniversaries of their original releases, continued with the White Album in 2018Abbey Road in 2019, and Let It Be in 2020, though the latter’s release shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last updated on April 1, 2024

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