With The Beatles in Mono vinyl album box set coming out on Tuesday, some people, especially younger Beatles fans who have been used to hearing in stereo, are probably wondering what’s the noise all about with the mono versions. We’ve decided to pick out a few Beatles songs here to show the differences between the mono and the stereo versions.
Some of those differences are pretty significant, as several authors have pointed out in many books analyzing the Beatles music. Things such as length, sound effects and even comments said by the Beatles were changed between the two versions. This article will point out some of the interesting ones. We hope it interests you enough to explore the topic more.
One of our sources was Joe Brennan’s “The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations,” which dates back to 1993 and was revised many years until 2000. While many books have come after it, it’s still a good basic textbook on what the differences on various Beatles tracks. And it’s free. Other books we used were Doug Sulpy’s“Complete Beatles Audio Guide” and Mitch McGeary’s “Every Little Thing” (hardback version).
The audio links on the tracks are to the CD versions, which, although don’t have the audio distinction of the new vinyl versions, at least give a basic idea of the differences. And we’re basically only talking about the legitimate CD versions, so we stayed away from bootlegs and movie versions for the most part.
And if this brief discussion of minute differences has you interested in more, the sources above are a good start. This is the stuff that fascinating late-night Beatle convention discussions are made of. And if you really want to hear a full look at the mono albums, the vinyl box set is a good place.
The big difference in the mono mix of “Help!” is that it has a different sounding lead vocal than the stereo version. Brennan calls it “rougher.” Joe Brennan also points out the two songs have lyrical differences. He says the mono vocal has “and now these days” while the stereo has “but now these days.”
The line “I’ve changed my mind” is also different with the mono vocal sounding more spread apart while the words run together and sung faster on the stereo version. The stereo also has a tambourine in the chorus, but not in the mono.
“Don’t Pass Me By”
The mono version of the Beatles “White Album” was, for many years, unavailable in America, but collectors knew that several of the tracks were much different in mono than their stereo counterparts. One very obvious track was “Don’t Pass Me By” on which the two versions of the track are at different speeds. The mono version is five seconds faster (3:45 for the mono vs. 3:50 for the stereo). Ringo’s vocal almost sounds like an audition for Alvin and the Chipmunks compared to the stereo.
Also different is the fiddle at the end of the song. The mono’s runs four seconds longer than the stereo – 15 seconds vs. 11 seconds.
Another song from the White Album, this one has always had a bit of intrigue surrounding it because of the knowledge, thanks to Mark Lewisohn’s superb “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions,” that a 27-minute version exists. A bigger mystery is whether fans will get to hear it. So far, that hasn’t happened.
But in his “Complete Audio Guide,” Doug Sulpy says that the mono “Helter Skelter” has some of the most significant differences in the Beatles catalog to its stereo version. There are differences in guitar level in the first verse and background vocals, drum patterns and noises in the song. Brennan says there are editing differences as well.
Last but not least, the mono does not include Ringo’s “I’ve got blisters in my fingers” comment. This makes the stereo version nearly a minute longer.
“I Should Have Known Better”
Anyone who saw “A Hard Day’s Night” heard this. The stereo version of “I Should Have Known Better” had a different harmonica introduction than the mono version. On the stereo, John pauses and actually plays a wrong note. That is corrected on the mono.
The mono version also uses a little faster fadeout, with “you love me too” heard three times in mono, but it’s sung a fourth time (and barely audible) in the stereo version.
“I Am the Walrus”
Another song with several differences between the stereo and mono versions almost to the point of confusion. The introduction to the mono version opens differently than the stereo, with many stereo versions (but not all) having six beats and the mono having four.
A mixing oddity has Ringo’s drums dropping out for four beats, but not in stereo. There are others, including on the U.S. single (not on the new box) which contains four unique bars of music. And we haven’t even begun. As George Harrison sang, it’s all too much.