I guess I’ll have to buy the Red and Blue Albums again [Review]

By Bruce Spizer

In the 1997 science fiction comedy “Men In Black,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K shows Will Smith’s Agent J a tiny circular object made from extraterrestrial technology and tells his fellow agent: “It’s gonna replace CDs soon. I guess I’ll have to buy ‘The White Album’ again.” And so it has been for the past several decades as Beatles fans have to deal with that troubling question, “Do I need to buy {Input Beatles Album Here} again?” Only this time, it’s not one of the Beatles core catalog albums, but instead the group’s pair of hits collections “The Beatles/1962-1966” and “The Beatles/1967-1970,” familiarly known as “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album.”

I remember buying these double-disc vinyl wonders when they were first released in 1973. Of course, I had all of the songs spread throughout various albums and singles, but here they were, a collection of all the Beatles hit singles mixed with choice album tracks, all together now for my listening pleasure. For many Americans, it finally gave them “From Me To You” on an album. Both collections sold extremely well, not only to first generation Beatles fans, but also serving as an introduction to countless others of the Beatles incredible music. Five years later the albums were reissued in colored vinyl, with “The Red Album” pressed in red vinyl, and “The Blue Album” pressed in blue vinyl. Even though there was no new content or mixes, it looked really cool, so many Beatles fans, including me, bought the albums for a second time.

Flash forward to September 1993. “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album” are finally available on CD, with each issued in double clam-shell cases. Not much doubt about it. Beatles fans needed to have these collections on CD. And then in October 2010, the albums were re-released in double digipaks with the 2009 remastered tracks. Improved sound quality–count me in! And for vinyl purists, there were the 2014 remastered vinyl versions, less-than-essential luxury items for most fans.

Now (and then), in 2023, we are once again faced with the question, “Do I need to buy the Red and Blue Albums again?” Do you really need to ask? Of course, you need to buy these albums again! And here’s why.

Both albums are expanded editions. “The Red Album” has a dozen tracks more than its original 26-song lineup, and “The Blue Album” adds nine more songs to its prior 27, including “Now And Then.” But the real reason to buy these albums is the new mixes. All of the tracks on “The Red Album,” with the exception of the eight “Revolver” session songs, were remixed using the same MAL isolation/demixing AI technology developed by Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films and used for the “Get Back” documentary, the 2022 “Revolver” reissue and “Now And Then.” The “Revolver” tracks were already remixed utilizing MAL technology, so there was no need to remix them. “The Blue Album” has six new remixes of previously released songs, while the others are represented with their recent remixes from 2015-2021.

“The Red Album” boasts the most remixed tracks. The results are stunning. George Martin always ensured that the Beatles vocals shined through and were not buried in the mix. His son, Giles, working with Sam Okell, has carried on that tradition. On all the tracks, the vocals are pristine and, for the most part, mixed left and right to give the impression they are centered in the stereo imaging. Paul’s bass and Ringo’s drums (either in full or in part) are also centered on most of the tracks. The guitars of John and George are often placed on separate tracks, enabling the listener to clearly hear the separate parts played by each. Instrumental solo spots are often centered, while added percussion and hand claps are normally predominantly left or right. Although centered, Paul’s bass is not as dominant in the mix as on some of 2017-2022 remixes. Ringo’s precise and exciting drumming cuts through as never before. The overall results are remixes they give listeners the best representation yet of what it must have sounded like in Abbey Road studios all those years ago. You feel like you are in the studio with the Beatles, hearing the often-underrated instrumental contributions of each of the members of the band.

Of particular interest are tracks that have never been released in true stereo (“Love Me Do” and “She Loves You”), tracks that were recorded on a two-track recorder with vocals on one side and instruments on the other (“Please Please Me,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist And Shout”) and the “Rubber Soul” session tracks that were deliberately mixed with vocals on one side and instruments on the other. As cool as it was (and is) to be able to focus on vocals only and instruments only when listening to the original stereo mixes of the “Rubber Soul” selections, the 2023 remix of the album’s tracks included in the collection demonstrates how much better these songs sound with a proper stereo mix. It’s sure to make fans look forward to the eventual release of a remixed “Rubber Soul” collection with even greater anticipation.

“Love Me Do” is given a straightforward mix with minimal separation. And yes, it’s the recording with Ringo on drums. The vocals, John’s harmonica, Paul’s bass, Ringo’s drums and the hand claps are predominately centered, while George’s acoustic guitar is mixed to the right. It’s a simple song with a simple mix that sounds better than ever. In “I Saw Her Standing There,” the separation of John and George’s guitars enables the listener to hear the different parts played by each on the song. The same is true for “Twist And Shout,” where John’s scorching lead vocal is up front and raw. “She Loves You” sounds incredible, with George’s guitar, Ringo’s drums and Paul’s bass standing out. While the edits made to the master were audible in previous releases of the song, here they magically disappear.

“A Hard Day’s Night” explodes out of the speakers with its dynamic opening chord augmented by Ringo hitting his snare drum and crash cymbal. The song’s driving percussion, consisting of Ringo’s drums and cowbell and engineer Norman Smith’s bongos, is clearly heard, as is George’s excellent guitar part. The new remix of “You Can’t Do That” features wonderful lead guitar work by both George (playing the riff on his new 12-string Rickenbacker heard in the left channel) and John (playing rhythm and the lead solo in the right). Other highlights include “This Boy,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “And I Love Her,” “I Feel Fine,” “Ticket To Ride,” “Yesterday,” “Michelle” and “In My Life.” In fact, every new mix is a revelation.

The new tracks for the “Red Album” are “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist And Shout,” “This Boy,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “You Can’t Do That,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Here, There And Everywhere” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The most noticeable set of additions is the five new tracks from “Revolver,” which was drastically under-represented on the original collection. George also gets three new songs with his lead vocals. It’s great to have these extra tracks, although I personally would have picked “I Need You” over “If I Needed Someone” (even though the latter sounds great). There are also essential Beatles cover versions, although the omissions of “Please Mister Postman” and particularly “Long Tall Sally” will frustrate some fans. But that is more of a testament to the greatness of the Beatles music rather than the fault of programming. No matter what new songs were selected, there would have been noticeable omissions.  

Purists may also be disappointed with the choice of takes on two songs. While the inclusion of the Ringo version of “Love Me Do” is indeed welcome, both “Please Please Me” and “Help!” were remixed from their stereo versions instead of their mono single mixes. This makes a difference with “Please Please Me” because the 1963 stereo mix was partially edited from different takes than the mono mix. This is quite noticeable in the third verse where John flubs the lyrics on the stereo mix. As these new remixes use MAL isolation technology, the 2023 stereo remix could and should have been made from the superior 1962 mono edit and mix. As for “Help!,” the hit single and stereo album versions have a different John Lennon vocal track. It would have been cool to have the vocals from the hit single instead of the album track. But these are minor quibbles that do not interfere with incredible-sounding listening experience. Hopefully stereo remixes of these mono versions will be made available on future remixed albums.

The new tracks for “The Blue Album” include “Within You Without You,” “Dear Prudence,” “Glass Onion,” “Blackbird,” “Blackbird,” “Hey Bulldog,” “Oh! Darling,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy,” “I Me Mine” and, of course, “Now And Then.” These three “White Album” tracks are welcome, although many fans will wonder why more weren’t included. Others will question the choice of “Glass Onion” over better John tracks such as “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” And many younger fans will lament the failure to include “Helter Skelter.” George picks up two more lead vocals, with the inclusion of “Within You Without You” being a direct result of the song’s growing appreciation stemming from the 2017 remix on the 50th anniversary edition of “Sgt. Pepper.”

The new remixes for “The Blue Album” include “I Am The Walrus,” “The Fool On The Hill,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Revolution,” “Hey Bulldog” and “Old Brown Shoe.” With only six new remixes, “The Blue Album” is less of a revelation than “The Red Album,” but it still holds some surprises such as in the three “Magical Mystery Tour” tracks. The title track sounds better than ever, with the backing vocals surrounding the listener. The brass, keyboards, Paul’s melodic bass lines and George’s guitar work are heard in stunning clarity. Paul’s pure vocal dominates “The Fool On The Hill,” which is given a fabulous remix that highlights Paul’s piano, the recorders and sound effects. “I Am The Walrus” is an absolute freak show, particularly towards the end where the track’s sound effects are brought up in the mix. The added clarity of the remix opens up the strings and enables the listener to hear the vocals provided by the Mike Sammes Singers and other effects more clearly. And while I love this remix, I wonder if a more conventional remix would have been better for this collection, with this creative remix saved for a deluxe edition of the “Magical Mystery Tour” songs.

The remix of “Revolution” enables the listener to better hear the vocals, hand claps and instruments; however, some may miss the overall distorted sound of the original single. On the other hand, the increased clarity found on “Hey Bulldog” is a welcomed contrast to the muddy-sounding mix from the 1969 “Yellow Submarine” LP. John and Paul’s vocals, John’s pounding piano, Paul’s melodic bass runs (and tambourine), George’s scorching guitar work and Ringo’s drums are all clearly heard throughout the song.

“The Blue Album” is another wonderful listening experience of some of the Beatles best tracks from the band’s later years. While some may question why “Now And Then” appears on an album whose official title is “The Beatles/1967-1970,” the song’s placement at the end of the collection following “The Long And Winding Road” serves as an effective coda to both the album and the Beatles career. 

In addition to digital downloads and streaming, these albums are available in both CD and vinyl formats. The CD collections mix the new tracks into the lineup in their chronological order. This makes sense as there was no need to expand these albums from two to three discs. The vinyl version needed to be spread over three discs. Apple wisely chose to keep the running order for the original vinyl albums as they were, with the third disc containing all the new tracks. This will satisfy the purists who do not want their original listening experience altered by the new tracks being inserted into the lineup. These records are available in both black vinyl and colored vinyl editions. There are also slipcased editions of both the CDs and vinyl records that contain both “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album.” Both collections contain new essays written by John Harris. Dolby Atmos mixes are available through downloads and streaming.

So now that you know you’ll have to buy the Red and Blue Albums again, the real only question is whether to buy the CD editions and/or the black vinyl editions and/or the colored vinyl editions. Once that decision is made, you should be good until some new extraterrestrial technology comes along.

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