On the remixed Sgt Pepper

If you’ve never listened to Sgt. Pepper, go right now and listen. Feel free to skip the original version and head right to the new remix. Also? If you’ve never listened to Sgt. Pepper you can skip this post; it’s probably not for you.

In 2006, Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles Martin released Love, a “soundtrack remix album” that mashed up “the whole Beatles lifespan” to accompany the Cirque du Soleil show that’s still running at the Mirage in Vegas. Beatles purists may have been aghast, but for a short period of time I couldn’t get enough of it. I blogged about it at the time:

Fast forward a decade, and the younger Martin is now responsible for the remixed and remastered Sgt. Pepper. (George Martin died last year at 90.) Timed with the 50th anniversary of its original release, it would be easy to ignore this as yet another attempt to milk the boomer nostalgia for the late 60s. But if you’re at all familiar with the original, listening to the new record with a decent set of headphones is one “whoa” moment after another.

paul and john, with george martin. swiped from beatles.com

The 1967 Sgt. Pepper was mixed down to mono, so this remix isn’t in the category of “you can finally hear it the way they wanted you to hear it.” Instead, think of it this way: now you can simply, finally, hear it. And it’s mind-blowing. Here’s Chris Morris in Variety:

The record has me reaching for Jeff Hawkins’ On Intelligence again. It’s a book I recommend all the time to people who design and build products; Hawkins was the founder of Palm and Handspring. Here’s a bit from Wikipedia about his memory-prediction framework that, for me, explains what’s happening when I listen to the new Pepper.

(Can we get back to music? Please.)

The second half of the reissue — outtakes from the studio sessions, rehearsals, snippets — is just as revelatory as the remix. The recordings capture the band in the act, in a radically different way than concert footage does. They’re not performing, they’re working. Here’s Jon Pareles in the Times yesterday:

In 2008 musician Andrew Bird wrote an incredible blog post about what it’s like to be in the studio, where “the audience has disappeared and you are given the attractive, but dangerous option to control everything.” Great music makes it easy to forget that everything you hear on every record you enjoy is the result of thousands…hundreds of thousands…of individual decisions. The Sgt. Pepper remix/reissue is a glorious way to witness that decision making by artists at the top of their game. Especially if you think you know every note by heart.

Go listen. It’s guaranteed to raise a smile.

Avid reader, long time blogger, art nerd, Swiftie. I work at Medium.

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