Music Monday: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Box (Part Two)

I previously posted my initial reaction to the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Edition box set, and now having listened to the whole thing I have some further thoughts I would like to share.

First, this box set is not for everybody. It’s perfect for me, mind you, and many other Beatles-nerds who have both mono and stereo versions of the albums. Or maybe you just have the albums in stereo from that big box set from 2009. If that’s what you have and the Anthology sets along with both Live At The BBC compilations, and maybe Let It Be… Naked then this big box set might be for you.

There is another offering, a two-disc version, featuring the new mix and a few of the extra tracks, which might be enough for many people.

Not me.

Second, as a package, it’s pretty darn good. The book it came with is a great examination of the album, what went into making it, it’s impact, and a whole lot more. Personally I could do without the poster for Mr. Kite, and perhaps would have preferred the CDs to come in something a bit more substantial other than a replica of the vinyl album.

That said, it’s the music at the heart of this box set and we certainly are not to be disappointed here.

The first CD is a brand new mix of the album, but essentially based on the original mono mix from 50 years ago. Stereo was still relatively new at the time so the band put more effort into the mono versions of their albums. Without sitting down and doing a song by song comparison of the various versions of the album I have (too many according to my wife) I can’t give a measure by measure critique of the subtle, yet sometimes obvious, differences that crop up.

A new mix is not the reason to pick this box set up. Don’t get me wrong, because the album sounds fantastic. No, the real reason for spending the money begins on the second disc.

Despite being included on Magical Mystery Tour, the songs “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” are included in this package, not on the first disc of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album proper, but instead starting on the second disc with the outtakes. We get these songs because they were recorded alongside the Sgt. Pepper album, possibly for inclusion, but also because they were part of the experimentation process that helped to develop the landmark album.

Presented chronologically as recorded, disc two starts off with a very sparse and almost demented sounding first take of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the fourth track being take 26 and the song is sped up considerably. By the time you get to the new stereo mix of the song you have an appreciation for how the band worked to craft this song.

The album was not recorded in the order the songs are presented upon it, but instead rather piecemeal – “A Day In The Life”, the final song was recorded early on. Particularly interesting is the work that went into that final emphatic chord.

On disc three we get more songs from the sessions in their much more formative forms. There are some great examinations of how “Fixing A Hole” and “Getting Better” took shape for example. What I did find disappointing was how little there was for “Within You Without You” as one of the more musically interesting and diverse songs on the album. “Within You Without You” is much more of a departure than anything else the group had done up to that point, and that included “Love You To” from the previous Revolver album as “Within You Without You” is built almost exclusively around the Indian instrumentation instead of as an augmentation. I would have liked a little bit more of an exploration for this number.

Hearing how these songs take shape is of great interest to longtime die-hard fans such as myself. I could have done with another disc full of outtakes. My 14 year old son, however, was absolutely sic of hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the time disc four came on with its original mono mix and bonus tracks (more mono mixes of songs already on the set) he said that he hated the song so much now he hopes to not hear it again for years.

Included are two additional discs, one DVD, one Blu-ray, both with the same content. I think this is overkill as I am pretty sure at this point if you are the type of person to spend this kind of money on a box set of this type you have a Blu-ray player. First there is an audio presentation of the album in yet another mix specifically for high-definition audiophiles a few promotional videos (“Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane” and “A Day In The Life”) along with the 1992 documentary about the making of the album, a project that presumably was the genesis for the entire Anthology project.

Having listened to the contents of this box set twice now I can honestly say I am happy with my purchase.¬†For many people the two-disc version with a few of the highlights from the album sessions will be enough. For some of us it simply isn’t.

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