All things must be remixed
“When I make a record,” Phil Spector said, “I don’t want to tell musicians, ‘Well, eventually it’s going to sound like this — you’re going to be in more echo.’ No, put it on now. You can’t take the echo off ‘Be My Baby’. You can’t take the echo off ‘River Deep — Mountain High’. It’s on Tina Turner forever. That’s my art.”
Not, however, when it comes to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Just over 50 years after the release of the hugely successful solo triple album, which Spector co-produced with the former Beatle, a new version of the album has appeared, in which the tracks have been remixed by Dhani Harrison, George’s son, and an engineer, Paul Hicks. It’s a project intended, they claim, to bring out Harrison’s contribution by clarifying the sound. It seems to me that, a few months after Spector’s death, what they’ve really been attempting to do is diminish the impact of Spector’s contribution and thereby to reduce what might be seen, in the light of his conviction on a charge of murdering the actress Lana Clarkson in a shooting incident at his home in 2003, as a stain on the record’s reputation.
The excuse for this apparent exercise in detoxification seems to be that George once said he might have liked this group of songs to have been produced with a lighter touch. I don’t think that’s good enough. He and Spector worked together over a period of months on the recording and mixing at Abbey Road, Trident and Apple studios. If Harrison had wanted the stripped-down sound that Spector produced for John Lennon on the Plastic Ono Band album that same year, he had plenty of opportunity to ask for it. Very clearly he didn’t. And nor did he choose to do anything about it in the three decades between the release of the album and his own death in 2001.
I spent £17 on the basic two-CD edition of the new version, as many will have been persuaded to do, and to me all the remixing does, by altering many of the aural dimensions and perspectives that Spector brought to it, is to diminish the grandeur and the impact of the music, robbing it of its character. It’s no longer the sharply focused record he and Harrison mixed, mastered and passed for release. It’s more ordinary. And, of course, the two people primarily responsible for its conception and execution are no longer around to offer their opinion.
Once again, I’d say that if Harrison had wanted his guitar lines to be louder, or his voice to be closer to the foreground, he could have had those things at the time, on demand. And if he’d wanted people to pay $999.98 or £859.99 for an “uber de luxe edition” including eight vinyl LPs, five CDs, a Blu-Ray disc, two books, a bookmark made from a felled oak tree in George’s garden at Friar Park, 1/6th scale “replica figurines” of George and the garden gnomes from the album cover, and a set of prayer beads, all housed within “an artisan-designed wooden crate”, I guess he’d have asked for that, too.
Having read all the advance publicity material, I was curious enough to wander down to Duke of York’s Square on the King’s Road in Chelsea to have a look at a promotional stunt devised to tie in with the release. This is a physical interpretation of Barry Feinstein’s cover photograph from the album, installed close by the entrance to the Saatchi Gallery. It’s by “world renowned floral artist Ruth Davis”, and you can see the result in the photograph above.
The idea is that you can take George’s place on the stool — you’ll have to bring your own hat and gumboots — and get a friend to take your photograph, which you can then circulate on your preferred social-media platform. It’ll be gone by the weekend, but to me it looked like bits and bobs left over from that ludicrous and expensively misconceived “mountain” currently positioned next to Marble Arch, at the top of Park Lane. Marble Arch was better without it, just as All Things Must Pass sounds better without someone else’s second thoughts. Some things are best left alone.
Oh dear, and well said Richard. Prompted by your post, I just listened to the remix of the song ‘All Things Must Pass’ on YouTube and then played the original, and you are quite correct in deeming the new version inferior. There was a unique ambience to George and Spector’s original production that we have every reason to believe was precisely what they wanted this gorgeous record to sound like, and to tamper with that is both unnecessary and, frankly, abhorrent. This track – and probably all the rest if what you say is true – simply sounds ordinary now; still a great song but lacking the depth that marked it out as a Spector production. I certainly won’t waste my £17, let alone contemplate the bells and whistles version.
I think ATMP was the very first album my older sister and I purchased with our own money when we were children. I listened to it over and over and over again… After reading your post, Richard, and the comment by Chris I am not sure if I even want to give the newly re-mixed versions a listen. Perhaps we can chalk this up as a potentially healing project for his son to have undertaken… and try to overlook all the money-making opportunities currently associated with it.
The Art of Dying, indeed. Best leave it at that. Thank you, Richard.
R.W. On the money as usual. ( and I’ll be hanging on to mine too ! )
I remember Phil sporting a back -to -mono badge. Why remix ANYTHING ? Has there ever been a superior remix ? I`m old enough to remember disastrous attempts to turn mono classics like “Long Tall Sally” into stereo. There is musical ability and there is technology.
Agree. First write is right. George had opportunities on the first mix and subsequent re-Issues to make changes. I have not bought the 50th issue and I will stick with my well worn original vinyl. The best solo Beatle effort and up there with Sargent P and Revolver.
In fact, in the liner notes to the 2001 remaster George said he would have liked to have remixed the album. I’ve read that EMI vetoed the idea. I think the remix is mixed (excuse the pun) – I think the biggest Wall of Sound tracks sound better. Beware of Darkness doesn’t. We always have the earlier mix to go back to.
I echo that Richard.
Good pun on “echo”!
“Some things are best left alone.” You got that right. Reading your piece brought to mind the colorizing of movies and photographs which were originally – and deliberately – created in black and white. Not all alterations are improvements, and too many have more commercial than creative potential…
There have been examples of successful re-mixes especially of live recordings but more often than not better to leave things alone.
Sorry Peter Smith have to disagree ‘the best solo Beatle effort’ this isn’t even the best George Harrison effort which were when he wasn’t solo. Most of McCartney’s solo efforts knock this into a cocked hat.
There seems to be an obsession with removing echo/reverb, whatever you want to call it, on reissues these days. The truth is, there’s good reverb and bad reverb. The likes of Bob Ezrin, Spector and Brian Wilson is always gonna be ‘good’ reverb… A similar travesty was enacted on the reissue of David Sylvian/Holger Czukay’s terrific ‘Plight And Premonition’ a few years ago – robbed of all its grandeur.
Another way to make some money. The box set proliferation continues aimed at the McDonalds Happy Meal audience – every meal has a ‘special’ toy. Or there again the Hi-Fi crowd with ultra flat 200 gram vinyl at £150 a pop. Now buy an album spread over 2 discs running at 45 rpm which you already own in 3 other formats.
My advice: clean your old records and listen to them on some decent kit. That’s it.
Agreed. Perhaps you could clarify one issue though Richard. I recently watched a “Classic Albums” feature on the Plastic Ono Band album, during which Ringo Starr voiced his opinion that Spector had very little to do with that (untypical) production.
Well written, Richard. What really bothers me about all the remixing and remastering (aka more compression) going on is that the works being modified, updated, improved, call it what you want, are a part of our cultural record of the 20th century. And they’re being destroyed in the pursuit of money. Yet no-one seems concerned by this. I have a feeling Joni Mitchell is wrong in this case – you won’t know what you’ve lost when it’s gone.
You are very much in the minority here, Richard, but I have a hunch that that’s how you like it.
I’ve certainly heard remixed albums that *have* improved notably on the originals – some of Steven Wilson’s remixes in the ongoing series (one or two per year) of Jethro Tull albums, for instance, are splendid – adding careful light and air to recordings that were sometimes a little stodgy or, in ‘Aqualung’s case, initially compromised by studio problems. Then again, ‘Aqualung’ had a very singular sound-world, part of its magic, whatever its studio issues. With most of the Wilson / Tull series, though, the remixes are grand but not ‘essential’ – but the VFM is underpinned by substantial unreleased period bonus tracks and booklets, plus very competitive pricing.
Part of the problem with Beatles-related remix packages is that the original audio seems imprinted in so many people’s minds that it is somehow outrageous to even think about tinkering – and the added ultra-deluxe options with bonus garden gnomes, locks of Ringo’s hair and whatever else, with ludicrous pricing flips it all into the realms of the tawdry. Paul Macca, especially, seems to have sold out to Captain Tawdry in recent years, with three-figure-sum boxes of tat associated with deluxe versions of his solo albums and the recent series of endless, desperate variations in his ‘McCartney III’ album – the sound of a septuagenarian with an already glorious legacy chasing the meaningless No.1 spot by milking 5,000 core fans mercilessly.
I’ve bought the basic-version releases of the White Album and Abbey Road albums, but even as a non-die hard of the Beatles it seems to me that the previous remastered editions of the original mix audio were ‘the one’. Remastering rather than remixing, in my view, has made a huge difference to several favourite recordings… but I can also point to remastered editions of favourites that have been ghastly…
It is too expensive, compared with the big Beatles and John Lennon boxes (which have substantial hardback books). I have not seen anybody mention the jams which George and Phil Spector made at this time of old songs such as “Money Honey”. These could have been included – as were the jams on the Plastic Ono Band box. But, as you say, the re-mixes appear to be an attempt to downplay the Spector element. That said, I look forward to the Spectorless big box of the Let It Be sessions. It feels as if one is saving up pocket money again!
Seems I’ll mostly be on my own in this particular comment section but there are a few things that aren’t quite right – and that’s being polite – here.
Let’s begin with Harrison’s wishes. He said a number of times – a number much larger than the one in once – that he wished he could liberate many of the ATMP songs from Spector’s treatment. Now one can agree with Harrison’s position or not but, had be not been hit by that stabbing-cancer double punch, I think few would doubt he would’ve gotten to the project himself eventually. It was a thing for him. He never talked about re-doing the Dark Horse vocals, he never talked about stripping later albums of their horrendously dated synths or drum sounds, he talked about remixing ATMP. So there’s that.
There’s also a suggestion in your piece that the death of Spector had something to do with the timing of this. Well, that’s just bizarre. McCartney and company didn’t hesitate de-Spector-ing Let It Be while the wigged one was still alive and, had still been kicking around in 2021, it wouldn’t have stopped this project either.
And to the new version of the record itself? Well, the strange thing about your review is the broad brush it uses. Because, although I generally agree that the original is a better record as a whole, there’s no denying that – at the very least – there are some very interesting things here, approaches that are well worth hearing (and having). And, beyond the remix, there is the fascinating business of the early takes and songs not used. Just one listen to the whole thing was an education on exactly how records like this (and there certainly aren’t many records like this one) get made. How a song goes from routine on a demo or first band take to spectacular on the master.
Yes, the $1000 deluxe edition is ridiculous. Distasteful, even. But the rest I’m thrilled they’ve taken care to put out if for no other reason than it’s got people talking about – and listening to – ATMP in numbers that haven’t been seen in a very long time. And that’s a good thing.
Thanks for your response. I have two genuine questions. (1) Can you point me to the specific instances of George saying he’d like to remix ATMP? (2) What are the very interesting things you discovered in the remixed versions? RW
In the liner notes to the 2001 remaster.
HI Nigel Well here’s a thing (you may have seen this already as I recommended his blogs to you) but on the same day you gave me George’s “new” release I got an email reviewing it. What an amazing coincidence. He’s not very complimentary about it but when I eventually get to hear the original, having heard them in the reverse order to everyone else, I”ll be able to compare them myself. Thanks for the feedback on last night and apologies for the spelling and missing words in last night’s post-3-pints email. Enjoy Weymouth. Kev