THE BEATLES PART 2: Choosing a MONO Pressing

The blank cover of The White Album was perhaps symbolic of the Fab Four’s reluctance to reveal their internal disintegration. Lennon and McCartney still shared songwriting credit, but were being pulled apart by their differing creative and philosophical interests. As a result they were composing almost exclusively on their own. Their songs, along with George Harrison’s, covered a wide variety of emotions – joy, disdain, empathy, boredom, hope, sadness, love, anger, even hysteria. The White Album not only stretched the rules, it broke them.

By 1968, stereo albums were becoming increasingly popular, and this would be the last Beatles album to receive a dedicated mono mix (1969’s Yellow Submarine mono soundtrack is a fold down). The mono mix of The White Album differs from the stereo version on several songs. This makes for interesting listening for those who are intimately familiar with the US LPs – released in stereophonic sound only. One example is Eric Clapton’s guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which is more modulated and goes on longer before the fade-out.

The original UK mono double LP (PMC 7067-8) with –1 lacquer numbers, now 40 years old, has a warmth and naturalness to the vocals that’s very appealing. In particular, the handclaps on Paul’s Beach Boys inspired “Back In The USSR” and John’s mocking “Dear Prudence” vocals sound very realistic. The ambience surrounding the drum kit and tambourine is also convincingly reproduced. Unfortunately, obtaining a really clean copy of this rare top-loader can be difficult and expensive. A truly excellent condition example (US grading) with a clean cover and all the right inners, poster and prints could cost over $400, and true near mint copies can go for double that.

A 1982 UK mono reissue, on thinner vinyl with –2 lacquer numbers, is slightly more punchy and detailed. It has a greater midrange presence, but is slightly bright and less tonally convincing. The only other LP option for The White Album in mono is the 1982/1986 limited edition Japanese release (EAS-67157-5). On these pressings the vocals are warm and slightly recessed. This actually works pretty well on several tracks like Paul’s raucous “Rocky Raccoon”. Beautifully pressed on red wax, the Japanese mono has fantastic bass reproduction – even if it does come off sounding a bit processed compared to UK copies. An excellent condition copy of the 1982 UK mono reissue runs about $150, and the Japanese red vinyl mono with obi goes for around $200. Since these reissues are usually in better shape than the 1968 original they are considered a good value. Makes you want to own a time machine, doesn’t it?

Of important note are the recently released re-mastered CDs from The Beatles Mono Box. The White Album on mono CD is one of the best sounding albums from that collection. It is very detailed and incredibly revealing of what must be on the master tape. It would be very interesting to hear what a re-mastered Beatles mono box vinyl collection from EMI would sound like – especially The White Album.

Part 3 and 4 to follow.