Like I really need an excuse to buy a new record, CD, or Blu-ray Disc….
Well, actually, I do, especially when I already have a “perfectly good” copy or three in my collection of a particular recording. But… one of the key reasons I became a record collector in the first place was simply my quest for the best sounding available recordings. What I’ve known for 30+ years — something that some are only starting to grok now “en masse” (ie. The Beatle’s Mono Box from 2010) — is that the original mono mixes of older recordings often times sound significantly better and different — especially from that transient period when stereo was just really starting to take hold in the marketplace, approximately 1964 – 1968.
The main reason for this is simple: recording technology at that time was still mostly done on four tracks (or less), thus requiring creative recording techniques when it came down to capturing the essence of a group. Or simply the engineers really didn’t know the best ways to mix in stereo yet (remember: the Beatles were not even present for the stereo mix of Sgt. Pepper, which was relegated to a then assistant engineer). Rock and Roll records tend to suffer most from these weak stereo mixes because of the practice of mixing down three-tracks (or recording live three channels) of rhythm section down to one track, thus freeing up the other three tracks for vocals and guitar overdubs. And when it came down to mixing these recordings to stereo, frequently you ended getting the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar coming out of one speaker, and the remainder coming out of the other.
Variants ensue. Such as the case of The Jefferson Airplane’s third release After Bathing at Baxter’s, where the drum kit is in mostly the left channel and Jack Cassidy’s ripping bass is in the right . The effect is like putting these backbone elements of any good rock record in separate rooms — you can hear them but you lose the combined effect of the two rocking together in close knit fashion. One can see why they wanted to experiment on this album — Baxter’s is a trippy record with some great psychedelic rock moments happening. But at the end of the day, the mono mix still rules. It was just not easy to find on a good condition original RCA pressing, so my stereo copy sufficed. Especially for this 1967 release, which was released at the turning point when labels started making more stereo copies available than mono.
Thus, I was pleased to find the excuse to buy the Sundazed Records’ Mono reissue of After Bathing at Baxter’s — a limited edition run of 300 lovely red copies on nice thick quiet audiophile vinyl. So until I find that original pressing, this new Sundazed release is rocking my turntable just fine.
The superiority of the mono mix is immediately noticeable in the first 30 seconds of the opening track, “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” where you can really hear Jack’s bass in lock step with Spencer Dryden’s drums. “Wild Tyme,” “Watch Her Ride,” and the classic “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” sound so much better in this mix, allowing you to really hear the glorious close harmonies of Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, and Marty Balin as one. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen’s soaring feedback leads feel amazing against Kantner’s chiming 12-string Rickenbacker rhythms. Yes, feedback is something you should be able to feel — and you can in this mix. In all likelihood this is the mix you heard on radio back in the day (radio was still mostly broadcasting in mono and stations were typically serviced with promo copies).
Possibly the only edge the original pressing has over this is the high end is a little brighter — cymbals sound a bit shinier in particular. I’m not sure if this has to do with the mix itself or simply the master tape losing some of its high end with age. Nonetheless, if you like the Airplane and want to really hear how they could … er… take off (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), this mono mix rocks and rocks hard with punch, richness, and better balance than the stereo counterpart. You get the original gatefold artwork and if you get the red vinyl version, its cool to look at on your turntable too! Win!
They still have some red copies so get ‘em while you can!
Listen to how they sounded live without at net at Woodstock
Imagine how good this would sound if the drums and bass were front and center in your head… on the mono mix they can be!