I remember when I was a mere tot, I’d see old Rolling Stones albums (yes, these were actual physical objects made from vinyl, a fragile black petroleum-based substance) at the used record store, selling for what was a small fortune back then, $25 or more. And written on the plastic sleeve, with an exclamation point, was the word “Mono!”. Why, that doesn’t make sense, thought the younger, dumber me. Why pay more for mono, when you can get a brand-new album in stereophonic sound (TM) for only $5? (I told you this was a long time ago).
Long story short (you can read much, much more about this here and here, for the truly obsessive) mono sounds 10x better! In the 60s most UK studios were pretty primitive by today’s standards – but they mixed and engineered their recordings in mono, probably from two tracks. The US versions of early Stones (and Beatles) records create “electronically processed stereo” versions of the albums, because, you know, mono was déclassé. Not proper stereo – they’d put a guitar and bass on one speaker, and vocals and drums on the other, or some such mixture. These reprocessed versions were thrown together quickly and, for the most part, are atrocious – one in particular that stands out is the US version of Revolver. Listen to the “stereo” version of Revolver with headphones and you’ll understand how music can be butchered in a mix. Luckily – finally – all the Beatles’ albums were re-released in mono last year. Sadly, the Stones’ records have not (yet) had this treatment. UPDATE: Yes, there’s a huge box set of all their records now available in mono, yahoo!
Nowadays these early mono pressings go for hundreds of dollars on Ebay (to make matters more confusing, there are some US mono pressings, eg Satanic Majesty’s Request, and they started with the stereo in the UK in the mid-sixties, as well as differences between the album and single mixes).
YouTube to the rescue! I stumbled across these a few days ago and my mind was blown. Some kind Stonesologist (?) recorded hi-def versions of many early Stones’ classics, ripping directly from UK mono vinyl releases to H.264 sound. Play these side by side versus the “electronically processed stereo” you’ve grown up with (at least if you grew up stateside) and prepare to be blown away – the mono is much more powerful and penetrating – it just “pops”. Eh, go ahead and have a treat, listen for yourself. These ought to get you started – there are plenty more on YouTube. But plenty are still missing. Hopefully they’ll put out a complete mono boxed set of the early records sooner rather than later. In the meantime, enjoy!
Jumpin’ Jack Flash – UK Single Vinyl Mono
Side Note: Check out how awful Brian looks here. Everyone talks about Keith, but can you imagine what Brian would look like by now if he were still alive? (shudders)
Get Off My Cloud – UK Vinyl Mono Single Mix
Satisfaction – UK Vinyl Mono Single Mix
She’s a Rainbow – US Vinyl Mono
Sympathy For the Devil – Mono Vinyl LP Mix
Let it Bleed – Mono Vinyl LP Mix
Finally, this one isn’t mono, because they’d actually been recording in stereo by the time Sticky Fingers came out. But this vinyl rip is still vastly superior to the CD versions. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go tune my Telecaster to open G – one of these days perhaps I’ll make a real leap of faith and take off the low e string all together…
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking