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Beatles Tracks: Behind The Scenes

by David Haber

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (1996), I wrote an article for this website about something I had read about even longer ago, perhaps in the 80's, in, if my memory serves me correctly, Stereo Review magazine. Quadraphonics (4 channel stereo) was all the rage then, and this article talked about a way you could hook up a third speaker to your existing stereo system, and without additional amplifiers or equipment, hear a whole new third channel of sound that was "buried" in many stereo recordings.

I even remember a quote from that article, all these many years later, because it was Beatles-related. The article said that when you play "Octopus's Garden" from the Abbey Road album with this special third speaker, it actually sounds like the speaker "gets wet" as the underwater effects are heard in the song.

What you did was hook up the + and - of the speaker terminals to the + of the left channel and the + of the right channel on the amp. What this accomplished was basically hooking up one speaker to both channels, connected together but out of phase with each other, and doing this has a wondrous result, which is, whatever is the same in both channels is cancelled out, leaving only what is different in both channels. They called this concept "Left Minus Right" (L-R).

I say it is a wondrous result, because in most modern stereo recordings, typically the instruments are separated in the left and right channels, and the vocal is panned into the middle. That means the vocal is the same in both channels, and with L-R it is cancelled out, leaving only the instruments.

Of course, I tried it with our favorite records (the Beatles!) and was immediately blown away! For students of Beatles music, this was another way to peel away a layer of the music to be able to hear what was underneath! For Beatles fans who study the nuances of the music, and for musicians wanting to learn the individual instrumental parts or vocal harmonies, this technique is invaluable.

But how good a result you get with L-R depends partially on how good your source material is. If it doesn't have perfect separation, more of what should be separated will get cancelled out, and if the source channels aren't properly in phase with each other, they can't cancel each other out as completely or efficiently, because the whole thing depends on the phase of the signals cancelling each other out. Problem was, with turntables, you were at the mercy of how much separation your cartridge could provide, and how well it could deliver those signals in phase. These problems, of course, all went away, when The Beatles started to come out on CD in 1987.

My original webpage on this subject lists all the songs which are dramatically changed or otherwise interesting when listened to with L-R, which at some point also started to be called OOPS, for Out-Of-Phase-Stereo. (The original page also has instructions on how to do this yourself.) It's been updated over the years with subsequent Beatles releases. But since the original Beatles CDs came out in 1987, there haven't been that many new good candidates for OOPSing.

That is, of course, until the Capitol Albums box sets came out! Both sets contain many tracks that have never been available in stereo on CD before, and we now have many new opportunities to apply OOPS to Beatles tracks we never could before. Of course, even without OOPSing a track, its also fun to just listen to one track or the other at a time, especially with the early Beatles recordings that had mostly vocals on one side and instruments on the other.

On Capitol Albums Vol. 1, almost all of Meet The Beatles can be deconstructed by listening to one track at a time. For example, the left channel "I Saw Her Standing There" puts you there in the studio with them as they're recording the track.

I Saw Her Standing There - Left Channel (Excerpt) [MP3 584k]

Similarly, some tracks on the next album, The Beatles Second Album, are also fun to listen to one track at a time. The most striking track played this way on this album is "Roll Over Beethoven":

Roll Over Beethoven - Left Channel (Excerpt) [MP3 652k]

And if you want Paul to teach you how to play the bass, just listen to the left channel of "Honey Don't" on Beatles '65.

Of course, the fun really starts when you OOPS the tracks! When OOPSed, "Long Tall Sally" sounds as if you're hearing the Beatles playing it while you're standing at the back of The Cavern:

Long Tall Sally - OOPSed (Excerpt) [MP3 594k]

So many of these tracks were previously not available in stereo on CD before, they're really fun to hear in this new way. But the best OOPSed track on Beatles '65 is "Rock 'N' Roll Music", which was in mono on the Beatles For Sale CD:

Rock 'N' Roll Music - OOPSed (Excerpt) [MP3 630k]

The fun continues on Capitol Albums Vol. 2! The Early Beatles contains several tracks that are fun to listen to one channel at a time. "Twist and Shout" is a great track to listen to this way, as is "Please Please Me":

Twist and Shout - Left Channel (Excerpt) [MP3 680k]
Please Please Me - Left Channel (Excerpt) [MP3 643k]

The most dramatic of all new OOPSed tracks appear on Beatles VI. These tracks were in mono on Beatles For Sale and so could never be OOPSed before. For example, you can hear George before his guitar was double-tracked by OOPSing "Dizzy Miss Lizzy", and the raw energy really comes through when you hear the boys shouting back "Hey hey hey hey!" without hearing the lead vocals on "Kansas City".

Kansas City - OOPSed (Excerpt) [MP3 576k]

But my favorite OOPSed track from Beatles VI is "Words Of Love":

Words Of Love - OOPSed (Excerpt) [MP3 606k]

Of course, I've just teased you with clips of a few examples, if you're interested in hearing the Beatles "behind the scenes", most of the tracks on the new CDs are fun to listen to this way for one reason or another, I've only listed a few of my favorites. I recommend you play with it and explore!

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