This summer commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a record regarded by many as the most influential rock album of all time. Generations of fans and music critics have celebrated the album’s disparate musical influences and lyrical content while scrutinizing the nuances of producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick’s original mono and stereo mixes.
In honor of “Sgt. Pepper’s” golden anniversary, George Martin’s son, Giles Martin, recently released an acclaimed remix of the album, along with rare rehearsal takes and outtakes. Giles painstakingly searched through the Abbey Road Studios archive for the original recordings and session notes to create new stereo versions of the tracks. The 1967 stereo version was completed in a mere three days as an afterthought to the initial mono mix, and George Martin is said to have always lamented the hastiness of its completion.
Studer and AKG equipment played a significant role in the original recording of “Sgt. Pepper’s” and, at HARMAN Professional Solutions, we can’t help but reflect on our own participation in the historic tracks. JBL, AKG and Studer are each celebrating approximately 70 years in the audio industry and, in addition to “Sgt. Pepper’s,” are proud to have supported countless brilliant performances throughout the decades.
In 1967, the pinnacle of studio technology was recording onto a Studer J37 four-track recorder in Studio Two at Abbey Road Studios. Without larger recorders, tracks repeatedly needed to be premixed and bounced to another four-track machine. Multiple generations of mixes were required to realize the final complex arrangements of “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Returning to the 1967 four-tracks, Giles Martin was able to reconstruct the songs using the Beatles’ original takes, without any generational degradation. The result is the most pristine version of the album ever heard.
This isn’t the first time the classic record has been reconceptualized. Ten years ago, in honor of “Sgt. Pepper’s” 40th anniversary, Geoff Emerick produced and engineered a remake of the record for the BBC. Musician and activist Bob Geldof suggested producing radio and television documentaries of Emerick rerecording “Sgt. Pepper’s” with the original equipment and featuring some of the top artists of the time.
In preparation for the project, Emerick assembled as much of the original gear used on the 1967 album as possible. He was able to reunite two original Studer J37 one-inch, four-track tape recorders and two original EMI mixing consoles, provided by Mark Knopfler and Lenny Kravitz. Emerick was also able to borrow vintage AKG microphones from the AKG Museum in Vienna, Austria. Bryan Adams, Kaiser Chiefs, Oasis, Travis and other popular artists each performed a song for the project.
“The first rule of the recordings was that we were going to have fun,” said Emerick. “When I can, I still workin analog, so we were going to [record on] tape. That means if we mess up in the middle of the rhythm track, we go back to the beginning and start recording again. For me, the performance has to come almost in its entirety from the studio floor.”
Emerick also deployed JBL LSR6300 Series studio monitors for the project. “When I’m mixing, I like to feel that I’ve captured a moment,” said Emerick. “To me, there’s only one mix, and that’s the real mix. Like lots of engineers, I was having problems when I’d listen to mixes outside of the control room. Often, the relationship between instruments and vocals is not consistent. However, since I’ve started mixing on the JBL LSR Series, the perspective in the mastering room has been exactly the same as in the control room. They have that quality and punch I’m used to getting from the drums and the bass, and the guitars of course—that really good, solid sound.”
Ten years later, as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” celebrates the big 5-0, the JBL LSR Series remains among the most popular studio monitors in the world.
Are you a recording engineer or producer who has remixed or remastered older recordings using modern technology? Share your insights and experience in the comments.