It seems to be slowly dawning amongst collectors that ‘preservation’ is the name of the game for the Four Seasons catalogue. A US mastering engineer told us….”the Four Seasons kept the “group sound” alive into the 60s, even after the British Invasion hit American shores, so their significance in their legacy of pop music is monumental. Personal taste aside, some music is worth preservation if only for historical purposes and The Four Seasons’ mono single mixes are the way listeners remember them being played on the radio, not those sloppy Philips throw-togethers(STEREO or MONO Mix-downs). Hindsight is 20/20, and had the group thought of KEEPING the multi-track session masters, we could have accurate stereo remixes that match the mono single mixes. Alas, that is not to be, so the mono mixes rule.Another issue I have with stereo is overdubs being added during the mix to mono for the singles.”
In our last blog we promised we would finish the archive soon and the results are now being reviewed to select the best versions. These MONO mixes have excited us enough to commit a set of 26 tracks from Volume 2 (13 of their Philips 45s) to CD which has produced a great listening experience. I asked our own sound engineer about the technical process.
“The key was the network because without that you can’t access enough pressings to find good clean copies…..and dubbing and cleaning presents issues with the sonic integrity of preserving the vinyl. What format to dub to and what bit rate? But perhaps fundamentally……What is MONO? Well when the songs where originally issued on Philips 45s and MONO albums the expectation was that they would be played with a MONO stylus on a MONO amplifier, reproducing Bob Crewe’s radio focused mix. But since then and particularly today most people playing vinyl will use a STEREO stylus and cartridge. So, two slightly different signals result. In fact, this is a form of STEREO. So unless you use a MONO cartridge and stylus,,,it’s not true MONO. Another factor is that although a digital MONO signal can be generated this will be a mix of the two channels thereby averaging the sound. And when burned to CD the process re-generates 2 channels of MONO….that is what CD’s contain…so you can argue about integrity till the cows come home. The Four Seasons first Philips MONO album PHM 200-129 contains the following comment from Philips…..”Own a stereo phonograph? You’ll find playing this Philips regular Monoaural long-playing recording on it a revelation. In fact a stereo phonograph considerably heightens the natural clarity and brilliance of any Philips long-play recording.” That is because of the effect I already mentioned of the slight differences in the left and right channels.
We decided that in the interests of consistency and ‘hi-fidelity’ we would reproduce this effect for this period of music. The results we believe have the ‘heightened clarity and brilliance’ Philips advertised.
The aim has been to capture and optimize the dynamic range(the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds) and to preserve the ‘sound of vinyl’ from the analogue age.”
And why is the first CD you’ve compiled from the Archive the first half of the Philips era? “ Simply because we have overcome our biggest hurdle with the Philips set (finding the different mixes in MONO)and these are of the group at their peak. We started at the beginning with ‘Bermuda’ the first Four Seasons record and completed the Gone/Vee-Jay set last year but we have had far more problems with the Philips set. This is because with Vee-Jay, many of the 45 mixes are the same as the albums so we had more choice and quality vinyl sources. Bob Crewe shortened the first 2 nr 1 singles by a few seconds compared to the LP (and any Stereo mixes) so we had to use the 45 versions but the rest are generally as the MONO Lp’s. He also in the Philips era took final mixes to Bell Studios and overdubbed or sweetened the tracks before the MONO mix was done to get the ‘radio’ sound he wanted….so some of the STEREO masters that are on CD today do not match the MONO hit sound. We eventually got ALL the original Philips 45 mixes.
The other key point was the people who worked on this project loved and knew the music so much and they had the 45 sound burned into their memory banks from the 60s. As a listening and testing group they added a unique talent to the exercise. We couldn’t have done this without them
The complete archive is therefore a baseline set for anyone wanting to analyse the ‘true’ sound of the Four Seasons as experienced by record buyers during the 60s.
We’ll eventually compile the archive to CD’s in sets of 2 each for the ‘Gone/Vee-Jay’ and the ‘Philips’ releases from 1962 (well really December 1961) to 1968.”
And anyone who is interested in these results will know someone in the ‘network’ of Four Seasons fans and can get to hear them. The preserved digital files will not be perfect as they are not from the master tapes but they are pretty clean and the challenge will be to continue to review demo’s and promo’s to get as clean and as close a sound as we can to the original master. Remember we do not believe these exist in the Four Seasons Partnership’s archive.(in such a complete set). The Archive(in our library) will remain a work in progress but we are happy that we have it, as the first step in the preservation is now complete.
We’ll follow up with notes on what are the significant facts behind the MONO mixes in due course
Here is a sample…..