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THE BYRDS' REMASTERED ALBUMS 1996-2000
AN ARTICLE BY PAUL KING
Into The Mix: The Byrds’ Remasters 1996 - 2000
By Paul King.
Information is power, or so they say. While that particular cliché may be open to debate, information is certainly knowledge and since the advent of the internet, there’s been a wealth of knowledge at people’s fingertips. The downside of this unprecedented informational accessibility is that all too often, there’s also a wealth of disinformation at people’s fingertips, with conflicting and downright inaccurate information being just as readily available as the accurate. Perhaps one of the most perplexing subjects related to this, from a Byrds’ fan’s point of view, is the quest for reliable information concerning the remastering and more specifically, the remixing, of the 1996 - 2000 re-releases of The Byrds’ Columbia Records back catalogue.
As most of you reading this article will no doubt be aware, all eleven of The Byrds’ studio albums were remastered and re-released between 1996 and 2000, with the addition of many bonus tracks. The remastering of these CDs was overseen by Bob Irwin and Vic Anesini. The first thing I should make clear is that, although the remastered CDs all state in their booklets that they were produced, mixed and mastered by Bob Irwin and Vic Anesini, for the most part, this refers only to the bonus tracks on each album and not to the main albums themselves. What I’m primarily interested in and what this article hopes to address, is the amount of remixing that has been carried out on the tracks that make up the original albums.
There’s an abundance of conflicting information out there about exactly which of the original albums were remixed and which were simply remastered. To be clear about this and for those of you who perhaps find the terms “remastered” and “remixed” confusing, let me give you a concise, layman’s-style explanation of exactly what each term means.
When an audio engineer digitally remasters a vintage album, what they’re essentially doing is fine tuning the master-tapes and bringing out the full sonic richness of the music through the judicious use of graphic equalising tools, noise reduction and dynamic range compression (amongst other processes). In the remastering process, the individual levels (or volume, if you will) of the instruments and vocals aren’t changed at all…at least, not in real terms. However, due to the fact that the remastering process often changes the clarity, equalization and overall compression of the recordings, it may appear to the listener as if the levels of the vocals and instruments have altered somewhat, but in real terms, the master recording remains exactly as it always was.
Remixing, on the other hand, is a much more invasive procedure because it usually means that the audio engineer supervising the remix has gone back to the original multi-track master tapes and created a new, modern mix of the album. That is to say, that they have arranged the levels (or volume) of the individual instruments and voices, in a new way, relative to each other. In addition, a remix will often have new audio effects, such as reverb, echo, and compression etc, added to the mix by the audio engineer. Of the two processes, remixing is usually by far the most invasive and the one that is most likely to “jump out” at listeners who are familiar with the way the original vintage recording sounded.
Phew! OK, now we’ve got that rather simplistic explanation of remixing and remastering out of the way, we can begin discussing the specifics of The Byrds’ remastered CDs. When the first batch of remasters appeared in 1996, Bob Irwin explained in issue #108 of ICE Magazine that the first four Byrds albums (Mr. Tambourine Man through to Younger Than Yesterday) had been all been remixed as well as remastered and he also explained why…
“The first four Byrds albums had sold so well, and the master tapes used so much that they were at least two, if not three generations down from the original. In most cases, a first-generation master no longer existed. They were basically played to death; they were worn out, there was nothing left of them.”
Irwin went on to further explain…
“Each album is taken from the original multi-tracks, where they exist, which is in 95% of the cases. We remixed them exactly as they were, without taking any liberties, except for the occasional song appearing in stereo for the first time.”
Straight forward enough, eh? Well, not really because at the time these comments were first published, only the first four Byrds albums had been remastered. Since then, the remaining seven Byrds’ albums have also been re-issued and there are many fans who have wondered about these later remasters (The Notorious Byrd Brothers through to Farther Along) and whether or not they too were remixed. Some folks maintain that it was only the first four albums that were remixed, with the rest of The Byrds’ albums still featuring their original vintage 1960s or 1970s mixes. Other people have suggested that both The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Dr. Byrds & Mr Hyde have also been remixed and some other folks are convinced that all eleven of The Byrds’ Columbia albums were remixed for their remastered re-releases.
Of course, like any debate amongst passionate fans, there’s been a lot of guess work involved, a lot of erroneous information presented as fact and unfortunately, a lot of rubbish talked in the process. So, as a dedicated Byrdmaniac myself, I decided that I wanted to get to the bottom of the matter once and for all. With this in mind, I contacted Bob Irwin himself to get a definitive answer, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Below are extracts from our e-mail conversation.
PK: “There seems to be a lot of conflicting information available on the internet regarding how many of The Byrds’ albums were remixed when they were reissued in their remastered form. My understanding is that the first four albums (Mr. Tambourine Man through to Younger Than Yesterday) were remixed by yourself and Vic Anesini due to the fact that a "first-generation master no longer existed", to quote an interview with you in ICE Magazine back in 1996. Can you confirm this?”
Bob Irwin: “Only part of the Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn albums were mixed. They were "mixed" by me from the three-track reduction masters, with ALL original processing - compression, eq, reverb , etc., PRINTED TO TAPE. No liberties taken, none needed. Same for a third of Fifth Dimension, because of oxide loss problems. Lastly, only three songs on Younger Than Yesterday were remixed, because of the same oxide issues.”
PK: “It also sounds, to my ears at least, as if The Notorious Byrd Brothers has been remixed too, but how many of the other albums were also remixed? I had always assumed that the remaining albums (Sweetheart Of The Rodeo through to Farther Along) were simply remastered from the original, vintage first-generation master tapes, rather than having new modern remixes done for them. However, recently I've read online that Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde was also remixed before it was remastered. Is this true? Or am I totally mistaken and, in fact, all of the Byrds albums were remixed for these remasters?”
Bob Irwin: “Nothing at all (other than the bonus cuts) was mixed or remixed on Notorious, Sweetheart, or any of the other Byrds albums.”
So, there you have it! Unfortunately Bob doesn't state exactly which songs on Fifth Dimension or Younger Than Yesterday were remixed but he does make it pretty clear that it was only those first four albums that had remixing done to them. We can have an educated guess that the three tracks remixed for Younger Than Yesterday were “Mind Gardens”, “Have You Seen Her Face” and “Everybody’s Been Burned”, since all three of these songs have a longer running time than they did on the original album, due to an extended fade-out at the end of each song. It's also interesting to hear that those first four Byrds albums weren't actually remixed from scratch, but were in fact remixed using the original three-track reduction masters, complete with 1960s in-studio processing and effects already embedded in the tape. Which obviously goes a long way towards explaining why the remixed tracks sound so similar to the original 1960s mixes.
Was Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde remixed?
The only residual mystery left to ponder after speaking with Bob Irwin is whether or not Dr. Dyrds & Mr. Hyde has undergone any remixing, since some people maintain that it has. There are undoubtedly some differences, sonically speaking, between the original LP release of this album and the 1997 remaster. For one thing, on many parts of the album there is noticeably less reverb (a studio effect that simulates a large number of echoes) than on producer Bob Johnston’s original 1969 mix of the album. “Nashville West” is a good example of this lessening of reverb on the 1997 remaster.
Another very noticeable difference between the original album and the 1997 remaster is the inclusion of Gene Parsons’ utterance (at least, it sounds like Gene) of the word “three” over the very first seconds of the song “This Wheel’s On Fire”. This is undoubtedly the last part of an in-studio “one-two-three-four” count-in for the song, with the “four” digit not being spoken because the song had already started by then. What’s interesting though, from the point of view of this article, is that this calling out of “three” first appeared on the 1997 remastered CD and is absent from all previous versions of the album or appearances of the song on compilations. Of course, this utterance of the word “three” must have always existed on the master tapes, ever since the December 4th, 1968 session in which the song was recorded, but it was obviously edited out of the original album by producer Bob Johnston. In fact, even when “This Wheel’s On Fire” was remixed previously by Vic Anesini and Tim Gleelan, for The Byrds’ 1990 box set, this calling out of the word “three” was not present.
An even more compelling piece of evidence to support the supposition that Dr. Dyrds & Mr. Hyde was remixed or tampered with in some way, is the version of the song “Candy” that appears on the 1997 remaster. On the original album the track’s running time is 3:01 but on the remastered CD its running time has been expanded to 3:38. The reason for this is due to the song’s guitar solo having been edited for length on the original version of the album, whereas an unedited version of the song was used for the remaster.
In his comments to me, Irwin indicated that the Dr. Dyrds & Mr. Hyde album was not remixed and yet, a noticeably longer edit of “Candy” was used and the word “three” has mysteriously appeared in “This Wheel’s On Fire” on the 1997 re-issue. These are both matters of undeniable fact.
Perhaps, Bob Irwin’s insistence that Dr. Dyrds & Mr. Hyde was not remixed is borne out of a forgetfulness on his part, as a result of the passage of years, or perhaps the album was remixed by Vic Anesini alone and Bob Irwin was simply unaware that any remixing had taken place. Of course, this is all pure speculation on my part but the evidence gathered from listening to the 1997 remaster of Dr. Dyrds & Mr. Hyde and comparing it to the “pre-remaster” version does lead one to suspect that some remixing (or studio tinkering) has indeed taken place. Exactly how much, and to which tracks, we may never know for certain though.
Conclusions and how to obtain the original unremixed albums.
So, what are we to deduce from all of this investigation and speculation? Well, regardless of whether you consider the remixing of vintage albums to be a sort of historical revisionism or not, the four (or, in all likelihood, five) albums that were remixed for the Columbia/Legacy remasters series do still sound very similar to the original albums in most cases. As stated previously, this is mostly due to the fact that the first four CDs were remixed from the original three-track reduction masters, with all in-studio processing and effects embedded on the tape. Whether this also holds true for Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde is anyone’s guess. With only a third of Fifth Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday having received the remix treatment anyway, these two remasterd CDs in particular sound almost identical to the original albums.
However, Byrds purists will probably still feel the need to own the “pre-remaster” editions of Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Fifth Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday and Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to track down old copies of the original vinyl LPs. All of The Byrds’ Columbia albums were first issued on CD in the late 1980s/early 1990s and these original CD reissues contain the albums in their unaltered, original incarnations. Although these original CD issues are all long out of print they can still be picked up today for a reasonable price on eBay or at secondhand record shops and record fairs. In addition, 2006 saw Sundazed Records reissue the first five Byrds albums in their original mono incarnations on vinyl and these LPs are sourced from the original, vintage 1960s mono master tapes, without any remixing having taken place. Of course, it should be noted that the mono versions do sound somewhat different to the more well known stereo versions but nonetheless, they are authentic 1960s versions of the albums. Additionally, the respected audiophile record label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissued the original mono version of Mr. Tambourine Man (as well as The Notorious Byrd Brothers) on CD in 2006.
So there you have it! I realise, of course, that many fans of The Byrds simply won’t care one way or the other about the remixing or remastering of these CDs. After all, any changes that have been wrought to these albums are pretty minor. However, it is my hope that this article will lay to rest some of the speculation associated with these CDs, among those Byrds’ fans who are concerned with the minutiae of the remastering process. Either way, it’s worth remembering that remixed or not, The Byrds’ Columbia/Legacy remasters do sound great.
Special thanks to Bob Irwin for taking the time to communicate with me on this subject.
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