Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Byrds’ First Four Albums Remastered on CD in 1996: A Re-Assessment and Analysis of Remixed Tracks - THIRD ALBUM: FIFTH DIMENSION by MARK TEEHAN

    Album: Fifth Dimension

  • Original Stereo LP (vinyl): Columbia CS 9349 (Released 07/18/1966)
  • Original Stereo CD: Columbia CK 9349 (1989; hereafter referred to as ‘Columbia’)
  • Remixed (partially) and remastered CD: Columbia/Legacy CK 64847 (04/1996; hereafter referred to as ‘Legacy.’)
  • “Original Album Mono Version” with “Mono Bonus Tracks” (3) and “Original Album Stereo Version.” Sony Music Japan International Inc. SICP 20374. (Blu-Spec CD. Made In Japan. 2012)

Number of remixed tracks on the Legacy CD, CK 64847: 5 (out of 11 tracks)
Remixed Track Numbers: #4, #5, #7, #8, and #9

By far the worst sounding of the original 1987 Columbia CDs, this transitional album was probably sourced from a 4th or 5th-generation safety copy of the master tape; the first six songs (‘Side A’) suffered in sound quality-especially the first four. In any event, the source tape must have been in poor condition, at least ‘Reel A;’ that portion of the album had a gritty, metallic edge to its sound. Fortunately, ‘Reel B’ was in much better shape, so the songs from ‘Side B’ of the LP sounded relatively better on the Columbia- at least passable. Nevertheless, for the songs from ‘Side A,’ the resulting distortion on primarily vocals but also guitar parts did more than anything to unfairly give the entire lot of original Columbia CDs a bad reputation. Most recently, Bob Irwin has stated that only “a third” of this album was remixed for the Legacy CD “… because of oxide loss problems…. ” (King, 2009, 4). This would equate to four songs being remixed, one song less than my detailed listening comparisons revealed.

Remixed Songs

·         I See You  (Track #4)- A telltale giveaway was the Legacy’s running time (2:38) being five seconds longer than the Columbia’s (2:33).  Whereas the guitars (LC) and vocals (centered) were severely distorted on the Columbia, to the point of making this song virtually un-listenable (notably on headphones), on the Legacy remix none of these problems were evident. By using the three- track reduction master, Vic Anesini was able to create a much clearer remix, without the annoying distortion present on the Columbia. McGuinn’s Coltrane-inspired 12-string guitar lines were especially effective, while the bell-like sounds near the song’s end were more audible. In an interesting side-note, this song was remixed from the eight-track multi-track master on the 1990 box set, with the drums and clavia in the right channel mixed louder than on the 1996 Legacy remix.

·         What’s Happening?!?!  (Track #5)- David Crosby’s first solo writing credit with the group featured innovative guitar interplay with Roger McGuinn, and sported a psychedelic, raga feel. On the Legacy remix, which ran four seconds longer (2:34) than the original stereo mix on the vinyl LP and Columbia CD (2:30), as well the mono mix (album and B-side single), there was a final guitar note that was missing from the latter original mixes (stereo and mono). The Legacy remix also provided better articulation and balance between the guitars, and brought the drums up in the mix: they were almost buried on the 1966 mix.

·         Eight Miles High (Track #7)- Arguably the Byrd’s best song and finest recorded moment as a true collaborative effort, the original stereo mix showcased its musical strengths quite effectively: Hillman’s deep, ominous, menacing bass intro from the LC, followed by Clarke’s powerful drumming (RC)-arguably one of his finest moments; McGuinn’s inspired guitar playing and incredible solos; Crosby’s excellent staccato rhythm guitar work (LC); and finally, the group’s ghastly vocals cast in the middle of the mix. In the 1966 mix, the song had a dynamic ebb and flow, with a remarkable instrumental balance that maintained the rhythm section at a strong level while the Rickenbacker flashed at breathtaking intensity throughout. The words seamless and exceptional come to mind in trying to describe the original stereo mix of this ahead-of-its-time song, equally well represented by the vinyl LP and the 1990 box set (not remixed), with the former having a slight edge. Even on the Columbia CD, it sounded decent-especially on speakers- at about 85% of the box set’s sound quality.

After exhaustive listening sessions and meticulous notes compiled from metering observations taken over an extended period of time, it became this writer’s contention that the Legacy version was a remix. This became quite apparent on the intro, when the bass guitar opened at a markedly lower output level (-4dB down in the LC), and significantly, without the deep, resonating overtones that typified the original mix. As well, the drums entered the RC at a 2-4dB lower level than the box set, as always, using matched record level (input) settings. Despite this lower start in volume, the Legacy caught up, to the point where, at the start of the second verse, it ran +2dB higher in the LC than the original mix. Further proof that the version on the Legacy was a remix: its 2dB output differential between channels at that spot, compared to the box set’s nominal zero (0dB) variation. 

Significantly, the Rickenbacker was mixed louder on the Legacy, from the opening riffs and continuing throughout the song; ditto for the rhythm guitar in the LC: it too sounded louder on the Legacy. In addition, the vocals were more prominent and rode higher in the remix, and were shifted over to the LG, instead of being positioned  towards the center area (LG-center) as on the 1966 mix. This situation was quite different than the original mix, where the vocals were trapped in the middle, almost buried, giving them that eerie, zombie-like feel.

None of the preceding was meant to diminish the sonic excellence of the remix, including its increased instrumental detail-notably on the guitars. It is certainly understandable how, based on a cursory, non-comparative listening experience, one could conclude that the Legacy version was not a remix- especially if the listener was unfamiliar with the original stereo mix.  Nevertheless, the Legacy version came across as a cleaner, more ‘clinical,’ ultimately different version of the 1966 mix. In the final analysis, a detailed examination of both the aural and metering level evidence supports my conclusion that this track was remixed for the Legacy CD. In some respects, it sounded as if it might have been remixed from the 8-track masters, as opposed to the three-track reduction master, although this is speculation on my part.  While hardly a conclusive sign of proof, it was interesting that Bob Irwin informed writer John Nork that one of the gems unearthed in the exhaustive search through the Columbia tape vaults was the multi-track master tape of “Eight Miles High.” (

It was interesting to observe that some of the sonic differences and remixing decisions found with the Legacy stereo remix seem to have been patterned after the original mono mix of this song,               which ran two seconds longer (3:35 listed; 3:33 actual length) and thus included a barely audible final drum roll absent from the stereo mixes (3:33 listed; 3:31 actual length). Undeniably, the mono mix (single and album) had a driving, relentless intensity that was quite effective: the Rickenbacker was understandably dominant during McGuinn’s three incredible overdubbed solos (starting at 00:11; 1:43; and 2:57), while Crosby’s stabbing rhythm guitar fills were mixed higher prior to the Rickenbacker solos.

However, the 12-string lead receded during the rest of the song, while the vocals were louder, being mixed more out front. The rhythm section was generally well presented on the mono mix, although it inevitably lacked the detail and separation of the 1966 stereo mix, and was normally in the background; the drums provided decent accent at critical points. It bears mentioning that the mono single mix displayed a tad more ‘pop’, with evidence of compression (1-2dB) than the mono album version. As presented on the Blu-Spec disc, the latter exhibited a surprising 2dB channel differential in places- uncharacteristic of a monaural mix, and unlike the single ‘45’ mix’s virtual 0dB channel deviation.

On the other hand, the original stereo mix maintained the Rickenbacker at a solid level throughout the song, aside from the solos, while the vocals were pulled back, giving them that trapped, eerie feel. As well, the interplay between guitars was better presented, while the bass guitar and drums had a much more audible, consistent presence throughout the entire song. Overall, the 1966 stereo mix sounded more like a band playing live in the studio, and had more ambience, as well as a mesmerizing dynamism, than the mono mix. It is this writer’s contention that the incredible musical complexity of this groundbreaking song was more fully rendered on the 1966 stereo mix. 

·         Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)  (Track #8)- Here the Legacy remix (2:16) checked in at four seconds longer than the Columbia (2:12), allowing it to feature a longer fade out; the drums out of the right channel rode higher in the remix, with more ‘pop’ than on the vintage mix. David Crosby’s relentless one-year campaign to get the Byrds to include this Los Angeles favorite originating from their Ciro’s shows, written by Billy Roberts and popularized nationally as a Top 40 single by the Leaves, had finally paid off. The Leaves were one of many LA bands who played the song in live gigs from 1965-1966; their single peaked at #2 on the survey of top Los Angeles station KRLA, on 5/7/1966. It was probably no coincidence that the Byrds had made their first attempt at recording this song about 1-4 days prior to that date, and completed it ten days after it, on 17 May 1966 (Rogan 2012, 1020-1021; Hjort 2008, 94, for the completion date).

·         Captain Soul  (Track #9)- An easy giveaway with the Legacy remix (2:53) timing out twenty seconds longer than the original Columbia mix (2:33); the top end was cleaner on the remix. This soul/R&B-influenced instrumental was primarily the idea of drummer Michael Clarke, who only received part (25%) of the songwriting credit and played harmonica on the break, and served as the B-side to the “5D (Fifth Dimension)” single (Rogan 2012, 297).


By far the most challenging track to decipher was “5D (Fifth Dimension),” the album’s lead off cut and a 45 single that was written by McGuinn as an adventurous foray into metaphysics. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted by the pop music press in 1966 as a ‘drug song’ and suffered commercially as a result (#39 peak on Cash Box; #44 on Billboard, both 7/30/1966; Hjort 2008, 97; 102). While predictably mastered much hotter on the Legacy- generally +4db louder in the LC compared to the Columbia disc- it was determined to be the same as the original mix. Undoubtedly using a superior source tape, the adjusted channel output levels of the Legacy version closely matched those of the 1966 mix, notably from the vinyl LP; the right channel output of the Legacy was spot on, while the left channel sported several slight 1-2dB increases.

The Legacy version conformed to the critical musical cues of the original mix: 1:14, the vocal bridge with the extended “Oh” leading off the fourth and final verse; 1:55, Van Dyke Park’s haunting organ from the RC; 2:15-2:16, the beginning of the fade out; and 2:32, the song’s ending. These observations were confirmed by careful listening comparisons. This was a case where both the superiority of the source tape and the analog-to-digital transfer used for the Legacy CD made the track sound markedly different from the Columbia, suggesting the possibility of a remix. Once again, the vinyl LP proved to be a valuable source, and helped tremendously in making a determination. If this track was a remix on the Legacy, then it was one of the best-executed remixes ever made, and this writer would duly stand corrected. Incidentally, this song was remixed for the box set from the 8-track masters.



It is widely accepted that it's Gene Clark playing the harmonica on "Captain Soul", not Michael Clarke.

david said...

Is it the writer's opinion that the original stereo lps remain the best sounding mixes for listening to the Byrds ? It would seem so after reading the analysis.