By Mark Teehan
This essay is intended to be an independent extension of Paul King’s interesting article, “The Byrds’ Remastered Albums, 1996-2000,” from 14 September 2009 (http://users.skynet.be/byrdsfollower/remasters1996-2000.htm). While that superb piece included new, clarifying information on the approximate number of tracks remixed from the Byrds’ first four studio albums from Bob Irwin (Founder, Sundazed Music,1989; noted veteran mixing and mastering engineer), who oversaw their reissue on CD in 1996, it left a number of relevant questions unanswered. Paramount among them were, precisely which tracks from the group’s first four studio albums had been remixed? As well, were all the remixes actually done from the three-track reduction masters?
To provide some perspective on this somewhat confusing topic, back in 1996 when the first four Byrds’ studio albums were released as CD’s by Columbia/Legacy (hereafter referred to as ‘Legacy’), Bob Irwin discussed why these four albums had been both remixed and re-mastered in an article published in Ice magazine (No. 108, March 1996):
“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.” (King, 2009, 3)
The solution, according to Irwin, was a comprehensive remixing process:
“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.” (ibid)
Thus it was understandable that the natural consensus among Byrds’ fans was that the group’s first four albums had been remixed and re-mastered for CD, for about a decade after their release. Alternately, some folks believed that the reference to “mixed” in the liner notes only referred to the bonus tracks. The fact that the sticker on the Legacy CD jewel cases prominently used the words “New 20-Bit mastered expanded edition”- without any reference to ‘remixed’ tracks- served to reinforce this misunderstanding. Furthermore, the possibility that some fans might not have heard the original stereo mixes on vinyl LP or CD (maybe just the hits in mono on AM radio back in the day…), led to occasional surprise at the very mention of ‘remixes’! Contributing to this situation was the general tendency of the Legacy remixed tracks to sound faithful to the original mixes. Meanwhile, in the past five years, some- including this writer- had become convinced that while virtually all of the regular tracks from the first three albums had been remixed, only a few of the songs from Younger Than Yesterday had received this treatment.
Significantly, it was quite surprising to learn from Paul King’s 2009 article that, according to Bob Irwin, not all of the tracks from the first three albums had been remixed:
“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.” (King, 2009, 4).
On the other hand, our hunches regarding the minimal remixing from Younger Than Yesterday were confirmed by Irwin in the aforementioned article: only three tracks were remixed for the Legacy CD reissue.
My goal in this essay is to identify which tracks from the Byrds’ first four original studio albums had been remixed for the Legacy CD’s through the use of comprehensive, detailed listening tests. By carefully listening on multiple occasions through both headphones and speakers, and keeping meticulous notes, I was able to compare the sonic details, musical cues (when instruments and vocals entered a song, and guitar solos, instrumental breaks, and fades started), as well the soundstage of each song. My methodology consisted of matching the output levels of each track from each relevant source closely by meter and ear, so as to make the listening comparisons more valid; differences in volume due to variable mastering levels were thereby eliminated.
Further insight into any differences between mixes was obtained by charting the output levels of both channels from each relevant source on 24-segment, peak-reading LED meters; the input levels were of course matched first. Where it seemed relevant, and to provide further insight and context for the differences between the original mixes and the Legacy remixes, certain monaural mixes as well as other stereo remixes were analyzed and discussed (for further details, see ‘Appendix A’).
In the end, I attempted to be as objective as possible, with my determinations based solely on the aural evidence. Certain songs proved to be more challenging in this regard, and naturally required more time, listening, and note-taking. All relevant sources used in my listening tests are listed for each album. Compilations or discs which have tracks covering multiple albums are listed once, under the Mr. Tambourine Man album section.
It goes without saying that my remix determinations were only reached after careful deliberation, based on my hearing and the meter test data results. The comments for each relevant track were meant to illuminate the sonic differences from the original mixes- not as criticisms of the remixes. Any unintended errors of fact are mine, as well as any remix determinations that turn out to have been incorrect. Constructive feedback and corrections are welcome.
It also has been assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of the terms ‘remixing’ and ‘remastering.’ Essentially, remixing refers to the mixing of the original studio multi-track tapes- otherwise known as the original work parts- into a new stereo mix, which inevitably would differ from the original classic mix. Remastering denotes the production of a new digital stereo master disc, ideally from the original stereo two-track mix-down master tape- not an EQ’ed ‘cutting master’ tape that was used to produce vinyl records.
Remixing is obviously a much more challenging process, but both procedures potentially may involve the addition of some EQ, reverb, noise reduction, or compression to the source tape (the original master tape); these measures can have negative repercussions on the sound of the original music. Both remixing and remastering are heavily dependent on the condition of the original tape(s), the quality and suitability of the transfer equipment (both analog and digital), not to mention the mastering engineer’s skill-the ultimate, most vital factor (for a more detailed explanation, please refer to Roger Ford’s superb site, http://www.rdf.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk).
Highly acclaimed mastering engineer Steve Hoffman has a wealth of relevant information on his site, has cogently pointed out the inadvisability and pitfalls of remixing, and masters only from the correct original master tapes by judiciously applying minimal EQ (usually subtractive) to bring out the “breath of life” in the music. He also fastidiously makes all his mastering moves in the analog domain-never digital-due to well-proven sonic reasons (http://stevehoffman.tv/forums/; Rowe, 2013, 3-7). Lastly, this project commenced in January 2012, and has been conducted on an intermittent basis since.
It should be noted that, prior to starting this project, I e-mailed both Bob Irwin and Vic Anesini (acclaimed veteran senior mixing and mastering engineer; Sony Music Studios; Battery Mastering Studios) in an effort to obtain more definite answers concerning exactly which songs had been remixed from the first four albums. While both were gracious in responding, neither was able to offer any detailed information, due to time constraints caused by their understandably hectic schedules. Vic Anesini mentioned another critical issue- the passage of time since the Legacy reissue CD’s were released 17 years ago and noted that, “…It would take considerable time and effort to give you precise answers. Anything less would just add to the speculation….” (e-mail to this writer, 2/28/2012). I could not agree more with his statement- on both points.
In this writer’s opinion, this lack of detailed information may well have been the case when Bob Irwin responded to Paul King for the latter’s 2009 article. How else can one explain Irwin’s vague answers regarding the number of tracks remixed for the first two albums (Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn!Turn!Turn!). As well, Irwin never specifically identified by title any specific tracks that had been remixed. While perfectly understandable given the circumstances, this lack of official disclosure has predictably fueled the natural speculation that Vic Anesini acknowledged, and wished to avoid.
One other aspect to this topic which is worth noting before our detailed analysis begins is that on the back-page credits of the Legacy CD’s liner notes, it stated that Bob Irwin was responsible for producing each album for CD, while Vic Anesini was accorded both mixing and mastering credits. Unfortunately, no differentiation between original studio album tracks and bonus tracks was offered with reference to the latter credits. Given the credit terminology, and his considerable involvement in the remixing of numerous tracks for the 1990 box set, it has been this writer’s understanding that Vic Anesini was primarily responsible for the remixing of selected original studio album tracks.