“Beano” Remastered: 1994, 1998, & 2001

Nicholas Aleshin (deltanick@comcast.net)

A new version of John Mayall's Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton, aka "Beano," was released in the US on 5 June 2001, and here's my assessment. I've compared this latest release with the previous two remastered CD releases. But first, here’s a quick summary of "Beano" history.

1. History: "Beano" was first released in the UK, in mono on the Decca label, on 22 July 1966, just days after Eric Clapton left Mayall's band to form Cream. Its 12 tracks were recorded in either March or April 1966, although one or two tracks may have been recorded at earlier sessions. In the UK, "Beano" went all the way to #6 and remained in the charts for some 17 weeks. This was the first time, apparently, that an album charted in the UK without benefit of the performer ever having a previous hit single. "Beano" brought fame to Mayall's band, but most of all to his guitarist: Eric Clapton. As a direct result, in music and underground circles, Clapton became THE guitarist, with a worldwide reputation. Imported copies from the UK made the rounds among those in the know before it was released in the US. Jimi Hendrix, it seems, heard the album before he went to England, within two months of its release in the UK. And Mike Bloomfield, who had already seen and heard Hendrix during the summer of 1966, just raved about Clapton's playing and brought back a copy of "Beano" from a UK tour with the Butterfield Blues Band in late 1966. In early 1967, "Beano" was released in the US in both mono and stereo versions, but it failed to chart.

During the late 1960s or early 1970s, the major record companies largely eliminated separate mono LPs in favor of stereo versions that played well on both mono and stereo equipment. This saved them much cash, as it nearly halved their album catalogs. "Beano" was finally released in stereo in the UK in December 1969. Throughout the years, it was reissued a number of times--in stereo--on both LP and cassette tape, as were individual tracks from the album.

The first version of "Beano" on CD appeared in 1982 on the Deram and London--both subsidiaries of Decca--labels (422 800 086-2). The same CD, with updated notes, made its debut in 1988, with the same catalog number. In 1994, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL [UDCD 616]) licensed to remaster the album, released the gold Ultradisc II, a definite sound improvement over the original CD (MFSL had previously reissued an audiophile LP). In 1998, Deram released, in Europe only, another remastered CD, this time with 24 mono and stereo tracks, updated notes, and additional photos from the 1966 recording sessions. This remastered CD was produced by Dorian Wathen, and remastered by Jon Astley. A Japanese version of the same was also released in 1998 (Deram [POCD-1980]). On 5 June 2001, PolyGram/Universal released another remastered CD, under the supervision of producer Bill Levenson, and remastered by engineers Gary Moore and Jeff Willens. This CD has only the 12 stereo (no mono) tracks, but adds two bonus tracks, the Mayall-Clapton duets "Lonely Years" and "Bernard Jenkins," both recorded in mono. And finally, Universal again released the 24-track CD, this time on the original Decca label in Japan (UICY-9169), on 21 November 2002, packaged in a mini-LP sleeve (the label on the actual CD is a reproduction of the blue 1969 stereo Decca LP label), marketed by Victor Entertainment, Inc.

2. Comparison: Yours truly conducted a comparison of the various versions of remastered "Beano" CDs:

* The 12-track Gold Ultradisc II (MFSL [UDCD 616], 1994, US) CD.

* The 24-track mono/stereo, Europe-only (Deram [422 844 827-2], 1998, Germany) CD, and the identical Asia-only (Deram [POCD-1980], 1998, Japan; and Decca [UICY-9169], 2001) CDs. In all, this 24-track CD has been released three times: once in Europe, and twice in Japan.

* The 14-track US CD, with aforementioned bonus tracks (Deram [422 882 967-2], 2001).

3. Bottom Line: Overall, all versions are excellent, but I'd rate the 24-track, Europe/Asia-only CD releases as the best for the following reasons: 1) sound quality, 2) choice of mono and stereo, and 3) packaging. If you want the best of all worlds, get one of the 24-track CDs (Deram [422 844 827-2], 1998, Germany; Deram [POCD-1980], 1998, Japan; or Decca [UICY-9169], 2001). These have got all the "Beano" tracks in the best--to my ears, at least--stereo version, and it's got them in mono as well. In fact, these have the only mono versions available on CD. John Mayall himself prefers the mono version and says it's "always meant to be heard that way ... the way it should be heard." I admit that I often listen to the stereo version, but with the 24-track CDs, I've got both and I listen to both, since the mono and stereo mixes are sometimes significantly different. With the newest US 14-track CD, you don't have that choice.

4. Sound Quality: I compared the remastered CDs with and without earphones, both at home and in my car. In virtually all cases, the 24-track CD provides clearest, warmest, and most "live-sounding" music. It beats the other two versions in virtually all sound quality parameters. The 12-track MFSL and 14-track US CDs are similar, with sound quality tilting toward the 12-track 1994 MFSL Gold Ultradisc II.

Here's what I heard my first few times through the 14-track US release:

Indexing problems: The 14-track CD was not indexed well. This means that when you advance forward or go backward to another track by hitting the arrow buttons (>>| or |<<), you often get dropped off a fraction of a second into the song: the intro is cut off. This happened both at home and in my car. The 12- and 24-track CDs do not do this. As many of you know, the first note of track 1, "All Your Love," is a snare drum rim shot. When I go back to the first track, I either do not hear that rim shot, or it sounds as if it's off in the distance, although the drums are right up front for the remainder of the tune. However, playing all the tracks through, without advancing or going backward, works fine. But one wonders whether any quality control (QC) was done.

Track 2 is the instrumental "Hideaway," which has an audible click at 0:16 on the 14-track CD. I listened about 6 or 7 times, and it was there each time, same place. So, I went back to the other two versions, and yep, it's there. But it's not nearly as noticeable. In fact, it's in Clapton's performance, and it sounds something like his pick hitting the guitar's pickup. But I've never even noticed it in any previous release (LP, cassette tape, and CD). Again, was there any QC on this?

In general, the 14-track CD sounds as if the remastering engineers decided to fool around with volume levels, boosting volume with certain frequencies, and decreasing it with others. This affects the sound, in places, of the guitar, vocals, and the other instruments. Since the volumes of certain frequencies are cut, notes you'd expect do not appear, except faintly. In addition, this causes some instruments and vocals to sound, in places, as if they're nearly doubled; then the "doubling" suddenly disappears. And this is sometimes done in the middle of a note, happening here and there on a number of tracks, but there's no pattern. It sometimes knocks the original mix a bit out of whack, but this reads worse here than it really is. It's not a significant problem, but it does lower my CD sound rating in comparison to the other two versions.

In comparison to the 12- and 24-track CDs, the sound on the 14-track CD is a bit more murky or muddy. However, there's one "improvement," if one wants to call it that: much of the "phantom guitar" on "Double Crossing Time" has been removed. By "phantom guitar," I mean the original guitar part, probably recorded in late 1965, that was not fully erased when EC overdubbed a new guitar track during 1966 sessions. The "phantom guitar" is not heard at all, except during--and within--EC's overdubbed part. Modern technology has allowed the remastering engineers to remove these stray notes, probably with a few mouse clicks. Interesting, although a modification to the original release.

Previously, some claimed that the 24-track version was harsh sounding, that Bill Levenson was dissatisfied with it. Sorry, but the 14-track CD, in places, is actually shrill. Harsh (the way the original LP sounded) I can take; shrill … that's another story. I truly expected a "kinder, gentler" version of "Beano," and instead got one that is not an improvement at all.

5. Bonus Tracks: The 2001 CD includes two bonus tracks, the Mayall-Clapton duets "Lonely Years" and "Bernard Jenkins." These bonus tracks, however, are not new. They were recorded in 1966 and issued as a single, then on the 1967 Raw Blues compilation album. Remastered versions--by Jon Astley--of these bonus tracks appeared in 1997 on The Best Of John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers, 1964-69: As It All Began (Deram [422 844 785-2], 1997). So, other than another remaster job, there's really nothing new here.

And just what is the difference in these two remastered bonus tracks? Well, I prefer the ones remastered in 1997: the sound is bigger, wider, and with much less hiss. And speaking of hiss, here's a question: On the 14-track CD, why is there hiss in my right speaker, but none in the left? This doesn't make sense. If it's mono, sound should be the same--identical--from both speakers. And if there's less hiss on the left side, why didn't they use the same track on the right side? Ah, but is it really the same track? Well, maybe. Could this have been an attempt to "simulate" some kind of stereo by separating the higher, "hissier" frequencies on the right, and the lower and less "hissy" frequencies on the left? This is an old trick, even quackery. Subtract a point from the 2001 CD.

6. CD Appearance: Both the 24- and 14-track Deram CDs attempt to replicate the original maroon-colored 1966 Decca LP label. The 24-track version, however, is the more accurate one. The original LP (the vinyl) did not include the album's title, which appeared on the sleeve only. It said, simply, "John Mayall With Eric Clapton." The 24-track CD replicates this, although the 14-track CD lists the album title as Bluesbreakers, although my eyes clearly see Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton on the album's cover. Take another point off for the 14-track CD. The 24-track CD issued in Japan on the Decca label replicates the blue 1969 stereo Decca LP label.

7. Packaging: The 12-track MFSL CD pretty much includes the same packaging--notes and photos--that appeared on the original LP. However, the 24-track CD significantly upgraded packaging, with expanded notes concerning each track written by John Mayall, and additional photographs of the 1966 sessions. The 14-track CD includes this same packaging as found on the 24-track Deram CD, and, to its credit, corrects a small inaccuracy that has appeared on the original LP and several later CD versions: Hughie Flint, in the past, has been listed as the drummer on only some of the tracks on which there are drums. He is, in fact, the drummer on all tracks. And the 1998 release lists, in one spot, John McVie as the drummer, a mistake of course. So, I'll grant extra points to both 24- and 14-track CDs, with a bonus point to the 2001 version.

8. Where To Get the 24-track CD: So, if you want the best of the above CDs, how does one go about getting a copy? Well, these have been for sale, as imports, in some of our American record stores. But, if you don't spot one, you can purchase a copy online from Amazon in Germany (www.amazon.de). Another way to obtain the 24-track release is via US Internet import vendors, such as Electric Obiland (www.obiland.com) or CVC Collectables (http://www.cvccollect.com). Again, the bottom line:

          BEST: The 24-track mono/stereo CDs, issued only in Europe and Asia:

        Deram [422 844 827-2], 1998, Germany

        Deram [POCD-1980], 1998, Japan

        Decca [UICY-9169], 2001, Japan (mini-LP sleeve)

          BETTER: The 12-track Gold Ultradisc II:

        MFSL [UDCD 616], 1994, US

          GOOD: The 14-track US CD:

        Deram [422 882 967-2], 2001, US


Editors comments: I am in total agreement with Nick's analysis. I did have some other views earlier on but Nick has always proven right. However I feel that Clapton may have done more over/re-dubbing then is thought but the that is based on my subjective listening and Nick really is an expert on this album. When Nick told me to get the new European (1998) release it was weirdly unavailable to Australia and direct was going to cost me $A50 - a bit rich even for a collector like me. Luckily I picked it up while on holidays in Canberra at my favourite import store for $25 - a bargain! A classic album and now even greater - the mono is better as you don't get the weird balance resulting from 4 tracks down to two, then two overdub and then mix into stereo. They thought mono for these recordings and for 'Fresh Cream' but stereo was increasingly the market for LPs.

© Nicholas Aleshin & Graeme Pattingale, 2002
Updated 3rd November 2002