Another legendary title was recently checked off this collector's list: I stumbled across a mono LP of The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album. Probably similar to many Fabs fans in the U.S., I've known about the U.K. mono edition for many years, but had never seen one in person until now. Other than the original 1968 press run, it was available during a U.K. reissue series in the early 1980s of mono LPs by The Beatles; the copy I tracked down is from that edition. The mono White Album has remained out of print on vinyl since then ... which isn't a huge surprise, since most of the rest of the band's catalog is also out of print on LP in the U.S. at the moment.
So, since the majority of labels in America and elsewhere stopped mixing new releases to mono by about the end of 1967, why is there a mono version of The Beatles? Because Great Britain, a late adopter in general of stereo technology, continued to issue new mono LPs for a few years longer. The Beatles still had U.K. mono editions of new albums issued through . For one other prominent example, Decca in the U.K. kept some mono titles by The Rolling Stones in print through at least the late '70s.
While just the existence of a different pressing would be enough for many Beatles fans to try and find one, the mono version of The Beatles is a special case even by the usual standards of variances in mono/stereo mixing differences. This is a waaaaaaay different sounding beast, as likely discovered by any dedicated listeners who picked up the recent mono CD box -- which included the first worldwide release of the mono White Album. I haven't done an A/B comparison with the CD to see how the remastered version matches up to the sonics of the LP version, but comparing a pair of '80s vinyl pressings is pretty fascinating.
It's easy to find lots of places online where track-by-track minutiae is detailed, so I won't get too into that here. There were a few instances that really stood out to me, however: Very prominent backing vocals in "I'm So Tired;" different use of sound effects in "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Blackbird," and "Piggies;" "Don't Pass Me By" is sped way up, and mixed more like a country record with the bass and fiddle way out front; and, of course, the different ending to "Helter Skelter."
After a couple spins -- with breaks to play stereo tracks for comparison -- my primary overall impression of the mono White Album is… wow, the bass response is huge, including the kick drum. That being said, those who enjoy the precise attack of the bass parts in stereo will probably not like as much how they come across at times in mono. I wouldn't say it's muddy, but it's verging on that at times. The mono mix is also much more inconsistent sonically as a whole than the stereo, which maintains a more unified overall vibe. It would be impossible to pick which version is "better" -- some songs sound better in stereo, and some sound better in mono. That seems like a completely fitting situation for The Beatles' most eclectic and eccentric release. (