Jonathan Valin speaking about hearing the Master Tape copy of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper.
I want to be very clear here, because, truthfully, I would’ve swooned if the mastertape of Sgt. Pepper had sounded terrible. Which, BTW, is pretty much the way the album (in stereo) has always sounded, no matter whose version you’re talking about. Anemic in the bass, dry and brittle and bath-tubey in the mids, crudely mixed (very left/right) with obvious manifold overdubs. Oh, there are some variations from cut to cut, but for the most part Sgt. Pepper didn’t make it to Number One on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Rock Albums of All Time—or Number One, with a dagger, in my heart—because of its audiophile-grade sound.
But the sound wasn’t awful. It was anything but awful.
If you think The Beatles couldn’t rock, I truly wish you had the same chance that I had—to hear this mastertape on this stereo via Greg’s Phase 11 machine. Folks, to say that this was a “better” sound, even “an extraordinarily better” sound, doesn’t cut it. This was a revolution.
I don’t know where to begin; the net effect was so overwhelming. Of course, the bass is the weakest thing on vinyl and digital. You hardly even know Paul is playing, much less rocking. But on the mastertape…on the mastertape, boys, it is an entirely different story. Here is Paul’s bass guitar the way you’ve always wanted to hear it—full, deep, incredibly powerful, and so clear and defined in pitch and articulation that it is easy to tell the McCartney was a heckuva player. Same for Ringo’s drum licks—some of which, like the bass, almost literally knock you on your ass with their slam—same with George’s garden of guitars. And the voices! It was like having John Lennon and Paul McCartney in my room with me. It goes without saying that there wasn’t a single cut that didn’t hold surprises in store—things I’d never heard and I’ve heard this album countless times.
Given the importance Sgt. Pepper has had in my life, the whole thing was so amazing it left me agog. I have never heard rock and roll reproduced more powerfully and realistically in my home or at a show in my entire life. And, guess what, it was just the start. Because thanks to Greg and Bruce I also got to hear a mastertape of the anti-Beatles, The Doors, performing “Crawlin’ King Snake” and that creepy “Hyacinth House” from L.A. Woman. When black bluesmen, like John Lee Hooker, sing “Crawlin’ King Snake” or “Back Door Man” the humor comes from the disparity between the “innocent” text and the sexual subtext. When The Doors’ Jim Morrison sings them, there is no subtext—and no humor. There was a reason why they called this guy "The Lizard King."