Wednesday, 3 August 2016

XEX 606-1 is 50

XEX 606-1 is 50

For those of you scratching your heads about this strange number or thinking this has become a science fiction robot blog, the next paragraph is for you.

XEX 606 -1 is the matrix number for the second side of Revolver, a code used to identify the metal parts in the physical production that is stamped or inscribed on  the lead out (also known as the dead wax) area of the record. All companies used them with varying types of numbers, letters and shapes, some of which are still in dispute today over what they meant. However, we do know a lot about the EMI / Parlophone matrix numbers. XEX indicates it’s a mono record (YEX is stereo). 606 is the individual number given to this side of the record (side one is 605, Rubber Soul is 579 for side 1 & 580 for side 2). -1 means that it’s the first lacquer cut from the master tapes. (However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the first used in production, the first mono Help album has -2 on both sides, indicating there was a problem with the first lacquers).
Revolver side 2 Matrix numbers in the dead wax area for first (above) and corrected pressing (below)

Now we’ve straitened that out, let us begin…

So halfway through making a new album, in a studio you didn’t want to use because of its outdated technology and a stuffy antiquated management system that was slow to react to change, with an expired record contract and on the verge of ceasing all live work, it’s hard to imagine a band delivering what many consider to be the greatest album of all time. Even on its release, Paul McCartney was worried that it sounded out of tune. The initial mono lp’s had the wrong mix on the final track of side 2, the official mono mix, used on all subsequent mono pressings of Revolver is Mix 8 made from the 3rd Take; the initial mono pressings used Mix 11 from the same Take.

The Beatles had been keen to improve the sound of their songs, listening to Tamla Motown singles which had so much more bass on them, they pushed for more bottom end on the Paperback Writer single. Having used another speaker as a microphone to record the bass for both this and the B side “Rain”, EMI Management baulked when the mix came up to be mastered and cut on to lacquers. There were very strict EMI regulations when it came to how loud and how much bass could be put onto a record, too much would make a stylus jump and lead to product returns. Fortunately the ATOC machine had arrived at Abbey Road in 1966; Automatic Transient Overload Control (Serial number TG1230) had been acquired and adapted to the company’s unusual Impedance & Line levels of 200 ohms and was being used for “Paperback Writer” & “Rain”. Used in conjunction with an advance play head it could predict louder passages of music ahead and leave large spaces between the grooves.


The single would serve as a warning shot for the sonic changes ahead, recorded with Geoff Emerick taking over as engineer, his preference for the Fairchild 660 limiter on the drums and miking the snare drum from underneath made a dramatic difference to Ringo’s drum sound. Geoff also dampened the bass drum using a 4 headed sweater that was made for a publicity shot to promote “Eight Arms To Hold You”; the original title of the film “Help”. The use of Studio 3 at Abbey Road would also bring some changes of sound, although whether the use of this this was due to scheduling conflicts or a conscious decision to get new sounds is a matter of debate. The Beatles wanted to record a new album in Memphis Tennessee, the original plan was to record at the Stax Studio with in house producer Jim Stewart, however EMI, who had studios over the world at this point, were in no mood to hand over their cash to a rival studio. So in April 66, the Beatles headed back to Abbey Road, and while the Paperback Writer / Rain single would be recorded in studio 3, only 9 out of the albums 32 tracking days would be spent in the smaller studio, the rest would be in the usual Studio 2. Both of these studios were equipped with Studer J-37 four track tape recorders and REDD.51 recording consoles. Another change for 1966 was the prevention of leakage (ahem, alright at the back settle down) as Geoff Emerick used more screens around the guitar amps to reduce the amount of sound escaping to other microphones. Also, something that is taken for granted in studios now, was the use of headphones. Prior to this monitoring was done by a speaker placed at 90 degrees to the microphone so that the artist can hear the playback while doing overdubs but reducing the audio spill onto the recording by placing it in the microphone’s “blind spot” (deaf spot just doesn’t make sense as a general analogy, although in microphone terms that’s what it is). Due to its colour and size the speaker cabinet used for this in Abbey Road was lovingly referred to as the “White Elephant” and you can hear its effects clearly on the track “Yesterday”. In 1965 Paul recorded the first vocal on track 3 (along with acoustic guitar on track 2) on the 14th of June, on the 17th after the recording of the string quartet on track 1, George Martin suggested that Paul could try another vocal take on the empty track 4. After Paul gave it a go, Martin thought the original vocal take was better with the exception of the section “something wrong, now I long for yesterday” at about 52 seconds into the track. This part is from the second take on track four which has the white elephant monitor vocal from track three spilling over onto it creating a double track vocal effect. Double tracking vocals was something The Beatles had done since the early days and it had become a standard to re-record a second vocal, a process that irked John who begged George Martin to find an easier way. Engineer Ken Townsend came up with ADT (Artificial Double Tracking) using Abbey Road’s existing technology, splitting the original vocal and sending one on a journey to another tape machine slightly delaying the signal on the return, (for the technically interested it was a BTR2 tape machine running at 30ips with the record & playback head twice the distance apart of the J-37 heads) creating the audio illusion of two vocal parts. The process was tested first during a Cilla Black session before being unveiled to The Beatles, clearly they loved it and tried using it on everything and ADT was quickly snapped up by every Abbey Road engineer shortly after. You can easily hear an ADT second vocal on Beatles stereo recordings as they are always panned hard to the left. You can hear it being switched off on the stereo version of Eleanor Rigby, during the first verse, the first two syllables of Eleanor have the ADT switched on, on the “nor” it disappears from the left channel (Yet another shoddy stereo mix). A further innovation was “Varispeed”. Since the first album the Beatles with George Martin had utilised running the tapes at half speed for recording (the piano part on Misery), but now by using a variable voltage oscillator to control the speed of the tape, smaller and subtler changes were possible. “Rain” was recorded at normal speed (50 cycles per second) and slowed down to record the vocals (42 cps) and mixed at 44 cps, giving the backing track a rich timbre and shifting Lennon’s vocal up a semitone. Several other tracks for Revolver were slowed down “I’m Only Sleeping “,” For No One” and “She Said She Said”, however the majority of Varispeed adjusted recordings would be speeded up on future Beatle recordings.  


The story of XEX 606-1 begins before Paperback Writer & Rain were recorded, on the 6th April 1966, The Beatles began their first song since 1965’s “Girl”, it was a Lennon track with the working title of “Mark 1” (John had also called the song “The Void”) which was influenced by Timothy Leary’s book “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manuel based on the Tibetan Book Of The Dead”. John’s original idea was to have thousands of monks chanting the lyrics; while Paul brought in the more practical idea of creating tape loops which were played simultaneously on other machines and mixed onto track 2 of Take 3 (Take 1 has been subsequently released on the second Anthology album). There are 5 distinct loops, 1 a laughing male voice speeded up (seagull sound), 2 a B flat minor chord played by an orchestra, 3 a sitar phrase reversed and played at double speed, 4 a phrase played either on a mandolin or acoustic guitar speeded up, 5 a scaler sitar line, reversed and speeded up.

 John demoted the monks idea to wanting himself to sound like the Dali Lama, somehow this technically transformed itself into breaking into either a Lesley speaker cabinet or the internal “Lesley” type rotating speaker on a Lowery Heritage DSO-1 organ that had already been used for guitar on Take 1 of Tomorrow Never Knows (Mark 1).  Work continued on the track on 22nd of April in Studio 2 with a new second vocal, tambourine, organ, piano and guitar solo crammed onto track 3. Track 1 had drums & bass, while track 4 had new lead vocal and a tamboura (It’s correct name is a Tanpura  and is the first instrument you hear on Tomorrow Never Knows, it looks like a fretless sitar.)

27th of April - nine mono mixes of “Mark 1” were made in Studio 3 by George Martin & Geoff Emerick.

6th of June two further mono mixes of what was now called “Tomorrow Never Knows” were made in Studio 3 by George Martin & Geoff Emerick, numbered 10 and 11. Number 11 was considered the best mix and was to be used for the mono album.

This is where things get fuzzy, according to most Beatles sources, this happened -

14th July, the day the cutting (creating the lacquer from the master tapes) for the album's manufacturing began, George Martin telephoned engineer Geoff Emerick to have Tomorrow Never Knows Mix eleven replaced with mix eight from 27 April. Despite this some copies of the alternative mix leaked out.

Now if this was true, all initial UK copies of Revolver would have the XEX 606-2 matrix on side 2, or the XEX 606-1 copies would have Mix 8 on them. Neither of these is true.

 How would leaked copies of the wrong mix get out if they hadn’t been manufactured yet?

The cutting process starts with creating a lacquer, made from playing the master tapes into the cutting lathe that creates the disc that would have been sent to the EMI Hayes factory for production. To get from this stage to the stamper which is used to press the records is at the very least half a day’s work, the existence of 606-1 with Mix 11 means that the lacquer would have either been already created or that the date of the call is wrong. From the additional deadwax information on my copy of Revolver I can see that this was created from the 4th Mother (these are used to create the stampers – for a more in depth look at this process please avert your eyes to ) this would suggest that it would have taken even longer to get the factory tooled up to start pressing. The plating process takes around 45 minutes and the quality control for each stage can take an hour of groove inspection under the microscope. There are suggestions from some sources that when George Martin made the call the presses where immediately stopped. Due to the fact the George was no longer head of A&R and working freelance, it’s unlikely was in a position to make that call that could have cost thousands (in 1966) of pounds in loss of waste materials and time.

The most likely explanation is that while George Martin and Geoff Emerick may have preferred mix 11 at the time it was created, subsequently some or all of The Beatles with George Martin may have preferred mix 8. The Mix Eleven version which they would have heard on the initial pressings that came from the factory was brought to the attention of Martin (some say it was John that let him know). It was then a new lacquer was cut (606-2) that contained Mix 8, which was used for all subsequent pressings (including the Mono 2014 reissue) but instantly creating another Beatles rarity (606-1).

So exactly how rare is 606-1. It does depend on how many were made, sadly I don’t have access to EMI archives, although hopefully when Mark Lewisohn (who may have access) finishes his mammoth Beatles Project (The Beatles: All These Years ) this might get cleared up. Until then, let’s try to do some maths.

The EMI Hayes factory in the sixties had approximately 120 presses, giving it the ability to press a massive 120,000 records per day.

Estimates vary on how many records each stamper would make, for EMI they seem to range between 1000 & 5000 per stamper.

The mono to stereo ratio pressed also seems hard to pin down; estimates again go from 90%/10% (mono/stereo) to 80%/20% for this time period.

From the dead wax of my copy I can see that this is from the 41st stamper created.

Revolver had advanced orders of 300,000 in the UK

Using the most conservative figures, this means that if my copy was one of the last pressed there would have been 41,000 copies produced; to fulfil the advanced mono orders (90%) would have required 270,000, meaning at the absolute least 606-1 makes up over 15% of all advanced copies produced. No one has worked harder that Bruce Spizer on researching Beatles record production at Hayes, his sources which are from people who worked at the factory at the time, suggest as many as 5000 records were produced from a stamper unless they broke down. Using my smallest estimate, it’s inconceivable that EMI would simply trash 41,000 copies because someone signed off the wrong mix of a track. If Bruce’s numbers are more accurate, the word rare will take on its eBay meaning. It may be there are a lot more copies out there than anyone realises, so I’d be wary of parting with large sums for it.
Revolver is the first Beatles album to have a single catalogue number for both Mono & Stereo. The two are differentiated by the prefix PMC (Mono) and PCS (Stereo)

While a very good copy of the revised Revolver (606-2) will set you back around £30, a similarly graded version of 606-1 could set you back £150. Is it worth it? Well there are some who prefer this mix, although I would disagree, but don’t take my word for it, here it is for free on You Tube.

For an album that was recorded 50 years ago, it sounds like it could have been recorded in early 2016. If you don't have a vinyl copy my advice is to buy the mono re-issue (2014) for maximum quality at a sensible price.  Revolver set new standards for production which last to today and make it the Beatles album that is least likely to age. The Beatles would conclude their live era at Candlestick Park later in the month and sign a new EMI contract in early 67, even after some reassurance about the tuning, Paul summed it up “I think it'll be our best album yet. They'll never be able to copy this!”


 Sources –

Beatles For Sale On Parlophone Records - Bruce Spizer & Frank Daniels

Recording The Beatles - Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew.

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions – Mark Lewisohn

Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles – Geoff Emerick