Spotlight on ……
The Making Of ‘The Complete Singles Collection’.
The Complete Singles Collection’ is one of the most anticipated releases from Matt’s back catalogue in the last 25 years. But how do projects like this get put together? What goes on behind the scenes?
It all started way back in February 2008. Michele met with Steve Woof to discuss provisional releases for the next two years. A singles album was discussed and I was asked to put together a list of Matt’s back catalogue titles from his years with EMI. By the following week I had put together a provisional list of master tapes in both the EMI and Capitol vaults, putting the emphasis on stereo where available simply because the majority of Matt’s material was recorded with stereo in mind. Although this would only be pertinent if the versions used, exactly matched the single release.
I should just explain that EMI have an excellent database of all of their archive tapes. The database contains the details of all Session and Mix down tapes and final masters, which means that there are often multiple copies of the same song in the archives. My mission was to attempt to find which tapes should be pulled from the archives and transferred to digital. This is not as easy as it may sound and was made a whole lot harder by the fact that I’m only working from the lists and relying on what they say rather than actually hearing anything! So a bit of detective work is needed.
At this point other projects get in the way and the singles get put to one side until more than a year later in March 2009 when Michele called and told me that the singles album had officially been given the green light, so I revisited my earlier research to update my tape source list. However this would have to stay provisional until I could get hold of copies of the original singles to make sure all the correct versions are used. The good news is that we have permission to include the Decca and Fontana material as Michele thought we should use all the UK & US singles as well as the foreign rarities.
So the next thing to do is find those singles. Both Michele and I have some in our own collections but certainly not a complete set so I contact the one person who I know that will. The great thing is that he only lives 15 minutes away from me – the collector in question is a regular forum contributor and super fan John Higton. John is as kind and helpful as ever and has a complete run of original UK issues and a good number of US releases too.
Some of John's Single Collection
All my spare time for the next few days is then spent transferring the vinyl to computer. The next job was putting both the single dub and the version normally available on CD together side by side so that I could hear any differences. This I did over the course of the following two months, which helped me fine tune my tape listing even further and I also uncovered a few things I didn’t know - but I’ll get to those later.
In early May, just as I’m about to submit my tape listing, Michele relays the news about “The Greatest”. It seems that EMI are keen to feature a new compilation of Matt’s tracks for a TV campaign in January. So it’s back to the database to add the tracks that we are going to feature on that compilation. By the end of the month the tape listing is sent to EMI requesting transfers from both the UK and the Capitol archives in LA.
Obviously transferring the tapes is not an overnight job – there are an incredible amount of tracks to work on and it’s not like this is the only project EMI have to do. I have to wait until July for the 24-bit transfers from the UK archives. These transfers are direct copies of the tapes; there has been no processing at this stage.
The only slight fly in the ointment is that the transfers arrive just as I’m about to fly to the States. So I make a quick safety copy of the discs, throw the original singles on a DVD Rom for a double check, grab my laptop and off to Houston I go. The thing about going away with 7 year olds is that you can’t go anywhere of an evening so there was ample opportunity to do some preliminary work on the recordings and cross check them against the original singles. Work continues in my next port of call – Florida. There I continue to check the new transfers against the original singles to see if my original tape choices was correct The research has paid off and I’m 99% correct but I discover that EMI have omitted some of the tracks that I requested for reasons that are unclear at the time.
I get back to England in August and send a new list over to EMI and request the missing tracks but unfortunately that takes another six weeks. In the meantime I start work on mastering the tracks I have. In basic terms this involves making the sound as clear as possible, topping and tailing the tracks, restoring (removing ticks and pops and a few rough edits) and getting a uniform sound between the song titles.
The reasons for the missing tracks are explained by Abbey Road, for various reasons including one that required ‘Baking’ - In the late 70’s and early 80’s a type of tape was used that contained a synthetic lubricant to allow smooth movement of the tape against the tape heads (traditionally this had been a lubricant derived from whale oil). The problem was that over time the synthetic lubricant reacted with moisture in the air and became sticky – If played, the tape can be irreparably damaged. So the tape literally has to be baked at a constant temperature for a specific amount of time for it to become playable again.
One of the discs of 'flat transfers' from Abbey Road
Two of the missing tracks on my listing (‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘Tahiti’) were not supplied as they were marked “NOT EMI – UA” in other words United Artists. This is not to say that we can’t use the tracks, but that the original session tapes I wanted to use have been sent back to United Artists films in 2006. This leads to two months of fevered searching. United Artists is owned by MGM and they search everywhere they can think of – The James Bond archives, the MGM archives in the UK and USA and various sub archives – they can find nothing and what’s more there is no record of anything being returned to them in the past three years. So unfortunately these tapes have disappeared down some form of black hole – so I am left with Mono mixes of these tracks for this compilation. I haven’t given up though and although I haven’t found the tapes yet, they are out there somewhere and can hopefully be used in a future project!
The final batch of EMI tracks arrives in September, but I’m still missing the Capitol, Decca and Fontana material. The Capitol tracks are finally sent to me in mid-October via FTP and transferred over the Internet in two batches. With regard to the Decca material, I was quite happy to use the re-masters from last year. Fontana was a different matter entirely. I had previously contacted Universal about these tapes when researching Matt’s recording sessions and they had initially denied having any record of these recordings. It took six weeks of making a nuisance of myself for them to finally admit that they did indeed have the tapes (and paper work to back it up). The same problem occurred again with this project. EMI contacted Universal to license the tracks and got the same story. The problem is all down to the library listings being under the name Matt MUNRO. Needless to say we did eventually get permission for usage but it was right up to the wire. The final masters for all discs were sent to EMI on 16th November.
Fontana Tape box for Prisoner of Love
All of this was put together at the same time as Matt’s other anniversary release ‘The Greatest’ as well as the One Media Downloads and the extremely rare CD Michele has authorised for the book’s Special Edition. I was also working on other projects including the Cilla Black DVD for EMI and several other things that the public never see – so is it any wonder I haven’t found the time to update my own website!?
All the while I’ve been doing this Michele has been working hard on the book, but back in September we put our heads together and came up with the basic concept for the artwork which Michele refined and sent to EMI’s art department. Working on details drawn from my session listing Michele put together the sleeve notes and with that we’re ready to go!
Ok then, down to the slightly more technical stuff.
The majority of tracks from 1960 – 1962 were recorded directly to Stereo (with a Mono machine running in parallel). The tracks were taken from the original session tapes when these were available (CD 1 Tracks 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 27 & CD 2 Track 2) or The Stereo master cut directly from the original session tape – (CD 1 Tracks 19, 20, 23 & 25). The rest were taken from the lowest generation tapes. The remaining tracks from 1962/3 onwards were taken from original mixdown masters or, once again where not available, taken from the lowest generation tapes. The two exceptions are ‘One Day’ and ‘Start Living’, which were remixed from the original 4 tracks by Peter Mew at Abbey Road studios.
Notes on some individual songs: -
‘Portrait Of My Love’ – Large drop out repaired
Press Play to hear both original and restored versions
(Please note that some differences may not be evident on computer speakers).
‘Softly As I Leave You’ is in Mono on this collection to match the single. There are two original tapes in the archives, one Stereo, one Mono containing one take only. These were cut directly from the session tapes, however they are an edit of two takes and the Mono is edited one phrase earlier than the Stereo so I had no option but to use the mono. This I only discovered whilst cross checking tapes against the original singles and don’t believe this has been documented before.
‘When Love Comes Along’ is a complicated one. It dates from the earliest 4-track session Matt recorded. The 4-track survives but does not have the master vocal on it.
A second tape features the backing track from the last take on the 4-track mixed directly to mono with new vocals added during the mix – This is also directly from the session. However the master vocal take is missing from the reel. The final mix was this master vocal tape synchronised back with the 4-track backing track – Why? Who knows! I can only guess that the Mono vocal take wasn’t balanced quite right, but it does mean that the final master has some phasing problems. This was taken from the original single master (which was cut into an EP master). No Stereo mix was possible because of the missing Vocal tape.
‘Tahiti’ – Mono only due to the session tape disappearing with the ‘From Russia With Love’ 4-track in 2006
‘By The Way’ – The song was cut from two takes. No paperwork was available to say which takes they were so I had to get copies of them all to find out.
‘One Day’ – The previously issued stereo release was from totally the wrong take (take 7) where as the single was edited from two takes (no’s 2 and 5). Peter Mew remixed these takes and I edited to match the single.
‘From Russia With Love’ – Single version. The single contains a different vocal to the common stereo mix . My hope was that I could re-mix the single version in stereo but as the tapes went AWOL in 2006 this was not possible so remains in mono.
‘I Love You Too’ - Mono single version. There is Stereo mix but it is the wrong take and a new mix could not be made, as the session tape no longer exists.
‘April Fool’ – Should have been in Stereo, it was recorded that way (along with a parallel Mono tape), but I can only assume there was a problem with the Stereo tape which meant that they had to rely on the mono session tape on its original release( on the album “Love is the Same Anywhere” in 1961). the Stereo edition of the song is actually in Mock Stereo. Original Mono Master used instead.
Start Living tape box
‘Start Living’ – The Stereo LP version (issued previously on CD) is an edit of two takes, the single used one complete take (identical to the first half of the stereo). This was remixed to match the 45.
‘Yesterday’ – Nasty edit repaired
Press Play to hear both original and restored versions
"How Do You Do’’ – The session tapes no longer exist, however the two takes used to make the master were mixed to stereo in 1966. When the song was first issued in Stereo in 1972 the stereo tape was edited in the wrong place – Half a verse different! However the engineer who edited the tape helpfully left the off cuts on the reel allowing me to re-edit to match the single.
The US Capitol recordings were transferred in Hollywood from the original masters rather than using the second generation (and mainly Mono) UK masters. Stereo mixes were found for all these tracks (some for the first time).
‘Only The Night Wind Knows’, ‘Pretty Polly’ and ‘You’re Closer To Me’ were all recorded at the same session. Two of the three tracks are issued in stereo for the first time. All the Stereo mixes are a little more unusual. The tapes were recorded in the UK and sent to the US archives. (where the tapes remain to this day). The normal way of recording at abbey road was to record the orchestra in stereo and rhythm section would be on a third track and Matt’s vocal on the final track. Here the Strings, Rhythm and vocals have one track a piece. The fourth track was either left unused or for backing vocals. When the Capitol engineers mixed the song they left the rhythm track and all valcal panned in the centre of the stereo picture with a little stereo reverb. The strings are panned to the left and a slight delay added to give stereo effect to the right. Whilst this is not conventional stereo the final mixes are quite effective.
‘One Day Soon’, ‘Yours Alone’ and ‘The Music Played’ only exist in mono as no 4-track session reels survive.
‘The Impossible Dream’ – This track has been taken from a vinyl dub since it was transferred from a stereo pressing of “Invitation to the Movies” for ‘The Very Best Of’ in 1973!! This was because the UK archive does not have a stereo tape. So ever since then this has been the version used on every compilation anywhere in the world. Not any longer, this is now from the original Capitol master tape.
‘Try To Remember’ - Taken from the original master tape – Previous CD releases partly from vinyl dub
‘Alguien Canto’ – This is the Spanish ‘The Music Played’. The only Stereo tapes are a Stereo backing track and a Stereo mix sent to Argentina. I could not gain access to the Argentinean tape so had to use a vinyl dub. I did a little experimentation with this and combined the two sources. I extracted the vocal from the Stereo vinyl dub and re synched with the Stereo backing track. This came out head and shoulders above the cleaned up vinyl dub.
‘All of a Sudden’ – Taken from the original master tape – Previous CD releases from vinyl dub
‘The Southern Star’ – The multi-tracks exists for this song but due to a mistake when recording the French vocal a few weeks after recording the original English version, the first minute of the vocal has been wiped, once again stopping the creation of a Stereo mix.
‘Ven Mi Amour’ - The Spanish ‘Wednesday’s Child.’ This has extra overdubs as well as the new vocal. A multi-track exists but to be honest this arrangement is so bad (the overdubs appear to be in a different time signature to the original) that making a new mix would not have improved things so I left it mono.
‘L’Etoile du Sud’ – Recorded direct to mono. The multi-track was played back and mixed with the new vocal simultaneously (except the engineer or more probably the assistant engineer managed to accidentally wipe part of the English vocal on the multi in the process.
‘No Puedo Quitar Mis Ojos De Ti’ – First UK release of original Spanish release vocal. All previous versions were an alternate vocal.
‘We’re Gonna Change The World’ – This track has been issued many times over the years from a very dull sounding tape. For this release I have gone back to the original mixdown tape and generally brightened things up.
Press play to hear both original and remastered versions
‘You’re Sensational’ - Taken from the original master tape – Previous CD releases from vinyl dub
‘I Don’t Want To Run Your Life’ – First Stereo CD release – Yes this is correct despite dating from 1984. Would you believe that when this was last issued on CD (on the Box Set ‘The Singer’s Singer’) it was in Mono. I don’t have any idea why as no Mono tapes are in the archives.
Notes on tracks on ‘The Greatest’
All tracks duplicated on this set are the same re-masters except for ‘Softly as I Leave You’ and ‘From Russia with Love’, which this time are both re-masters from the Stereo Mixes.
‘I Love You Because’ - Taken from the original master tape – Previous CD releases from vinyl dub.
‘For All We Know’- Taken from the original master tape – Previous CD releases from vinyl dub. To improve the quality of the recording when first issued on CD a click removal process was used to take out the clicks and pops from scratches on the record. This had the effect of muffling the hi hat cymbal played in the introduction. Coming from the original master tape on this occasion solves this problem.
Press play to hear both original and remastered versions
‘This is the Life’ - First Stereo CD release
‘Unchained Melody’ – Rare in stereo. This version matches the original UK release on “Hits Of Yesterday” rather than the slightly different edit issued by Liberty in the USA.
I hope this has given a little bit of an insight into what goes on behind the scenes. I hope you enjoy the music.