Even if you've heard the songs a million times, hearing them in original mono (especially on a modern stereo system – the best of both worlds) reveals the familiar afresh. The wonderful compression of these recordings brings the bass and drums front and centre – you’re aware of the proactiveness of McCartney’s bass or the wonderful phrasing of Ringo Starr, his un-histrionic approach leading some to mistake him as technically limited. Listening to The Beatles triggers all kinds of associations, but here you feel the Motown influence, the ‘rubber soul’ key.
However, when Lennon is to the fore, he really is – I’ve never heard Revolution sound quite so heavy, a vicious gnarl and fuzz from rock’s most violent pacifist. Of course, by this point The Beatles were going their own ways, which is why hearing them in mono has a symbolism - unified but roaming individually across the albums. The early recordings, made as a group doing repeated takes rather than overdubs, remind you how tight they were on A Hard Day’s Night or I Feel Fine.
At this stage they’re still infused with raw energy, revolutionising the world in ways we take for granted now: the swoon Lennon induces in his rapt female audience with the consideration of the line ‘Apologise to her’ in She Loves You, or its unearthly vocal ululations - we forget how utterly futuristic it was. By contrast, in their supposedly more experimental post-Sgt. Pepper years they faced the irony of being the most popular yet least heard live band in the world.
By 1967 you’re aware of how McCartney is beset by nostalgia for a long lost normality, of Penny Lane, meter maids, a yearning for the past in psychedelic Technicolor. Of the late albums, it’s Magical Mystery Tour which impacts hardest, possibly because it’s less cited – there’s a carefree air, as if they’re happy to enjoy one last adventure together as the Fab Four.
At the same time, they’re individually at the height of their powers – George on the fearsome Blue Jay Way, like a Hindu idol with a single eye in the mix, the scabrous I Am The Walrus, Paul at his most dark and doe-eyed on Fool On The Hill.
The trip undertaken by The Beatles only lasted a few years but covered a vast cultural distance. There will never again be a group or catalogue like this one; despite its incompleteness, this is a cornerstone purchase.