Back to Mono button

This button came with Phil Spector's boxed set.

For those of us who started out buying 45s in the Sixties, and maybe for those who were buying the last of the 78s in the Fifties, the term "stereo" used to be synonymous with "$1.00 extra", and more often than not we didn't have the additional dollar, and besides our miserable phonographs wouldn't play them properly anyway.
Even then, though, when we were exposed to the Proper Music Systems, usually encased in about 100 kg of furniture, we were duly impressed by how those stereo records sounded, and we filed away a mental note to the effect that stereo was something to be aspired to, once we got rid of our existing crappy record players.
Came the Seventies, and suddenly there were no monophonic records anymore: everything was stereo, and we were assured in the fine print that we could play it on "modern", presumably meaning "non-crappy", mono equipment. We saved our nickels, including the one that used to be taped to the tone arm, and eventually got stereo gear with real two-channel headphones. And, of course, we were duly impressed. Not everything sounded as good as we wanted it to — there was still a lot of stuff "electronically rechanneled to simulate stereo", unconvincing simulation though it was — but hey, we had turned the audio corner, and we'd never have to listen to that mono stuff again.
How wrong we were. Here we are, rolling over the turn of the century, and there's more mono now than there was in 1964. As vinyl became the turf of digiphobes and collectors, a surprisingly large number of reissue CDs started turning up in monophonic sound, even of material that was released in stereo in the dollar-more days.
Sometimes, it's defensible. A great many songs were simply not mixed well for stereo; the production emphasis was on the single, which was invariably mono, and the stereo mix was done almost as an afterthought. A prime example is the Supremes' "Love Child" (Motown 1135). In mono, it's one of the fiercest singles Berry Gordy and company ever made. In stereo, with Mary and Cindy way off to the left, Diana all alone in the middle, and the drums mixed somewhere to the right of Jesse Helms, it's flatter than last month's Pepsi.
Some producers simply had no interest in stereo. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound came off as a lot more porous when divided in two. And Brian Wilson, an unfortunate soul with true monaural hearing, did arguably his best work in mono, though the new stereo mix of Pet Sounds, done under his supervision, is stunning.
And sometimes the stereo version of a hit single was somehow not quite the way we remembered the single. The Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (Colgems 66-1002, B-side of "I'm a Believer", but which charted in its own right) was as punchy as the best Paul Revere and the Raiders records, which made sense, since the Raiders recorded it first. In stereo, not only does it suffer from a lack of punch, but the instrumental break after the first verse is truncated, throwing off the rhythm. Unfortunately, this was the only version of "Steppin' Stone" in release for years and years, until Rhino, which had acquired the Monkees masters, put the proper 45 version on a Greatest Hits CD (R2 72190, 1995).
So there is still some reason for mono, and while it perhaps doesn't do a great deal for your five-plus-one-channel home theater system, it can be artistically valid. Some reissue producers out there — for example, John Sellards of the VanMeter label — insist that to the extent the mono version reflects the wishes of the performers and producers, it should be reissued in preference to the stereo version. Allen Klein's Abkco Music, which owns the American rights to all t