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Imagine – The Ultimate Collection – Box Set: The Ultimate Deep Listening Experience
Explore and enjoy the IMAGINE album and the 1971 Ascot Sound Studios & Record Plant Sessions like you’ve never seen or heard them before.
IMAGINE - THE RAW STUDIO MIXES
Live, from the centre of Ascot Sound Studios
Rob Stevens: Imagine Imagine. There was John, there was Yoko, and there was Phil. An iconic triumvirate. Sadly, she’s the only one still both surviving and thriving, on this plane anyway. Yoko was there, a full and equal participant in, and witness to, the sessions that led to the finished album. She knew the initial basic track performances that spawned the album were as aggressively visceral and emotionally touching, if not more so, than the ones that made up John’s Plastic Ono Band album, if such a thing is possible.
Before the strings and the saxophone, before the brilliant application of sound shaping techniques that were used to produce the iconic album, there were the original, unadorned performances that were the foundation of the Imagine album. So Yoko and I set to work, mixing 5.1 and stereo versions of the Imagine album and select out-takes in a way that’s being presented as ‘Raw’.
The 5.1’s are no doubt unconventional in that they place the listener smack dab in the middle of the room, surrounded by the musicians where the tracking is taking place, rather than the semi-circle amphitheater mode, with the players spread out in front and the ambience generally placed to the side and behind the listener. A wonderful unintended consequence that we found midway through the mixing process is that, in addition to sitting still, another way to listen is to walk around and tune in to the individual instruments.
Both the Raw Studio Mix 5.1’s and the stereos are devoid of effects (reverb, tape delays, etc.), whether on John’s voice or the instruments in the room, a far cry from the finished product, which, in order to reach as many people as possible, made full use of techniques that were shunned in John’s initial solo outing.
John is directly in front of the listener, and the imperfections are chillingly perfect; the flaws flawless. John’s voice, which in the height of irony, he himself wasn’t fond of and often sought to mask with the abovementioned reverbs and delays, is both ferocious and painfully vulnerable, at times within the same composition.
The intention was to separate the players, even in stereo, as much as possible in order to hear the performances without them being part of the eventual wall of sound. We intentionally left in the buzz of amps and other imperfections that the musicians would have heard in the room. The album was recorded in what was, essentially, a makeshift home studio, so there is extraneous noise and requests like, ‘all quiet in the kitchen, please.’ It was an intensely intimate setting, and as a result, at times there will be, say, drum leakage on John’s vocal mic. Our reaction to that, while mixing, was ‘Great! This is what happened!’ There’s also the the ‘pre and post roll’ chatter before and after most of the takes.
Prime examples: When we heard John’s inhalation and exhalation before he sings ‘Imagine’, we teared up. Clearly a conveyance of deep convictions was about to take place. Prior to recording ‘Oh Yoko!’, Yoko gives input through the talkback system, and Phil Spector rudely comes close to cutting her off in a dismissive way. Yoko wanted that left in because it reflected the attitude of the times not only towards Yoko and what she had to deal with and work through, but how men most often treated women, and, frankly, still do.
Stripped down, the songs and performances are put into sharp focus: Listening to ‘Gimme Some Truth’ with no slap echo on the voice, you can feel the froth coming out of John’s mouth. The song could have been written and recorded this morning. On some of John’s guide vocals, say ‘How Do You Sleep? (takes 5 and 6)’, the outtake vocal is arguably more effective than the final version. If one takes the Raw Studio Mix of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die’ and lines it up with the Ultimate Mix of the song, then switches back and forth between the two, there’s no better demonstration of how the vitality of a live performance can be turned into a masterful record that feels very little like that of the original performance.
In short, Yoko courageously provides us with a gift that is exceptionally generous of spirit: we are allowed to witness John as a full and extraordinary human being.
Imagine - The Raw Studio Mixes & Out-takes in 5.1 and Stereo
Produced by Yoko Ono
Mixed by Rob Stevens
Mix Engineer: Paul Goodrich at Merlin Studios
Mastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound, New York & Nashville