Vintage Mono (Monaural) Vinyl Records

By definition, all commercial records pressed before the introduction of stereo LP records in 1957 were monaural (mono), which means they were only able to output one signal channel to speakers or headphones. The driving force behind these two-channel “stereophonic” LPs—a concept that had been tinkered with since the 1930s—was the idea that recorded music sounds better when each ear is presented with a different element of the overall sound.

In the early ’60s, only adults with deep pockets could afford a state-of-the-art “hi-fi” stereo system with two speakers. The biggest consumers of pop music, kids and teenagers, made do with cheap mono record players with only one speaker. Stereo records also cost a dollar more than mono discs. For these reasons, artists that appealed to adults, like Frank Sinatra, were more likely to put out stereo recordings than pop stars. That all began to change, though, in 1966, when inexpensive stylus cartridges allowed stereo records to be played on mono turntables.

Most of the popular rock bands of the time, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, put very little energy into their stereo recordings, focusing all their energy on performing, mixing, and mastering their mono tracks. Stereo mixes were made almost as an afterthought.

Take 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which is now considered one of the greatest stereo experiences on vinyl. At the time, the Beatles and their world-renowned producer George Martin lavished great time and attention on the mono recording. The stereo mix was left to a secondary producer named Geoff Emerick, who tossed off the task in three hours. Later, George Harrison would insist, “You haven’t heard ‘Sgt. Pepper’ if you haven’t heard it in mono.”

Similarly, Motown Records chief Berry Gordy, Jr. put his top engineers on the mono recordings, while trainees were left to work on the stereo mixes. Phil Spector, widely considered one of the greatest pop producers of all time, mixed his best work in mono.

While consumers eventually started to accept and even enjoy the special effects afforded by stereo recordings, like echoes, extra guitar solos, and speaker-to-speaker panning, many audiophiles today insist that original mono recordings sound far better than their stereo counterparts. For mono mixes, the musicians usually played together in the same room, vibing off of one another. When they recorded in stereo, though, they wore headphones to make sure they got their individual tracks right. Additionally, many mono LPs were produced from entirely different recordings than the stereo releases, so the differences between the mono and stereo versions of some songs, and even some albums, can be quite noticeable.

As stereo records became more common, labels with lots of mono recordings on their hands went back to the two-channel master tapes laid down in the studio and re-released the sam...

Today, the most valuable mono LPs are those produced in the late ’60s when mono was being phased out (1968 in the U.S., 1969 in the U.K., 1970 in South America). Collectors are particularly interested in “Sgt. Peppers,” the Beatles’ “The Beatles” (a.k.a. “The White Album”), the Stone’s “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” Jefferson Airplanes’ “After Bathing at Baxter’s,” The Monkees’ “The Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees,” and the Who’s “The Who Sell Out.”

In the 1990s and 2000s, as mono nostalgia surged, many of these mixes were released on CD, often sold along with the stereo album in a two-disc package. These include the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s 1968 self-titled debut, the Who’s “A Quick One: Happy Jack,” Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow,” 1967’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” The Pretty Thing’s “SF Sorrow,” and many early Bob Dylan albums.

Even early psychedelic records by Pink Floyd, a late '60s band known for exploring and exploiting the sonic capabilities of stereophonic sound, have been reissued in the mono format, including “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and “A Saucerful of Secrets.”

Music lovers who listen to mono and stereo LPs side-by-side will note the subtle—and sometimes obvious—discrepancies between recordings. Instruments in the background might emerge, while others might fade out entirely. Voices not heard on stereo might appear on mono versions, while completely different instrumental solos, intros, or outros are sometimes used. Mono recordings can be slower and more sparse, faster and more aggressive, or sonically more dense than stereo recordings of the same songs.

Some of the many mono LPs that are noticeably different from the more-common stereo pressings include Jeff Beck’s “Truth,” Cream’s “Wheels of Fire,” Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Axis: Bold as Love,” Love’s self-titled album, and the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat,” which features a secret track on the stereo pressing: If you turn off the stereo channel while listening to “The Gift,” the vocal channel drops out, revealing a mono instrumental titled “Booker T.”

Another record of particular interest to collectors is Van Morrison’s “Blowin’ Your Mind,” released in mono by Bang Records in 1968. The famous line "making love in the green grass," has been edited out, replaced with a repeat of "laughin' and a-runnin', hey hey.” The missing line appears on subsequent stereo pressings, but using a different mix of the song. The mono LP also has a mislabeled catalog number, “BLB 218,” when it should be “BLP 218.”

A mono LP's worth is usually determined by how many were produced. For example, even though the Rolling Stones have insisted that mono is the only way to listen their early records, the stereo LP of their 1965 album “Out of Our Heads” is rarer and more valuable than the mono pressing. Conversely, the Beatles’ 1968 album “Yellow Submarine” is more sought-after in mono. Condition is a factor, too—as most mono LPs belonged to kids, the ones that survived the ’60s tend to be in dreadful condition.

Interestingly, stereo 45s weren’t common until around 1969. Teenagers were the main customers of pop singles, and most of them only had access to older turntables or portable players like the Dansette that couldn’t be fitted with new stereo stylus cartridges.

By 1970, mono LPs were a thing of the past, revived only on very rare occasions by groups such as Dr. Feelgood, who, in 1975, released a mono version of “Down at the Jetty” to capture that vintage single-channel sound.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas pays homage to international female opera singers of the LP era. Chronicling more than 800 singers, the… [read review or visit site]

317X

317X

Despite its mysterious title, 317X is plain and simple—an online gallery of vintage LPs, with a 1950s vintage fee… [read review or visit site]

Mybeatles.net

Mybeatles.net

Jesse Barron's collection of Beatles 45s, picture sleeves, magazines, books, and memorabilia. Browse singles and al… [read review or visit site]

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

This great site, from the Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, offers detailed background information an… [read review or visit site]

The Remington Site

The Remington Site

Since 1999, the Remington Site has offered classical music collectors a glimpse into Remington Records, an independ… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

The Beatles, The White Album 1968 Uk 1st Issue Mono Two Vinyl Lp Set 1g Side 4. The Beatles Sgt Peppers 1/1 1st Mono Press Vinyl Lp Ex To Near Mint AudioDon Rendell Ian Carr Quintet Phase Iii Original Uk Mono Lp British Jazz NucleusThe Upsetters Clint Eastwood Og Uk Mono Pama Records Lp Psp 1014The Beatles Revolver 2/1 1st Mono Press Vinyl Lp Uk Ex+/nm Audio *stunning*Beatles Lp.'sgt Pepper'. Uk 1st Press Mono.-1/-1 With Red/white Inner/insertThe Beatles Please Please Me Og Uk Large Mono Parlophone Lp Pmc1202 Xex421 1n/1nThe Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour 1967 First Issue Mono Two Ep Set Stunning.Eddie Boyd And His Blues Band Featuring Peter Green Original Uk Mono Decca Lp. Traffic Mr. Fantasy - Original Uk Mono Lp - Pink Island Prog Psych Steve WinwoodThe Beatles Revolver Mono 1960s Uk Press With Dr Robert Label Error. The Beatles Rubber Soul 1965 Uk Loud Cut Mono Lp VinylThe Rolling Stones - Out Of Our Heads - Unboxed Orig. Mono Uk Decca 1965 LpFreddy King Sings - Rare U.s Mono 1st King 1961 Stunning M/minus Audio - ListenThe Animals - Animal Tracks - Earliest Stampers Original Uk Columbia '65 Mono LpThe Beach Boys - Pet Sounds - Ultra Rare Original Uk Capitol 12" Mono Vinyl Lp John & Alice Coltrane - "cosmic Music"......12inch Mono LpRobert Johnson King Of The Delta Blues Singers Early 1970s Uk Cbs *mono*The Isley Brothers-shout 1960 1st Press Mono Rca Lp Northern SoulRolling Stones - Beggars Banquet ~ 1968 Uk Decca Rare Mono Lk 4955 ~ ExThe Beatles, Yesterday And Today, Butcher Cover "v" MonoThe Velvet Underground & Nico Verve Promo Yellow Label Mono E++Beatles - Rubber Soul - Lp Uk 1965 1st Mono Press -1/-1 Loud Cut Near Mint HearNr Beatles Lp "butcher Cover" Original Mono T-2553 Yesterday And Today CapitolRay Terrace "baila Baila" Rare Latin Jazz Lp Jubilee Mono Mp3Walter Bishop Jr. Trio, Speak Low ~ '61 Jazztime Jt-002 ~ 1st, Mono, Vg+Orig '66 The Thirteenth (13th) Floor Elevators Psychedelic Sounds Of Lp Mono The Beatles In Mono Vinyl 2014Led Zeppelin Lot Of 20 Lps 45 Cd 1234 Hype Decals Import Mono Yardbird CrossroadCharlie Mingus-the Jazz Experiments Of-1955 Super Rare Ex Bethlehem Mono Jazz Lp107th Street Stickball Team "saboreando" Rare Latin Soul Boogaloo Lp Dorado MonoNm/vg+ Jimi Hendrix Promo Mono "are You Experienced" Usa Wlp + Insert Psych 1967Louie Ramirez "good News" Latin Jazz Boogaloo Lp Fania MonoLightnin' Hopkins~lightnin' Sam Hopkins~ultra-rare Sealed '62 Arhoolie Mono LpDownliners Sect - The Sect - 1964 Uk Mono Lp - The Psychedelic Sounds Of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators Ia-lp-1 Mono E++Smile Pre-queen Gettin' Smile Japan 1st Press Lp 18pp-1 Mono W/obi Insert Nm Sam Rivers, Fuchsia Swing Song ~ '64 Blue Note Blp-4184 ~ Mono, Nyc, Rvg, Vg+Moby Grape S/t Cl 2698 Mono 2 Eye Finger Cover & Poster Original Copy Vg++/vg+Bob Azzam And His Orchestra- New Sounds * Rare Original Mono Press*Charlie Palmieri "yenquele, Maria" Rare Latin Mambo Lp Bg Mono Mp3Art Blakey Orgy In Rhythm Blue Note Lp Mono W.63rd Vg++ No R Rvg"the Rumproller" [lp]by Lee Morgan, 1st Mono Press,ny Labels, Ear, Vg+"speak No Evil" [lp], Mono, Ny Labels, Rvg, 2nd Pressing?, Vg+The Moody Blues Lp 1967 Days Of Future Passed 1st Press Deram Mono Promo OnlyBeach Boys~wild Honey~ultra-rare Still Sealed Original 1967 Capitol Mono LpRoberto Roena Y Su Apollo Sound "2" Latin Funk Soul Salsa Lp Fania Int'l MonoThe Rolling Stones: "stray Cats", Sealed 2-lp Audiophile Mono W/ Fan Club StuffOrquesta Flamboyan "different Directions" Latin Guaguanco Salsa Lp Cotique MonoOrig '67 Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers Lp Mono 2 Eye Byrds Psych Folk RockThe Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; Mono 1st PressingLebron Brothers "i Believe" Latin Soul Boogaloo Salsa Lp Cotique MonoManfred Mann-soul Of Mann 1967 1st Press Hmv Mono Lp6 Elvis Presley Lp Lot, Self-titled Mono Lpm-1254, Christmas Album, Pure GoldThe Rolling Stones - Satisfaction / Mercy 7" 1965 Mono P. Sleeve Unique BrazilLee Morgan Lp 1965 Cornbread 1st Press Blue Note Mono Dg RvgRalfi Pagan "with Love/con Amor" Latin Soul Lp Fania MonoRalfi Pagan "s/t" Latin Soul Boogaloo Lp Fania MonoTen Years After Self Titled Og Mono Uk Deram Records Lp Dml 1029 Arl8564/5 1a/1aBooker T & The M.g.s Green Onions Nm Stax Orig Mono In Shrink