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    

Cream Live Vol 2 Lp Atco Wlp Mono Clapton Vg+ The Beatles - Please Please Me - Uk 1963 1st Press *gold* Label Mono Lp *ex*Pink Floyd Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Lp Mono 1967 Uk 1st!Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' In The Moonlight -1958 - Black Chess - Mono (w/photo)Dale Hawkins - Oh! Suzie Q - 1958 - Black Chess - Mono Hank Mobley "roll Call" Blue Note Lp 4058 Mono Ear Rvg Xlnt The Beatles - Yellow Submarine Pmc 7070 Uk Lp 1st Press 1969 Apple Mono Red LineTina Brooks "true Blue" Lp Original Blue Note Blp 4041 Mono Johnny Griffin Jazz Lp Blue Note 1559 Dg W63 Mono Rvg Coltrane Mobley MorganThe Beatles White Album Lp Mono 1st Press No 0095069 22/11/68 No Emi Credit Savoy Brown Shake Down (decca Uk Original Mono Lp 1967) Uk Blues Psych. Near ExJohn Lee Hooker - House Of Blues - 1960 - Black Chess Label - MonoThe Doors - The Doors - 1967 - Elektra Label - (mono)(shrink)Dr. Timothy Leary - L.s.d. - 1967 - Pixie Label - Mono(shrink)The Kinks : 'the Village Green Preservation Society' : Uk Mono LpThem - Featuring Here Comes The Night - 1965 - Parrot Label - Mono(promo)Beatles Sgt Peppers...(parlophone Uk Original Mono Lp + Insert) -1/ -1. Near ExBeatles - White Album - 1st Press - Mono - Photos & Poster - Low 0029810 - Vg+Jimi Hendrix Experience Axis Bold As Love Mono 1st Uk Press + Insert Mega RareMoby Grape (1st) Very Rare Orig Uk 1967 Mono With Uncensored Cover. Superb SoundBuddy Holly - That'll Be The Day - 1958 - Decca Label - MonoEtta James - At Last - 1961 - Argo Label - MonoRolling Stones " Let It Bleed "superb Uk Mega Rare * Boxed * Mono Poster+innerLed Zeppelin S/t Lp Mono Green/silver Labels Al33232 Rare Australia Pressing Slim Harpo - Baby Scratch My Back - 1966 - Excello Label - MonoThe Zombies - She's Not There - 1965 - Parrot Label - MonoThe Chirping Crickets - Buddy Holly - 1957 - Brunswick Label - Mono(textured)The Crystals - Twist Uptown - 1962 - Philles Label - Mono DgRolling Stones -their Satanic Majesties Request -1967 - London -mono(3d Cover)Ike And Tina Turner - Dynamite - 1963 - Sue Label - Mono Dr. Timothy Leary - Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out - 1967 - Mercury Label - MonoThe Supremes - Meet The Supremes - 1963 - Motown Label - Mono(stool Cover)The Beatles - Please Please Me "rare 1963 3rd U.k Mono Pressing Lp - Gold Cover"David, The Another Day, Another Lifetime Psych Mono PromoThe Beatles White Album Mint Mono Complete Top Audio Superb 1st Press~~~~~~~~~~~The Ronettes - Featuring Veronica - Be My Baby - 1964 - Philles Label - MonoDoors, The - S/t ~ Rare 1st Mono - 1967 Elektra W/ Inner - Nm In ShrinkLou Donaldson Quintet-wailing With Lou-jazz Lp On Blue Note Nm, Mono, Dg, Rvg,Pink Floyd The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Orig. Uk '67 Columbia Sx 6157 MonoJohn Lee Hooker - I'm John Lee Hooker - 1959 - Maroon Veejay Label - MonoBo Diddley - 1st Bo Diddley - 1958 - Chess Label - Mono John Lee Hooker - Plays & Sings The Blues - 1961 - Chess Label - Mono(wl Promo)Rolling Stones - England's Newest Hitmakers -1964- London-mono(ffrr)(poster)(uk)The Marvelettes - Please Mr. Postman - 1961 - White Tamla - Mono Elvis Presley - 1st Elvis - 1956 - Rca Victor Label - MonoCarl Perkins - Whole Lotta Shakin' - 1958 - Columbia Label - MonoThe Beatles Second Album Original Mono Pressing Still Sealed The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour 2ep Uk Parlophone 1967 Mono Book Early PressAlbert King - Born Under A Bad Sign - 1967 - Blue Stax Label - MonoLittle Walter - The Best Of Little Walter - 1957 - Black Chess - Mono The Beatles - Meet The Beatles - 1964 - Capitol Label - Mono(sealed)Bill Evans 1st Press Waltz For Debby Riverside Rlp399 Mono Excelnt Vinyl Jazz LpProcol Harum * 1st Uk Mono Lp * Regal Zonophone 1967Muddy Waters - The Best Of Muddy Water - 1957 - Black Chess - Mono DgJackie Mclean - Jackie's Bag - Vol.1 - Blue Note Orig Mono 12" Lp Nice!Neil Young Lot Of 62 Lps 45s Cds Mono Buffalo S/t Many Promos Time Fades Box SetThe Crystals - He's A Rebel - 1963 - Philles Label - Mono DgThe Eldorados - Crazy Little Mama - 1962 - Vee Jay Label - Mono Clifford Brown-memorial Album-jazz Lp On Blue Note Nm, Mono, Dg, Rvg, LexingtonLittle Richard - Here's Little Richard - 1957 - Specialty Label - Mono