Today there was more work on “Taxman” and some overdubs for “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It’s worth remembering that at this point The Beatles, the biggest band in the world recording in a state-of-the-art studio, were still using four-track tape. To get more than four elements into a performance, they had to either mix the existing tracks into one — a process known as “reduction” — or “punch in” to a blank spot on an existing track. Today, for instance,

The session began with a reduction mix to free up space on the four-track tape, combining both of George Harrison’s vocal tracks onto one. A cowbell was then overdubbed onto track four. John Lennon and Paul McCartney then added the “Mister Wilson/Mister Heath” backing vocals. These were punched in to an existing track, recorded over a tambourine and guitar part. (The Beatles Bible)

This made for a lot of work that wouldn’t be necessary today, but of course this is precisely the kind of limitation that breeds creativity. Drop The Beatles into a modern digital studio with unlimited tracks and every kind of sound known to humanity and what would they come up with? It’s kind of fun to think about, but I think I’ll stick with what we have, thank you very much.

The aforementioned Lee “Scratch” Perry also did magical things with a four-track machine — and this was a decade later, in the mid-70s. How did he manage it? According to Scratch,

It was only four tracks on the machine, but I was picking up twenty from the extraterrestrial squad.

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