Fix the sound? Why mess with a classic?

  Editor's note: This article was written before The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released on DVD. Please see our coverage of the finished product to compare our suggestions to the final issue.

        T he Rocky Horror Picture Show has been seen (and heard) many, many, many times. The president of the Rocky Horror fan club , Sal Piro , had been, in the mid-1980s, entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for seeing the film nearly 900 times. At last count, Piro had seen it over 1,500 times. This author can unimpeachably provide evidence of 18 of his own viewings of the film and that doesn't count the many more times on video, on television, at conventions, at parties, or during rehearsals for Rocky cast performances.

What does this all mean? Well, think of your favorite song. Now, you've probably heard that song more than 20 times, possibly more than 50 times (maybe hundreds). And you most likely can hear every nuance of that song in your head. The same goes for thousands of Rocky Horror fans and the aural portion of their chosen distraction. And to many of them, the home video version isn't what they used to hear in the theater.

When The Rocky Horror Picture Show was first released in 1975, stereo audio for motion pictures was not commonplace. The film was therefore released with a mono soundtrack. During the film's heyday, anyone who saw Rocky Horror experienced it with a mono soundtrack. The mono soundtrack has also been immortalized on "TheRocky Horror Picture Show Audience Par-tic-i-pation Album,"   a 1983 recording of an actual audience participating with the film.

The audio of Rocky Horror was first revisited in 1990, when the film was being prepped for video in time for its 15th Anniversary. Chace Productions were employed at the time to create a stereo version for home viewers. This company invented the Chace Surround Stereo system, which processes mono audio into directional stereo. To create this 1990 version of Rocky Horror, it appears that two sources were utilized. The original mono soundtrack was processed to separate effects and elements of the soundtrack and in some cases, create a more ambient soundfield. Additionally, the mix included stereo audio from the commercially released musical soundtrack album. The upside of this was that most of the musical numbers could be heard in clean, lively stereo versions. There were a few drawbacks, however:

  • The commercially released recordings did not include two songs from the film - "The Sword of Damocles" and "Planet, Schmanet, Janet," therefore Chace had to process the original mono soundtrack for these numbers.
  • The commercially released version of "The Time Warp" was an edit, completely removing a large portion of the song heard in the film. To create a complete version, Chace combined processed mono sections with the stereo recording.
  • Some songs on the commercially released album featured vocals panned directly to the left or right of the stereo image (notably in "Dammit, Janet" and "Over At The Frankenstein Place"). Because of this, the voices of the singers are noticably detached from their location in the film image.
  • There are many instances where the commercially released audio recordings utilize different vocal sections than the mixes used in the film, resulting in some scenes with distracting lip-sync mismatches.
  • The musical backing tracks used in the original mono mix are different. For instance, the piano heard up-front in the mono "Sweet Transvestite" was taken way down and sometimes cut out of the stereo version.
  • While some sound effects in the original mix were effectively incorporated back in with the stereo music tracks, others were completely eliminated in the new mix.

        The sound file examples are no longer available, or even necessary. The DVD release contains the original mono track.
        The stereo audio and isolated tracks were taken from the Rocky Horror Picture Show 20th Anniversary Special Edition laserdisc.
When "stereo" is referenced in the grid below, it refers to all VHS and laserdisc stereo releases prior to 2001.


"Dammit, Janet" (stereo)
- Brad's voice panned to the right
-"answer" voices panned left
"Over At The Frankenstein Place" (stereo)
- simulated stereo up to Janet's verse
- Janet's voice panned to the left 
"Toucha Toucha Touch Me"
MONO version
- Note Magenta's laugh at start
- Note that Janet's voice echoes andfades
- Note Frank N. Furter's line
"Toucha Toucha Touch Me"
STEREO version
- Magenta's laugh is missing
- Janet's voice is not mixed the same way
- Frank N. Furter's line is different
- Voices are hard panned left and right
"Floor Show (Rocky)"
MONO version
- This is completely different than the stereo
"Floor Show (Rocky)"
STEREO version
- This is completely different than the mono
"Floor Show (Janet)"
MONO version
- Note how Janet says "lan-ded"
"Floor Show (Janet)"
STEREO version
- This version doesn't match lipsync

Despite these problems (which, admittedly, few people noticed at first), Fox also struck new prints of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with stereo audio. These printshave been playing in most theaters ever since, and viewers with keen earscan detect the differences between the versions. To the credit of ChaceProductions , their work with the general ambience and dialogue in thefilm was quite well done. The problems with the mix are completely related to the musical portions of the film.

In 1995, FoxVideo prepared an extensive 20th Anniversary Special Edition laserdisc.Forthe occasion, the film soundtrack was rumored to be remixedin stereoagainand the original mono track was to be included on the discas anextra feature.When the package surfaced in December of that year, thestereo audio includedwas very close (or identical) to the Chace SurroundStereo version releasedin 1990. It also happened that the "mono" soundtrackincluded on one of thelaserdisc's alternate audio tracks was merely acombinationof the left andright channels of the Chace stereo version.Fans who knewthe difference werefurious. An online petition to "Fix The Sound!" started up, and even reached the desk of Lou Adler, executive producer of Rocky Horror. Allegedly, Adler felt the author of the site was much too accusatory in his approach.

In 1998, the "FixThe Sound!" petition site reported that Fox had addressed some of theaudio problems in Rocky Horror , and new prints would be in theaters that Halloween. Unfortunately, this author has not been able to make acomparison of the new prints to the stereo video soundtrack.

Fast forward to theyear2000. It's the 25th Anniversary this time, and Fox is planning a DVD release of Rocky Horror. DVDs have the capability of multiple audio tracks and high-end multichannelsound. Fans await the news whether a new mix will be created to take advantageof the medium, or whether the 10 year old stereo version will once againbepressed into service.

To provide a point of referencefor this article, I've decided to detail a parallel film remix project.  In the following, note the similarities in the histories of the Beatlesclassic Yellow Submarine and Rocky Horror .

The film YellowSubmarinewas released in 1968 with a monaural soundtrack. This moviefeaturedanumber of classic songs by The Beatles. In 1987, MGM/UA createdthe firsthomevideo  edition of the film.

MGM wanted to providethebest sounding experience for the home viewer, so the film was treatedtoanoverhaul in "Videophonic Sound." To accomplish a vague stereo effect,themajority of the film's final mono soundtrack was treated with processingandequalization to create perceived differences between the "left" and"right"sides of the soundtrack. The results were not perfect, but theywere effective- sounds could appear panned across a stereo image becausetheir relativevolumewas adjusted to one side or the other. Despite theunique effect attained,most of the soundtrack suffered due to all thereverb and processing added- not to mention it was incompatible with hometheater surround sound systems.

For the Beatles'songs,thisremix relied on the commercial stereo releases of the band's recordings.Similar problems plagued this mix as did the Rocky Horror mix. Somesongs featured hard panned vocals, disembodied from the characters on screen.But most notably, some sections of Beatles music used in the film werenevercommercially released or were edited uniquely for the film. A processedmonoeffect was relied upon to fill these sections. 

In 1999, YellowSubmarinewas cleaned up and remastered for reissue on home video. Attheurgingof Bruce Markoe, the vice-president of feature development at MGM,thefilm'ssoundtrack was remastered in 5.1 channel surround audio for digitalaudiotheatrical and home systems. This was no small feat, but the projectwas accomplished.

Matters were simplifiedbecauseof the fact that isolated elements for much of the film's audio, whichhad not been utilized for the previous video release, could be located.Themagnetic audio tracks stored for the film were in three pieces:

  1. The Beatles' songs
  2. All dialogue andsound effects
  3. The musical underscoreby GeorgeMartin
In addition, permissionwasgiven to go back to the original session tapes for the Beatles recordings,providing at least 4 and sometimes more than 8 tracks of separate audiotoreconfigure into the 5 channels of discrete audio (not counting a separateLow Frequency Effects, or ".1" channel) today's film audio technology allows.

One team worked onthe Beatlesmusic in London, while another team in Los Angeles worked on thesoundeffects. The effects team was able to clean up and isolate many soundeffectsfrom the monaural dialogue and effects tape, resulting in a completelibraryof sounds which were then recomposited one by one into a full 5 channelremix.

Once the remixedmusicfromLondon was added, and the George Martin underscore was processedseparatelyintostereo, a full 5.1 channel remix was created. Across the board,forall musicalnumbers, vocals were correctly centered in the stereo image.The result wasa spectacular, very dynamic experience which has won ravesfrom movie theatercrowds and home theater enthusiasts alike. To satisfyeveryone,MGM even includedan extra audio track on theirDVD with the film's original mono soundtrack. Those with keen ears can make out details which are slightly different in the original monoand the different "stereo" versions.

MGM also went througha painstakingprocess to clean up an interpositive and a negative to createa sparklingnew video transfer. The entire restoration - or "renovation,"asMarkoelikes to say - including all audio post production and digital filmrestorationwork cost MGM $600,000.

Here's where the detective work begins on The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Like MGM in theirfirst crackat Yellow Submarine, Chace probably could not use or hadno accessto separated music, dialogue, and effects tracks for their audiowork onRockyHorror. But evidence suggests that these elements areavailableandwaiting to be combined for a new remix.

In 1989, Ode Sounds&Visuals released a compactdisc of The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. Thisdiscincluded two bonus remixes of "The Time Warp." While these mixes weresonicallyvery different than the previously released version of the song,it appearedtobe mixed from the original session tape. One of the remixeshad thevocalscompletely removed, but background traces of the singers canbemade out uponclose inspection. Best of all, however, the remixes weretheentire lengthof the film version of the song, not the mere three minuteeditfeatured earlieron the disc. This was proof that the original musicfor "TheTime Warp" mostlikely existed and could be used to create a fullstereo mixwith no bad audioedits.

The next clue cameto theattention of Rocky fans in the form of an unusual "karaoke" CD, entitled "SingIt!" The disc was released on the occasion of Rocky Horror 's20th Anniversary in 1995. It is very common that "karaoke" - or "sing along" - recordings are created by having musicians re-record popular songs innew "sound-alike" versions. This initially appeared to be what "Sing It!"wasall about, because it was to include material that never appeared inthe film- extra verses of "Over At The Frankenstein Place" and "The Swordof Damocles," as well as "Planet, Schmanet, Janet" and even "Once In AWhile!" The credits of the CD revealed that the music was produced underthe direction of LouAdler and remixed by Dennis Dragon. Close listeningto the CD revealed thatthese were indeed the music tracks as heard inthe film, and the new mixeswere mostly faithful to the versions as heardin the original mono releaseof RockyHorror .

Later that year,the20thAnniversary laserdisc set of The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasreleased.Fans had heard a new stereo mix was in the works, and the excellentworkdone on "Sing It!" was an indicator that work was underway. Unfortunately,the song mixes heard on "Sing It!" were not used to remix the film's audio.However, some new material came to light within the supplemental materialof the laserdisc set.

20th Century Foxwasableto unearth a few raw reels of film from the production of TheRockyHorrorPicture Show, and they included them in their entirety onthelaserdisc.Unfortunately, no production audio (recorded on-set) was availablefor thesetakes, but some isolated music and effects material was. On twoouttakes of"The Time Warp" sequence, a track consisting of only the singers'vocals andsound effects was added. This proves that some materials inFox'svault existwhich have vocals or dialogue isolated from the musictracks.

If Fox does indeed posess a music-free track for every reel of Rocky Horror, the correct vocals and sound effects could easily be reassembled for a new remix. Then theoriginal music masters utilized for the "Sing It!" project could be againbrought in and remixed properly for 5.1 digital audio. This would createa much superior product, and a very good selling point for a new releaseof a movie some fans have already purchased three or four times over theyears.

Let's try it on "The Time Warp"

These sound files are no longer available (sorry)...
"The Time Warp"(Section One) "The Time Warp"(Section Two)
MONOversion - orginal film
MONOversion - orginal film
STEREOversion - 1990 remix  
-Note the harsh edit when going to "With your hands on your hips."
-This goes to simulated stereo after the chorus
STEREOversion - 1990 remix  
-Note the harsh edit into simulated stereo
-This version does not return to stereo at the
next"Time Warp again" refrain
Remixof karaoke and isolated tracks
-Created by the author on a PowerBook
Remixof karaoke and isolated tracks
-Createdby the author on a PowerBook

In March of 2000,Sal Piroannounced at a Rocky Horror convention that Fox would indeedbereleasing a DVD with a mono soundtrack. Hopefully, the same track whichcaused much controversy on laserdisc will not be used.

But what about allthe informationfound above? If future film prints and home video releaseswill be in stereoanyway, doesn't Rocky Horror deserve a new stereomix?

Admittedly, Fox wouldhaveto invest the money to do a full remix of The Rocky Horror PictureShow.If MGM feels the costs of restoration and audio remixing (in twocountries)are worth it on a DVD for a 30 year old film, then couldn't Foxconsidera similar (but likely much less expensive) investment in the mostsuccessfulcult film of all time? Especially when all the necessary piecesare likelyready and available in their proverbial back yard?

Since the introductionofDVD, FoxVideo has shown a strong willingness to listen to the format'sconsumers.DVD advocates are applauding Fox for considering consumer feedbackin theplanningof their upcoming Planet of the Apes box set. Inthe pastyear, Foxhas consistently shown a commitment to higher qualityand increasedspecialfeature content for the DVD fan.

This is why it isimportantto tell Fox what you want! This DVD has a great potential for hugesalesvolume. Many Rocky Horror fans put off buying Fox's recent "SpecialEdition" release in anticipation of a DVD. This can only mean better DVDsales!Take a moment to drop Fox a line if you plan to buy their DVD, andlet themknow you care that they are listening to their customers. 


If you would like to contactthe authorof this article, email:

If you wouldlike to contactTwentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment about this issue:
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Attn: Rocky Horror DVD
PO Box 900
Beverly Hills, CA 90213
Telephone: 310-369-3900
Fax: 310-369-3318
Email: feedback@tcfhe.com

  • Letters are far more effectivethan phone calls or emails
  • Please bepolite and non-confrontational
  • If you can tell the differencesin the samples above, let them know about it!

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