Fix the sound? Why mess with a classic? (Updated 3/25/00)

The 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 experienced it with a mono soundtrack. The mono soundtrack has also been immortalized on "The Rocky 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 the home viewers. This company invented the Chace Surround Stereo system, which processes mono audio into directional stereo. To create this version, 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 processed 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. 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 issues.
  • The 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.

All of the following items are converted into 80kbps MP3 files. This was done to help keep file sizes low - They're all under 800K.
The stereo audio and isolated tracks were taken from the Rocky Horror Picture Show 20th Anniversary Special Edition laserdisc.
The mono tracks were taken from a British VHS release.
NOTE: Because of the conversion from PAL to NTSC video standards, the audio on the mono samples is slightly faster.
These files have been moved to another server. If you bookmarked them, please update those links.
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"Dammit, Janet" (stereo)
312K .mp3 file
- Brad's voice panned to the right
-"answer" voices panned left
"Over At The Frankenstein Place" (stereo)
404K .mp3 file
- simulated stereo up to Janet's verse
- Janet's voice panned to the left 
"Toucha Toucha Touch Me"
MONO version
244K .mp3 file
- Note Magenta's laugh at start
- Note that Janet's voice echoes and fades
- Note Frank N. Furter's line
"Toucha Toucha Touch Me"
STEREO version
248K .mp3 file
- 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
328K .mp3 file
- This is completely different than the stereo
"Floor Show (Rocky)"
STEREO version
344K .mp3 file
- This is completely different than the mono
"Floor Show (Janet)"
MONO version
188K .mp3 file
- Note how Janet says "lan-ded"
"Floor Show (Janet)"
STEREO version
196K .mp3 file
- 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 prints have been playing in most theaters ever since, and viewers with keen ears can detect the differences between the versions. To the credit of Chace Productions, their work with the general ambience and dialogue in the film 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. For the occasion, the film soundtrack was rumored to be remixed in stereo again and the original mono track was to be included on the disc as an extra feature. When the package surfaced in December of that year, the stereo audio included was very close (or identical) to the Chace Surround Stereo version released in 1990. It also happened that the "mono" soundtrack included on one of the laserdisc's alternate audio tracks was merely a combination of the left and right channels of the Chace stereo version. Fans who knew the difference were furious. 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 "Fix The Sound!" petition site reported that Fox had addressed some of the audio problems in Rocky Horror, and new prints would be in theaters that Halloween. Unfortunately, this author has not been able to make a comparison of the new prints to the stereo video soundtrack.

Fast forward to the year 2000. 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 multichannel sound. Fans await the news whether a new mix will be created to take advantage of the medium, or whether the 10 year old stereo version will once again be pressed into service.

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

The film Yellow Submarine was released in 1968 with a monaural soundtrack. This movie featured a number of classic songs by The Beatles. In 1987, MGM/UA created the first home video  edition of the film.

MGM wanted to provide the best sounding experience for the home viewer, so the film was treated to an overhaul in "Videophonic Sound." To accomplish a vague stereo effect, the majority of the film's final mono soundtrack was treated with processing and equalization to create perceived differences between the "left" and "right" sides of the soundtrack. The results were not perfect, but they were effective - sounds could appear panned across a stereo image because their relative volume was adjusted to one side or the other. Despite the unique effect attained, most of the soundtrack suffered due to all the reverb and processing added - not to mention it was incompatible with home theater surround sound systems.

For the Beatles' songs, this remix relied on the commercial stereo releases of the band's recordings. Similar problems plagued this mix as did the Rocky Horror mix. Some songs featured hard panned vocals, disembodied from the characters on screen. But most notably, some sections of Beatles music used in the film were never commercially released or were edited uniquely for the film. A processed mono effect was relied upon to fill these sections. 

In 1999, Yellow Submarine was cleaned up and remastered for reissue on home video. At the urging of Bruce Markoe, the vice-president of feature development at MGM, the film's soundtrack was remastered in 5.1 channel surround audio for digital audio theatrical and home systems. This was no small feat, but the project was accomplished.

Matters were simplified because of the fact that isolated elements for much of the film's audio, which had not been utilized for the previous video release, could be located. The magnetic audio tracks stored for the film were in three pieces:

  1. The Beatles' songs
  2. All dialogue and sound effects
  3. The musical underscore by George Martin
In addition, permission was given to go back to the original session tapes for the Beatles recordings, providing at least 4 and sometimes more than 8 tracks of separate audio to reconfigure into the 5 channels of discrete audio (not counting a separate Low Frequency Effects, or ".1" channel) today's film audio technology allows.

One team worked on the Beatles music in London, while another team in Los Angeles worked on the sound effects. The effects team was able to clean up and isolate many sound effects from the monaural dialogue and effects tape, resulting in a complete library of sounds which were then recomposited one by one into a full 5 channel remix.

Once the remixed music from London was added, and the George Martin underscore was processed separately into stereo, a full 5.1 channel remix was created. Across the board, for all musical numbers, vocals were correctly centered in the stereo image. The result was a spectacular, very dynamic experience which has won raves from movie theater crowds and home theater enthusiasts alike. To satisfy everyone, MGM even included an extra audio track on their DVD with the film's original mono soundtrack. Those with keen ears can make out details which are slightly different in the original mono and the different "stereo" versions.

MGM also went through a painstaking process to clean up an interpositive and a negative to create a sparkling new video transfer. The entire restoration - or "renovation," as Markoe likes to say - including all audio post production and digital film restoration work cost MGM $600,000.

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

Like MGM in their first crack at Yellow Submarine, Chace probably could not use or had no access to separated music, dialogue, and effects tracks for their audio work on Rocky Horror. But evidence suggests that these elements are available and waiting to be combined for a new remix.

In 1989, Ode Sounds & Visuals released a compact disc of The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. This disc included two bonus remixes of "The Time Warp." While these mixes were sonically very different than the previously released version of the song, it appeared to be mixed from the original session tape. One of the remixes had the vocals completely removed, but background traces of the singers can be made out upon close inspection. Best of all, however, the remixes were the entire length of the film version of the song, not the mere three minute edit featured earlier on the disc. This was proof that the original music for "The Time Warp" most likely existed and could be used to create a full stereo mix with no bad audio edits.

The next clue came to the attention of Rocky fans in the form of an unusual "karaoke" CD, entitled "Sing It!" The disc was released on the occasion of Rocky Horror's 20th Anniversary in 1995. It is very common that "karaoke" - or "sing along" - recordings are created by having musicians re-record popular songs in new "sound-alike" versions. This initially appeared to be what "Sing It!" was all about, because it was to include material that never appeared in the film - extra verses of "Over At The Frankenstein Place" and "The Sword of Damocles," as well as "Planet, Schmanet, Janet" and even "Once In A While!" The credits of the CD revealed that the music was produced under the direction of Lou Adler and remixed by Dennis Dragon. Close listening to the CD revealed that these were indeed the music tracks as heard in the film, and the new mixes were mostly faithful to the versions as heard in the original mono release of Rocky Horror.

Later that year, the 20th Anniversary laserdisc set of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released. Fans had heard a new stereo mix was in the works, and the excellent work done 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 material of the laserdisc set.

20th Century Fox was able to unearth a few raw reels of film from the production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and they included them in their entirety on the laserdisc. Unfortunately, no production audio (recorded on-set) was available for these takes, but some isolated music and effects material was. On two outtakes of "The Time Warp" sequence, a track consisting of only the singers' vocals and sound effects was added. This proves that some materials in Fox's vault exist which have vocals or dialogue isolated from the music tracks.

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 the original music masters utilized for the "Sing It!" project could be again brought in and remixed properly for 5.1 digital audio. This would create a much superior product, and a very good selling point for a new release of a movie some fans have already purchased three or four times over the years.

Let's try it on "The Time Warp"

See notes above about accessing these files!

"The Time Warp" (Section One) "The Time Warp" (Section Two)
MONO version - orginal film
716K .mp3 file
MONO version - orginal film
384K .mp3 file
STEREO version - 1990 remix
672K .mp3 file
- Note the harsh edit when going to "With your hands on your hips."
- This goes to simulated stereo after the chorus
STEREO version - 1990 remix
392K .mp3 file
- Note the harsh edit into simulated stereo
- This version does not return to stereo at the
next "Time Warp again" refrain
716K .mp3 file
772K .mp3 file
Remix of karaoke and isolated tracks
680K .mp3 file
- Created by the author on a PowerBook
Remix of karaoke and isolated tracks
416K .mp3 file
-Created by the author on a PowerBook

In March of 2000, Sal Piro announced at a Rocky Horror convention that Fox would indeed be releasing a DVD with a mono soundtrack. Hopefully, the same track which caused much controversy on laserdisc will not be used.

But what about all the information found above? If future film prints and home video releases will be in stereo anyway, doesn't Rocky Horror deserve a new stereo mix?

Admittedly, Fox would have to invest the money to do a full remix of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If MGM feels the costs of restoration and audio remixing (in two countries) are worth it on a DVD for a 30 year old film, then couldn't Fox consider a similar (but likely much less expensive) investment in the most successful cult film of all time? Especially when all the necessary pieces are likely ready and available in their proverbial back yard?

Since the introduction of DVD, FoxVideo has shown a strong willingness to listen to the format's consumers. DVD advocates are applauding Fox for considering consumer feedback in the planning of their upcoming Planet of the Apes box set. In the past year, Fox has consistently shown a commitment to higher quality and increased special feature content for the DVD fan.

This is why it is important to tell Fox what you want! This DVD has a great potential for huge sales volume. Many Rocky Horror fans put off buying Fox's recent "Special Edition" release in anticipation of a DVD. This can only mean better DVD sales! Take a moment to drop Fox a line if you plan to buy their DVD, and let them know you care that they are listening to their customers. 


If you would like to contact the author of this article, email:

If you would like to contact Twentieth 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 effective than phone calls or emails
  • Please be polite and non-confrontational
  • If you can tell the differences in the samples above, let them know about it!

  • DISCLAIMER: This site is not affiliated with 20th Century Fox, TCF Home Entertainment, MGM/UA, MGM Home Video, Chace Productions or any other entities refered to within this article. All copyrighted or trademarked artwork or names are used on this site within the context of review or informational purposes, defined by the United States Government as Fair Use.