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How The Beatles Wiped The Slate Clean With “The White Album”

Fifty years after its release, The White Album remains a groundbreaking record, lauded my many Beatles fans – though dividing the opinions of some.

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The album that we have all come to call “The White Album” is in reality called The Beatles, but virtually from the moment it was released, on 22 November 1968 (en route to topping the UK charts on 7 December), it picked up its more popular moniker. Such was the impact of the album, the ninth studio outing by The Beatles, that there are some who have mistakenly cited it as the first double-album of the rock era. However, that honour belongs to Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, which was released two years earlier.

In fact, The Beatles was not even the first double-album by a band. A few months after Dylan’s opus, Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention released their debut, the double-album Freak Out! And yet, 50 years after its release, The Beatles remains a groundbreaking record.

For Beatles fans in the late 60s, waiting for the release of the album felt like an eternity. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out in June 1967, and so by the time The Beatles was released it had been close to 17 months without a proper new studio album from the group (though there had of course been the Magical Mystery Tour double-EP in Britain; issued on 8 December 1967 as a six-track release in the UK, it received some additional single cuts in the US, turning it into an 11-track album that topped the charts).

The Beatles was largely written in Rishikesh, India, between February and April 1968, during The Beatles’ stay at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, where they were studying Transcendental Meditation. Following a short break after returning to the UK, The Beatles began recording their new album at the end of May and had it finished by mid-October. The sessions were, as usual, largely done at Abbey Road, but for the first time the group began using an eight-track machine located at Trident Studios.

When it finally hit the shelves, those of us who had waited patiently for a new Beatles album were not disappointed when we rushed home from our local record store to play the record. ‘Back In The USSR’, the opening track on Side One, dates from Rishikesh and was inspired by Chuck Berry. According to Beach Boy Mike Love, who was also at the Maharishi’s retreat, “I was at the breakfast table when Paul McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar, playing ‘Back In The USSR’. I said, ‘You ought to put something in about all the girls around Russia.’” It’s a perfect pop song that segues into John Lennon’s ‘Dear Prudence’: the sort of musical juxtaposition that is everywhere on The Beatles. Inspired by Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow – two more Rishikesh residents – it feels like a rock song rather than a pop song, and helps set out the essential ying and yang at the heart of the album.

The Beatles White Album Press Shot - CREDIT - Apple Corps

Photo: Apple Corps Ltd

Of the 30 tracks on The Beatles, 25 are credited to Lennon & McCartney, but they were invariably written solo; according to Paul, ‘Birthday’ is the only 50/50 song on the record. Usually with The Beatles, a song’s lead singer is also its songwriter, and in a number of cases the songs were even recorded as solo efforts, rather than as the foursome that the group had been used to recording as.

Elsewhere, George Harrison has four songs on the album, including the towering ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, which features Eric Clapton on lead guitar – though there was no such credit on the original album. It’s joined by George’s ‘Long, Long, Long’: another example of his skill as a songwriter. There’s even a Ringo Starr-penned song, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, the drummer’s first ever solo composition, written sometime before he joined the group in August 1962. Given the way The Beatles came to be made, such disparate songwriting contributed to the lack of a cohesive musical style across the album, a fact that many contemporary reviewers noted, even while many others have said that this gives the album its rasion d’ être.

As The Guardian’s Tony Palmer said at the time, “If there is still any doubt that Lennon and McCartney are the greatest songwriters since Schubert,” the album “should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making”. Meanwhile, Derek Jewell in The Sunday Times offered this: “The best thing in pop since Sgt Pepper. Musically, there is beauty, horror, surprise, chaos, order. That is what The Beatles are on about. Created by, creating for, their age.”

The Beatles White Album Press Shot [02] - CREDIT - Apple Corps

Photo: Apple Corps Ltd

At the time of its release the album’s packaging was inspired. Designed by British pop artist Richard Hamilton, in collaboration with Paul McCartney, it is the complete opposite of Sgt Pepper’s psychedelic sleeve. With the blind embossed band name and the individual numbering of each copy, however, it created its own set of problems for The Beatles’ record label to produce in vast quantities – and also ensured that future Beatles collectors would set off on the hunt for low-numbered copies. In 2008, a copy numbered 0000005 sold for £19,201 on eBay; seven years later, Ringo sold his personal copy, numbered 0000001, at auction for $790,000.

Latterly, Rolling Stone ranked The Beatles at No.10 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. And yet some still argue that it includes filler among the killers – but then again, The Beatles’ fillers are way better than most people’s killers.

Attempting to break the album down, track by track, would need more space than we have. Many others have, however, done this, offering extended and erudite comments on a masterpiece. Instead, let us give you some factoids that will, perhaps, make you listen to “The White Album” in a whole new way.

• ‘Julia’ is about Lennon’s mother and is the only time that he played and sang unaccompanied on a Beatles track.

• ‘Rocky Raccoon’ came from a jam session with John, Paul and Donovan in Rishikesh.

• ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey’ is the longest title of any Beatles song and came from one of the Maharishi’s sayings, to which John, the song’s writer, added “and my monkey”.

• ‘Savoy Truffle’ is named after a chocolate found in a box of Mackintosh’s Good News, which Eric Clapton enjoyed eating.

• ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’ mocks the actions of a young American who was visiting his mother at the ashram in Rishikesh, and who set off on an elephant in order to hunt for a tiger.

• Cult leader Charles Manson told his followers that ‘Helter Skelter’ was part of The Beatles’ coded prophecy of an apocalyptic war, not realising that it actually referred to a type of British fairground attraction.

• ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ was inspired by one of the Maharishi’s lectures in Rishikesh. The same lecture inspired John’s unreleased song ‘Child Of Nature’, the tune of which he used for ‘Jealous Guy’.

• John and Paul thought that ‘Revolution 1’ was unsuitable for a single, which is why it was re-recorded a couple of months after this original version.

• Clapton plays a Gibson Les Paul on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, the guitar he had given as a gift to George, who named it Lucy.

• After ‘Cry Baby Cry’ and ‘Revolution 9’ there is a snippet of an unlisted track, sung by Paul. It is popularly known as ‘Can You Take Me Back’ and was recorded during the same session for ‘I Will’.

Now just find a spare hour and half in your day, play the album from start to finish, and marvel at The Beatles’ genius. And muse on this while you’re at it: none of them were older than 27 when they began recording “The White Album”…

The super deluxe edition of The Beatles’ “White Album” will be released on 9 November. Scroll down to read the full tracklist and pre-order the box set here.

Listen-Buy

The BEATLES (‘White Album’) releases include:

Super Deluxe: The comprehensive, individually numbered 7-disc and digital audio collections feature:

CDs 1 & 2: The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 stereo album mix

CD3: Esher Demos

– Esher Demo tracks 1 through 19 sequenced in order of the finished song’s placement on ‘The White Album.’ Tracks 20-27 were not included on the album.

CDs 4, 5 & 6: Sessions

– 50 additional recordings, most previously unreleased, from ‘White Album’ studio sessions; all newly mixed from the four-track and eight-track session tapes, sequenced in order of their recording start dates.

Blu-ray:

– 2018 album mix in high resolution PCM stereo

– 2018 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 album mix

– 2018 Dolby True HD 5.1 album mix

– 2018 direct transfer of the album’s original mono mix

Deluxe: The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 stereo album mix + Esher Demos

The 3CD; 180-gram 4LP vinyl box set (limited edition); and digital audio collections pair the 2018 stereo album mix with the 27 Esher Demos.

Standard 2LP Vinyl: The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 stereo mix

180-gram 2LP vinyl in gatefold sleeve with faithfully replicated original artwork

Super Deluxe [6CD+1Blu-ray set / digital audio collection]

CD 1: The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 Stereo Mix

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Dear Prudence

Glass Onion

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Wild Honey Pie

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Martha My Dear

I’m so tired

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Don’t Pass Me By

Why don’t we do it in the road?

I Will

Julia

CD 2: The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 Stereo Mix

Birthday

Yer Blues

Mother Nature’s Son

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide

   Except Me and My Monkey

Sexy Sadie

Helter Skelter

Long, Long, Long

Revolution I

Honey Pie

Savoy Truffle

Cry Baby Cry

Revolution 9

Good Night

CD 3: Esher Demos

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Dear Prudence

Glass Onion

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Happiness is a Warm Gun

I’m so tired

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Julia

Yer Blues

Mother Nature’s Son

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide

   Except Me and My Monkey

Sexy Sadie

Revolution

Honey Pie

Cry Baby Cry

Sour Milk Sea

Junk

Child of Nature

Circles

Mean Mr. Mustard

Polythene Pam

Not Guilty

What’s the New Mary Jane

CD 4: Sessions

Revolution I (Take 18)

A Beginning (Take 4) / Don’t Pass Me By (Take 7)

Blackbird (Take 28)

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide

   Except Me and My Monkey (Unnumbered rehearsal)

Good Night (Unnumbered rehearsal)

Good Night (Take 10 with a guitar part from Take 5)

Good Night (Take 22)

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Take 3)

Revolution (Unnumbered rehearsal)

Revolution (Take 14 – Instrumental backing track)

Cry Baby Cry (Unnumbered rehearsal)

Helter Skelter (First version – Take 2)

CD 5: Sessions

Sexy Sadie (Take 3)

While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Acoustic version – Take 2)

Hey Jude (Take 1)

St. Louis Blues (Studio jam)

Not Guilty (Take 102)

Mother Nature’s Son (Take 15)

Yer Blues (Take 5 with guide vocal)

What’s the New Mary Jane (Take 1)

Rocky Raccoon (Take 8)

Back in the U.S.S.R. (Take 5 – Instrumental backing track)

Dear Prudence (Vocal, guitar & drums)

Let It Be (Unnumbered rehearsal)

While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Third version – Take 27)

(You’re so Square) Baby, I Don’t Care (Studio jam)

Helter Skelter (Second version – Take 17)

Glass Onion (Take 10)

CD 6: Sessions

I Will (Take 13)

Blue Moon (Studio jam)

I Will (Take 29)

Step Inside Love (Studio jam)

Los Paranoias (Studio jam)

Can You Take Me Back? (Take 1)

Birthday (Take 2 – Instrumental backing track)

Piggies (Take 12 – Instrumental backing track)

Happiness is a Warm Gun (Take 19)

Honey Pie (Instrumental backing track)

Savoy Truffle (Instrumental backing track)

Martha My Dear (Without brass and strings)

Long, Long, Long (Take 44)

I’m so tired (Take 7)

I’m so tired (Take 14)

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (Take 2)

Why don’t we do it in the road? (Take 5)

Julia (Two rehearsals)

The Inner Light (Take 6 – Instrumental backing track)

Lady Madonna (Take 2 – Piano and drums)

Lady Madonna (Backing vocals from take 3)

Across the Universe (Take 6)

Blu-ray: The BEATLES (‘White Album’)

Audio Features:

: PCM Stereo (2018 Stereo Mix)

: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (2018)

: Dolby True HD 5.1 (2018)

: Mono (2018 Direct Transfer of ‘The White Album’ Original Mono Mix)

Deluxe [3CD digipak / 180-gram 4LP vinyl box set (limited edition) / digital audio collection]

The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 Stereo Mix

Esher Demos

Standard 2LP Vinyl [180-gram]

The BEATLES (‘White Album’) 2018 Stereo Mix

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Zerubbabel

    March 10, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Please be saved in the name of Jesus. No music for people but but God.

  2. Claude Marsolais

    March 10, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    The White album is white because the record compagny refuse the concept of multiple photo with some nudiste on it. They put a poster inside the album with those photo, I still have it. GOT the original book that came with Let it be also

  3. Saint 1963

    March 11, 2017 at 5:32 am

    My aunt got album 107. A gift from a boyfriend. Not in good shape. But would never part with it

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