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The Beatles’ ‘White Album,’ By Design

The visual history of the 1968 classic, 30-track landmark album.

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John Paul White Album

On 5 December 2015, Ringo Starr‘s personal copy of The BEATLES, serial number 0000001, was sold at auction for $790,000, as part of his and his wife Barbara Bach’s sale of personal effects for her Lotus Foundation charity. That prompts our look back at the fascinating history of the simple but iconic design of this landmark release.

white-album-cover-serial-number04bThe representation of what we all know as the ‘White Album’ — in a plain white gatefold sleeve, each copy with an individual serial number — was by pop artist Richard Hamilton, working closely with Paul McCartney. Hamilton had come to The Beatles‘ attention after staging a Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the Tate Gallery the year before.

The idea of the serial number was, said the artist, done with the intention “to create the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies.” Hamilton further commented: “Paul McCartney requested the design be as stark a contrast to Sgt Pepper’s day-glo explosion as possible. He got it!”

The fact that the front cover didn’t include any photography of the group did, of course, cause a great stir on the album’s release in November 1968. There were, however, four individual black and white photos of John, Paul, George and Ringo in the gatefold; these were also included as separate colour prints, along with a folded poster, which opened out into a large photo montage, with the song lyrics for the album on the other side.

The very notion that it was Ringo who owned the first copy in the numbered series from the album’s first release is a surprise to many. It was long thought that John Lennon got the first one, including by Paul McCartney, who once said that he bagged it “by shouting loudest.” Those close to the band were given the honour of low numbers in the series, with producer George Martin getting No. 0000007 and the group’s press officer Derek Taylor 0000009.

No. 0000001 White Album

Lennon gave 0000005 to a close, unnamed friend, and when that copy went to auction in 2008, it raised nearly $30,000. In a 2014 feature on the world’s rarest records in the Daily Telegraph, one dealer said that the in-demand low number copies of The Beatles continue to be in huge demand, with those numbered up to 100 raising between £4,000 and £10,000.

The plain white sleeve was not, however, the first idea for the artwork. As Beatles devotees know, the album was originally to be titled A Doll’s House, inspired by the Ibsen play. That title was abandoned when, in July 1968 — four months before The Beatles’ release, progressive British rock band Family released their debut album, named Music In A Doll’s House.

George Ringo White Album

Highly prized as the “low-number” editions of The Beatles have become, some of Hamilton’s other original ideas for the cover could have made it even more groundbreaking. He suggested that the white sleeve should feature a coffee cup stain, an idea that was later used elsewhere, notably by Elvis Costello for his Get Happy!! album. Hamilton also ambitiously proposed that, in the year of the launch of the Beatles’ Apple label, the cover be impregnated with apple pulp, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, this was rejected as too impractical. In the end, it was the sheer simplicity of the design that made the look of The Beatles as memorable as the sound.

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.

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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

Follow uDiscover’s The Beatles Essential playlist.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Chris Bond

    December 3, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    It also looks like a bootleg album which many thought funny at the time

  2. mr llewellyn

    February 15, 2018 at 10:47 am

    I’ve got a copy of the white album with a black dot in front of the number ,what does this mean has I’ve seen a large A and also a small A and no. which speaks for its self? i hope you can help me ,has i can’t find anything online
    kind regards
    mr llewellyn

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