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The Beatles (The "White Album")

The history of this classic Beatles album

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The Beatles (The

An original vinyl copy of "the White Album"

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The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album")

Recorded: May 30-31, June 4-6, 10-11, 20-21, and 26-28, July 1-5, 8-12, 15-16, 18-19, and 23-25, August 9, 13-16, and 20-23, September 3, 5-6, 9-13, 16-20, and 23-26, October 7-11 and 13-14, 1968 (Studios 1, 2, and 3, Abbey Road Studios, London, England}; August 28-30, October 1-5 (Trident Studios, London, England)
Mixed: June 21 and 25, August 14, 20-21, and 23, September 17-18 and 26, October 5, 9-17, and 20, 1968
Length: 93:35 (double LP)
Credits:
Produced by George Martin and Chris Thomas
Engineered by Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott, Barry Sheffield, Peter Bown, Ken Townsend
Mixed by George Martin and Ken Scott
Art direction: Richard Hamilton
Photography by John Kelly
First released: November 22, 1968

Versions:

  • The Beatles UK double LP: Apple PMC 7067/8, November 22, 1968 (mono)
  • The Beatles UK double LP: Apple PCS 7067/8, November 22, 1968 (stereo)
  • The Beatles US double LP: Apple SWBO 101, November 25, 1968 (stereo only)
  • The Beatles UK/US CD: Capitol C1-46443 - August 25, 1987
  • The Beatles CD remastered: Capitol/Parlophone CDP 7 46443 8, September 9, 2009
Highest chart position: UK: 1 (8 weeks beginning December 7th, 1968), US: 1 (6 weeks beginning December 28, 1968)

History:

  • The sessions for the Beatles' tenth album, and first and only double, were by far the most fractious up to that point, with all four of the group members isolating themselves in one way or another, either in the studio or by leaving it. Lennon had nothing to do with two of George's four songs; Paul constructed half a dozen songs all on his own, using overdubs; John's notorious "Revolution 9" was a one-man climax; George was periodically absent from John's sessions; and Ringo, sweet lovable Ringo, became the first to leave the group, albeit temporarily, when Paul suggested he could maybe lay down a better drum track on "Back in the U.S.S.R."
  • Most of the 30 tracks on what would become known as the sprawling "White Album" were written in India during the spring of 1968, while the group was the studying Transcendental Meditation under the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and demoed soon after in a series of homemade multitracked recordings made by John, Paul, and George at Harrison's "Kinfauns" home in the London suburb of Esher. John in particular left the ashram disillusioned with the spiritual leader, whom he thought cared a little too much about money and women; but there was already plenty of sadness, isolation, and betrayal to go around during the making of the double LP. The Beatles' Apple concern, which had started as a tax dodge, had turned into a financial nightmare, while John and Paul were both ending very serious relationships that had been going on since Beatlemania. Couple this with the death of longtime manager and mentor Brian Epstein, the total failure of the group's Magical Mystery Tour TV movie (but not album), and the general decaying state of the Sixties hippie dream, and the atmosphere around the album begins to make sense. Paul's tightening control, John's relationship with Yoko Ono, and George's desire to be seen as an equal were also mitigating factors.
  • As a result, the "White Album" is the most cynical, bitter, parodistic and sad album of the Beatles' career, and yet for all the turmoil, the end result is routinely held up as one of its greatest achievements -- not quite as celebrated as the band's four universally acknowledged classics of Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, but very, very close. The sprawl and overreach of the two discs are what keep it from universal acceptance, but they're also the elements that give it a sense of wonder. And what's often overlooked are the album's quieter moments, the ones where the group's three main creative minds find themselves for the first time contemplating their deepest emotions on vinyl -- George's relationship with God, John's relationship with his mother, Paul's relationship with nature. As such, it's not only their most ambitious album but their most personal.
The cover:
  • John's original title for the "White Album" was A Doll's House by John, taken from the title of a Henrik Ibsen play from 1879 about struggling to find one's identity within the confines of family and career. It was an apt title, and several illustrators submitted ideas for a suitable cover, including a painting by "Patrick" (John Byrne) of the band dressed as Ibsen's characters, a drawing of the band's faces on a seaside cliff, and a shocking cover full of screaming newspaper headlines. However, during recording the British band Family came out with an album titled Music in a Doll's House, so the title and covers were scrapped.
  • Robert Fraser, the designer of the Sgt. Pepper album, was again approached, and recommended one of the founders of the "pop art" movement, Richard Hamilton, who suggested the band instead go in the exact opposite direction -- a plain white sleeve which, for added effect, would be individually numbered as a parody of limited-edition artworks. Paul loved the idea, but the album now had no title, so Hamilton suggested that no title, just the words "The Beatles" embossed very lightly on the cover. It seemed to fit with the general design concept, and the band agreed. As a way of offsetting the stark presentation, Hamilton commissioned a poster, the first such insert in any pop album, which contained a photo collage on one side and the lyrics to the album on the other. As the band were not featured on the cover, he also suggested inserting four individual photos of the group. Both inserts have since become part of the band's visual legacy.
Trivia:
  • This was the first Beatles album to be recorded in more than one studio (some sessions were done at Trident Studios across town), the first to not feature the Beatles on the cover, the group's first and only double album, the first on their new self-owned label, Apple, and the first recorded partially on the new industry standard -- an 8-track recording console. Previous Beatles albums had been recorded on only four tracks.
  • This album was also released in cassette form, 8-track, reel-to-reel, and in 1979, a limited edition pressing on white vinyl that is still highly prized by collectors today.
  • Several songs not on the album were recorded, written, or demoed during the sessions, including the "Hey Jude / Revolution" single, Paul's "Jubilee" (later released as "Junk"), John's "Child of Nature" (later turned into "Jealous Guy"), and George's "Not Guilty" and "Circles," both re-re-recorded later in his solo career. "Something," "Polythene Pam," "Mean Mr. Mustard," and "Let It Be" were all also first performed during these sessions.
  • The "White Album" was not the first double album, and not the first in rock -- Bob Dylan had already found success with Blonde on Blonde two years earlier, and Frank Zappa's double debut, Freak Out!, had been released just after. The "White Album" was, however, the biggest selling album of all time when released, holding that title for three years until it was dislodged by Carole King's massively successful 1971 album Tapestry.
Tracklisting:

Side One:

  1. Back in the U.S.S.R. (2:43)
  2. Dear Prudence (3:56)
  3. Glass Onion (2:17)
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (3:08)
  5. Wild Honey Pie (0:52)
  6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (3:14)
  7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (4:45)
  8. Happiness Is a Warm Gun (2:43)

Side Two:

  1. Martha My Dear (2:28)
  2. I'm So Tired (2:03)
  3. Blackbird (2:18)
  4. Piggies (2:04)
  5. Rocky Raccoon (3:33)
  6. Don't Pass Me By (3:51)
  7. Why Don't We Do It in the Road? (1:41)
  8. I Will (1:46)
  9. Julia (2:54)

Side Three:

  1. Birthday (2:42)
  2. Yer Blues (4:01)
  3. Mother Nature's Son (2:48)
  4. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (2:24)
  5. Sexy Sadie (3:15)
  6. Helter Skelter (4:29)
  7. Long, Long, Long (3:04)

Side Four:

  1. Revolution 1 (4:15)
  2. Honey Pie (2:41)
  3. Savoy Truffle (2:54)
  4. Cry Baby Cry (3:02)
  5. Revolution 9 (8:22)
  6. Good Night (3:13)
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