The Beatles “White Album”: A collection of stunning songs by a fragmented band

The iconic double album was released on November 22nd, 1968

The Beatles “White Album”: A collection of stunning songs by a fragmented band

A Series Of Events

On November 22nd 1968 The Beatles released their only double studio album and the first on their newly created label Apple, self titled “The Beatles”, more commonly known as “The White Album” due to it’s packaging. To follow their 1967 predecessor “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” seemed to be a difficult task for the band as they were caught between several events that had an impact on their career such as the death of their manager Brian Epstein, welcoming Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney to their inner circle, the founding of their label Apple and the Transcendental Meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India where several songs of the album were first written or initially thought, just to name a few. Perhaps the events that had the most impact was the death of Brian Epstein who usually knew how to control the band and avoid feuds between the members, knew how to plan a commercial strategy, knew The Beatles work machine better than anyone and knew how to keep Lennon focused on making music and in harmony with McCartney. With his death and Yoko Ono arriving all that changed, Lennon became increasingly more daring and experimental towards music influenced by the Yoko Ono own experimental art and music, that wasn’t really well regarded by the rest of the band, with perhaps the exception of Ringo Starr.

A Fragmented Band

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Produced once more by George Martin, the album recording sessions were often done without all members on the studio, this is where “The White Album” differs from all the other Beatles records: instead of a choice of songs made by The Beatles as a whole, the album resulted in a collection of several solo songs by each member that lack of cohesion between them. You can listen to this on acoustic tracks such as “Martha My Dear”, “Julia”, “Blackbird” and “Revolution 1” . For example, one of the songs that was thought to be used on the album was Lennon’s “Child Of Nature”, which ended up being discarded and later he recorded it for his “Imagine” album in 1971 as “Jealous Guy”. There are undeniable Beatles classics and strong songs, if in a way it reflects the feud among the band members and musical and artistic differences well present at the time , it also reflects a maturity on the songwriting and composition by using a formula drastically different from their previous albums, from “Sgt. Peppers” there’s little to nothing left on the “White Album” songs and for “Revolver” for example, the same. The Beatles always knew how to evolve on every album they made, but here, they do affirm themselves more as adult composers than the teen Pop sensation known as “Beatlemania” that only 4 years earlier swept the world.There are songs that sound like John Lennon only, others like Paul McCartney only and others like George Harrison, that for the first time had a very important part on the development of the composition process, mainly due to the reasons explained above. One of his finest songs “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with the very special guest Eric Clapton, it’s indeed one of the strongest in the album. There are catchy Pop melodies reminiscent of the classic Beatles such as “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by Paul McCartney (this one in particular disliked by Lennon as most of the McCartney songs on it), but Lennon, McCartney and Harrison’s involvement in individual musical projects outside the band during 1968 was further evidence of the group’s fragmentation. In Lennon’s case, the cover of his experimental collaboration with Ono, “Two Virgins”, featured the couple fully naked – a gesture that his bandmates found bewildering and unnecessary. These conflicts reached their peak when on the 22 of August 1968, during the session for “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, Starr abruptly left the studio,feeling that his role in the group was peripheral compared to the other members, and was upset at McCartney’s constant criticism of his drumming on the track. He duly returned on September 5th to find his drum kit decorated with flowers,a welcome-back gesture from Harrison. Despite all the internal friction between the band during the recording sessions these collection of The Beatles songs are among some of their finest work, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion” , “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, “I’m So Tired”, Harrison’s “Piggies”, the bluesy rock tracks of “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and “Yer Blues”, the classical McCartney upbeat on “Birthday”, the superior Lennon composition of “Sexy Sadie”, the McCartney rare raw experimentation on “Helter Skelter” and the “carnivalesque” Ringo Starr’s own composition “Don’t Pass Me By”. Other moments of individualism are present on tracks such as on Lennon’s “Cry Baby Cry” and McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son”. The most experimental track on the album is “Revolution 9”, a collage of sounds, loops and music envisioned by Lennon and Yoko Ono, The track opens with an extract from a Royal Schools of Music examination tape, and ends with Ono’s infamous comment, “you become naked”. “Good Night” it’s the softest and most orchestral moment, a lullaby written by Lennon for his son Julian, that was specifically intended by Starr to sing it, closes the album.

The Iconic Album Art and Packaging

The album art, perhaps the most daring of all The Beatles album covers, was designed by pop artist Richard Hamilton, in collaboration with McCartney. Hamilton’s design was in stark contrast to Peter Blake’s vivid cover art for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and consisted of a plain white sleeve. The band’s name was blind embossed slightly below the middle of the album’s right side, and the cover also featured a unique stamped serial number, “to create”, in Hamilton’s words, “the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies”. The packaging also included a poster comprising a montage of photographs, with the lyrics of the songs on the back, and a set of four photographic portraits taken by John Kelly during the autumn of 1968 that have themselves become iconic. The photographs for the poster were assembled by Hamilton and McCartney, and sorted them in a variety of ways over several days before arriving at the final result. The original British Mono pressing of the album is one of the most sought out items for record collectors around the world, in 2008, an original pressing of the album with serial number 0000005 sold for £19,201 on eBay. In 2015, Ringo Starr’s personal copy number 0000001 sold for world record $790,000 on auction. “The Beatles” was the last Beatles album to be mixed separately for stereo and mono, though the mono version was issued only in the UK and a few other countries. Sound-wise, it’s unarguably that the 1st Mono vinyl pressing of “The Beatles” it’s really the one that sounds the best, having listening to several pressings of the album, including the original British Stereo version, the 1st mono one does offers a warmth and approach into the sound that many others cannot achieve.

Influence and Legacy

Released on November 22nd, the album debuted at number 1 in the UK on 7 December 1968.It spent seven weeks at the top of the UK charts (including the entire competitive Christmas season) and the United States, the album achieved huge commercial success. Capitol Records sold over 3.3 million copies of “The White Album” to stores within the first four days of the album’s release.It debuted at number 11 on 14 December 1968, jumped to number 2, and reached number 1 in its third week on 28 December. Controversially, in the US, it end up influencing the infamous cult leader Charles Manson who was unaware that helter skelter is the British name for a spiral slide found on a playground or funfair, and assumed the track had something to do with hell. This was one of the key tracks that led Manson to believe the album had coded messages referring to apocalyptic war, and led to his movement of the same name, also during the 1969 Manson Family murder spree “Helter Skelter” and “Piggies” both tracks of the album were written in blood on the walls at the murder scenes. “The Beatles” it’s considered one of the greatest albums ever made, not only in Rock music but due to diversity of styles of many different genres, it’s an overall masterpiece, but then again, it’s perhaps more of a fine compilation of Beatles individual songs rather than a band effort, despite that is undeniable the influence and impact, both on music and cultural, of “The Beatles”.

Side 1
1 “Back in the U.S.S.R.” McCartney
2 “Dear Prudence” Lennon
3 “Glass Onion” Lennon
4 “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” McCartney
5 “Wild Honey Pie” McCartney
6 “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” Lennon
7 “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (George Harrison) Harrison
8 “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” Lennon

Side 2
9 “Martha My Dear” McCartney
10 “I’m So Tired” Lennon
11 “Blackbird” McCartney
12 “Piggies” (George Harrison) Harrison
13 “Rocky Raccoon” McCartney
14 Don’t Pass Me By” (Richard Starkey) Starr
15 “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” McCartney
16 “I Will” McCartney
17 “Julia” Lennon

Side 3
1 “Birthday” McCartney with Lennon
2 “Yer Blues” Lennon
3 “Mother Nature’s Son” McCartney
4 “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” Lennon
5 “Sexy Sadie” Lennon
6 “Helter Skelter” McCartney
7 “Long, Long, Long” (George Harrison) Harrison

Side 4
8 “Revolution 1” Lennon
9 “Honey Pie” McCartney
10 “Savoy Truffle” (George Harrison) Harrison
11 “Cry Baby Cry” Lennon, with McCartney
12 “Revolution 9” Speaking from Lennon, Harrison, George Martin and Yoko Ono
13 “Good Night” Starr

All tracks written by Lennon–McCartney, except where noted.

Personnel:
John Lennon: lead, harmony and background vocals;acoustic, lead, rhythm and bass guitars; piano, Hammond organ, harmonium, Mellotron; harmonica, tenor saxophone; extra drums and assorted percussion (tambourine, handclaps and vocal percussion), tapes, tape loops and sound effects (electronic and home-made)
Paul McCartney: lead, harmony and background vocals;acoustic, lead, rhythm and bass guitars; acoustic and electric pianos, Hammond organ; assorted percussion (timpani,tambourine, cowbell, hand shake bell, handclaps, foot taps and vocal percussion);drums (on “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence”, “Wild Honey Pie” and “Martha My Dear”); recorder and flugelhorn;
George Harrison: lead,harmony and background vocals;lead, rhythm, acoustic and bass guitars;Hammond organ (on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”);extra drums and assorted percussion (tambourine, handclaps and vocal percussion) and sound effects
Ringo Starr: drums and assorted percussion (tambourine, bongos, cymbals, maracas and vocal percussion);piano and sleigh bell (on “Don’t Pass Me By”);lead vocals (on “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Good Night”)and backing vocals (on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”)

Guest musicians:
Eric Clapton: lead guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Mal Evans: backing vocals and handclaps on “Dear Prudence”,[82] handclaps on “Birthday”, trumpet on “Helter Skelter”
Jack Fallon: violin on “Don’t Pass Me By”
Pattie Harrison: backing vocals on “Birthday”
Jackie Lomax: backing vocals and handclaps on “Dear Prudence”
Maureen Starkey: backing vocals on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”
Yoko Ono: backing vocals, lead vocals and handclaps on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”,[243] backing vocals on “Birthday”,speech, tapes and sound effects on “Revolution 9”

Production:
George Martin: producer, executive producer; string, brass, clarinet, orchestral arrangements and conducting; piano on “Rocky Raccoon”
Geoff Emerick: engineer, speech on “Revolution 9”
Ken Scott: engineer and mixer
Barry Sheffield: engineer (Trident Studio)
Chris Thomas: producer; Mellotron on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”,harpsichord on “Piggies”,piano on “Long, Long, Long”,electric piano, organ and saxophone arrangement on “Savoy Truffle”

Recorded during: 30 May – 14 October 1968 at EMI Studios (Abbey Road) and Trident Studios, London
Released: November 22nd, 1968
Label: Apple

*Singles:
“Hey Jude”/ “Revolution” Released: 26 August 1968

*Though no singles were taken from “The Beatles” in either Britain or America, songs such as “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” backed with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” were released in several other countries as well as songs from the album sessions including “Hey Jude” backed with “Revolution”

Strongest tracks:
“Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, “I’m So Tired”, “Blackbird”, “Piggies”, “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, “Julia”, “Yer Blues”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Helter Skelter”, “Long, Long, Long”

Watch a short clip about the making of “The Beatles”

Watch a clip featuring footage from the “White Album” sessions

Listen to “The Beatles” on Spotify

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