The Beatles (album)

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This article is about the self-titled Beatles album known popularly as "The White Album". For other uses, see The Beatles (disambiguation).
"The White Album" redirects here. For other uses, see The White Album (disambiguation).
The Beatles
The original vinyl copies released in 1968 had the band's name embossed crosswise onto a white background. These pressings were also numbered. Design by Richard Hamilton.
Studio album by The Beatles
Released 22 November 1968
Recorded 30 May – 14 October 1968, EMI and Trident Studios, London
Genre Rock, pop, folk rock,[1] hard rock[2]
Length 93:35
Label Apple
Producer George Martin, Chris Thomas
The Beatles chronology
Magical Mystery Tour
(1967)
The Beatles
(1968)
Yellow Submarine
(1969)

The Beatles is the ninth studio album by English rock group the Beatles, a double album released on 22 November 1968. It is also commonly known as the White Album, as it has no graphics or text other than the band's name embossed (and, on the early LP and CD releases, a serial number) on its plain white sleeve.

The album was written and recorded during a period of turmoil for the group, after visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and having a particularly productive songwriting session in early 1968. Returning to the studio, the group recorded from May to October 1968, only to have conflict and dissent drive the group members apart. Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving Paul McCartney to play drums on two tracks. Many of the performances were by less than the full group, some of them “solo” recordings, as each individual member began to explore his own talent.

Upon its release, the album received mixed reviews from music critics, who criticised its satirical songs as unimportant and apolitical amid a turbulent political and social climate. However, it reached number 1 on the charts in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The album has sold over 9.5 million copies in the United States alone[3] and has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. In September 2013 after the British Phonographic Industry changed their sales award rules, the album was declared as having gone platinum, meaning sales of at least 300,000 copies.[4]

Background[edit]

By 1968, the Beatles were at the peak of their global influence and visibility. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released the previous year, had enjoyed a combination of commercial success, critical acclaim, and immense cultural influence that had previously seemed inconceivable for a pop release. Time magazine had written in 1967 that Sgt. Pepper’s constituted a “historic departure in the progress of music – any music”[5] while Timothy Leary, in a widely quoted assessment from the same period, declared that the band were prototypes of “evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with mysterious powers to create a new human species”.[6] The group had suffered a critical backlash over the film Magical Mystery Tour, but fan response was nevertheless positive.[7]

Most of the songs were conceived during a Transcendental Meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, in the spring of 1968. The retreat had required long periods of meditation, initially conceived by the band as a spiritual respite from all worldly endeavours—a chance, in John Lennon’s words, to “get away from everything”.[8] Both Lennon and Paul McCartney had quickly themselves engaged in songwriting, often meeting “clandestinely in the afternoons in each other’s rooms” to review the new work.[9] “Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing,” Lennon would later recall, “I did write some of my best songs there.”[10] Significantly, the Beatles took no drugs with them aside from marijuana, and the clear minds helped the group to write prolifically.[11]

The songs that appear on The Beatles were demoed at George Harrison's home, Kinfauns in May 1968

The Beatles left Rishikesh before the end of the course. Ringo Starr was the first to leave, as he could not stomach the food on offer,[12] while McCartney tried to commit further before leaving in mid March.[11] Lennon and George Harrison were more interested in Indian religion, and remained there until April.[11] According to author Geoffrey Giuliano, Lennon left Rishikesh because he felt personally betrayed by rumours that Maharishi had made sexual advances toward Mia Farrow,[13][14] who had accompanied the Beatles on their trip. According to some Beatles authors, "Magic" Alexis Mardas engineered these rumours to undermine the Maharishi's influence on the group.[15][16] The group filmed the trip to Rishikesh on 8mm film, some of which subsequently appeared on the Anthology series.[17]

The group members wrote around 40 new compositions in Rishikesh, 26 of which would be recorded in very rough form at Kinfauns, Harrison's home in Esher, in May 1968. Lennon wrote the bulk of the new material, contributing 14 songs.[11] Lennon and McCartney brought existing demos they had recorded at home to the session, and worked on them together. Some of the home demos and group sessions at Kinfauns were later released on Anthology 3.[18]

Recording[edit]

Abbey Road Studios in 2006

The Beatles was recorded between 30 May and 14 October 1968, largely at Abbey Road Studios, with some sessions at Trident Studios. The group block-booked time at Abbey Road through to July,[19] and the tranquil and productive atmosphere of Rishikesh was soon forgotten in the atmosphere of the studio, with sessions occurring at irregular hours.[20] The group's self-belief that they could do anything led to the formation of a new multimedia business corporation Apple Corps, an enterprise that drained the group financially with a series of artistic follies.[21] The open-ended studio time led to a new way of working out songs. Instead of tightly rehearsing a backing track, as had happened in previous sessions, the group would simply record all the rehearsals and jamming onto tape, then select which performance had been best to overdub. Harrison's song "Not Guilty" was left off the album despite recording 102 takes.[22]

The sessions for The Beatles marked the first appearance in the studio of Lennon's new domestic and artistic partner, Yoko Ono, who accompanied him to Abbey Road to work on "Revolution 1"[23] and would thereafter be a more or less constant presence at all Beatles sessions.[24] Ono's presence was highly unorthodox, as prior to that point, the Beatles had generally worked alone in isolation.[25] McCartney's girlfriend at the time, Francie Schwartz, was also present at some of the recording sessions,[26] as were Pattie Harrison and Maureen Starkey, the other two Beatles' wives.[27]

The sessions for The Beatles were notable for the band's formal transition from 4-track to 8-track recording. As work on the album began, Abbey Road Studios possessed, but had yet to install, an 8-track machine that had supposedly been sitting in a storage room for months. This was in accordance with EMI's policy of testing and customising new gear extensively before putting it into use in the studios. The Beatles recorded "Hey Jude" and "Dear Prudence" at Trident because it had an 8-track recorder.[28] When they learned that EMI also had one, they insisted on using it, and engineers Ken Scott and Dave Harries took the machine (without authorisation from the studio chiefs) into Abbey Road Studio 2 for the band's use.[29]

Author Mark Lewisohn reports that the Beatles held their first and only 24-hour recording/producing session near the end of the creation of The Beatles, which occurred during the final mixing and sequencing for the album. The session was attended by Lennon, McCartney and producer George Martin. Unlike most LPs, there was no customary three-second gap between tracks, and the master was edited so that songs segued together, via a straight edit, a crossfade, or an incidental piece of music.[30]

Personnel issues[edit]

Despite the album's official title, which emphasised group identity, studio efforts on The Beatles captured the work of four increasingly individualised artists who frequently found themselves at odds. Lewisohn notes that several backing tracks do not feature the full group, and overdubs tended to be limited to whoever wrote the song.[31] The band's work pattern changed dramatically with this project, and by most accounts the extraordinary synergy of the Beatles' previous studio sessions was harder to come by during this period. Sometimes McCartney would record in one studio for prolonged periods of time, while Lennon would record in another, each man using different engineers.[32] At one point in the sessions, Martin, whose authority over the band in the studio had waned, spontaneously left to go on holiday, leaving Chris Thomas in charge of producing.[33] Long after the recording of The Beatles was complete, Martin mentioned in interviews that his working relationship with the Beatles changed during this period, and that many of the band's efforts seemed unfocused, often yielding prolonged jam sessions that sounded uninspired.[34]

Recording engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked with the group since Revolver, had become fed up with the album sessions. At one point, while recording "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", Emerick recalled Martin criticising McCartney's lead vocal performance, to which McCartney replied, "Well you come down and sing it".[35] On 16 July, Emerick announced that he was no longer willing to work with them and quit on the spot.[35]

The frustration and sudden departures were not limited to EMI personnel. On 20 August, Lennon, working on overdubs for "Yer Blues" in Studio 3, visited McCartney in Studio 2, where he was working on "Mother Nature's Son". The positive spirit of the session disappeared immediately, and engineer Ken Scott later claimed "you could cut the atmosphere with a knife".[36] On 22 August, Starr abruptly left the studio, explaining later that he felt that his role was minimised compared to that of the other members, and that he was tired of waiting through the long and contentious recording sessions. He frequently turned up to sessions and sat waiting in the reception area for the others to turn up.[37] McCartney played drums on "Dear Prudence" because Starr had left the group while the song was being recorded. Lewisohn also reports that, in the case of "Back in the U.S.S.R.", also recorded during Starr's absence, the three remaining Beatles each made contributions on bass and drums, with the result that those parts may be composite tracks played by Lennon, McCartney and/or Harrison.[37]

Lennon, McCartney and Harrison pleaded with Starr to return, on 5 September, he did. Upon his return, he found his drum kit decorated with red, white, and blue flowers, a welcome-back gesture from Harrison.[38] The reconciliation was only temporary, however, and Starr's exit served as a precursor of future "months and years of misery", in Starr's words.[34] McCartney described the sessions for The Beatles as a turning point for the group. Up to this point, he observed, "The world was a problem, but we weren't. You know, that was the best thing about the Beatles, until we started to break up, like during the White Album and stuff. Even the studio got a bit tense then."[34] Of the album's 30 tracks, only 15 have all four band members performing.[nb 1]

Other musicians[edit]

Although not formally credited on the album, Eric Clapton played lead guitar on Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".[52] Harrison explains in The Beatles Anthology that Clapton's presence temporarily alleviated the studio tension and that all band members were on their best behaviour during his time with the band in the studio.[34] Harrison soon reciprocated by collaborating with Clapton on the song "Badge" for Cream's final studio album, Goodbye. Harrison, too, was not formally credited at first, but was identified as "L'Angelo Misterioso" on the cover.

Clapton was not the only outside musician to sit in on the sessions. Nicky Hopkins provided electric piano on the single cut of "Revolution" (recorded during these sessions). Several horns were also recorded on the album version of "Revolution 1". "Savoy Truffle" also features the horn section. Jack Fallon played a bluegrass fiddle on "Don't Pass Me By",[53] and a team of orchestral players and background singers appeared on "Good Night" (which was Beatle-free except for Starr's vocal).

Songs[edit]

Although most of the songs on any given Beatles album are usually credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting team, that description is often misleading, and rarely more so than on The Beatles. With this album, each of the four band members began to showcase the range and depth of his individual songwriting talents, and to display styles that would be carried over to his eventual solo career. Indeed, some songs that the individual Beatles were working on during this period eventually were released on solo albums. According to the bootlegged album of the songs recorded at Kinfauns, these include Lennon's "Look at Me",[54] "What's The New Mary Jane"[55] and "Child of Nature", eventually reworked as "Jealous Guy";[56] McCartney's "Junk"[56] and "Teddy Boy";[citation needed] and Harrison's "Not Guilty" and "Circles".[56]

The only western instrument available to the group during their Indian visit was the acoustic guitar, and thus many of the songs on The Beatles were written and first performed on that instrument.[57] Some of these songs remained acoustic on The Beatles (notably "Rocky Raccoon", "Blackbird", "Julia", "Cry Baby Cry", "I Will" and "Mother Nature's Son") and were recorded in the studio either solo, or by only part of the group.

Side one[edit]

McCartney wrote "Back in the U.S.S.R." as a surreal parody of Chuck Berry's hit "Back in the USA".[58] A field recording of aeroplane taking off and landing was used at the start of the track, and intermittently throughout it, while the backing vocals were sung by Lennon and Harrison in the style of the Beach Boys.[37] Mike Love, who had accompanied the group to India, later claimed he had helped write the track, but this was refuted by Beatles biographer Hunter Davies.[59] The track became widely bootlegged in the Soviet Union and became an underground hit.[58] McCartney subsequently recorded a covers album, Choba B CCCP, based on a transliteration on the Russian version of the title.

"Dear Prudence" was recorded at Trident. Lennon wrote the track about Mia Farrow's sister Prudence, and was typical of the acoustic songs written in Rishikesh.[60]

"Glass Onion" was the first backing track recorded as a full band since Starr's brief departure. MacDonald claimed Lennon deliberately wrote the lyrics to mock fans who claimed to find "hidden messages" in songs, and referenced other songs in the Beatles catalogue – "The Walrus was Paul" refers back to "I Am The Walrus" (which in turn refers to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds").[61] McCartney, in turn, overdubbed a recorder part after the line "I told you about the Fool on the Hill", as a deliberate parody of the earlier song.[62] A string section was added to the track in October.[62]

McCartney recorded "Wild Honey Pie" on 20 August at the end of the session for "Mother Nature's Son". It is typical of the brief snippets of songs he recorded between takes during the album sessions.[58]

"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" was recorded as an audio vérité exercise, featuring vocal performances from practically everyone who happened to be in the studio at the time. Ono sings one line and co-sings another, while Thomas played the mellotron, including improvisations at the end of the track. The Spanish guitar at the beginning of the recording was overdubbed later by Harrison.[63]

Lennon went straight to the piano and smashed the keys with an almighty amount of volume, twice the speed of how they'd done it before, and said "This is it! Come on!"

Recording engineer Richard Lush on "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"[64]

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was written by McCartney as a pastiche of ska music. The track took a surprising amount of time to complete, with McCartney demanding perfectionism that annoyed his colleagues.[40] Jimmy Scott, a friend of McCartney, suggested the title and played bongos on the initial take. He demanded a cut of publishing when the song was released, which was credited to the usual "Lennon-McCartney".[65] After working for three days on the backing track, the work was scrapped and replaced with a new recording. Engineer Richard Lush recalled that Starr was getting fed up having to record the same backing track repetitively, and pinpoints this session as a key indication that the Beatles were going to break up.[64] McCartney attempted to remake the backing track for a third time, but this was abandoned after a few takes and the second version was used as the final mix.[64] The group, save for McCartney, were fed up with the track by the end of recording, and refused to release it as a single. Marmalade recorded a version that became a number one hit.[65]

Eric Clapton played this Gibson Les Paul guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". He later gave the guitar to George Harrison, who named it "Lucy".

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was written by Harrison during a visit he made to his parents' home in Cheshire.[66] He first recorded the song as a solo performance, on acoustic guitar, on 25 July – a version that remained unreleased until the Beatles' Anthology 3 compilation in 1996.[44] After re-recording the song in September, Harrison invited Clapton in to play the solo, which was treated with automatic double tracking to attain the desired effect. Clapton gave Harrison the guitar he used, which Harrison later named "Lucy".[67]

"Happiness Is A Warm Gun" evolved out of song fragments that Lennon wrote in Rishikesh. MacDonald claimed that this way of building a song was influenced by the work of the Incredible String Band.[48] The basic backing track took 95 takes to get right, due to the irregular time signatures and variations in style throughout the song. The final version consisted of the best half of two takes edited together.[68] Lennon later described the song as one of his favourites,[69] while the rest of the band found the recording rejuvenating, as it forced them to re-hone their skills as a group playing live together to get it right.[70]

Side two[edit]

McCartney got the title of "Martha My Dear" from his sheepdog, but the lyrics are otherwise unrelated.[71] The entire track is played by him backed with session musicians, and features no other Beatles. Martin composed a brass band arrangement for the track.[72]

"I'm So Tired" was written in India when Lennon was having difficulty sleeping.[50] It was recorded at the same session as "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill". The track ends with Lennon mumbling "Monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?"[63] which became part of the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory, when fans claimed that when reversed, they could hear "Paul is dead man, miss him miss him".[38]

"Blackbird" features McCartney solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar using the fingerpicking style made popular by Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. MacDonald considers the track to be the best acoustic performance on the album.[73] The birdsong on track was taken from the Abbey Road sound effects collection, and was recorded on one of the first EMI portable tape recorders.[74]

Harrison wrote "Piggies" as an attack on modern society. According to MacDonald, Lennon and Harrison's mother Louise helped with the lyrics.[75] Thomas suggested playing a harpsichord, and Harrison agreed it would be a good idea.[76] Along with "Helter Skelter", this was one of the key tracks that Charles Manson interpreted as being an incitement to mass-murder.[75]

"Rocky Raccoon" evolved from a jam session between Lennon and Donovan in Rishikesh. The song was taped in a single session, and was one of the tracks that Martin felt was "filler" and only put on because the album was a double.[46]

"Don't Pass Me By" was Starr's first solo composition for the band, who had been toying with the idea of writing a self-reflective song for some time.[77] It went by the working titles of "Ringo's Tune" and "This Is Some Friendly". The basic track consisted of Starr drumming while McCartney played piano.[78] Martin composed an orchestral introduction to the song but it was rejected as being "too bizarre" and left off the album. Instead, the song features a single fiddle overdub.[77]

"Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" was written by McCartney who played all the instruments except drums, which were contributed by Starr. The simplistic lyric was very much in Lennon's style, and indeed, Lennon was annoyed about not being asked to play on it. McCartney suggested it was "tit for tat" as he had not contributed to "Revolution 9".[79]

"I Will" was written and sung by McCartney, with Lennon and Starr accompanying on percussion.[80] In between numerous takes, the three Beatles broke off to busk some other songs. A snippet of a track known as "Can You Take Me Back?" was put between "Cry Baby Cry" and "Revolution 9",[62] while recordings of Cilla Black's hit "Step Inside Love" and a joke number, "Los Paranoias", were released on Anthology 3.[81]

"Julia" was the last track to be recorded for the album and features Lennon on solo acoustic guitar which he played in a style similar to McCartney's on "Blackbird".[82] This is the only Beatles recording on which Lennon performs alone.[83] The lyrics deal with the loss of his mother and his relationship with Ono, the "ocean child" referred to in the lyrics.[82] Ono helped with some of the lyrics, but the song was still credited to Lennon-McCartney as expected.[84]

Side three[edit]

McCartney was inspired to write "Birthday" after seeing the first UK showing of the rock-n-roll film The Girl Can't Help It on television, and sang the lead vocal in the style of the film's musical star, Little Richard.[47] Ono, and Harrison's wife Patti added backing vocals to the track.[68]

"Yer Blues" was written by Lennon in India. Despite meditating and the tranquil atmosphere, he still felt unhappy, which was reflected in the lyrics.[85] The style was influenced by the British Blues Boom of 1968, which included groups such as Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack.[45] The backing track was recorded in a small room next to Studio 2 at Abbey Road. Unusually for a Beatles recording, the four track source tape was edited directly, resulting in an abrupt cut-off at 3'17" into the start of another take (which ran into the fade out).[86] The song was one of the few late-era Beatles songs that Lennon performed live. The first run-through was with a supergroup of Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell on 11 December 1968 at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus and later with the Plastic Ono Band on 13 September 1969 (as captured on the live album Live Peace in Toronto).[45]

McCartney wrote "Mother Nature's Son" in India, and worked on it in isolation from the other members of the band. He performed the track solo alongside a Martin-scored brass arrangement.[87]

"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" evolved from a jam session, and was originally untitled. The final mix was significantly sped up by mixing the tape running at 43 hertz instead of the usual 50.[88] Harrison claimed the title came from one of the Maharishi's sayings (with "and my monkey" added later).[39]

"Sexy Sadie" was written as "Maharishi" by Lennon, shortly after he decided to leave Rishikesh.[43] In a 1980 interview, Lennon acknowledged that the Maharishi was the inspiration for the song: "I just called him 'Sexy Sadie'."[89]

"Helter Skelter" was written by McCartney and was initially recorded in July as a blues number. The initial takes were performed by the band live and included long passages during which the group jammed on their instruments.[35] Because these takes were too long to practically fit on an LP, the song was shelved until September, when a new, shorter, version was made. By all accounts, the session was chaotic, but nobody dared suggest to any of the Beatles that they were out of control. Harrison reportedly ran around the studio while holding a flaming ashtray above his head, "doing an Arthur Brown."[52] The stereo version of the LP includes almost an extra minute of music compared to the mono, which culminates in Starr infamously shouting "I've got blisters on my fingers!"[52] Charles Manson was unaware that "Helter Skelter" is a British word 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.[43]

The final song on Side Three is Harrison's "Long, Long, Long". He based the song's structure on Bob Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands". The recording session for the track was one of the longest the Beatles ever undertook, running from the afternoon of 7 October through the night until 7am the next day, and then completed in a further session nine hours later. McCartney played Hammond organ on the track, and the effect at the end was made by a particular note on the instrument causing a wine bottle on top of the organ's Leslie speaker to resonate.[50]

Side four[edit]

"Revolution 1" was the first track recorded for the album, with sessions for the backing track starting on 30 May.[21] The initial takes were recorded with aim of it being a possible single, but as the session progressed, the arrangement became slower, with more of a laid-back groove. The group ended the chosen take with a six-minute improvisation, that had further overdubs added, before being cut to the length heard on the album. The brass arrangement was added later.[90]

"Honey Pie" was written by McCartney as a pastiche of the flapper dance style from the 1920s. The opening section of the track had the sound of an old 78 RPM record overdubbed[59] while Martin arranged a saxophone and clarinet part in the same style. Lennon played the guitar solo on the track, but later said he hated the song, calling it "beyond redemption".[49]

"Savoy Truffle" was named after one of the types of chocolate found in a box of Mackintosh's Good News, which Clapton enjoyed eating. Thomas played keyboards on the track and scored the saxophone arrangement.[49] Press agent Derek Taylor claimed to have helped with the lyrics, but was uncredited.[91]

Lennon wrote "Cry Baby Cry" in India, and the lyrics were partly derived from a tagline for an old television commercial. Martin played harmonium on the track.[41]

"Revolution 9" evolved from the overdubs from the "Revolution 1" coda. Lennon, Harrison and Ono added further tape collages and spoken word extracts, in the style of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The track opens with an extract from a Royal Schools of Music examination tape, and ends with Ono's infamous comment, "you become naked".[92] Ono was heavily involved in the production, and advised Lennon on what tape loops to use.[93] McCartney did not contribute to the track, and was reportedly unhappy on it being included, while Martin was even more objectionable to its inclusion.[94] The track has attracted both interest and disapproval from fans and music critics over the years.[95]

"Good Night" was a lullaby written by Lennon for his son Julian, and he specifically wanted Starr to sing it. The early takes featured just Lennon on acoustic guitar and Starr singing.[22] Martin scored an orchestral and choral arrangement that replaced the guitar in the final mix, and also played the celesta.[40]

Unreleased material[edit]

A number of songs were recorded during sessions for The Beatles but were ultimately not included on the album. Some appeared on later releases, others on the respective solo albums, while some have only ever appeared on bootlegs.

These included Harrison's "Circles", which he eventually re-recorded as a solo track and released on his 1982 album, Gone Troppo, "Not Guilty", which he re-recorded for his eponymous 1979 album, George Harrison, "Something" (released on Abbey Road)[75] and "Sour Milk Sea" (which Harrison gave to friend and Apple artist Jackie Lomax for his first LP, Is This What You Want).[96]

Lennon's "What's the New Mary Jane" was left off the finished album during mixing, while "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" would be used for the medley on Abbey Road the following year.[30] "Child of Nature" was demoed but not recorded during the album sessions, but would be re-recorded with drastically different lyrics as "Jealous Guy" for Lennon's Imagine.[11]

Similarly shelved were McCartney's "Jubilee" (later retitled "Junk" and released on his first solo LP),[97] "Etcetera" [59] and "The Long and Winding Road" (completed in 1969 for Let It Be).[76]

More recently, the song "Revolution 1 (Take 20)", a previously unknown track, surfaced in 2009 on a bootleg and is supposed to connect "Revolution 1" and the avant-garde "Revolution 9" (both of which appeared on The Beatles) in an attempt by Lennon to record one long version of "Revolution" before ultimately splitting the two songs up.[98]

The White Album session versions of "Not Guilty" and "What's the New Mary Jane", and a demo of "Junk", were ultimately released on the Beatles Anthology 3 album in 1996.[99]

Singles[edit]

Although "Hey Jude" was recorded during the White Album sessions, it was not included on the album and instead was originally issued as a single nearly three months before the album's release[100] (it would, however, make its LP debut two years later as the title cut of the post-Abbey Road compilation album originally known as The Beatles Again). "Hey Jude's" B-side, "Revolution", was an alternate version of the album's "Revolution 1". Lennon had wanted the original version of "Revolution" to be released as a single, but the other three Beatles objected on the grounds that it was too slow.[34] Instead the single featured a new, faster version, with heavily distorted guitar and an electric piano solo from Hopkins.[65] This was the first release on the Beatles' new Apple Records label, and went on to be the Beatles' most successful single with world sales over 5 million by the end of 1968 and 7.5 million by October 1972.[97]

No singles were taken from The Beatles in either Britain or America, but "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" backed with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", both from the album, was a commercial success in Australia, spending five weeks at Number One from 8 March to 12 April 1969.[101]

Release[edit]

The Beatles was issued on 22 November 1968 in Britain,[102] with a US release following three days later.[103] The album's working title, A Doll's House, had been changed when the English progressive rock band Family released the similarly titled Music in a Doll's House earlier that year.[84][104] For Lennon, its release was overshadowed by Ono miscarrying on the same day; Lennon had remained at Queen Charlotte Hospital throughout the final days of preparation.[105]

This was the first album by the Beatles to be released by Apple Records, as well as their only original double album. Producer Martin has said that he was against the idea of a double album at the time and suggested to the group that they reduce the number of songs to form a single album featuring their stronger work, but that the band decided against this.[102] Interviewed for the Beatles Anthology, Starr said that he now felt that it should have been released as two separate albums (that he nicknamed "The White Album" and "The Whiter Album"). Harrison felt on reflection that some of the tracks could have been released as B-sides, but "there was a lot of ego in that band." He also supported the idea of the double album, to clear out the backlog of songs that the group had at the time. McCartney, by contrast, said that it was fine as it was ("It's great. It sold. It's the bloody Beatles' 'White Album'. Shut up"), and that its wide variety of songs was a major part of the album's appeal.[106]

Mono version[edit]

The Beatles was the last Beatles album to be released with a unique, mono mix,[107] albeit one issued only in the UK and a few other countries. Twenty-eight of the album's 30 tracks ("Revolution 1" and "Revolution 9" being the only exceptions) exist in official mono mixes.[citation needed]

The Beatles had not been particularly interested in stereo until this album, but after receiving mail from fans stating they bought both stereo and mono mixes of earlier albums, they decided to make the two different.[108] Several mixes have significant differences; the mono mix/edit of "Helter Skelter" eliminates the fade-in at the end of the song (and Starr's ending scream),[52] and the fade out of "Yer Blues" is 11 seconds longer on the mono mix.[109]

In the US, mono records were already being phased out; the US release of The Beatles was the first Beatles LP to be issued in stereo only.[110] Albums after The Beatles (except Yellow Submarine in the UK[111]) occasionally had mono pressings in certain countries (such as Brazil), but these editions—Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be—were in each case mono fold-downs from the regular stereo mixes.[citation needed]

The mono version of The Beatles was made available worldwide on 9 September 2009, as part of The Beatles in Mono CD box set.

Packaging and tape configurations[edit]

A vintage circa-1970 pressing of The Beatles. Note the album title is embossed, rather than printed.

The album's sleeve was designed by Richard Hamilton,[102] a pop artist who had organised a Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the Tate Gallery the previous year. 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 discreetly 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."[112] Indeed, the artist intended the cover to resemble the "look" of conceptual art, an emerging movement in contemporary art at the time. Later vinyl record releases in the US showed the title in grey printed (rather than embossed) letters. The album's inside packaging included a poster, the lyrics to the songs, and a set of photographs taken by John Kelly[113] during the autumn of 1968 that have themselves become iconic. The poster included a small photo of McCartney nude, which, in the wake of Lennon and Ono's Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins was criticised in the press.[94]

Tape versions of the album did not feature a white cover. Instead, cassette and 8-track versions (issued on two cassettes/cartridges in early 1969) contained cover artwork that featured high contrast black and white (with no grey) versions of the four Kelly photographs.[114] In both the cassette and 8-track versions of the album, the two tapes were sold in a black slip-cover box that bore the title, "The Beatles", and the outline of an apple, embossed in gold.[115]

Like earlier Beatles albums, EMI and Capitol both initially issued reel-to-reel editions of The Beatles.[116] The reel-to-reel releases also used the black-and-white Kelly portraits as cover art, and were available in two configurations: as two separate volumes similar to the cassette and 8-track editions, and as a single twin-pack tape. Capitol/EMI ceased manufacturing of pre-recorded reel tapes in North America in late 1969, and subsequently licensed the album (along with several other Beatles recordings) to Ampex for reel-to-reel distribution. The Ampex reel-to-reel tape version of The Beatles, released in early 1970 (in two separate volumes, and again using the Kelly cover artwork), is particularly noteworthy in that it features eight tracks in edited form: "Dear Prudence", "Glass Onion", "Don't Pass Me By", "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?". "Yer Blues", "Helter Skelter", "Cry Baby Cry" and "Revolution 9". These are unique to the album's Ampex reel-to-reel version, and have not been issued since.

In September 1978, just before the album's tenth anniversary, EMI reissued the album pressed on white vinyl in limited editions.[117][118] In 1981, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) issued a unique half-speed master variation of the album utilising the sound from the original master recording. The discs were pressed on high-quality virgin vinyl.[119]

The album was reissued, along with the rest of the Beatles catalogue on compact disc in 1987.[120] Early copies on compact disc were also numbered.[citation needed] Later CD releases rendered the album's title in black or grey. The 30th anniversary CD release was done to look like the original album sleeve, with an embossed title and serial number, including a small reproduction of the poster and pictures.

A painting of the band by "Patrick" (John Byrne) was at an earlier point under consideration to be used as the album's cover. The piece was later used for the sleeve of the compilation album The Beatles' Ballads, released in 1980.

In 2008, an original pressing of the album with serial number 0000005 sold for £19,201 on eBay.[121]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[95]
The A.V. Club A+[122]
Blender 5/5 stars[123]
The Daily Telegraph 5/5 stars[124]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[125]
Pitchfork Media 10/10[126]
PopMatters 9/10[127]
The Rolling Stone Record Guide 5/5 stars[128]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[129]

Upon its release in November 1968, The Beatles received mixed reviews from music critics,[130] most of whom viewed its mild, playful satire as unimportant and conservative.[131] Time magazine wrote that it showcases the "best abilities and worst tendencies" of the Beatles, as it is skilfully performed and sophisticated, but lacks a "sense of taste and purpose."[132] In his review for The New York Times, Nik Cohn considered the album "boring beyond belief" and said that over half of its songs are "profound mediocrities".[133] Critics also complained about a lack of unity among the songs and criticised the Beatles for using eclecticism and pastiche as a means of avoiding important issues during a turbulent political and social climate.[134] Jon Landau, writing for the London Daily Times, argued that the band uses parody because they are "afraid of confronting reality" and "the urgencies of the moment".[131] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice said that the album is both "their most consistent and probably their worst", and referred to its songs as a "pastiche of musical exercises".[135] Nonetheless, he ranked it as the tenth best album of the year in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine's annual critics poll.[136]

In a positive review for The Observer, Tony Palmer claimed that, "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".[137] Richard Goldstein of The New York Times felt that their songwriting had improved and they relied less on the studio tricks of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour.[138] NME magazine's Alan Smith derided "Revolution #9" as a "pretentious" example of "idiot immaturity", but assigned the benediction "God Bless You, Beatles!" to the majority of the album.[139] Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone called it their best album yet and asserted that they are allowed to appropriate other styles because their ability and identity are "so strong that they make it uniquely theirs, and uniquely the Bea­t­les. They are so good that they not only expand the idiom, but they are also able to pen­e­trate it and take it further."[140]

The Beatles has since been regarded as one of the best albums of all time by critics,[141] including The Daily Telegraph's Neil McCormick, who wrote in a retrospective review that it is "so eccentric and interesting" that "even its sketchiest oddities somehow gain power amidst the cornucopia of ideas and performances."[124] Allmusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that because the songs are so assorted, The Beatles can be "a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view".[95] In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Rob Sheffield gave the album five stars and said that, despite "loads of self-indulgent filler", listeners often pick different highlights, which is "part of the fun".[142] Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson claimed that The Beatles remains one of the band's few albums that "resists reflexive canonisation, which, along with society's continued fragmentation, keeps the album fresh and surprising."[143] In his review for The A.V. Club, Chuck Klosterman said that the album found the band "hitting on all 16 cylinders" and called it a "masterwork".[122] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it number 10 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[144] On the 40th anniversary of the album's release, Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote that it "remains a type of magical musical anthology: 30 songs you can go through and listen to at will, certain of finding some pearls that even today remain unparalleled."[145]

Cultural responses[edit]

MacDonald argues that The Beatles was the album in which the band's cryptic messages to its fan base became not merely vague but intentionally and perhaps dangerously open-ended, citing oblique passages in songs like "Glass Onion" (e.g., "the walrus was Paul")[61] and "Piggies" ("what they need's a damn good whacking").[75] Steve Turner, too, in his book A Hard Day's Write, maintains that, with this album, "The Beatles had perhaps laid themselves open to misinterpretation by mixing up the languages of poetry and nonsense."[146] Bob Dylan's songs had been similarly mined for hidden meanings, but the massive countercultural analysis of The Beatles surpassed anything that had gone before.[38] Sociologist Michael A. Katovich writes that the album's release "engendered a collective appreciation of it as a 'state-of-the-art' rendition of the current pop, rock, and folk-rock sounds."[1]

Even Lennon's seemingly direct engagement with the tumultuous political issues of 1968 in "Revolution 1" carried a nuanced obliqueness, and ended up sending messages the author may not have intended. In the album version of the song, Lennon advises those who "talk about destruction" to "count me out". As MacDonald notes, however, Lennon then follows the sung word "out" with the spoken word "in". At the time of the album's release—which followed, chronologically, the up-tempo single version of the song, "Revolution"—that single word "in" was taken by many on the radical left as Lennon's acknowledgment, after considered thought, that violence in the pursuit of political aims was indeed justified in some cases. At a time of increasing unrest in the streets and campuses of Paris and Berkeley, the album's lyrics seemed to many to mark a reversal of Lennon's position on the question, which was hotly debated during this period.[147] However, the recording chronology belies the interpretation that from the single to the album Lennon moved from a definite position to one of ambivalence, since despite the single's earlier release it was the album version that was recorded first.[nb 2]

Charles Manson interpreted the lyrics to some of the album's songs to mean imminent violence or war.[148] He persuaded members of his "family" that the album was an apocalyptic message predicting a prolonged race war and justified the murder of wealthy people.[149]

In early 2013, the Recess Gallery in New York City's SoHo neighbourhood presented We Buy White Albums, an installation by artist Rutherford Chang.[150] The piece was in the form of a record store in which nothing but original pressings of the LP was on display.[151] Mr. Chang created a recording in which the sounds of one hundred copies of side one of the LP were overlaid.[152]

Commercial performance[edit]

As it was their first studio album in almost eighteen months (and coming after the blockbuster success of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) expectations were high at the time of the release of The Beatles. The album debuted at number 1 in the UK on 1 December 1968[153] (becoming their third album to do so, after Help! and Revolver). It spent seven weeks at the top of the UK charts (including the entire competitive Christmas season), until it was replaced by the Seekers' Best of the Seekers on 25 January 1969, dropping to number 2.[153] However, the album returned to the top spot the next week, spending an eighth and final week at number 1.[153] It then spent another four weeks in the Top 10, and then dropped down the charts more quickly than Sgt. Pepper. The White Album was notable for blocking The Beatles' follow-up album, Yellow Submarine, which debuted (and peaked at) number 3 on 8 February 1969, the same week the White Album was dominating the second position on the charts. In all, The Beatles spent 24 weeks on the UK charts, far fewer than the more than 200 weeks for Sgt. Pepper.

In 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.[154] It debuted at number 11, jumped to number 2, and reached number 1 in its third week on 28 December 1968,[155] spending a total of nine weeks at the top. In all, The Beatles spent 155 weeks on the Billboard 200. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, The Beatles is the Beatles' most-certified album at 19-times platinum and the tenth-best-selling album of all time in the United States. (Each sale is counted as two sales, because The Beatles is a double record set. Therefore, at 9.5 million records, it is the band's third-best-selling-album in the US.)

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Lennon–McCartney, except where noted. 

Side one
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Back in the U.S.S.R."   McCartney 2:43
2. "Dear Prudence"   Lennon 3:56
3. "Glass Onion"   Lennon 2:17
4. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"   McCartney 3:08
5. "Wild Honey Pie"   McCartney 0:52
6. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"   Lennon 3:14
7. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George Harrison) Harrison 4:45
8. "Happiness Is a Warm Gun"   Lennon 2:43
Side two
No. Title Lead vocals Length
9. "Martha My Dear"   McCartney 2:28
10. "I'm So Tired"   Lennon 2:03
11. "Blackbird"   McCartney 2:18
12. "Piggies" (Harrison) Harrison 2:04
13. "Rocky Raccoon"   McCartney 3:33
14. "Don't Pass Me By" (Richard Starkey) Starr 3:51
15. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"   McCartney 1:41
16. "I Will"   McCartney 1:46
17. "Julia"   Lennon 2:54
Side three
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Birthday"   McCartney and Lennon 2:42
2. "Yer Blues"   Lennon 4:01
3. "Mother Nature's Son"   McCartney 2:48
4. "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"   Lennon 2:24
5. "Sexy Sadie"   Lennon 3:15
6. "Helter Skelter"   McCartney 4:29
7. "Long, Long, Long" (Harrison) Harrison 3:04
Side four
No. Title Lead vocals Length
8. "Revolution 1"   Lennon 4:15
9. "Honey Pie"   McCartney 2:41
10. "Savoy Truffle" (Harrison) Harrison 2:54
11. "Cry Baby Cry"   Lennon, with McCartney 3:02
12. "Revolution 9"   Speaking from Lennon, Harrison, George Martin and Yoko Ono 8:22
13. "Good Night"   Starr 3:13

Personnel[edit]

The Beatles
Guest musicians
Session musicians
  • Ted Barker – trombone on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • Leon Calvert – trumpet and flugelhorn on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • Henry Datyner, Eric Bowie, Norman Lederman, and Ronald Thomas – violin on "Glass Onion"[162]
  • Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Soufier and Les Maddox – violin on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • Reginald Kilby – cello on "Glass Onion"[163] and "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • Eldon Fox  – cello on "Glass Onion"[162]
  • Frederick Alexander  – cello on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • Harry Klein – saxophone on "Savoy Truffle"[164] and "Honey Pie"[165]
  • Dennis Walton, Ronald Chamberlain, Jim Chest, and Rex Morris – saxophone on "Honey Pie"[165]
  • Raymond Newman and David Smith – clarinet on "Honey Pie"[165]
  • Art Ellefson, Danny Moss, and Derek Collins – tenor sax on "Savoy Truffle"[164]
  • Ronnie Ross and Bernard George – baritone sax on "Savoy Truffle"[164]
  • Alf Reece – tuba on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • The Mike Sammes Singers – backing vocals on "Good Night"[166]
  • Stanley Reynolds and Ronnie Hughes – trumpet on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • Chris Shepard – stumph fiddle on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"[163]
  • Tony Tunstall – French horn on "Martha My Dear"[161]
  • John Underwood and Keith Cummings – viola on "Glass Onion"[163]
  • Leo Birnbaum and Henry Myerscough – viola on "Martha My Dear"[161]
Production team

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Argentina (CAPIF)[172]
Listed as "Album Blanco"
Platinum 60,000x
Argentina (CAPIF)[172]
Listed as "The White Album"
Gold 30,000x
Australia (ARIA)[173] 2× Platinum 140,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[174] 8× Platinum 420,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[174]
2009 release
Gold
France (SNEP)[175] Gold 257,600[176]
Italy (FIMI)[177] Gold 30,000*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[178] 2× Platinum 30,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[179] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[180] 19× Platinum 9,500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

dagger BPI certification awarded only for sales since 1994.[181]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Release history[edit]

By 2014, Discogs had inventoried 220 versions of the album on vinyl and CD, including official and bootleg versions and numerous countries of release.[215] Following are some better-known official releases.

Country Date Label Format Catalogue number
United Kingdom 22 November 1968 Apple (Parlophone) LP PMC/PCS 7067/7068
United States 25 November 1968 Apple, Capitol LP SWBO-101
Worldwide reissue 10 October 1987 Apple, Parlophone, EMI CD CDP 7 46443 2
Japan 11 March 1998 Toshiba-EMI CD CP25-5329-30
United Kingdom 23 Nov 1998 Apple CD (30th Anniversary numbered limited edition)[216] 7243 4 96895 2 7
Japan 21 January 2004 Toshiba-EMI Remastered LP TOJP 60139-40
Worldwide reissue 9 September 2009 Apple Remastered CD 0946 3 82466 2 6
Worldwide reissue 13 November 2012 Apple Remastered LP 094638246619

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ Revolution 1,[20] Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,[39] Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,[40] Cry Baby Cry,[41] Helter Skelter,[42] Sexy Sadie,[43] While My Guitar Gently Weeps,[44] Yer Blues,[45] Rocky Raccoon,[46] Glass Onion[38] Birthday[47] Happiness Is A Warm Gun,[48] Honey Pie,[49] I'm So Tired,[50] The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill[51]
  2. ^ Recording on "Revolution 1" began on 30 May,[20] "Revolution" on 9 July[65]
Citations
  1. ^ a b Katovich et al. 2009, p. 401.
  2. ^ David N Howard. Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings. p. 31. "[The White Album] contained a panoply of wondrous songs that included acoustic numbers, idiosyncratic pop, heavy-duty hard rock, and flat-out experimentalism." 
  3. ^ "Searchable Database of Gold and Platinum Awards". RIAA. Retrieved 2 April 2014. . Note that the RIAA counts each record of a double album separately, meaning The Beatles is certified 19 times platinum, for 19 million units sold.
  4. ^ "Beatles albums finally go platinum". BBC News. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  5. ^ Time. 27 September 1967. p. 128. 
  6. ^ "Biography for Timothy Leary". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 24 December 2009. 
  7. ^ MacDonald 1997, p. 224.
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  9. ^ Spitz 2005, p. 752.
  10. ^ Beatles 2000, p. 283.
  11. ^ a b c d e MacDonald 1997, p. 244.
  12. ^ MacDonald 1997, p. 243.
  13. ^ Giuliano, Geoffrey; Giuliano, Avalon (2005). Revolver: The Secret History of the Beatles [Hardcover]. John Blake. p. 126. ISBN 9781844541607. 
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  77. ^ a b c MacDonald 1997, p. 251.
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  79. ^ MacDonald 1997, p. 155.
  80. ^ MacDonald 1997, p. 276.
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  84. ^ a b MacDonald 1997, p. 286.
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  88. ^ Lewisohn 1998, p. 139.
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Sources

External links[edit]

Achievements
Preceded by
Hollies' Greatest by The Hollies
The Best of The Seekers by The Seekers
UK Albums Chart number-one album
7 December 1968 – 25 January 1969 (7 weeks)
1 February 1969 – 8 February 1969 (1-week)
Succeeded by
The Best of The Seekers by The Seekers
The Best of The Seekers by The Seekers
Preceded by
Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell
Canadian RPM 100 number-one album
16 December 1968 – 10 March 1969 (12 weeks)
Succeeded by
Yellow Submarine by The Beatles
Preceded by
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Australian Kent Music Report number-one album
21 December 1968 – 11 April 1969 (16 weeks)
Succeeded by
Hair (soundtrack) by Original Broadway Cast
Preceded by
Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell
US Billboard 200 number-one album
28 December 1968 – 7 February 1969 (6 weeks)
15 February  – 7 March 1969 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
TCB by Diana Ross & The Supremes
and The Temptations