The Beatles (album)

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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 songs 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 criticized 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]

The Beatles were at the peak of their global influence and visibility in late 1968. 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, for instance, 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 of 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 Beatles was the first album that the group undertook following the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, and the first released by their own record label, Apple.

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."[7] Both Lennon and Paul McCartney had quickly found themselves in songwriting mode, however, often meeting "clandestinely in the afternoons in each other's rooms"[8] to review the new work. "Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing," Lennon would later recall, "I did write some of my best songs there."[9] Close to forty new compositions had emerged in Rishikesh, twenty-three of which would be recorded in very rough form at Kinfauns, George Harrison's home in Esher, in May 1968.

The Beatles had left Rishikesh before the end of the course, with Starr and then McCartney departing, and Lennon and Harrison departing together later. According to some reports, Lennon left Rishikesh because he felt personally betrayed by rumours that Maharishi had made sexual advances toward Mia Farrow,[10][11] who had accompanied The Beatles on their trip. Shortly after he decided to leave, Lennon wrote a song called "Maharishi" which included the lyrics, "Maharishi/You little twat"; the song became "Sexy Sadie". According to several authors, Alexis Mardas (aka "Magic Alex") deliberately engineered these rumours because he was bent on undermining the Maharishi's influence over each Beatle.[12][13][14] In a 1980 interview, Lennon acknowledged that the Maharishi was the inspiration for the song: "I just called him 'Sexy Sadie'."[15]

The album's working title, A Doll's House, was changed when the English progressive rock band Family released the similarly titled Music in a Doll's House earlier that year.

Recording sessions[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. Although productive, the sessions were reportedly undisciplined and sometimes fractious, and they took place at a time when tensions were growing within the group.[16] Concurrent with the recording of this album, the Beatles were launching their new multimedia business corporation Apple Corps, an enterprise that proved to be a source of significant stress for the band.[citation needed]

The sessions for The Beatles marked the first appearance in the studio of Lennon's new girlfriend and artistic partner, Yoko Ono, who would thereafter be a more or less constant presence at all Beatles sessions.[17] Prior to Ono's appearance on the scene, the individual Beatles had been very insular during recording sessions, with influence from outsiders strictly limited. McCartney's girlfriend at the time, Francie Schwartz, was also present at some of the recording sessions, as were Pattie Harrison and Maureen Starkey, the other two Beatles' wives.[18]

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.[19]

Division and discord in the studio[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.[20][page needed] 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.[21] At one point in the sessions, George Martin, whose authority over the band in the studio had waned, spontaneously left to go on holiday, leaving Chris Thomas in charge of producing.[22] During one of these sessions, while recording "Helter Skelter", Harrison reportedly ran around the studio while holding a flaming ashtray above his head, "doing an Arthur Brown."[23]

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.[16] On 16 July recording engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked with the group since Revolver, announced that he was no longer willing to work with them.[24]

The sudden departures were not limited to EMI personnel. 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.[16] Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison pleaded with Starr to return, and after two weeks he did. Upon Starr's return, he found his drum kit decorated with red, white, and blue flowers, a welcome-back gesture from Harrison.[16] The reconciliation was, however, only temporary, and Starr's exit served as a precursor of future "months and years of misery", in Starr's words.[16] Indeed, after The Beatles was completed, both Harrison and Lennon would stage similar unpublicised departures from the band.[16] McCartney's public departure in 1970 would mark the formal end of the band's ensemble although Lennon had previously announced to McCartney that he was leaving the band. 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."[16] Of the album's 30 tracks, only 16 have all four band members performing.

Instrumental contributions[edit]

According to Lewisohn, 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.[25]

Other musicians[edit]

Though not formally credited on the album, Eric Clapton played lead guitar on Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".[23] 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.[16] Harrison, who had invited Clapton to the sessions, soon reciprocated by collaborating with Clapton on the song "Badge" for Cream's last 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 for 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",[26] and a team of orchestral players and background singers appeared on "Good Night" (which was Beatle-free except for Starr's vocal).

Technical advances[edit]

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, sometimes for months, before putting it into use in the studios. The Beatles recorded "Hey Jude" and "Dear Prudence" at Trident Studios in central London, which had an 8-track recorder.[27] When they learned about EMI's 8-track recorder, they insisted on using it, and engineers Ken Scott and Dave Harries took the machine (without authorisation from the studio chiefs) into the Number 2 recording studio at Abbey Road for the band's use.[28]

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, George Harrison's Esher home, these include Lennon's "Look at Me" and "Child of Nature", eventually reworked as "Jealous Guy"; McCartney's "Junk" and "Teddy Boy"; and Harrison's "Not Guilty" and "Circles."[29][30]

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.[31] 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.

Musical styles[edit]

Many of the songs on the album display experimentation with unlikely musical genres, borrowing directly from such sources as 1930s dance-hall music (in "Honey Pie"), classical chamber music (in "Piggies"), the avant-garde sensibilities of Yoko Ono and John Cage (in "Revolution 9"), country music (Ringo Starr's "Don't Pass Me By"), a western-style saloon ballad ("Rocky Raccoon"), and the lush sentimentality of Henry Mancini's film scores (in "Good Night").

Other evident genres include hard rock (e.g. "Birthday") and folk rock (e.g. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"), as well as psychedelic rock ("Glass Onion"), early heavy metal ("Helter Skelter), early reggae ("Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"), progressive rock ("Happiness is a Warm Gun"), baroque pop ("Good Night"), blues rock ("Yer Blues", "Revolution 1"), and rock and roll ("Back in the USSR"). Such diversity was largely unprecedented in global pop music in 1968, and the album's sprawling approach provoked (and continues to provoke) both praise and criticism from observers. "Revolution 9", in particular, a densely layered eight-minute-and-thirteen-second sound collage, has attracted both interest and disapproval from fans and music critics over the years.[32]

Compositions not included[edit]

A number of songs were recorded during these sessions but were not issued on The Beatles, including Harrison's "Not Guilty" (which he re-recorded for his eponymous 1979 album, George Harrison), Lennon's "What's the New Mary Jane", and McCartney's "Jubilee" (later retitled "Junk" and released on his first solo LP).[33]

Others included "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" (both of which would be used for the medley on Abbey Road); "Child of Nature" (recorded with drastically different lyrics as "Jealous Guy" for Lennon's Imagine); "Etcetera" (a McCartney composition); "The Long and Winding Road" (completed in 1969 for the Let It Be LP); "Something" (which ended up on Abbey Road); and "Sour Milk Sea" (which Harrison gave to friend and Apple artist Jackie Lomax for his first LP, Is This What You Want).[citation needed]

Other songs recorded for, but ultimately left off The Beatles received significant exposure via bootlegs, notably Harrison's "Circles" (which he eventually re-recorded as a solo track and released on his 1982 album, Gone Troppo) and "Not Guilty" (which he also eventually re-recorded as a solo track for his 1979 album George Harrison), and Lennon's manic "What's the New Mary Jane".[citation needed] 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.[34]

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.

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 (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.[16] Instead the single featured a new, faster version, with heavily distorted guitar and a high-energy keyboard solo from Nicky Hopkins. The resulting release emerged as 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.[33]

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, became a double-sided smash in Australia, spending five weeks at Number One from 8 March to 12 April 1969.[35]

Editing concerns and release[edit]

The Beatles was the first Beatles album released by Apple Records, as well as their only original double album. Producer George 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 in order to form a single album featuring their stronger work, but that the band decided against this.[36] 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.[37]

The Beatles was released on 22 November 1968. For the band members, its release was overshadowed by Yoko Ono miscarrying on the same day; Lennon had remained at Queen Charlotte Hospital throughout the final days of preparation. [38]

Mono version[edit]

The Beatles was the last Beatles album to be released with a unique, mono mix, 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. Several of these mono mixes are quite different from the stereo versions. Perhaps most notably, the mono mix/edit of "Helter Skelter" eliminates the fade-in at the end of the song (and Ringo Starr's ending scream "I've got blisters on my fingers!"), and the mono mix of "Yer Blues" has a longer fadeout than its stereo counterpart.

Beatles albums after The Beatles (except Yellow Submarine in the UK) 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.

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.[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, a notable 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."[citation needed] 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. Early copies on compact disc were also numbered. 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.

The album's inside packaging included a poster, the lyrics to the songs, and a set of photographs taken by John Kelly[39] during the autumn of 1968 that have themselves become iconic. This is the only sleeve of a Beatles studio album not to show the members of the band on the front.

LP packaging varied somewhat by territory. Original copies of the LP released in the UK, for example, opened from the top rather than the right side, and were numbered starting at 10,000, whereas later pressings opened conventionally from the right side and did not bear a unique number. Some South American editions did not feature the Kelly photographs in the gatefold, instead including uncredited performance photographs of the band from circa 1964–65 (the Beatles are clean-shaven and wearing matching suits in the photos, as Brian Epstein insisted they do in performance during this period).

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.[40] 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.[41] This departure from the LP's design not only made it difficult for less-informed fans to identify the tape in record stores, but it also led some fans at the time to jokingly refer to the 8-track or cassette not as the "white album" but as the "black tape." In 1988, Capitol/EMI re-issued the 2-cassette version of the album, still with the same cover artwork as the original cassettes, but without the black slip-cover box. The mid-1990s Canadian Apple/Capitol version of the 2 cassette set (C4-46443A/B) does have the appropriate plain white inlay cards with "The Beatles" Part 1/Part 2 lettering across the bottom of the inlay.

Capitol/EMI initially issued reel-to-reel editions of The Beatles, as well. These 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 the autumn of 1978, the album's tenth anniversary, EMI reissued the album pressed on white vinyl in several countries in limited editions. 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.

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.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[32]
The A.V. Club A+[42]
Blender 5/5 stars[43]
The Daily Telegraph 5/5 stars[44]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[45]
Pitchfork Media 10/10[46]
PopMatters 9/10[47]
The Rolling Stone Record Guide 5/5 stars[48]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[49]

Upon its release in November 1968, The Beatles received mixed reviews from music critics,[50] most of whom viewed its mild, playful satire as unimportant and conservative.[51] Time magazine wrote that the album comprises the "best abilities and worst tendencies" of the Beatles and found it skillfully performed and sophisticated, but lacking a "sense of taste and purpose."[52] Nik Cohn, writing in The New York Times, considered it "boring beyond belief" and described "more than half the songs" as "profound mediocrities."[53] Critics also complained about a lack of unity among the songs and criticized the Beatles for using eclecticism and pastiche as a means of avoiding important issues during a turbulent political and social climate.[54] 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".[51] 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".[55] Nonetheless, he ranked it as the tenth best album of the year in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine's critics poll.[56]

In a positive review, Tony Palmer of The Observer 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".[57] Richard Goldstein of The New York Times felt that their songwriting had improved and they relied less on the studio "magic" of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour.[58] Alan Smith of NME derided "Revolution #9" as a "pretentious" example of "idiot immaturity", but assigned the benediction "God Bless You, Beatles!" to "most of the rest" of the album.[59] Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone called it their best album 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."[60]

The Beatles has since been regarded as one of the best albums of all time.[61] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it number 10 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[62] In a retrospective review, Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph also viewed the album as one of the greatest and found it "so eccentric and interesting" that "even its sketchiest oddities somehow gain power amidst the cornucopia of ideas and performances."[44] Allmusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine also felt that the album is interesting for "its mess" and wrote that each song is an "entity to itself, as the band touches on anything and everything they can", which "makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view".[32] 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".[63] 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."[64] Chuck Klosterman, writing in The A.V. Club, said that the album found the band "hitting on all 16 cylinders" and called it a "masterwork".[42]

Cultural responses[edit]

Ian MacDonald, in his book Revolution in the Head, 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") and "Piggies" ("what they need's a damn good whacking"). These pronouncements, and many others on the album, came to attract extraordinary popular interest at a time when more of the world's youth were using drugs recreationally and looking for spiritual, political, and strategic advice from The Beatles. 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."[65] 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.[66] 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.[66] 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.[67]

Cult leader Charles Manson persuaded members of his "family" that the album was an apocalyptic message predicting a prolonged race war and justified the murder of wealthy people.[68]

In October 1969, a Detroit radio programme began to promote theories based on clues supposedly left on The Beatles and other Beatles albums that Paul McCartney had died and been replaced by a lookalike. The ensuing hunt for clues to a cover-up, that The Beatles presumably wanted to suppress (and simultaneously publicise), became one of the classic examples of an urban legend.

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."[69]

In early 2013, the Recess Gallery in New York City's SoHo neighborhood presented We Buy White Albums, an installation by artist Rutherford Chang.[70] The piece was in the form of a record store in which nothing but original pressings of the LP was on display.[71] Mr. Chang created a recording in which the sounds of one hundred copies of side one of the LP were overlaid.[72]

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[73] (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.[73] However, the album returned to the top spot the next week, spending an eighth and final week at number 1.[73] It then spent another four weeks in the Top 10, and then dropped in 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.[74] It debuted at number 11, jumped to number 2, and reached number 1 in its third week on 28 December 1968,[75] 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[66] 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"[81]
  • Leon Calvert – trumpet and flugelhorn on "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • Henry Datyner, Eric Bowie, Norman Lederman, and Ronald Thomas – violin on "Glass Onion"[82]
  • Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Soufier and Les Maddox – violin on "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • Reginald Kilby – cello on "Glass Onion"[82] and "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • Eldon Fox  – cello on "Glass Onion"[82]
  • Frederick Alexander  – cello on "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • Harry Klein – saxophone on "Savoy Truffle"[83] and "Honey Pie"[84]
  • Dennis Walton, Ronald Chamberlain, Jim Chest, and Rex Morris – saxophone on "Honey Pie"[84]
  • Raymond Newman and David Smith – clarinet on "Honey Pie"[84]
  • Art Ellefson, Danny Moss, and Derek Collins – tenor sax on "Savoy Truffle"[83]
  • Ronnie Ross and Bernard George – baritone sax on "Savoy Truffle"[83]
  • Alf Reece – tuba on "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • The Mike Sammes Singers – backing vocals on "Good Night"[85]
  • Stanley Reynolds and Ronnie Hughes – trumpet on "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • Tony Tunstall – French horn on "Martha My Dear"[81]
  • John Underwood and Keith Cummings – viola on "Glass Onion"[82]
  • Leo Birnbaum and Henry Myerscough – viola on "Martha My Dear"[81]
Production team

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Argentina (CAPIF)[91]
Listed as Album Blanco
Platinum 60,000x
Argentina (CAPIF)[91]
Listed as The White Album
Gold 30,000x
Australia (ARIA)[92] 2× Platinum 140,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[93] 8× Platinum 420,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[93]
2009 release
Gold
France (SNEP)[94] Gold 257,600[95]
Italy (FIMI)[96] Gold 30,000*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[97] 2× Platinum 30,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[98] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[99] 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.[100]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Release history[edit]

Country Date Label Format Catalogue number
United Kingdom 22 November 1968 Apple (Parlophone) LP PMC/PCS 7067/7068
United States 22 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
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]

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Bibliography[edit]

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