I was 12 years old in 1968 and remember vividly my best mates brother coming home from University with a copy of The White album. We talked him into letting us listen to it and we sat there next to the speaker, (mono record deck) and couldn’t believe what we heard. (Do 12 year-old’s still do this with music?). I hope so.
With the working title of A Dolls House, (which was changed after UK prog rock band Family released the similarly titled Music in a Doll’s House earlier that year). The Beatles ninth album, in seven years, is arguably one of their best.
With no graphics or text other than the band’s name embossed in grey letters (and, on the early LP and CD releases, a serial number) on its plain white sleeve. The album was the first that The Beatles undertook following the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, and the first released by their own record label, Apple.
Anticipation for the release was huge – how were the fab four going to follow-up and better their last album, Sgt. Peppers?
Well, quite simply, in many ways, they did. The eclectic nature of its songs, shows the four members still at the top of their game. As well as Harrison’s contributions, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Long Long Long” and “Savoy Truffle”, Lennon laid down some of his most memorable work with three of his finest on side one of the album – “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. And then we had Paul’s tunes, the Chuck Berry meets The Beach Boys on “Back In The U.S.S.R.”, (with McCartney on drums after Ringo quit the group for a couple of weeks). And the bouncy song about his old English Sheepdog “Martha My Dear” and to what has become one of his signature tunes, the beautiful “Blackbird”.
The White 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. The group returned to the studio for recording 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 perform drums on some of the album’s songs. Many of the songs were “solo” recordings, or at least by less than the full group, as each individual member began to explore his own talent.
Although “Hey Jude” was not intended to be included on the LP release, it was recorded during the White Album sessions and was released as a stand-alone single before the release of The Beatles. The B-side, “Revolution”, was an alternative 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. A new, faster version, with heavily distorted guitar and a high-energy keyboard solo from Nicky Hopkins, was recorded, and was relegated to the flip side of “Hey Jude”. The resulting release – “Hey Jude” on side A and “Revolution” on side B – emerged as the first release on The Beatles’ new Apple Records label. It 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.
Many Beatles fans have long debated what a great ‘single’ album this would’ve made. Fair point, but it’s the White Album, a double album with 30 tracks. Yes we have the 8 minutes of madness that is “Revolution 9”, which hands up, we all skip. And Ringo’s “Good Night”, as well as Paul’s “Honey Pie” are, well…not my favorite Beatles songs.
The Beatles might have been falling apart at the seams during the making of the record. But the Beatles never let us down, they were just having their own minor revolution.