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White Album

Categories: Beatles albums

Beatles White Album cover art
Officially titled The Beatles, The Beatles' double LP became known from the start as The White Album, on account of its plain white sleeve. Clever, eh? Mind you, my copies, both vinyl and CD, are — as The Wilburys would later put it — "a kinda yellow": and I'm sure I'm not the only one (lonely one).

It also saved people having to sound like complete imbeciles when, in late '68, they were going round asking their friends "Hey man, have you heard The Beatles yet?"

The cover was designed — if that's the word — by Richard Hamilton, pop artist and Beatle buddy. First pressings had the band name/album title embossed onto it and carried a serial number, and are worth a small fortune now. Hamilton was also responsible for the fold-out photo-collage poster (which did reveal rather more design aptitude, and got badly chopped to pieces for inclusion in the CD booklet). Although the package was supplemented by a colour photo of each Beatle by John Kelly and a lyric sheet, it was a real departure from the kaleidoscope colours of Pepper and Mystery Tour.

As was the music.

The Beatles had changed, the drugs had changed (the sleeve colour, perhaps, serving as "another clue for you all"), just as the world was still changing. But, like Mother Superior, I'm jumping the gun...

Almost a full year had elapsed between the mystery trip and the release of the double, though The Beatles had been far from idle. The beginning of 1968 had seen them realizing the plan to establish their own company; to take control of their recordings, and provide an umbrella for their other interests. The seed of an idea which grew into Apple had been planted while Brian Epstein was still around, and its first fruit — the ill-fated psychedelically painted boutique on Baker Street — had in fact opened its doors in December '67, just in time for all the hippies in London to do a little Christmas shoplifting.

A brief studio stint in February had resulted in the "Lady Madonna"/"The Inner Light" 45: their last on Parlophone. "Hey Bulldog" was recorded at the same time, as was "Across The Universe". Take two eventually turned up on Anthology 3, and was subsequently Spectorized for the Let It Be LP. Adorned with backing vox from a pair of 'Apple Scruffs', the song was donated to the World Wildlife Fund (not the National Trust): this is the version to be found on the British and American Rarities records, and — on CD — on Past Masters 2.

Their brief appearance for the end of the Yellow Sub movie also seems to have been filmed around this time. Pretty much straight afterwards (a relative term, 'straight'...) The Beatles were on a plane to Delhi — colour unspecified — then up to the Maharishi's camp in the mountains for an intensive course of Transcendental Meditation.

Accompanied by their respective wives and girlfriends (John having to choose the former, despite serious misgivings), the plan was simply to get out of the public eye for a while and find out where their heads were at. They were also joined by a group of friends and acquaintances — including Donovan, The Beach Boys' Mike Love, "Magic" Alex, Mia Farrow and her sister (Dear) Prudence.

Ringo and Maureen stuck it out for just a couple of weeks, unable to stomach either the food or the flies. Paul, who had set himself a one-month trial period, actually stayed for a little longer than that before heading back to Blighty. John and George remained until April.

Whatever their real motivations for the retreat, what actually came out of it — for Lennon and McCartney particularly — was a plethora of songs. Many of The White tracks were composed on acoustic guitars while they were there. Despite his chiding them for not focussing on their true mission in Rishikesh, George Harrison also seemed to have been a little distracted from it by compositional inspiration, judging by his contributions to the album. And even Ringo had come up with a tune — what a Starr! Such a hotchpotch of styles and moods were represented, that George Martin had severe reservations about including them all on what was obviously going to have to be a double LP.

Shortly after their return, both John and Paul's personal lives underwent radical changes. Cynthia returned from a holiday trip to find her half-naked husband taking tea with Ms Ono, who was wearing her dressing gown. Lennon finally had the excuse he needed to call it quits, and quickly moved out of the Weybridge mansion to set up house with Yoko at Ringo's old bachelor pad in London. They became completely inseparable, her presence in the studio being a source of antagonism for the other three Beatles.

Paul, too, was caught with his pants down when his fiancée Jane Asher found him in bed with another girl, Francie Schwartz. Despite attempts to patch things up, their separation was public knowledge by the beginning of the summer. The fling with "Franny" turned out to be fairly short-lived, though she stuck around helping to 'run' things at Apple for some while after.

In mid-May, Lenmac flew out to New York to officially announce the formation of the company and set out its aims — and, very probably, to get out of the cauldron for a few days. Macca also took the opportunity to renew his acquaintance with Linda Eastman while he was there. By the end of the year, she was pregnant with his first child.

And so, back to the music. John and Paul popped round for a few acoustic seshes at George's Kinfauns bungalow at the tail-end of the month served to get the ol' juices running again. They both crashed over, I would guess... Quite a few of the songs they tried out there are on Anthology 3, and there are tantalizing rumours that the rest of the oft-bootlegged Esher Demos will be made official.

Project Doll's House was officially inaugurated on May 30th, with Revolution 1. That being 'counted out' as the band's next single was just the beginning of a series of rows and the growing tensions which punctuated the sprawling sessions. Often, the individual writers would isolate themselves from the rest of the band, either to record entirely solo or to produce a backing track for the others to play onto as session-men. Yet, perversely, the record also includes some of the finest jams which they ever produced as a group.

It's interesting to compare the recording order with the eventual release sequence. After 1, Nº 9 went on looping in and out all through June; along with Don't Pass Me By, Blackbird, Monkey and Goodnight. Chief engineer Geoff Emerick quit mid-month, probably on the grounds of mental health, aggravated by Number Nine. Also, after a scant half-year in 'business', the clothes shop was closed down.

July started with Obladi. But was this the beginning or the end of the thing?!! Fast Revolution distracted John in the meantime, along with Cry Baby and Sexy Sadie. The album's working title was dropped round this time, when Family put out a very good LP called Music In A Dolls' House. The Submarine film was launched around the same time.

A Mad Day Out round London with a host of photographers provided a break from the studio hassles on 28th: but — just to call the month finished — Jude was recorded at Trident on the last day.

The first song to be tried out in August was George's ultimately rejected Not Guilty. He was also working on Something else throughout the sessions, but didn't have it finished. Sadie didn't finally get all hers (his) till the middle of the month, preceded by Nature's Son. They moved into the cupboard under the stairs to deal with John's Blues on the thirteenth — was it a Friday, I wonder? Whatever the case, Mary Jane to play came the day after, though she was sent home again before the album was released. She was hotly pursued by Rocky and Honey Pie — the Wild One.

Ringo seems to have walked out while they were finishing off Sadie: USSR and Prudence came next, with Paul taking over the stool. The first Apple single ("Hey Jude"/"Revolution") was issued at the close of the month.

September commenced with George letting Eric Weep his Guitar (Ringo having cleared the welcome-back flowers off his kit); followed by Finger Blister, Onion, I Will, Birthday and Piggies. It concluded with two days being dedicated to the correct loading of Lennon's Gun.

October saw them working steadily through Honey Pie (silver screen version), the Savoy Truffle (and the rest of the box), Dear Martha and Long, Long, Long. So Tired and Bungalow Bill were both bagged on the eighth. It took two days to Do It In The Road, and the last track to be recorded was John's Julia (on the 13th).

He got busted five days later.

If the rumoured Lennon/McCartney/Martin 24-hour remix session did take place, it was probably during the final week. Though never confirmed (or denied) by any inside source, this could have been when the running order was finalized, linking together the disparate compositions into the blocks we've all come to know. GM was probably still flapping that it should have been reduced to "a very, very good single album": begging the question 'What would you have counted out, sir?'

Although not blended as fluidly as Pepper, one track follows another with little or no space in between: I distinctly remember how damn tricky it was dropping the stylus arm in the place I wanted on vinyl, and — 'ey up! — placing the digital blips to separate the songs for the CD issue evidently caused the engineers some headaches too.

Originally released on November 22nd, 1968 (five years to the day after With The Beatles), Mr Martin's misgivings were immediately dispelled. It went directly to number one in the British albums' chart and hogged it, piggy-like, for nigh on two months. In America, it spent almost three years on the Billboard Top 200, going on to become the band's biggest selling album there.

In fact, it is probably the very diversity of the songs which accounted for its instant popularity back then, The Beatles — once again — providing an indelible document of their lives and their times. And, over four decades on, it continues to intrigue listeners, remaining an all-time Fab-fave amongst fans and not-so-fans alike.
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