On November 22, 1968 The Beatles released an untitled double album which, over time, came to be known as “The White Album”.
The album, IMHO, is incredible and, in retrospect, one can view it as something of a line in the sand. There’s the stuff that came before and, sadly, this album was pointing toward what was to come, ie The Beatles’ eventual breakup.
The album features a mind-bogglingly number of great songs in so many different genres that one can’t help but admire the group’s ability to stretch their boundaries. There are rock songs, there are ditties. There are songs that seem to fall into country, there are songs that fall squarely into a avant guard. There are fragments of songs, there are songs that seem almost like children’s compositions. There are hard rockers and even what can be called a proto-metal composition.
There’s an incredible amount of music of all different types and what’s the most amazing thing is that when one listens to the album, it feels like there’s a flow to the compositions, a logic that only a band with as much talent as The Beatles could dare to try… and, incredibly and perhaps improbably, succeed. For the most part, anyway.
There are those who feel there’s a superb single album buried in this double album, and even I have some songs I don’t care that much for. Still, how can you knock something that ambitious and successful?
When I heard Giles Martin, son of the late George Martin who was the original producer of almost all of The Beatles’ albums, was doing to The White Album what he did to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, i.e. doing an intricate remastering, I was so there.
What Mr. Martin did with Sgt. Pepper’s was revelatory. He made an already superb (IMHO!) album sound even better, and managed to make two songs in particular I didn’t care as much for on the album shine like they never did before.
This past weekend I finally got my hands on the “Super Deluxe” edition of The White Album’s re-release.
Starting with the original album itself, I have to once again give Mr. Martin an incredible amount of credit. The songs sound extraordinary, and he’s managed to make some compositions I didn’t care all that much for suddenly light up. He’s brought the instruments out and made the voices clearer and… jeeze, its like you’re there in the studio, listening to the lads as they play the material for you. There is an intimacy and clarity you didn’t realize the album needed to make it even better than it already was (and, if I haven’t made it clear already, I felt the album as it was was pretty damn great to begin with).
And the bonuses… oh my.
First up are the so-called Esher Demos. After finishing their trip to India, The Beatles got together at George Harrison’s house and essentially created rough demos of the majority of the songs that eventually made their way to The White Album. Here then you have those demos and they’re wonderful to hear in their embryonic, and sometimes quite close to finalized, form. You also have some songs that didn’t make the cut -at least not at that point- which are fascinating to hear as well for a total of 27 songs.
Following that you have another FIFTY alternate/early takes of the various songs which eventually made it to The White Album along with a few that did not, including early versions of Hey Jude, Across The Universe, and Let It Be!
Incredibly fun stuff to hear and it again makes you realize that this band, when it came to music, was on a whole ‘nother level when it came to releasing original compositions.
The price for the Super Deluxe edition of The White Album ain’t cheap. The CD release will set you back about $140 and I can’t even begin to guess how much the vinyl version is. There is a cheaper CD version (I saw it at Target on sale for around $25) which includes the full album plus the Esher Demos. It does not include the other bonus material, including all the other takes of the songs plus those I mentioned above.
So if you’re anything at all like me, you either get the whole thing or nothing at all. If you don’t feel you need the wealth of other demos/alternate takes, then you may be fine getting the smaller package.
Either way, this is a hell of a gift to music lovers and The Beatles lovers in particular.
A very, VERY easy recommendation.
I’ve found some interesting lists online regarding ranking the songs on The White Album from best to worst. Here’s one list, found on Ultimateclassicrock.com and written by Michael Gallucci, where he offers…
A second ranked list can be found on stereogum.com and was written by Chris DeVille…
I find such lists fascinating, and I do have to offer my 0.02 cents.
Worst song on the album? It may be Wild Honey Pie for me. Or perhaps Revolution #9, John Lennon’s trip into the avant guard. However, listening to these songs now, in this freshly remastered version, has quite literally opened my ears and even these works feel fresh and interesting to me.
George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps is terrific, as are Lennon compositions like Dear Prudence and Julia. Much as I like the single version of Revolution, the slower, bluesier Revolution #1 is quite terrific as well. Paul McCartney was also on a roll, bringing some great rockers like Birthday, Back in the U.S.S.R. (a hilarious parody of Beach Boys-type “Americana” music), and, especially, Helter Skelter, easily the “hardest” music The Beatles ever made and arguably one of the earliest “heavy metal” tunes.
All of it is damn good stuff!