The Beatles (White Album)
The White Album was the ninth studio album of the Beatles and the first double release. Its cover was all white, with the group's name simply embossed. For that it has become almost universally known simply as "the White Album." Made at the Abbey Road studios with George Martin in command, it was the first album release of the Beatles under their own label, "Apple Records." (Hey Jude and Dear Prudence were actually made at Trident Studios.) The White Album stands as the transition from the Beatles' "middle period" into the final era of their historic reign as pop music's most influential group. If nothing else, the eclectic nature of the album's 30 tracks strongly hints that the individual band members were maturing and evolving into diverse directions. And while all the songs show enormous talent, skill and creativity, these divergent trends would ultimately cause the group to disband.
The summer of 1968 found the Beatles somewhat removed from their public, as they had given up touring two years before recording The White Album. In 1967 they had produced two of the most heralded pop albums in the history of modern music. They had lost their able manager, Brien Epstein, and had suffered a setback with the unflattering public response to the Magical Mystery Tour film. Both Paul and John were passing through serious difficulties in personal relationships, and John in particular had been struggling with the role that drugs had come to play in his life. In the spring of 1968 the group had traveled to India to learn about Transcendental Meditation from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. George Harrison had found a musical and spiritual renewal in his affection for Indian music and thought. Lennon had found the experience disillusioning. Meanwhile, the public had begun to wonder if perhaps the Beatles phenomenon had come to its twilight days.
As if they consciously turned away from the hype and production excesses of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, the group came together once more to return to less complicated times, producing the White Album with the quiet elegance that the album cover reflects. But if Sgt. Pepper was a ground-breaking "concept" album, The White Album represents the opposite, so varied that it was described critically as "a scattershot."
Songwriting took place in India and then afterwards in England. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison put together almost 40 new compositions in India, further polishing them upon their return. Several proto-versions were recorded at Harrison's home studio at Kinfauns, Esher. Though the "Lennon/McCartney" system of song credits was continued into The White Album, the reality is that there was much less collaboration among group members than in the past. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison each emerged as individual songwriters, with styles and talents that would continue with them past the Beatles era into their solo careers.
Recording commenced on May 30, 1968 and extended over five months through October 14. The sessions were marked by personal conflicts among the members. It was during this time that Yoko Ono began to appear with John at the recording sessions. Ironically, the album's title conveys a sense of unity in the group, when in fact the four musicians were increasingly working individually, often in separate studios, on different overdubs. When they were together, often they would just improvise or jam, in an effort to recapture cohesion or perhaps seduce their elusive, creative muse. So fractious were some of the sessions, that long-time recording engineer Geoff Emerick quit working with the Beatles on July 16, 1968, unwilling to keep putting up with the negative atmosphere. On August 22, 1968, Ringo Starr quit the band, but John and Paul persuaded him to return after a couple of weeks. During this time George Harrison started to take periodic, short breaks from the pressures of the recording studio. Once The White Album was completed, John Lennon also began leaving the Beatles for extended periods, a fact that remained unannounced to the public. Paul McCartney, who at this time was trying to hold the group together, later said in an interview that the recording of The White Album was the turning point. Before then, "The world was a problem, but we weren't." During and after these recording sessions, the world outside the studio seemed less problematic than what was going on inside.
As a technical matter, The White Album also marked a shift in the way the Beatles operated. The introduction of eight-track equipment at Abbey Road permitted group members to make their individual contributions separately from the others.
In spite of the turmoil surrounding the recording sessions, the record proved to be a hit. When The Beatles was released in November of 1968, it rose quickly to the top of the charts in the US, the UK and in other countries. Though some of the critics and fans found the album "difficult" (presumably due to its wide range of musical styles), the popular reaction was mainly positive. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as tenth in its list of the Greatest Albums of All Time.
The songs on the album cover more musical terrain than any popular music album before it. Honey Pie is in the dance-hall tradition of the 1930's; Piggies employs chamber music; and Revolution 9 is the eight-minute experience in sound in the avant-garde style of John Cage that some critics sneeringly refer to as non-music. As the acoustic guitar was the only instrument the Beatles had in India other than those local to the place, several of the songs written in India stayed acoustic on the final album as solo numbers or with only part of the band: Rocky Raccoon, Blackbird, Julia, Cry Baby Cry, I Will and Mother Nature's Son.
The Beatles White Album Tracks - Song List
|Side One||Lead Vocals||Written by||Length|
|Back in the U.S.S.R.||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:43|
|Wild Honey Pie||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||0:53|
|The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:14|
|While My Guitar Gently Weeps||Harrison||George Harrison||4:45|
|Happiness Is a Warm Gun||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||2:43|
|Martha My Dear||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:28|
|I'm So Tired||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||2:03|
|Don't Pass Me By||Starr||Richard Starkey||3:50|
|Why Don't We Do It in the Road?||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||1:41|
|Birthday||McCartney with Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||2:42|
|Mother Nature's Son||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:48|
|Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||2:24|
|Long, Long, Long||Harrison||George Harrison||3:04|
|Savoy Truffle||Harrison||George Harrison||2:54|
|Cry Baby Cry||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:01|