- 30 May 19
51 years ago today, The Beatles began recording their ninth studio release, the self-titled double album popularly known as The White Album. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Pat Carty's discussion of the album's legacy, originally published in Hot Press in 2018 on the release of The White Album's deluxe reissue.
The Beatles was my first Fabs album proper: the white cover that would supply its eternal nickname, the cool poster, and the four dour looking headshots – an omen of the splintered contents within. My initial reaction was probably “what is this shit?” Joe Strummer described the triple album bloat of The Clash’s Sandinista! as music for oil rig workers in all its glorious sprawl, and The White Album, as it will always be known, is very much like that.
If it was extensive before, this new six-disc version is the very definition of exhaustive. The remix from Giles “son of George” Martin has plenty of welly: some extra bass here, some extra guitar there, more prominent drums, but I’d still plump, slightly, for the mono version, probably because I spent so much money on The Beatles In Mono box.
Ignore the argument stretching back to November 22, 1968; it would not be better as a single record. There’s some clangers here certainly – ‘Piggies’, ‘Wild Honey Pie’, the irredeemable ‘Revolution 9’ proving yet again that avant-garde is indeed French for bullshit – but taken at a single run, it amazes, still.
‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Martha My Dear’, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, and ‘Blackbird’ are all amongst the very best Lennon/McCartney compositions. Many claim it as the band’s greatest triumph. Listening again, you can hear what they’re on about.
The famous Esher demos – The Beatles return from India with a ‘thaila’ load of songs, and do some rudimentary recordings at George’s house to show each other what they’ve got – are basically The Beatles unplugged. We’re allowed to sit in a room with genius, hearing works in progress like ‘Child Of Nature’ (‘Jealous Guy’), ‘Junk’ and ‘Not Guilty’, which wouldn’t see release until The Beatles were no more.
Spring for the big box and listen on in wonderment. A 13-minute bluesy ‘Helter Skelter’; 10 minutes of ‘Revolution 1’; a beautiful piano & Ringo-only ‘Goodnight’; Paul and his acoustic unadorned on ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, George ordering a sandwich, run-throughs of ‘I’m So Tired’, ‘Julia’ and ‘I Will’; and early versions of ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let It Be’. I could go on, but like the Dylan More Blood, More Tracks set – the only serious rival for reissue of the year – everything here is gold, the rough sketches of the absolute masters of the form.
It’s a beautiful package too, complete with a comprehensive book, a work of art in and of itself, but it’s the music that counts – and this is fashioned by Gods.
'#9' is still bollocks though.