FLASHBACK: 45 Years Ago - The Beatles Begin Recording 'The White Album'
It was 45 years ago today (May 30th, 1968) that the Beatles began recording their 30-song self-titled double album, which is commonly known as "The White Album."
The album's first session was for John Lennon's "Revolution 1," which was recorded in London at EMI's Studio Two, with the session stretching from 2:30 p.m. to 2:40 a.m. the next day. It was the group's first studio work since returning from Rishikesh, India after an extended stay to study transcendental meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 2009 a near-10-minute version of "Revolution 1" made the rounds of underground collectors -- the majority of which stems from the May 30th session.
Most of the songs from "The White Album" were written while the group was in India, including "Back In The U.S.S.R.," "Yer Blues," "I Will," "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill," "Rocky Raccoon," "I'm So Tired," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Dear Prudence," "Mother Nature's Son," and Lennon's thinly-veiled attack on the Maharishi, titled "Sexy Sadie."
Other highlights on the album included "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Julia," "Helter Skelter," "Glass Onion," "Martha My Dear," "Birthday," and Ringo Starr's first composition, the country-flavored "Don't Pass Me By."
Several songs originally intended for the "White Album" turned up on later solo albums, such as "Junk" which Paul McCartney released on his 1970 solo debut McCartney, "Child Of Nature" which John Lennon rewrote as "Jealous Guy" for his 1971 album Imagine, "Not Guilty" which made its way onto George Harrison's 1979 self-titled album, and Harrison's "Circles" which finally saw release on his 1982 album Gone Troppo.
Producer George Martin says that the album still sounds more like the work of four solo artists rather than one unified band: "They came back from abroad. . . They'd been away for quite a while after the death of (manager) Brian Epstein. They came back and presented me with 33 songs, which they all wanted to record at once, literally. They said, 'Well, you've got another studio. George has something going in one studio, and I can go in another,' says Paul. I was running from one studio to another, doing a kind of executive role."
Martin recalls that the material seemed to not be up to their usual standards when they first presented it to him: "A lot of the recordings, they would have a basic idea, and then they would have a jam session to end it, which sometimes didn't sound too good. But this was fairly small criticism. When they did 'The White Album,' I thought we should have made a very, very good single album out of it, rather than make a double album out of it. I think it was an album that could have been a fantastically good album if it had been compressed a bit and condensed. But a lot people I know think its the best album they made. So, it's not my view."
Paul McCartney doesn't buy into Martin's revisionist beliefs that it could have made a single album on par with Revolver and other single-disc Beatles masterpieces: "Well, y'know, you can always say that. Perhaps I'll go with -- but not definitely -- in fact I think it's a fine little album. I think the fact that it's got so much on it is one of the things that's cool about it, 'cause they're very varied stuff, y'know 'Rocky Raccoon,' 'Piggies,' 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun' -- that kind of stuff. I think it's a fine album. I'm not one for that: 'Maybe it was too many of that -- what do you mean? It's great, it sold, it's the bloody Beatles' 'White Album' -- shut up!"
With tensions in the band high between the Beatles, the group's longtime engineer Geoff Emerick quit the sessions rather than face further attacks by the band. Engineer Chris Thomas stepped in and later went on to produce key albums for the Sex Pistols, the Pretenders, Pete Townshend and McCartney. Emerick was asked if he ever regretted his decision to miss out on engineering White Album and Let It Be classics such as "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Back In The U.S.S.R.," and later on, "Get Back" and "The Long And Winding Road": "Not at all. And thinking about it afterwards, I think it was good because it certainly jolted them. It's something that should have been done a long time ago. Looking back, I'm glad I did it. I didn't lose any respect (from them) because I went back and worked at (the Beatles' company) Apple and recorded (their album) Abbey Road."
The Beatles' "White Album" was released on November 22nd, 1968 and went on to top the charts for nine non-consecutive weeks beginning on December 28th.