November 22, 2018 The Beatles’ White Album 50 Years Later
Time is not always kind to a Rock-n-Roll album. Often an album encapsulates a period, but does not translate to past that place in time. That in mind, what separates a great album from being truly magnificent one, is its ability to transcend the era it was composed. Such is the case with The Beatles, whose music continues to make an impression over a half century later. With so many memorable moments, songs and records put out during their time together, perhaps one of the most curious was the bold move to release their self-titled double LP in 1968, the one which has famously always been referred to as The White Album.
An album that came at an interesting point in The Beatles’ story – tensions were building between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the band were expanding their horizons when visiting India, and the John Lennon/Yoko Ono relationship was in full swing. Originally released on November 22nd in 1968 through Apple Records, the album was a mix of styles and sometimes head-scratching moments that only The Beatles could really pull off. Now 50 years later, it is one of the more curious and perhaps recognized collection of Beatles tunes ever recorded.
Coming out just a year after the massively successful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, for The White Album, The Beatles would spend most of their time writing the songs that would make up the 30 tracks/four sides of the LP during a Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh, India. When returning to England to record it, many times, the band were at odds over creative differences, perhaps explaining why the sum of The White Album’s parts is scattered and very eclectic in nature.
Many of the songs possessed a level of satire, such as “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Piggies,” “Rocky Raccoon,” and “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” There were also moments where the mood is more serious as with “Dear Prudence,” inspired by actress Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence Farrow; the more classic love tune “I Will;” the heartbreaking “Julia,” a song about Lennon’s mother; “Cry Baby Cry;” the timeless “Blackbird,” alluding to the race tensions in the USA at the time; “Helter Skelter,” arguably the first Heavy Metal song ever; the political “Revolution 1;” as well as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” one of George Harrison’s finest moments and a prelude to what he was capable of as a songwriter later on with 1969’s Abbey Road.
There were then songs that were somewhere in between satire and more serious content that were still catchy and quite clever nonetheless such as the parody on Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” a song which featured the line ‘Life Goes On,’ which would become the title of a popular sitcom decades later, and the famous “Birthday” where you cannot help but boldly hear Yoko Ono’s backing vocals sticking out at the tail-end.
Yet still, The White Album has plenty more to discuss, the tracks and their meaning have been analyzed a million different ways through the years. Most Beatles fans appreciate the album from start to finish, interludes, silly moments and all. It reached No. 1 on the charts in both the United Kingdom as well as the United States, and to this day, is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. Funny thing is, it is debated among Beatles fans if it is even in fact their best album. Some may say that title goes to 1965’s Rubber Soul, others argue Abbey Road. Whatever it may be, The White Album has left one of biggest the lasting impressions on popular music ever. The influences are seen everywhere from the musical styles, to the adopted title of the record based on the white LP sleeve. Food for thought, Metallica’s biggest album, their 1991 self-title, became known as The Black Album, this is while Weezer’s 2001 self-title became known as The Green Album. This are just a couple of those which took influence and inspiration from the paths The Beatles blazed.
The bottom line is, in spite of whatever personal differences The Beatles were going through, they were peaking at their musical creativity and thinking outside the box more than ever. If anything, the record showed that each member – McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Ringo Starr – were all very capable of functioning as songwriters and performers individually beyond just as the Fab Four. In many ways, you could look at The White Album as a prophecy as to what was going to come in the future, seeing it was only two years later that the band broke up after the Let It Be recording sessions.
Honoring the legacy of The White Album, on November 9th, Apple Corps/ Ltd/Capitol/UMe released a special edition package with rare, never before released material. The Super Deluxe edition includes 6 CDs, Blu-ray disc, all housed in a slip-sleeved 164-page hardbound book, all of which includes the entire original album. The new anniversary edition also includes 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes. It also marks the first time that The White Album has been remixed with the addition of demos and session recordings. All in all, it shows that even all these years later, there is still more Beatles history to uncover, and honestly, who else but The Beatles can continuously release so many backlogged outtakes and unheard material? So maybe The White Album is one of the greatest albums of all-time, maybe not. If anything, it is a landmark moment in Beatles history, their evolution, and a pioneering stepping stone for the future of popular music.
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