Nov 23, 2008

40th Anniversary of the Beatles "White Album"

In November 1968 the Beatles released the album simply titled "The Beatles ", which became known as the White album. It was recorded from May 30th to October 14th, 1968 at Abbey Road Studios,London, with a small amount done at Trident Studios, London.
The Beatles were fresh off their meditation retreats in Rishikesh, India with the Maharishi. Over forty new songs had emerged from Rishikesh, most were made to rough demos at George Harrison’s home studio in Esher. With so many songs available, it became clear they would need more than a single album. For the first time in music history a double album of new material was released. Sure, harsh critics & even producer George Martin always said if the album had been edited down to a single LP, it may have been the best of all the Beatles albums. I think Paul McCartney summed it up best in the Anthology saying "it's the Beatles bloody White Album, it's great, shut up!". Ditto.

The recording of the album came during a new Beatles era, it may have had the most drama & change looming around it, mores so than any other Beatles album.

First off there was alot of turmoil brewing within the Beatles circle. Everyone was growing as individuals and egos were flying high. The music is more like four individual solo efforts, with the others just acting as backing musicians & singers. Most of the time they were recording alone in different studios using different engineers. Some songs that didn't make the final cut would later appear on the solo albums after the breakup.
John- Child of Nature (became Jealous Guy)- Look At Me

Paul- Teddy Boy - Junk

George - Not Guilty, Circles

The music on the White Album was a drastic change from recent Beatles works. The overdubs, sound effects, & studio trickery that had dominated the past two years were halted. It marked an end to their psychedelic era and more of a return to basics. The influence definitely coming from the weeks in the Rishikesh Mountains, limited to only acoustic guitars & nature. It was the first Beatles album to use eight track recording as opposed to the four track of the past. It also was the first Beatles album released on their new Apple label.
There was an enormous amount of tension beginning to brew within the Beatles world. The early signs & pressures leading to the break up had begun. In July Ringo was so fed up he walked out & actually quit the group. He was coaxed back in. This was also the first album after the death of manager Brian Epstein. Then there was Yoko Ono's presence for the first time. George by now had grown & wanted to be recognized more as a songwriter, which led to him to bringing in Eric Clapton to play on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Another first.

Album Art: The album cover was a simple white background with the word The Beatles embossed. Later printed in gray lettering. The first 2 million copies had the pressing numbers stamped on the front. John Lennon was the proud owner of copy #0000001.

This was in sharp contrast to the Magical Mystery Tour & Sgt. Pepper album covers of 1967. The cover art on those albums, paved the way for all the psychedelic pop art that was booming everywhere. Paul McCartney had first suggested a different style for it's cover, & the White was a perfect fit for Lennon, who had just had his White Balloons & You Are Here exhibits in a London Art gallery with Yoko.

The album came with some clever bonus inserts. A poster collage of different Beatle pictures designed by pop artist Richard Hamilton. Also the four classic 8 x 10 Beatles close ups, which became some of the most popular pictures ever of the band. John sporting his longest hair to date, with glasses dressed in denim. Paul with a rough unshaven face, Ringo with his longest hair to date, head tilted with a puffy shirt, looking like a movie star. (Fitting since he had just filmed a few movies.) And George looking more serious than ever with his hair growing long.

Music: The bottom line to everything Beatles is, the music. As always the White Album did not disappoint, simply put it was great, . Praised by its critics upon release it was another master piece. It spent nine weeks at #1 in December 1968 & January 1969. Today the album has gone platinum over 19 times, it is the 10th best selling album of all time in America, and is always ranked in the top 10 of best albums of all time. It is the 3rd best selling Beatles album behind Sgt. Pepper & Abbey Road.

I think another amazing example of the Beatles talent was that no hit single was ever released from the White Album. The group always wanted to give their fans something different for their money. Prior to the White Album, they released the double A sided single of Hey Jude & Revolution. It became the Beatles best selling single of all time staying at the number one spot in the U.S. for nine weeks. Hey Jude was also the longest #1 hit at that point & up until 1993, clocking in at just under seven minutes.

The album consisted of four very diverse musical talents all branching out & exploring new territories.
Johns songs:
DREAR PRUDENCE- a beautiful mellow Lennon song, one of his favourites, recorded in one take. It was about Mia Farrow's sister Prudence. She spent most of the time alone meditating in her room while in Rishikesh. Ringo was not present on the recording.

GLASS ONION- Johns parody to the fans on reading to deeply into the Beatles lyrics. The song references other Beatles tunes- "I Am the Walrus", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Lady Madonna", "The Fool on the Hill", "There's A Place", "Within You Without You", and "Fixing a Hole".

CONTINUING STORY OF BUNGALO BILL- A great Lennon tale, which made for alot fun in the studio. The song was about a mother & son who came to the Maharishi ashram while the Beatles & their entourage where there. As they went on a Tiger hunt (with elephants) they were attacked & the son (Rik) shot the tiger and posed proudly with the slayed animal. Lennon wrote the sarcastic tale from these accounts. The chorus featured Ringo's then-wife Maureen, and Yoko Ono (providing the only female lead vocal on a Beatles recording, for a single line).

HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN- One of the best & most complex songs on the White Album, and one of Paul's favourites. The band worked closely on this one more than any other on the album. It was first inspired during an acid trip and a Gun magazine with the same title as its headline & Peanuts cartoon strip. The lyrics go everywhere from being about drug addiction (I Need a fix..) to sexual desire (Warm Gun..) -(a soap confession of his wife which he ate..). The music also goes everywhere from a piano intro, to heavy rock guitar riff to a doo wop finaly. (Bang Bang Shoot Shoot). Lennon also said it was his 3 minute tribute to rock n roll history.

I'M SO TIRED- More classic Lennon. Written while missing Yoko on a sleepless night in Rishikesh. We can hear John aggressions starting to surface.

JULIA- A beautiful acoustic song john wrote about his mother & yoko.

YER BLUES- Recorded in Studio two's annex, (which was really a large closet) it gave the song its closed in sound. Ringo recalls it like the old days live performances. Johns parody on the blues seems to show signs of him crying out & being suicidal. He references Bob Dlyan's Mr. Jones from the song Ballad of the Tin Man.

EVERYBODYS GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT ME & MONKEY- The longest Beatles title of all time. John said it was about all the paranoia surrounding him & yoko.
SEXY SADIE- written about Johns disillusionment with the Maharishi, after he made passes to several of the women in the Beatles entourage in Rishikesh.

REVOLUTION- This was recorded before the fast version. John wanted this as the single but the others felt it was to slow. He said "I'll show you "& recorded the hard raucous fast version. It was Johns first political song, setting the mood for 1968 America.

CRY BABY CRY- John said he was inspired by an ad, it had been laying around since late 1967. mystical song with a great Lennon vocal. The song fades into a Paul track- Can You Take Me Back, which is uncredited.

REVOLUTION 9- Johns 9 minute avant garde, music & sound effects clips montage that Yoko, George & Ringo all had a hand in. Paul & George Martin tried to keep it off the album but Lennon won. The song played big in the Paul is Dead theories & Charles Manson murders.

Paul's Songs
BACK IN THE USSR- Paul's homage to the Beach Boys California sound. He wanted to create a USSR sound. He said even though the government don't like us, the youth in Russia dug the Beatles. Paul plays all major instruments on the song including lead guitar & drums. (This was recorded when Ringo had quit)

OB-LA-DI OB-LA-DA- Paul's tribute to reggae using the tribal words Ob-La Di which means- life goes on. The song went through many phazes and Paul drove the band crazy with all the takes. John had left the studio returned hours later, bragging how stoned he was and annoyed by another take, banged out the piano intro. Just what the song needed. It was a fun party time sing along number, but not one that John liked at all.
WILD HONEY PIE- Paul plays everything with Ringo on drums.

MARTHA MY DEAR- Inspired by Paul's English sheepdog Martha & possibly Jane Asher.

BLACK BIRD-Inspired by the classical piece Bouree, Paul claims it was about a black girl & the racial tensions in 1960's America. Another beautiful McCartney acoustic ballad. Some say it also was him singing to himself about falling in love with Linda and flying away from Jane Asher & the Beatles.

ROCKY RACOON-Paul's cowboy tune about a man who tries to shoot the man who stole his lover, instead he gets wounded. Written in Rishikesh with John & Donovan.

WHY DONT WE DO IT IN THE ROAD- All instruments played by Paul except for Ringos drums. Inspired by two monkeys Paul saw having sex openly while in India.

I WILL- A classic Paul love song, & one of the first written for Linda. Paul plays all the instruments except for percussion played by Ringo & John. It took 67 takes & turned into a long jam.

BIRTHDAY- A great rocker, the only song on the White Album where Paul & John share the lead vocal. Paul came up with the great riff.

MOTHER NATURES SON- A great mellow tune inspired by a Maharishi lecture in Rishikesh.

HELTER SKELTER- After reading Pete Townshed say I Can See For Miles was the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song the Who ever done, Paul set out to do the same. Helter Skelter was an amusement park ride & meant confused in British terminology. Its possibly the hardest rock song the band ever did. They had alot of fun recording it, George ran around the studio with an ash tray on fire above his head doing an impersonation of Arthur Brown.

HONEY PIE- A tribute to British music hall music. About an actress who make it big in America & is being pursued by an old lover.

Georges songs:
WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS- Maybe Georges best work. Inspired by Hi Ching where everything relatively leads to something. It is considered one of the top guitar songs of all time. The song was done a few times & didn't really take off until Eric Clapton was brought in. The acoustic version on Anthology 3 is also very beautiful.
PIGGIES-Georges parody on social upper classes & authority.

LONG LONG LONG- An underrated mellow love song written to either Patti or God. The rattling heard at the end of the song was the result of Paul hitting an note on the Hammond organ causing a bottle of Blue Nun wine sitting on the Leslie speaker to rattle. Ringo then added a fast snare drum roll to it.

SAVOY TRUFFLE- Written about Eric Clapton's love of chocolates, the lyrics use the names of items inside a box of Mackintosh Good News chocolates. Six sax players were used & when George distorted their sound they were upset.

Ringos Songs:
DONT PASS ME BY- Ringo's 1st solo contribution, only he & Paul play on the track.

GOOD NIGHT- A Lullaby written by John for his son Julian a few years earlier. Ringo was the only Beatle on the recording backed by a classical orchestra.

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Charles Manson: The search for hidden song meanings took a horrible turn when Charles Manson interpreted songs from the White Album as his evil prophecies. Revolution 9 was taken by Manson as a biblical prophecy to Revelation 9. The voices, chants & sounds in the song were telling him to kill. The songs Blackbird, Piggies & Helter Skelter referenced a long term race war and inspired Manson to murder the wealthy, so as in the end he would become ruler. In Cry Baby Cry the verse "At twelve o'clock a meeting 'round the table for a seance in the dark With voices out of nowhere put on specially by the children for a lark " Manson himself claimed his series of events Helter Skelter.
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Paul is Dead Clues: When the 1969 Paul is Dead controversy started, it was said many clues could be found inside the White Album. Paul was suppose to have died in a car crash in 1966 & was replaced by look alike Billy Cambell.

On Revolution 9, if you played the Number Nine words back ward, it was suppose to say "Turn me on Deadman". At one point you hear car horns, then a car crash, followed by a fire burning. You can hear the following lines: "he hit a pole. We better get him to see a surgeon."

At the end of Im So Tired, the backward voice when played correctly seems to say "Paul is a Dead man, miss him miss him"."Glass Onion" clearly tells us "Well here's another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul."

At the end of "Cry Baby Cry", Paul sings "Can you take me where I came from?/Can you take me back?"

Even Ringos Dont Pass Me By had clues in the lyrics "You Were in a car crash & you lost your hair".
On the poster there is a photo of Paul in glasees in disguise. The picture is said to be his replacement Billy Cambell.
Another phot has Paul in a tub with just his face submerged in the sudsy water. Supposedly a recreation of the accident.
Finally Paul is scene dancing in a photo with what looks like two skeleton hands attempting to grab him from behind.

All in all more fun & mystery surrrounding the Beatles............Happy Anniversary White Album.

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