Courtesy of EMI Studios
Christmas has come early for Beatles fans. On Friday, Nov. 9, their ninth studio endeavor, The White Album, saw a special edition re-release. Hopefully I don’t need to convince you of the Beatles’ talent and why you should listen to this album. If you need me, you’re a lost soul. But I still want to tell you why the new additions of the re-release make it even better than the original–it deserves the praise and attention.
The album, originally titled The Beatles, later adopted the name The White Album due to it’s minimalistic artwork. It was originally released on this day (November 22) in 1968, following what many consider to be the greatest album of all time: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, Sgt. Pepper’s is great, but the sheer volume and variety of songs makes The White Album my favorite Beatles album and one of the best ever recorded.
The album starts off with a track titled “Back in the U.S.S.R.” This song comes straight from the sound of the Beach Boys. What makes it interesting is although it pays homage to one of the great American bands, its lyrics are anything but American. It satirizes the Soviet Union by americanizing it, using one of the most iconic aspects of American culture in the twentieth century. This is quite a social statement in the 1960s.
The theme of Beatles songs reflecting on the tensions of the 60s continue in the heavy rock song “Helter Skelter.” The title of the song was eventually adopted by Charles Manson for the name of the apocalyptic race war he envisioned. I find it interesting to hear how chaotic the song sounds and then applying it to a person like Manson.
Both of these songs are some of my favorites and the rest that lie within The White Album are just as interesting and varied. It can seem almost endless with the runtime clocking in at almost an hour and a half, but listening to the album is more of a treat than it is a chore. And what a treat it is.
My subtleness thus far may have not made it clear, so I’ll go right out and say it: I love The White Album. It came to us during one of the most tense eras of the Beatles’ history. Ringo Starr had just walked out on the band before its recording, leaving the drumming on the first three songs up to Paul McCartney and infighting between the members was common.
Despite all this conflict, The White Album reignited, if only for a second (you’re welcome Abbey Road fans), the creative flame that had been burning for years between the four Beatles. This creativity is shown through the album’s line up of songs which serves as a proverbial looking glass into the music scene of the time.
This 2018 re-release comes with many new additions. The entire album was remixed by Giles Martin, the son of legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin, to enhance the sound of every song. Like with the re-release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2017, the remastered version of The White Album comes with a large amount of alternate takes included. These can range anywhere from an instrumental version to an entirely different sounding song.
The first version of “Helter Skelter” sounds more like a sluggish blues song than a frantic rock song, for example. These alternate versions also have audio recordings of what was happening in the studio in between takes. This is, by far, my favorite aspect of the re-release. It’s as if you’re in that cigarette smoke-filled room within Abbey Road Studios in 1968, sitting in with the band like you’re the fifth Beatle. It connects you with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in an extremely personal way.
The Esher Demos are a brand new addition to the Beatles discography this time around. The name comes from the town in England where George Harrison lived. Here The Beatles would gather and record home versions of the songs that would eventually make up The White Album. These recordings are super informal and you can tell they are just playing their instruments in a living room and having a great time doing it. These demos serve as a kind of unplugged version of the album as they are completely acoustic.
Enough about the re-release. It’s time to get down to business. If you love the Beatles, you’ll love this. If you hate them, how did you read this far? They took what was already perfect and gave us more of it. Nearly four hours more. If the fact that an album released 50 years ago can still make the news today doesn’t persuade you to listen, I don’t know what can.