Today is the 45th anniversary of the release of “The Beatles”, which was released on 22nd November 1968.
Today’s news that a track listing has surfaced of The Beatles White Album as a single LP – drawn up collectively by the band in September 1968 – and found in a box of papers once belonging to John Lennon – has sent the Beatles fan world into a frenzy.
Or it would have if I hadn’t just made it up, of course. Sorry to get your hopes up.
“I wasn’t a Beatles fan until I listened to the White Album and became an instant convert”: Steven Spielberg
What the White Album (or “The Beatles” to use the correct name) would look like as a single album is one of the Great Beatles Questions, or depending upon your point of view one of the Great Dull And Pointless Beatles Questions, alongside Is Paul Dead? (no), Did Yoko Ono split up the band? (no) and did they really use an early form of auto-tune invented by Magic Alex on Ringo’s vocals? (no).
But here at Every Record Tells A Story we are not shy of asking questions that are more suited to confused drunken one-in-the-morning-and-we-should-have-gone-home conversations. Brevity, after all is a much under-appreciated concept. Am I alone, for example, in thinking The Lord of the Rings trilogy might have been better filmed as a two-hour special? For all three films combined?
Would a single White Album have been the Beatle’s Greatest ever? Would there have been a significant improvement (or drop) in quality had the album had three sides? Might it have been better with only two?
There’s little doubt the album has filler. As McCartney admitted about “Wild Honey Pie“, “That was just a fragment of an instrumental which we weren’t too sure about, but Pattie liked it very much so we decided to leave it in the album”.
George Martin did express the view that “I thought we should probably have made a very, very good single album rather than a double. But they insisted. “
Engineer Geoff Emerick also had rather mixed views of the album, expressed in his fascinating book “Here, There and Everywhere”. “Personally I think it’s their least inspired effort” he says. “Of course, that may have a lot to do with my knowing the circumstances behind it” he adds, “If you’re aware of people’s talents and you see them just crumble and destroy themselves, it’s tough to deal with.”
There are reasons why we should be happy it was a double. On release, Observer critic Tony Palmer wasn’t put off by the extended length, famously comparing the composing talents of Lennon and McCartney to that of Schubert.
As someone who likes vinyl records, I also wonder if, without it being a double album, would the packaging have been as lavish – with poster, band photos and that number stamp and top-opening sleeve?
The White Album is also the basis of one of the best Beatles Bootlegs – The Esher Demos – which consists of acoustic versions of many of the songs that ended up on the White Album recorded onto tape in Harrison’s Esher home Kinfauns.
Think of it as a White Album Unplugged, before all that sort of thing became a cliche. It includes “Jealous Guy” prototype “Child of Nature” (same melody, but completely different lyrics) which begins with mention of John being on the road to Rishikesh. “What’s The New Mary Jane” never made the cut, but includes typically obtuse Lennon imagery. “Circles” and “Sour Milk Sea” are two more demos that fell away. The former is reminiscent of the introduction of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, whilst the latter was given to Jackie Lomax for his debut Apple release.
“Junk” is also here, a song that eventually saw the light of day on McCartney’s first solo album in 1970, and George’s “Not Guilty” – another song destined for a solo album – in 1979. Of those songs that did make the final White Album “I’m so Tired” began as an almost jaunty number compared with the sleepier version on “The Beatles”. The Esher version of “Revolution” is quicker-paced than the final White Album take, and faster even than the revved up single (electric) version. Not every song is better on the demo. “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey” was hugely improved in the Abbey Road studios for the final version.
“Dear Prudence” takes an interesting turn as John reveals the tensions that occurred during the Beatles’ trip to Rishikesh, India and the time they spent with the Maharishi. Talking over the song, he says “Sooner or later she was to go completely beserk under the care of Maharishi Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl because she was going insane. So we sacked him”. The demos end on Sexy Sadie – a song John later admitted was about the Maharishi whom they accused of making passes at females in the camp. “You’ll get yours yet” is John’s warning…
As Lennon later said in an interview: “I copped out and I wouldn’t write “Maharishi, what have you done, you made a fool of everyone” but now it can be told, Fab listeners” John Lennon.
So what if George Martin had had his way and there was just a single album?
I appreciate that everyone will have their own views, but just for fun I have drawn up my own single sided version of “The Beatles”. The double album featured 30 songs, so I need to cut it down to fifteen. Here’s what I think might just have been the finest Beatles single LP…
- Back In The USSR
- Dear Prudence
- Glass Onion
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Happiness Is A Warm Gun
- I’m So Tired
- Yer Blues
- Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)
- Sexy Sadie
- Helter Skelter
- Revolution 1
- Savoy Truffle
- Cry Baby Cry
We do, sadly lose Ringo in this scenario, which is sacrosanct – perhaps Don’t Pass Me By might replace Cry Baby Cry? Could we take the single version of Revolution to replace the more laid back Revolution No 1? Savoy Truffle makes my list for the rather nostalgic reason that I remember my grandma buying boxes of “Good News” chocolates – so what is already a decent tune also reminds me of her – and the chocolates. Mmmmm, chocolates…. But is it really a better song than Lennon’s haunting song to his late mother, “Julia”? And surely “I Will” is one of Paul’s most perfect ballads to Linda?
Hmmm. It looks like a double album is necessary after all?
Perhaps the last word should go to Paul McCartney who best summed up the question of whether double or single was best in the Beatles Anthology documentary,:
“Shut up – it’s the bloody Beatles White album!”
So did I miss your favourite song? Is there one on my list you would reject out of hand? Can we really have a White album without Revolution #9? Anyone want to stand up for “Piggies”? Let me know in the comments below…
Record #258: The Beatles – The White Album