45 Years Ago Today – The Beatles White Album: But Is It Better As A Single LP?

The Beatles' White Album

The Beatles’ White Album

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?

esher demos Beatles

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…

Side 1

  • Back In The USSR
  • Dear Prudence
  • Glass Onion
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  • I’m So Tired
  • Blackbird

Side 2

  • Birthday
  • 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



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21 replies

  1. I’m with Paul. (Enjoyed the post though).

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  2. I think the White Album is perfect as it is. We gave it a spin in the car front to back and few weeks ago and what I liked is the aspect of the audio journey. There’s weird stuff on here like “Wild Honey Pie” etc. But without them the journey would not be as interesting or enjoyable for me.

    Favourite song? Maybe Blackbird…maybe Savoy Truffle…Rocky Racoon…so hard to pick!

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  3. Great post – I fell for the opening paragraph, well played.

    It is the messiness of the White album that makes it so special, it is still ahead of its time 45 years later. To defend the omissions:

    Obladi – The great opening piano riff, John’s exasperated “Thank You” at the end

    Wild Honey Pie – That’s what double LPs are for, fragments & hidden treasures buried along the way

    Bungalow Bill – The flamenco intro & a great lead-in to While My Guitar

    Martha My Dear – My 2nd favourite on the record!

    Piggies – I have difficulty cutting anything with a Harpsichord

    Rocky Raccoon – My favourite! The snare hit after ‘he drew first and shot’ is one of the many nice details, and if cutting a harpsichord is tough, cutting out some honky-tonk piano is just unfair.

    Don’t pass me by – Always nice to have a Ringo cameo, a Ringo original at that.

    Why don’t we do it in the road – Nice juxtaposition with I will, both in tone and as a possible question and answer.

    I will – McCartney’s best ballad

    Julia – Perfect note to end disc one

    Side 2
    Mother nature’s son – nice horns, another strong McCartney acoustic number

    Long long long – a welcome respite after the noisy Helter Skelter

    Honey Pie – I’m a sucker for songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fred Astaire movie

    Don’t forget the uncredited ‘can you take me back outro’ – another hidden gem

    Revolution 9 – In David Quantick’s book, Revolution, he argues that this is a crowning achievement. I disagree, but the song is so out there that it fits here.

    Goodnight – Gorgeous strings, soothing end to a sometimes bumpy ride of an album.

    I plan on saving this one for album #1001/1001, I’ll see if I still feel the same in 8 years!

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  4. The White Album demonstrated their range, and I think the throw-aways are inconsistent from person to person. For example, “I Will” would be the first thing to keep from the White Album, if it was up to me.

    I love the White Album — not because I think it was their best work. (The disjointed nature of the piece smacks of fissures in their relationships more than it reflects loose creativity.) But, it is the work of people who EARNED the right to produce an album like this — filled with fully realized songs as well as half-works that still stand up better than the vast majority of other artists’ strongest efforts. As usual, Macca says it best.

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  5. I love fruitless, theoretical exercises. For me it’s easier to come up with the ones I would omit rather than the ones to keep. Obladi – out for sure; it has always grated. Bungalow Bill — out. But which to keep? I like your list, but Julia is so lovely. And there is something so sweetly incongruent about ending with “Good Night.”

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  6. I just wanna know where I can get The Esher Demos. I don’t have a lot of Beatles bootlegs, and the White Album is one of my favorites, so I’d love it.

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  7. Good post, I have to agree with Stephen’s defense for the unincluded songs. For me, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” and “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road would be a must.

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  8. How much of the The Esher Demos is what appeared on Anthology III? (completely different versions?).

    I’m surprised that a ’90s band (like 311) never made a cover “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey).” It still feels contemporary.

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    • Good question:
      “It wasn’t until Anthology 3 was released in 1996 that we got to hear 4 additional demo songs recorded at Kinfauns, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, ‘Glass Onion’, ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’, and ‘Polythene Pam’, all in excellent quality (perhaps the original acetate that was bootlegged did not include these recordings?), but yet very few of the other previously available Esher tracks were included (just ‘Junk’, ‘Piggies’, ‘Honey Pie’ with improved sound and stereo). Thus, even after Anthology, the bootleg Esher demo versions remain the only source for almost all these tracks”
      From http://bbchron.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-beatles-esher-demos-late-may-1968.html

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  9. I’d fight anyone who tried to leave ‘Long, Long, Long’ off the LP.

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  10. As mentioned before the reason what makes The White Album so special is that its a big mess. But If i had to cut it down than i would do the following (with a few cheats):

    Side 1
    Ob La Di, Ob La Da
    Dear Prudence
    Glass Onion
    While My Guitar Gently Weeps
    Blackbird
    Happiness Is A Warm Gun
    Good Night (a stripped down piano version like on Anthology 3)

    Side 2
    Birthday
    Savoy Truffle
    Sexy Sadie
    Cry Baby Cry
    Revolution (Single Version)
    Helter Skelter
    Long Long Long
    Hey Jude (was recorded same time as White Album)

    Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks

  1. Celebrate 45 years of The Beatles’ “White Album” with The “Grey Album” | Indiloop
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