The self-titled double album The Beatles, released by the Beatles in 1968 at the height of their popularity, is often hailed as one of the major accomplishments in popular music. It is usually referred to as The White Album, because it has a plain white album cover embossed with the words "The BEATLES" (and on CD, in small black lettering).
In 1997 HMV customers voted The Beatles the 10th greatest album of all time. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 17, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 11.
The beginning of the end for the Beatles
The follow-up to Magical Mystery Tour, "The White Album" marked a turning point for the group, interpreted by some fans to be the beginning of the end for the band.
With this album, each of the four band members began to showcase the range and depth of their own individual songwriting talents and styles that would be carried over to their eventual solo careers. Along with such standard rockers as the opening "Back in the USSR" (widely interpreted as a parody/tribute to the Beach Boys and more specifically "California Girls"), it contains classic ballads like "I Will" and "Julia" (the latter written by John - one of his few ballads, dedicated to his mother who was killed by an off-duty police officer when he was just 16); whimsical tunes like Paul's "Rocky Raccoon" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"; social commentary such as George's "Piggies" and John's "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"; "Don't Pass Me By" (Ringo's first solo composition); and a mix of other tunes, many of which became popular as singles.
A major highlight of Side Three of the LP (Disc Two of the CD) is Paul's outright heavy metal "Helter Skelter". A Helter-Skelter is a type of British funfair ride and the lyrics make that clear, but Charles Manson took it to mean some kind of apocalypse as a pretext for mass murder.
Perhaps as a reaction to the trend of dramatic album covers and extras they themselves helped foster, this album had a plain white cover with only "The BEATLES" in small lettering; (hence the nickname). Included in the interior of the album is a set of photographs taken by John Kelley in Autumn of 1968 that have themselves become classic.
The now classic portraits of John, Paul, George and Ringo featured on the inside of the album.
Many of the songs here are personal and self-referencing; for example "Dear Prudence" is about actress Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence, who attended Transcendental Meditation classes in Rishikesh, India at the same time as the group. In fact, many songs on the "White Album" were originally conceived during the group's ill-fated visit to India. "Sexy Sadie" is about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who led those classes. "Glass Onion" is John's song for those fans who spent their time trying to find hidden meanings in the group's lyrics; it references several other Beatles songs in its lyric.
Yoko Ono made her first appearance, as backing vocals in "Birthday" (along with Pattie Harrison); she sang a single line of "Bungalow Bill" and was a strong influence on John's musique concrète piece, "Revolution 9".
Eric Clapton, at Harrison's invitation, provided an extra lead guitar for Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - the tension in the group was quite high at this point and Harrison did not feel the other members were taking his song seriously, so he invited an outsider to the session so they would have to act professionally. (Clapton himself needed the same favor later, bringing Harrison in to record "Badge" for Cream under the pseudonym "L'Angelo Misterioso".)
Several songs were recorded during the "White Album" sessions but were not part of the final album, such as the group's biggest hit, "Hey Jude" (released originally as a stand-alone single and ultimately released as part of their album of the same name), and two songs that would later surface on bootlegs as well as on The Beatles Anthology, Harrison's "Not Guilty" and Lennon's "What's The New Mary Jane?".
The album was produced and orchestrated by George Martin, and was the first album released by Apple Records, and the only original double album released by the Beatles. Martin was personally dissatisfied with the double album and advised the group to reduce the number of songs in order to feature their stronger work on a single disc. However, the group overruled him.
The mono version
The Beatles was the last Beatles album to be released with a unique, alternate mono mix, albeit one issued only in the UK. Twenty-nine of the album's thirty tracks ("Revolution 9" being the only straggler) exist in official alternate mono mixes, all of which are popular items amongst Beatles fans. This mono mix has never been released on CD. Beatles albums after The Beatles occasionally had mono pressings in certain countries, but these editions--of Yellow Submarine, Let It Be, and Abbey Road--were always mono fold-downs from the regular stereo mixes.
Often imitated but...
The White Album's album cover has often been imitated. In the 1990s, both Prince and Metallica released self-titled albums with their names printed against mostly plain black covers (hence their "black album" monikers). Two compilations of Beatles material, released in 1973 as The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970, are often referred to as 'The Red Album' and 'The Blue Album' respectively, although their covers are not plain monochrome. In the world of fiction, Spinal Tap's 1983 album Smell the Glove was released with an entirely black sleeve, although this was not in conscious tribute to the Beatles, but due to a controversy about the original cover art. In a case of life imitating art, the soundtrack for the Spinal Tap film was released in a plain black sleeve with the band's name embossed on the front. The practice of referring to an album by its colour—particularly untitled or otherwise significant releases—is nowadays widespread.
In 2004, Brian Burton (also known as DJ Danger Mouse) released The Grey Album, an unauthorized remix album later distributed on the Internet using samples from the White Album against the a capella version of Jay-Z's The Black Album. Rolling Stone called the record "...an ingenious hip-hop record that sounds oddly ahead of its time". EMI and Apple sent Brian Burton cease and desist letters stopping distribution of The Grey Album.
(All songs by Lennon/McCartney except * Harrison and ** Starkey)
- "Back in the USSR"
- "Dear Prudence"
- "Glass Onion"
- "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (vorbis sample 204K)
- "Wild Honey Pie"
- "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" * (vorbis sample 188K)
- "Happiness is a Warm Gun"
- "Martha My Dear"
- "I'm So Tired"
- "Blackbird" (vorbis sample 140K)
- "Piggies" *
- "Rocky Raccoon"
- "Don't Pass Me By" **
- "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"
- "I Will"
- "Yer Blues"
- "Mother Nature's Son" (vorbis sample 164K)
- "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
- "Sexy Sadie"
- "Helter Skelter" (vorbis sample 147K)
- "Long, Long, Long" *
- "Revolution 1" (vorbis sample 203K)
- "Honey Pie"
- "Savoy Truffle" *
- "Cry Baby Cry"
- "Revolution 9"
- "Good Night"
- Album lyrics (http://frogcircus.org/beatles/the_beatles_white_album/)
- White Album Lyrics (http://home.att.net/~chuckayoub/white_album_Lyrics.html)