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The Beatles (album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||22 November 1968|
|Recorded||30 May – 14 October 1968|
|Studio||EMI Studios and Trident Studios, London|
The Beatles is a 1968 album by the band of the same name, The Beatles. Its cover included no photographs, but was a simple white jacket, with the band's name die-stamped onto the paper. Early copies also included a serial number. The plain white cover led fans and listeners to call the record the "White Album". In time, even the band and their company, Apple Corps, began to use this name.
The Beatles was the band's twelfth album of new recordings, and was released in November 1968. While most albums of the time included ten to fourteen songs, The Beatles included thirty-four songs, and was sold as a two-disc set.
The Beatles began writing songs for the album while they were in India, taking a teaching course in Transcendental Meditation. taught by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh. They planned to become gurus, or spiritual teachers, and use their music to spread Transcendental Meditation to a wide audience. Their helpers back in England looked after their business matters, so the Beatles could have time to study, and to think about what they learned. They released a new single, "Lady Madonna", just before they left for India, so they would not be missed by their fans while they were away.
Between classes and meditation sessions, the Beatles had plenty of free time. They brought some instruments with them, including acoustic guitars, and began to write new songs. "We wrote tons of songs in India," John Lennon later told Playboy magazine. Their wives and girlfriends also came along to India. Lennon and his wife Cynthia did not spend much time together. He would leave alone in the morning, to pick up the mail. It turned out he was receiving letters and postcards from Yoko Ono, a Japanese artist friend, and did not want Cynthia to know. He said later that while he was in India, he began to think about Ono "as a woman, not just an intellectual woman", and that he might want a romantic relationship with her.
In the end, none of the Beatles finished the course, and returned home to England. Ringo Starr did not like the spicy food served at the ashram where the Maharishi lived and taught, and it made him ill. He also missed his children. Paul McCartney became tired of the long sessions, and wanted to return home. Lennon and George Harrison heard stories that the Maharishi had flirted with Mia Farrow (an American actress who also took the course), and other women at the ashram. They did not think this was right for a "holy man" to do. They confronted the Maharishi, and later left with their wives to go home, deciding the Maharishi was a fraud.
The Beatles had formed their own company, Apple Corps, before they went to India. When they returned, they went to work full-time to make Apple Corps, and especially its record label, Apple Records, a success. To raise money, the Beatles had signed a new recording contract with EMI, the company who owned Parlophone Records, which made and sold their records. They also made an agreement with EMI for them to market Apple Records.
The Beatles needed to record seventy new songs within nine years, between 1967 and 1976, to complete their contract. They believed that once they delivered those seventy recordings, they would be free to go to another record company. Between all the songs they wrote in India, and their backlog of older songs, they knew they could finish the job. They recorded demoes of many of the songs at George Harrison's house, using his four-track tape recorder, then began work on the album at Abbey Road Studios in London.
The Beatles's record producer, George Martin, thought they should take the best of the India songs, and make one especially good album. The Beatles instead decided to make a double album, with as many songs on it as possible, to help finish their contract quickly.
The lives of the individual Beatles changed greatly during 1968, and the making of the "White Album". Paul McCartney was engaged to actress Jane Asher, but she came home early one day and found him with another woman, Francine Schwartz, an American who worked for Apple Corps. She and McCartney fought, then made up, but decided to break up later. McCartney also began to use cocaine. The drug made him hard to get along with. Later in the year he met another woman, Linda Eastman, an American photographer who had a daughter, named Heather. McCartney loved children and wanted to start a family, while Jane Asher wanted to put her acting career first. Linda boasted that she would be proud to have McCartney's children. She and McCartney became very close, very quickly.
John Lennon invited Yoko Ono to his house, while Cynthia was away on a vacation with friends, one weekend in May. The two spent a night together in Lennon's attic studio, listening to his avant-garde recordings and finally making one of their own. Lennon discovered Ono was "as barmy (crazy) as I was", and that they connected personally in a way he and Cynthia never had. They finished the recording, and had intercourse as the sun rose that morning. They woke up late the next day, in love with each other, and decided to stay together from then on, even though they were both married to other people. Lennon's wife Cynthia and Ono's husband Anthony Cox both took the news very hard, with their children (Lennon's son Julian by Cynthia, and Ono's daughter Kyoko by Cox) caught in the middle.
George Harrison had grown as a musician and songwriter, and as a celebrity. He was the youngest member of the Beatles, and always felt "under the thumb" of Lennon and McCartney. They and George Martin limited how many of Harrison's songs the Beatles recorded, and turned down many of his songs that other bands would be happy to record. This frustrated Harrison. Almost nobody outside the Beatles knew about the situation. Friends like Ravi Shankar, who was Harrison's first real music teacher, and Eric Clapton, a phenomenal guitarist himself, treated him differently. Most of the public saw Harrison as an equal with Lennon and McCartney. Harrison began to think about making his own music, away from the Beatles.
Back at Abbey Road, Ringo Starr felt out of place during the recording sessions, and that he was not needed. Paul McCartney had not liked Starr's drumming on a song, and re-recorded the part himself when Starr was not there. This hurt Starr's feelings, and he decided to leave the band. He stayed home for a week, playing with his children and deciding what he should do next with his life. The other Beatles missed him, and invited him back. When Starr returned, McCartney and Harrison had covered his drums with flowers and welcome-back messages. Starr felt loved by his bandmates, and stayed.
The changes in the band's personal lives showed in their new recordings. Instead of sounding like a band working together, the songs sounded like solo artists working with a backing group. They also began to have problems getting along. Lennon brought Ono to the studio whenever he came, breaking a rule they had never to bring wives or girlfriends to sessions. Ono, who was also a musician, spoke her mind about how the music sounded, and it took everyone else by surprise. Harrison also began to speak up more for himself, when the band played together.
Outside the studio, people who worked for the Beatles, and the Beatles's fans in England, did not like Ono's influence on Lennon, and let the couple know often, and sometimes loudly. When they attended a play based on Lennon's writings, the audience harassed the pair, asking "Where's your wife, John?" Some members of the public made racist comments about Ono, or called her ugly.
Ono's new presence in Lennon's life even drove a wedge between him and McCartney. When the couple stayed at McCartney's house, McCartney left Lennon a note that insulted Ono greatly. He admitted later it had only been a joke, but Lennon felt like he no longer even knew McCartney, if he could make such an insult.
Neither Lennon nor Ono could believe the way they were treated by the public, by people who worked for the Beatles, and even by Lennon's friends. They felt hurt and hated. A friend suggested they try heroin, to relieve the pain they felt. Before long, the two were addicted to the drug. It caused problems with their health, and with how they acted in public.
"Hey Jude" and "Revolution"
Recording the "White Album" took much longer than the Beatles normally spent on an album. Their label, Apple Records, was expected to make a big debut over the summer, while the album would not be ready until at least that fall. In the meantime, they recorded songs for a single, as their part of the debut. Paul McCartney visited Cynthia and Julian, at their new home. He knew they were hurt by Lennon's leaving Cynthia for Yoko Ono, and he made up a song for Julian on the way, to cheer him up. Its words went "Hey Jules, it's not so bad. Take a sad song, and make it better." This turned into "Hey Jude", which became the Beatles's biggest hit single ever, and one of the first pop songs to last longer than three minutes.
The B-side of "Hey Jude" was "Revolution", a song by Lennon in reaction to the Soviet Union's action against student protests in Czechoslovakia, the ongoing war in Vietnam, and calls around the world for a revolution against the status quo. He hoped the band's first recording of the song would become their next single, but it was rejected as too slow and too long. He re-recorded the song, faster this time, lying on the studio floor to give the vocals more "punch". "Hey Jude" was seen as a bigger potential hit though, so "Revolution" became the B-side. The Beatles performed both songs live for an audience, and the performances appeared on The David Frost Show in England, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in America.
The songs appearing on the "White Album" included "Back In The USSR", McCartney's parody of songs by The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry. (Mike Love of the Beach Boys attended the Maharishi's course in India, at the same time as the Beatles.) McCartney normally played bass guitar, and Lennon rhythm guitar, on Beatles recordings, but this time McCartney played drums, with Lennon switching to bass guitar for the song.
"Dear Prudence" was about Mia Farrow's sister Prudence, who was also at the ashram in India. She spent long stretches of time meditating, and almost never came outside. Lennon wrote the song hoping to bring her out, to spend time with everyone. The guitar style he used on the song (and many songs afterwards) was the "clawhammer", a fingerpicking technique he learned from Donovan, another musician who went to India with them.
"Glass Onion" referenced recent songs and events in the Beatles's lives, and gave a false clue: "The Walrus was Paul". Lennon said later he'd given the line as a joke, and as a way to "say hi to Paul" McCartney. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" was about another of the Maharishi's students, who left the ashram to hunt tigers, then returned to meditate. "Julia" was about Lennon's mother, who had died ten years earlier, with images of Yoko Ono, whose name means "Ocean Child" in English.
"Sexy Sadie" was about Lennon's disappointment with the Maharishi: "You made a fool of everyone." He changed "Maharishi" to "Sexy Sadie", in case the Maharishi really could use some kind of spiritual power (or start a lawsuit) against him, but later confessed to Rolling Stone magazine who the song was about.
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was a retro song by McCartney. His songs on the album varied from old-fashioned to hard rock, such as "Helter Skelter", which was about a fairground ride. He also used fingerpicking styles on acoustic guitar, and his songs "Blackbird" and "Mother Nature's Son" included nature themes.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" showed Harrison's growth as a songwriter, and featured a guitar solo by Eric Clapton. It was the first time a guitar solo was played by a non-Beatle on a Beatles record. "Long Long Long" was about Harrison's rediscovery of God and spirituality as he became older. "Savoy Truffle" was about a box of Good News chocolate candies, which Clapton loved, but were harming his teeth.
Ringo Starr had tinkered with writing songs, but most were just variations on songs written by other people. "Don't Pass Me By" was one of his first efforts, from years earlier, and one of his first to sound original. He went on to write many other songs, in the years after the Beatles. Most were written with a partner, Vini Poncia.
The strangest recording included on the album was "Revolution 9", an avant-garde "picture of a revolution as it happens", as Lennon described later. George Harrison helped with ideas and narration. McCartney and George Martin did not want the track included on the album, but Lennon insisted it be used.
Track listingAll songs written and composed by Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
|1.||"Back in the U.S.S.R."||McCartney||2:43|
|5.||"Wild Honey Pie"||McCartney||1:01|
|6.||"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"||Lennon||3:05|
|7.||"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George Harrison)||Harrison||4:45|
|8.||"Happiness Is a Warm Gun"||Lennon||2:43|
|1.||"Martha My Dear"||McCartney||2:28|
|2.||"I'm So Tired"||Lennon||2:03|
|6.||"Don't Pass Me By" (Richard Starkey)||Starr||3:42|
|7.||"Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"||McCartney||1:41|
|1.||"Birthday"||McCartney with Lennon||2:42|
|3.||"Mother Nature's Son"||McCartney||2:48|
|4.||"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"||Lennon||2:24|
|7.||"Long, Long, Long" (Harrison)||Harrison||3:04|
|3.||"Savoy Truffle" (Harrison)||Harrison||2:54|
|4.||"Cry Baby Cry"||Lennon, with McCartney||3:11|
|5.||"Revolution 9"||Speaking from Lennon, Harrison & Yoko Ono||8:13|
Release and reception
When the recordings were ready to be mastered, Lennon and McCartney spent forty-eight hours at Abbey Road Studios, working out the running order for the songs on the album. They took stimulant drugs to help them get through the marathon session. The band had done photo sessions during the year, but could not agree on any photos to use for the cover. They decided to go with a plain white cover, which had never been done before. They and their helpers made a collage of different photos, which was included as a poster with the album. Portrait photos of each member were also taken. Black-and-white prints appeared next to the song titles on the inner jacket, and colour prints were included with the poster. They did not appear together in the pictures, and this was taken later as a sign that the band was growing apart.
The album was completed, and scheduled to be released during November 1968. Coming out at nearly the same time were two "solo albums" by Lennon and Harrison, and this caused some problems. Harrison's was Wonderwall Music, a soundtrack album to the movie Wonderwall by director Joe Massot. Harrison had recorded parts of the album in India, and parts in England. The only other Beatle involved with the album was Ringo Starr, who played drums on a few songs, and attended the movie's premiere with Harrison.
Lennon's album with Ono was Two Virgins, edited down from the recording he made with Yoko Ono the first night they were together. The cover was a pair of nude photos of the couple, and it caused a lot of controversy. EMI was willing to master and press the album, but refused to print the cover or distribute any copies. Apple Records arranged for Track Records, a label owned by The Who, to issue Two Virgins. The album was sold in a "plain brown wrapper" like pornography, and was not a hit. Only a few copies were pressed in Britain, and more copies were impounded in America than were sold. Many people thought Lennon was trying to destroy his own public image, releasing such an album. In a way they were right. He felt that the album was an honest statement of who he "really was", appearing naked with the woman he loved.
Problems aside, The Beatles sold well, and was another hit for the band. The Beatles held a release party, and gave early copies of the album to people who attended. (Peter Shotton, an old friend of Lennon's who worked for Apple, was given the eighth copy pressed, as he remembered later in his memoir.) Older people liked McCartney's traditional-sounding songs. Younger listeners liked the rock and acoustic songs on the album. Many people noticed Harrison and Starr's growth as songwriters, and that Harrison's voice sounded freer, smoother, and more confident than on earlier records.
Charles Manson, an American would-be musician with a small group of followers, heard the album in California, and thought the songs "Blackbird" and "Helter Skelter" were calls for a racial war, between African-American (black) and Caucasian (white) people. His beliefs resulted in a series of murders in Los Angeles during 1969, as he ordered members of his "Manson Family" to try to spark such a war, by committing hate crimes. Later during his trial, his lawyers tried to get John Lennon (staying in California at the time) or George Harrison to testify, but this never happened. Manson and four Family members were convicted of multiple murder. They were sentenced to be executed, but when the US Supreme Court overturned the death penalty, their sentences were changed to life imprisonment. None have ever been paroled.
During 1969, Allen Klein began to work for the Beatles, and for Apple Corps. He re-read the Beatles's recording contract, and pointed out that even after the band turned in their seventy new recordings to EMI, they were still under contract with them until 1976, and could not go to any other record company until then. The fact that they were so close to meeting the requirement, though, made it possible for him to re-negotiate their contract, and get them higher royalty payments.
The personal problems that had begun to show while the Beatles were making the "White Album" continued over the next year, as did problems with Apple Corps. McCartney stopped using cocaine, while Lennon and Ono tried to stop using heroin, but this did not help mend feelings between the Beatles. They finished two more albums, Let It Be and Abbey Road, but the band broke apart soon afterwards, with Paul McCartney announcing in 1970 that he was starting a solo career.
In time, budget cutbacks resulted in the album's cover no longer being die-stamped (the title was printed instead) or numbered, but when it was re-issued on compact disc, early copies were again given serial numbers.
- MacDonald (2005)
- MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (Second Revised ed.). London: Pimlico (Rand).