Thursday, November 22, 2018

50 Years On - The Beatles' White Album

Yep, Ob-La-Di. 50 years to the day since The Beatles was released, it's back in the LP top ten. Landing at No. 5 on November 22, 1968, the album colloquially known as The White Album would rise to No. 1 and stay there from late December through March 1969.

The White Album features the band's most straightforward, if eclectic, collection, of hits since Help. Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin, dove into the Abbey Road archives to remix and repackage the LP in much the same way he did with Sgt. Pepper last year. The set also features Martin's production of the acoustic "Esher" Sessions, recorded not at Abbey Road but at George Harrison's home in May 1968, and several unreleased tracks such McCartney's outrageous first take of "Hey Jude" and the 102nd take of Harrison's "Not Guilty." It is by far The Beatles most far-reaching album, but unlike the psychedelic and heavy-handed production of Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, this is Beatles rock 'n' roll picking up where "Hey, Jude" left off.

Within the plain white wrapper are references to earlier songs (brilliant in "Glass Onion," especially the touch of recorders from "Fool on the Hill"), Bob Dylan ("Yer Blues"), Chubby Checker and the Beach Boys ("Back in U.S.S.R.") and the Ska of Desmond Decker and the Aces on "Life Goes On." It's a collection rather than a concept that takes on rock, rock 'n' roll (especially Elvis Presley), Nashville Country and Western, Latin America, Calypso, Indian traditional music (inevitably), musique concrete and the avant-garde. From the first track, "Back in the U.S.S.R.," with the line "Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out, come and keep your comrade warm," the listener is instantly wrapped in something brand new. So many songs, so many directions, and so far ahead of its time. "Yer Blues" was a favorite of the band during the sessions. Ringo recalled that just the four of them went into a small studio room and recorded the opener. Just the four of them. While Paul referred to the LP as the "tension album" based on Yoko following John around the studio, there remains a sense that this was the only direction the band could take as they matured from mop tops to young men.

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