The Beatles is the ninth official album by The Beatles, a double album released in 1968. It is often referred to as The White Album as it has no text other than the band's name (and, on the early LP and CD releases, a serial number) on its plain white sleeve, which was designed by pop artist Richard Hamilton. The album was the first album The Beatles undertook following the death of their manager Brian Epstein. The album was originally planned to be titled A Doll's House, but the British progressive band Family released an album earlier that year, bearing a similar title. The Beatles is often hailed as one of the major accomplishments in popular music.
In 1997, The Beatles was named the 10th greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998, Q magazine readers placed it at number 17, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 7 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001, the TV network VH1 named it as the 11th greatest album ever. In 2006, the album was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time. It was ranked number 10 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time in 2003.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, The Beatles is The Beatles' best-selling album at 19-times platinum and the tenth-best-selling album of all time in the United States.
Most of the songs that would end up on The Beatles
had been conceived during the group's visit to Rishikesh
in the spring of 1968. There, they had undertaken a transcendental meditation
course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
. Although the retreat, which had required long periods of meditation, was initially conceived by the band as a spiritual respite from all worldly endeavours – a chance, in Lennon's words, to "get away from everything – both Lennon and McCartney had quickly found themselves in songwriting mode, often meeting "clandestinely in the afternoons in each other's rooms to review the new work. "Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing," Lennon would later recall, "I did write some of my best songs there. Close to forty new compositions had emerged in Rishikesh, a little more than half of which would be laid down in very rough form at Kinfauns
, George Harrison’s home in Esher.
The Beatles left Rishikesh before the end of the course, with Ringo Starr and then Paul McCartney departing first, and Lennon and George Harrison departing together later. According to some reports, Lennon left Rishikesh because he felt personally betrayed by rumours that Maharishi had made sexual advances toward Mia Farrow, who had accompanied The Beatles on their trip. Shortly after he decided to leave, Lennon wrote a song called "Maharishi" which included the lyrics, "Maharishi/You little twat"; the song became "Sexy Sadie". According to several authors, Alexis Mardas (aka "Magic Alex") deliberately engineered these rumours because he was bent on undermining the Maharishi's influence over each Beatle.However, Lennon himself, in a 1980 interview, acknowledged that the Maharishi was the inspiration for the song. "I just called him 'Sexy Sadie.'"
In May 1968, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison assembled at Kinfauns, and demoed 23 songs that they composed at Rishikesh.
was recorded between 30 May 1968
and 14 October 1968
, largely at Abbey Road Studios
, with some sessions at Trident Studios
. Although productive, the sessions were reportedly undisciplined and sometimes fractious, and they took place at a time when tensions were growing within the group. Concurrent with the recording of this album, The Beatles were launching their new multimedia business corporation Apple Corps
, an enterprise that proved to be a source of significant stress for the band.
The sessions for The Beatles marked the first appearance in the studio of Lennon's new girlfriend and artistic partner Yoko Ono, who would thereafter be a more or less constant presence at all Beatles' sessions. Prior to Ono's appearance on the scene, the individual Beatles had been very insular during recording sessions, with influence from outsiders strictly limited. However, McCartney's girlfriend at the time, Francie Schwartz, whom he referred to as Franny, was also present at most of the recording sessions.
Author Mark Lewisohn reports that The Beatles held their first and only 24-hour recording/producing session near the end of the creation of The Beatles, during which occurred the final mixing and sequencing for the album. The session was attended by Lennon, McCartney, and producer George Martin.
Division and discord in the studio
Despite the album's official title, which emphasized group identity, studio efforts on The Beatles
captured the work of four increasingly individualized artists who frequently found themselves at odds. The band's work pattern changed dramatically with this project, and by most accounts the extraordinary synergy of The Beatles' previous studio sessions was harder to come by during this period. Sometimes McCartney would record in one studio for prolonged periods of time, while Lennon would record in another, each man using different engineers. At one point in the sessions, George Martin, whose authority over the band in the studio had waned, spontaneously left to go on holiday, leaving Chris Thomas
in charge of producing. During one of these sessions, while recording "Helter Skelter
", Harrison reportedly ran around the studio while holding a flaming ashtray above his head.
Long after the recording of The Beatles was complete, Sir George Martin mentioned in interviews that his working relationship with The Beatles changed during this period, and that many of the band's efforts seemed unfocused, often yielding prolonged jam sessions that sounded uninspired. On 16 July recording engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked with the group since Revolver, announced he was no longer willing to work with the group out of disgust with the deteriorating work environment.
The sudden departures were not limited to EMI personnel. On 22 August, drummer Ringo Starr abruptly left the studio, explaining later that he felt his role was minimized compared to that of the other members, and that he was tired of waiting through the long and contentious recording sessions. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison pleaded with Starr to return, and after two weeks he did. According to Mark Lewisohn's book The Complete Beatles Chronicle, Paul McCartney played drums on "Back in the U.S.S.R." However, according to Lewisohn, in the case of "Dear Prudence" the three remaining Beatles each took a shot at bass and drums, with the result that those parts may be composite tracks played by Lennon, McCartney and/or Harrison. As of 2008, the actual musician/instrument lineup is still undetermined. Upon Starr's return, he found his drum kit decorated with red, white and blue flowers, a welcome-back gesture from Harrison. The reconciliation was, however, only temporary, and Starr's exit served as a precursor of future "months and years of misery," in Starr's words. Indeed, after The Beatles was completed, both Harrison and Lennon would stage similar unpublicized departures from the band. McCartney, whose public departure in 1970 would mark the formal end of the band's ensemble, described the sessions for The Beatles as a turning point for the group. Up to this point, he observed, "the world was a problem, but we weren't. You know, that was the best thing about The Beatles, until we started to breakup, like during the White Album and stuff. Even the studio got a bit tense then."
, at Harrison's invitation, provided lead guitar for Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Harrison soon reciprocated by collaborating on the song "Badge
" for Cream's
last album Goodbye
. George explains in The Beatles Anthology
that Clapton's presence temporarily alleviated the studio tension and that all band members were on their best behaviour during his time with the band in the studio.
Clapton was not the only outside musician to sit in on the sessions. Nicky Hopkins provided piano for "Revolution" and a few others; several horns were also recorded on the album version of "Revolution". "Savoy Truffle" also features the horn section. Jack Fallon, a bluegrass fiddler was recruited for "Don't Pass Me By", and a team of orchestral players and soothing background singers ended up being important contributors to "Good Night". Despite these contributions, and the presence and influence of Yoko Ono, no external contributors to The Beatles are listed in the album notes.
The sessions for The Beatles
were notable for the band's formal transition from 4-track to 8-track
recording. As work on this album began, Abbey Road Studios possessed, but had yet to install, an 8-track machine that had supposedly been sitting in a storage room for months. This was in accordance with EMI's policy of testing and customizing new gear, sometimes for months, before putting it into use in the studios. The Beatles recorded "Hey Jude" and "Dear Prudence" at Trident Studios in central London, which had an 8-track recorder. When they found out about EMI's 8-track recorder they insisted on using it, and engineers Ken Scott and Dave Harries took the machine (without authorization from the studio chiefs) into the Number 2 recording studio for the group to use.
Although most of the songs on any given Beatles album are usually credited to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team, that description is often misleading, and rarely more so than on The Beatles
. With this album, each of the four band members began to showcase the range and depth of his individual songwriting talents, and to display styles that would be carried over to his eventual solo career. Indeed, some songs that the individual Beatles were working on during this period eventually were released on solo albums (John Lennon
's "Look At Me" and "Child of Nature
," eventually reworked as "Jealous Guy"; Paul McCartney
" and "Teddy Boy
"; and George Harrison
's "Not Guilty
" and "Circles").
Many of the songs on the album display experimentation with unlikely musical genres, borrowing directly from such sources as 1930s dance-hall music (in "Honey Pie"), classical chamber music (in "Piggies"), the avant-garde sensibilities of Yoko Ono and John Cage (in "Revolution 9"), and the overproduced sentimentality of elevator music (in "Good Night"). Such diversity was quite unprecedented in global pop music in 1968, and the album's sprawling approach provoked (and continues to provoke) both praise and criticism from observers. "Revolution 9," in particular, a densely layered eight-minute-and-thirteen-second sound collage, has attracted bewilderment and disapproval from both fans and music critics over the years.
The only western instrument available to the group during their Indian visit was the acoustic guitar, and thus most of the songs on The Beatles were written and first performed on that instrument. Some of these songs remained acoustic on The Beatles (notably "Rocky Raccoon", "Julia", "Blackbird" and "Mother Nature's Son") and were recorded in the studio either solo, or by only part of the group.
Lennon's contributions to the album are generally more hard-edged lyrically than his previous output, a trend which carried over to his solo career. Examples include his pleas for death on "Yer Blues
", his parodic "Glass Onion
", which mocks fans who read too much into The Beatles' lyrics (see also Paul is dead
), and what may be references to drug addiction in "Happiness Is a Warm Gun
" ("I need a fix..."). Lennon's intensely personal "Julia
" may be seen as foreshadowing his later song "Mother" from his first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
; the political "Revolution 1
" begins a pattern of overtly political songs like "Give Peace a Chance
" and "John Sinclair"; "Revolution 9
" reflects extensive contribution and influence from Yoko Ono
, another feature of much of Lennon's solo output. Lennon's songs on The Beatles
embrace a wide array of styles, including blues ("Yer Blues"), acoustic ballads ("Julia", and "Cry Baby Cry
"), and rock ("Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
"). Lennon would later describe his contributions to the White Album
as among his favourite songs recorded with The Beatles.
McCartney's songs for the album include pop ballads ("I Will"), the proto-heavy metal "Helter Skelter", a Beach Boys homage ("Back in the U.S.S.R."), a music-hall foxtrot ("Honey Pie"), and a soft acoustic ballad ("Blackbird"), among others. The soothing, stripped-down "I Will" and the calypso-tinged "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" foreshadow themes of McCartney's solo career.
Harrison's sparse ballad "Long, Long, Long" is stylistically quite similar to much of his solo output. His songs on The Beatles also includes the lyrically sophisticated "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", a chronicle of gastronomic excess and dental trauma in "Savoy Truffle", and a class-driven piece of social commentary in "Piggies". Even Ringo Starr was given leave to include the first song composed entirely by himself to be included on a Beatles' album, the countryish "Don't Pass Me By".
The album is the first by the group not to feature any genuine Lennon-McCartney collaborations - in fact there would only be one more co-write from the pair in the remainder of the band's career ("I've Got a Feeling" from the Let it Be album). This new lack of co-operation and focus is reflected in several fragmental, incomplete song ideas that were recorded and released on the album ("Why Don't We Do It in the Road?", "Wild Honey Pie", and an untitled McCartney snippet at the end of "Cry Baby Cry"). On previous albums, such undertakings might have been either abandoned or collaboratively developed before release, but here again, The Beatles represented a change of course for the band. The trend continued for the rest of the band's recording career: such song fragments were presented by joining them together as a long suite of songs on side two of Abbey Road.
Self-reflection and change
Many of the songs are personal and self-referencing; for example, "Dear Prudence
" was written about actress Mia Farrow
's sister, Prudence, who attended the transcendental meditation course with The Beatles in Rishikesh
. Often she stayed in her room, engaged in Transcendental Meditation. "Julia" was the name of Lennon's beloved but frequently absent mother, who died during his youth. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" expresses concern over being "bought and sold," a theme in later songs about Harrison himself, such as "Handle with Care", recorded with The Traveling Wilburys
. "Glass Onion" is a Beatles song about Beatles' songs.
Some of the songs on The Beatles mark important changes in the band's recording style. Previously, no female voices were to be heard on a Beatles album, but Yoko Ono made her first vocal appearance on this record, adding backing vocals in "Birthday" (along with Pattie Harrison); Yoko also sang backing vocals and a solo line on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and, as noted earlier, was a strong influence on Lennon's musique concrète piece, "Revolution 9," an avant-garde sound collage that McCartney initially did not want to include on the album.
Compositions not included
A number of songs were recorded in demo form for possible inclusion but were not incorporated as part of the album. These included "Mean Mr. Mustard
" and "Polythene Pam
" (both of which would be used for the medley on Abbey Road
); "Child of Nature" (recorded with drastically different lyrics as "Jealous Guy" for Lennon's Imagine
), "Jubilee" (later retitled "Junk" and released on McCartney's first solo LP); "Etcetera" (a McCartney composition later recorded by the Black Dyke Mills Band as "Thingumybob"); "Circles" (which Harrison would return to fourteen years later on his 1982 album "Gone Troppo"); "The Long and Winding Road
" (completed in 1969 for the Let It Be
" (which ended up on Abbey Road
); and "Sour Milk Sea
" (which Harrison gave to friend and Apple artist Jackie Lomax
for his first LP, Is This What You Want
). Other songs recorded for, but ultimately left off The Beatles
received significant exposure via bootlegs, notably Harrison's "Circles" and "Not Guilty" (which he would eventually re-record as solo tracks and release on his 1982 album, Gone Troppo
and 1979 self-titled album, George Harrison
respectively) and Lennon's manic "What's the New Mary Jane
Album sequencing, editing concerns, and release
The arrangement of the songs on The Beatles
follows patterns and establishes symmetries that have been much analyzed over the years. For example, "Wild Honey Pie
" is the fifth song from the beginning of the album and "Honey Pie
" is the fifth song from the end. Also, three of the four songs containing animal names in their titles ("Blackbird", "Piggies", and "Rocky Raccoon") are grouped together. In a similar fashion, "Honey Pie" and "Savoy Truffle" (both referring to types of desserts) play back to back towards the end of the album. "Savoy Truffle
", the fourth song from the end, contains a reference to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," the fourth song from the beginning. In addition, the album's four Harrison compositions are distributed evenly, with one appearing on each of the four sides. Each LP's first track is a McCartney composition marking a return to traditional rock n' roll ("Back in the USSR" and "Birthday"). Each LP concludes with a Lennon composition built around themes of childhood and innocence. ("Julia" and "Good Night.") Even the number of tracks per side correspond to the number of letters in each of the Beatles' names, with Side 1 for Harrison, Side 2 for McCartney, Side 3 for Starkey, and Side 4 for Lennon. Notice also that each side contains a different number of songs (in order 8, 9, 7 and 6) being the one from the last side and the one from the first side the ones which form the year when the album was released ('68). All of this made an album of a total 30 tracks, the first studio album in the Beatles catalogue to consist of more than 14 tracks.
The Beatles was the first Beatles' album released by Apple Records, as well as their only original double album. Producer George Martin has said that he was against the idea of a double album at the time and suggested to the group that they reduce the number of songs in order to form a single album featuring their stronger work, but that the band decided against this. Interviewed for the Beatles Anthology, Starr said he now felt it should have been released as two separate albums. Harrison felt on reflection that some of the tracks could have been released as B sides, but "there was a lot of ego in that band". He also supported the idea of the double album, to clear out the backlog of songs the group had at the time. McCartney, by contrast, said it was fine as it was and that its wide variety of songs was a major part of the album's appeal.
The White Album shares the same release date as The Beatles second album, With The Beatles.
Although "Hey Jude
" was not intended to be included on any LP release, it was recorded during the White Album sessions and was released as a stand-alone single before the release of The Beatles
. "Hey Jude's" B-side, "Revolution", was an alternate version of the album's "Revolution 1". Lennon had wanted the original version of "Revolution" to be released as a single, but the other three Beatles objected on the grounds that it was too slow. A new, faster version, with heavily distorted guitar and a high-energy keyboard solo from Nicky Hopkins
was recorded, and was relegated to the flip side of "Hey Jude". The resulting release – "Hey Jude" on side A and "Revolution" on side B – emerged as the first release on the Beatles' new Apple Records
label. It went on to become the best selling of all Beatles' singles in the US.
Four tracks from the "White Album" were released on two American and one British single almost eight years after the original album was released. In the summer 1976, to promote the compilation album, Rock 'n' Roll Music, EMI's Parlophone label in the UK and its Capitol label in the US each released a single that contained A and B-sides that appeared on the compilation album. In Britain, Parlophone issued "Back in the U.S.S.R." as the single. (Its B-Side was "Twist and Shout," which originally appeared on the group's first album, Please Please Me.) In America, Capitol released "Got to Get You Into My Life" (from the group's 1966 album, Revolver) on the A-Side, but selected "Helter Skelter," to serve as the flip side. "Helter Skelter" was likely chosen for the B-Side because a cover version of the song had been prominently featured in a made-for-tv movie about the Manson murders that had aired on CBS shortly before the release of Rock 'n' Roll Music. The singles were successful, with "Got to Get You into My Life" hitting No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and "Back in the U.S.S.R." hitting No. 18 on the New Musical Express chart in Britain. Both records also helped sell Rock 'n' Roll Music, which hit No. 2 in the United States and No. 10 in the UK. With the success of the singles from the compilation album, Capitol followed-up "Got To Get You Into My Life" with the release of another single in November of 1976. Instead of taking two more tracks from Rock 'n' Roll Music, however, Capitol selected two "White Album" tracks—"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as the A-Side, and "Julia" as the B-Side. The "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" single was sold in an individually-numbered white picture sleeve that mimicked the design of the original album. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" did not duplicate the success of its predecessor, however, as it failed to make the Top Forty, stalling out at No. 49 on Billboard.
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 exception) exist in official alternate mono mixes.
Beatles' albums after The Beatles (except Yellow Submarine in the UK) occasionally had mono pressings in certain countries, but these editions – of Yellow Submarine, Let It Be, and Abbey Road – were in each case mono fold-downs from the regular stereo mixes.
In the U.S., mono records were already being phased out; the U.S. release of The Beatles was the first Beatles LP to be issued in the U.S. in stereo version only.
The album's sleeve was designed by Richard Hamilton
, a notable pop artist who had organised a Marcel Duchamp
retrospective at the Tate Gallery
the previous year. Hamilton's design was in stark contrast to Peter Blake's
vivid cover art for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
, and consisted of a plain white sleeve. The band's name was discreetly embossed slightly below the middle of the album's right side, and the cover also featured a unique stamped serial number
, "to create," in Hamilton's words, "the ironic
situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies." Indeed, the artist intended the cover to resemble the "look" of conceptual art
, an emerging movement in contemporary art at the time. Later vinyl record
releases in the U.S. showed the title in grey printed (rather than embossed) letters. Early copies on compact disc
were also numbered. Later CD releases rendered the album's title in black or grey. The 30th anniversary CD release was done to look like the original album sleeve, with an embossed title and serial number, including a small reproduction of the poster and pictures (see re-issues).
The album's inside packaging included a poster, the lyrics to the songs, and a set of photographs taken by John Kelley during the autumn of 1968 that have themselves become iconic. This is the only sleeve of a Beatles' studio album not to show the members of the band on the front.
Tape versions of the album did not feature a white cover. Instead, cassette and 8-track versions (first issued on two cartridges in early 1969) contained cover artwork that featured a black and white (with no grey) version of the four Kelley photographs. In both the cassette and 8-track versions of album, the two cartridges were sold in a black slip-cover that bore the title, "The BEATLES" in gold lettering along the front. This departure from the LP's design not only made it difficult for less-informed fans to identify the tape in record stores, but it also led some fans at the time to jokingly refer to the 8-track or cassette not as the "white album" but as the "black tape." In 1988, Capitol/EMI re-issued the 2-cassette version of the album with the same cover artwork as the original cassettes but without the black slip-cover.
Critical reception and legacy
The Beatles were at the peak of their global influence and visibility in late 1968. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
, released the previous year, had enjoyed a combination of commercial success, critical acclaim, and immense cultural influence that had previously seemed inconceivable for a pop release. Time
magazine, for instance, had written in 1967 that Pepper
constituted a "historic departure in the progress of music—any music, while Timothy Leary
, in a widely quoted assessment of the same period, declared that the band were prototypes of "evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with mysterious powers to create a new human species. After creating an album that had delivered such critical, commercial, and generational shockwaves, The Beatles faced the inevitable question of what they could possibly do to top it. The next full-length album, whatever it was, was destined to draw considerable scrutiny. The intervening release of Magical Mystery Tour
notwithstanding, The Beatles
represented the group's first major musical statement since Pepper
, and thus was a highly anticipated event for both the mainstream press and the youth-oriented counterculture movement with which the band had by this time become strongly associated. Expectations, to say the least, were high. The reviews were mixed.
- Tony Palmer, in The Observer, wrote shortly after the album's release: "If there is still any doubt that Lennon and McCartney are the greatest songwriters since Schubert, then . . . [the album The Beatles] . . . should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making. . . .
- Richard Goldstein, writing in The New York Times on December 8, 1968, described the album as a "major success.
- Another review in The New York Times, this one by Nik Cohn, considered the album "boring beyond belief" and described "more than half the songs" as "profound mediocrities.
- Alan Smith, in an NME review entitled "The Brilliant, the Bad, and the Ugly," derided "Revolution #9" as a "pretentious" example of "idiot immaturity" and, in the following sentence, assigned the benediction "God Bless You, Beatles!" to "most of the rest" of the album.
Smith's review established a pattern that has endured for much of the critical assessment that followed. Many of the reviews since 1968—and The Beatles surely ranks among the most-reviewed releases in rock history—have tempered rapturous enthusiasm with a consistent note of criticism about the album's seemingly undisciplined structure and perceived excesses. Unlike such albums as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Revolver, The Beatles is a release that, four decades on, tends to provoke heated discussions of such topics as continuity, style, and integrity.
- The New Rolling Stone Album Guide praises the album but maintains that it has "loads of self-indulgent filler," identifying "Revolution #9" in particular as "justly maligned," and suggests that listeners in the CD era, who can program digital players to skip over unwanted tracks, may have an advantage over the album's original audience.
Some contemporary critics say the album's inclusion of supposedly extraneous material is a part of its appeal. The allmusic.com review contends that:
- "Each song on the sprawling double album The Beatles is an entity to itself, as the band touches on anything and everything they can. This makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view, but what makes the White Album interesting is its mess.
One important current trend in critical assessments of the album is to draw parallels between the band's disintegrating ensemble and the chaotic events of the tumultuous year in which The Beatles was created, 1968. Along these lines, Slant Magazine observed that:
- "(The album) reveals the popping seams of a band that had the pressure of an entire fissuring generational/political gap on its back. Maybe it's because it shows The Beatles at the point where even their music couldn't hide the underlying tensions between John, Paul, George, and Ringo, or maybe because it was (coincidentally?) released at the tail end of a year anyone could agree was the embittered honeymoon's end for the Love Generation, the year when, to borrow from a famous Yeats poem, the center decidedly could not hold ... for whatever reason, The Beatles is still one of the few albums by the Fab Four that resists reflexive canonization, which, along with society's continued fragmentation, keeps the album fresh and surprising.
, in his book Revolution in the Head
, argues that The Beatles
was the album in which the band's cryptic messages to its fan base became not merely vague but intentionally and perhaps dangerously open-ended, citing oblique passages in songs like "Glass Onion" (e.g., "the walrus was Paul") and "Piggies" ("what they need's a damn good whacking"). These pronouncements, and many others on the album, came to attract extraordinary popular interest at a time when more of the world's youth were using drugs recreationally
and looking for spiritual, political, and strategic advice from The Beatles. Steve Turner, too, in his book A Hard Day's Write
, maintains that, with this album, "The Beatles had perhaps laid themselves open to misinterpretation by mixing up the languages of poetry and nonsense. Bob Dylan
's songs had been similarly mined for hidden meanings, but the massive countercultural analysis (or perhaps overanalysis) of The Beatles
surpassed anything that had gone before.
Even Lennon's seemingly direct engagement with the tumultuous political issues of 1968 in "Revolution 1" carried a nuanced obliqueness, and ended up sending messages the author may not have intended. In the album's version of the song, Lennon advises those who "talk about destruction" to "count me out." As McDonald notes, however, Lennon then follows the sung word "out" with the spoken word "in." At the time of the album's release—which followed, chronologically, the up-tempo single version of the song, "Revolution," in which Lennon definitely wanted to be counted "out"—that single word "in" was taken by many on the radical left as Lennon's acknowledgment, after considered thought, that violence in the pursuit of political aims was indeed justified in some cases. At a time of increasing unrest in the streets and campuses of Paris and Berkeley, the album's (seemingly more equivocal) lyrics seemed to many to mark a reversal of Lennon's position on the question, which was hotly debated during this period.
The search for hidden meanings within the songs reached its low point when cult leader Charles Manson used the record, and generous helpings of hallucinogens, to persuade members of his "family" that the album was in fact an apocalyptic message predicting a prolonged race war and justifying the murder of wealthy people. (See Helter Skelter (Manson scenario).) The album's strange association with a high-profile mass murder was one of many factors that helped to deepen the accelerating divide between those who were profoundly skeptical of the "youth culture" movement that had unfolded in the middle and late 1960s in England, the United States, and elsewhere, and those who admired the openness and spontaneity of that movement. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wrote a best-selling book about the Manson "family" that explicated, among other things, the cult's fixation with identifying hidden messages within The Beatles; Bugliosi's book was entitled Helter Skelter, the term Manson took from the album's song of that name and construed as the conflict he thought impending.
Cultural responses to the album persisted for decades, and even offer a glimpse into the process of collective myth-making. In October 1969, a Detroit radio program began to promote theories based on "clues" supposedly left on The Beatles and other Beatles albums that Paul McCartney had died and been replaced by a lookalike. The ensuing hunt for "clues" to a "coverup" The Beatles presumably wanted to suppress (and simultaneously publicise) became one of the classic examples of the development and persistence of urban legends.
The album was a major commercial success, spending a total of eight weeks at #1 in the UK (the first week being that of December 7
), and nine weeks at #1 in the United States (the first week being that of December 28
). Total US sales are estimated at over 19 million copies. Excluding compilations, The Beatles
has outsold all other Beatles album releases
except Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band
and Abbey Road
, according to United World Chart.
Two re-issues in 1978 (one by Capitol Records
, the other by Parlophone
) saw the album pressed on white vinyl, completing the look of the "white" album. In 1985, EMI Electrola released a DMM (direct metal mastered) white vinyl pressing of the album in Germany, which was imported to the United States in large numbers. Another popular white vinyl pressing was manufactured in France. The 1978 Parlophone white vinyl export pressing and the German DMM pressing are widely considered the best-sounding versions of the album. This is due to the use of the famed Neumann lathe on the 1978 export pressing and the use of the DMM process on the 1985 pressing.
On January 7th, 1982, Mobile Fidelty Sound Lab released the album in a non-embossed unnumbered version of "The White Album" cover with the ORIGINAL MASTER RECORDING banner at the top. Neither the poster nor portraits were included. The labels to the discs are white with primarily black text and the Capitol dome logo at three o'clock. The MFSL discs were made with Super Vinyl, a heavy and hard compound that that provides an extraordinary quiet playing surface. Although MFSL leased the album from Capitol and used the company's sub-master, the discs still sound superior to the standard British and American pressings. The discs were stored in "rice paper" static-free, dust-free inner sleeves enclosed in an off-white gatefold reinforced stiff board that fit into the custom fabricated album jacket.
In 1998, a 30th anniversary reissue of the album was released on a two-disc compact disc version in the United Kingdom. The packaging of this release is virtually identical to its vinyl counterpart. It has the same pure white gatefold cover, complete with the title "The BEATLES" in a slightly raised, embossed graphic at a slight angle. It also included the now-classic sequentially numbered serial number on the front of this cover, thus making this one a real limited edition. The interior of this cover features the song titles on the left-hand side, and the four black-and-white photos of the group members on the right. This version of the cover even accurately mimics the original British vinyl pressing from 1968, with the openings for the discs at the top rather than the sides. There are miniatures of the four full-colour glossy portrait photos included, as well as an exact replica of the poster with the photo collage on one side, and the album's complete song lyrics on the opposite side. The CDs are housed in black sleeves, which were also used for the original British album. This commemorative double CD album is housed in a clear plastic slipcase.
Influences, parodies and tributes
The album's cover, though stark and minimalistic, has been highly influential. Goth Rock band The Damned
released The Black Album
in 1980, and is considered the first album to draw influence from the cover, as well as the first band to use the term "Black Album". The 1984 Rob Reiner 'rockumentary' Spinal Tap
also pays homage with their own 'Black Album', which is juxtaposed to the original by A&R staff Bobbi Fleckman, who notes in a debate about appropriate packaging material: 'What about the White album? There's was nothing on that cover'. The band are generally less enthusiastic, referring to it variously as 'a black mirror', 'none more black' and 'death'. Comedian Dennis Miller
released a stand-up comedy recording in October of 1988 titled "The Off-White Album" which mimicked the design of "The Beatles". In the 1990s, both Prince
released self-titled albums with their names printed against mostly plain black covers, and are both informally referred to as "The Black Album". In 2003, rapper Jay-Z
released an album officially called The Black Album
. DJ Danger Mouse
made a remix album of Jay-Z's Black Album
with The White Album
called The Grey Album
. Two compilations of Beatles' material, released in 1973 as 1962–1966
, are often referred to as "The Red Album" and "The Blue Album" respectively, in reference to their colour scheme. All three of Weezer
's self-titled albums borrow from this idea as well and fans refer to them respectively as "The Blue Album
" (1994), "The Green Album
" (2001), and "The Red Album
" (2008). 311's self-titled release from 1995
is often referred to as "The Blue Album", and The Dells
' 1973 self-titled album is often known as "The Brown Album", as is The Band
's 1969 self-titled album
. American rock band Primus
released "Brown Album
" in 1997
. The front cover of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Yellow Album
is an obvious parody of The White Album.
- John Lennon: lead, harmony and background vocals; lead and rhythm (electric and acoustic) guitars, 4 and 6-string bass; pianos (electric and acoustic), Hammond organ, harmonium, mellotron; assorted percussion (tambourine, maracas, thumping on the back of an acoustic guitar, handclaps and vocal percussion); harmonica, saxophone and whistling; tapes, tape loops and sound effects (electronic and home-made).
- Paul McCartney: lead, harmony and background vocals; lead and rhythm (electric and acoustic) guitars, 4 and 6-string bass; pianos (electric and acoustic), Hammond organ, drums, timpani and assorted percussion (tambourine, handclaps and vocal percussion; drums on "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence"); recorder and flügelhorn and sound effects.
- George Harrison: lead, harmony and background vocals; lead and rhythm (electric and acoustic) guitars, 4 and 6-string bass; Hammond organ and assorted percussion (tambourine, hand-shake bell, handclaps and vocal percussion) and sound effects.
- Ringo Starr: drums and assorted percussion (tambourine, bongos, cymbals, maracas, vocal percussion); lead vocals, electric piano and sleigh bell (on "Don't Pass Me By") , lead vocals (on "Don't Pass Me By" and "Good Night") and backing vocals (Bungalow Bill).
- Eric Clapton: lead guitar on "While my Guitar Gently Weeps".
- Jack Fallon: violin on "Don't Pass Me By".
- Jimmy Scott: congas on "Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da".
- Mal Evans: backing vocals and handclaps on "Dear Prudence" and "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill", saxophone and sound effects on "Helter Skelter".
- Jackie Lomax: backing vocals and handclaps on "Dear Prudence".
- Yoko Ono: backing vocals and handclaps on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and tapes and sound effects on "Revolution 9", backing vocals on "Birthday"
- Linda McCartney: backing vocals on "Birthday"
- Maureen Starkey: backing vocals on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill".
- Pattie Harrison: backing vocals on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill".
- Henry Datyner, Eric Bowie, Norman Lederman, Ronald Thomas (all on "Glass Onion"), Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Soufier and Les Maddox (all on "Martha My Dear"): violins.
- John Underwood, Keith Cummings (all on "Glass Onion"), Leo Birnbaum and Henry Myerscough (all on "Martha My Dear"): violas.
- Reginald Kilby (on "Glass Onion" and "Martha My Dear"), Eldon Fox (on "Glass Onion") and Frederick Alexander (on "Martha My Dear"): cellos.
- Leon Calvert: trumpet and flügelhorn on "Martha My Dear".
- Stanley Reynolds and Ronnie Hughes: trumpet (all on "Martha My Dear").
- Tony Tunstall: french horn on "Martha My Dear".
- Ted Barker: trombone on "Martha My Dear".
- Alf Reece: tuba on "Martha My Dear".
- Harry Klein: clarinet on "Honey Pie", saxophone on "Savoy Truffle".
- The Mike Sammes Singers: backing vocals on "Good Night".