The 50th An­niver­sary of The White Al­bum

On No­vem­ber 22, 1968, the Bea­tles re­leased pop mu­sic’s quin­tes­sen­tial dou­ble LP

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - by ZACH SCHONFELD @zzzza­aaac­c­c­chhh

John Len­non, Paul Mccart­ney, George Har­ri­son and Ringo Starr cre­ated what would be the long­est Bea­tles al­bum (93½ min­utes) between May 30 and Oc­to­ber 14, 1968. Re­leased a month later as sim­ply The Bea­tles, it be­came, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, bet­ter known as The White Al­bum (for those born af­ter stream­ing: the dou­ble LP’S jacket was min­i­mal­ist and monochro­matic). The band’s ninth stu­dio ef­fort, pro­duced by George Martin, am­bi­tiously merged rock, blues, folk, coun­try, mu­sic hall and avant-garde mu­sic; its scaled-down pro­duc­tion, like the al­bum’s jacket, dra­mat­i­cally de­parted from the trail­blaz­ing psychedelia of 1967’s Sgt. Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Upon re­lease, some crit­ics found the ap­proach scat­ter­shot, the qual­ity of the songs dra­mat­i­cally un­even. But most raved. Derek Jewell of The Sun­day Times wrote, “Mu­si­cally, there is beauty, hor­ror, sur­prise, chaos, or­der. And that is the world; and that is what the Bea­tles are on about.” And it has con­tin­ued to thrill. In 2009, Chuck Kloster­man graded the dou­ble LP with an “al­most be­yond an A+.”

And yet, The White Al­bum is the sound of a great band splin­ter­ing. “Ev­ery track is an in­di­vid­ual track,” Len­non re­flected in 1970. “There isn’t any Bea­tle mu­sic on it.” Len­non and Mccart­ney found them­selves cre­atively and per­son­ally at odds. The ex­pe­ri­ence, Mccart­ney later stated, was more fraught than the record­ing of any other Bea­tles al­bum. Of the 30 songs—many writ­ten dur­ing the Fab Four’s stay with Ma­har­ishi Ma­hesh Yogi in In­dia in early 1968—McCart­ney would sing lead on 12, Len­non on 11, Har­ri­son on four and Ringo on two. (“Rev­o­lu­tion 9,” a sound col­lage, has no lead vo­cals.) In all, around 53 mu­si­cians, pro­duc­ers and engi­neers con­trib­uted to its record­ing—one of whom, long­time en­gi­neer Ge­off Em­er­ick, quit over the es­ca­lat­ing fric­tion (he re­turned for 1969’s Abbey Road).

The cracks between the four would deepen. In 1970, af­ter re­leas­ing two more al­bums, the Bea­tles—cer­tainly the most suc­cess­ful of any pop group in his­tory and, to many peo­ple, the great­est—would break up.

→ A three-cd reis­sue of The White Al­bum was re­leased No­vem­ber 9, along with a su­per-deluxe, seven-disc box set—in­clud­ing out­takes and acous­tic demos.

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