“The Beatles White Album” was released in 1968 as a double album and these are regarded as one of the Fab Four’s best, and greatest albums of all time.
The new remastered set features the original 30-track listing, as well as a whopping “twenty-seven acoustic demoes and 50 different session recordings” across six CDs. Listeners are bombarded with acoustic versions of popular Beatles tunes, demoes really for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but basically fully formed songs for the us mere mortals.
For example, Lennon’s electrified, shuffling anti-war manifesto “Revolution 1” has an acoustic doo-wop version (first heard on the “Anthology” series). Or that Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” was originally a song titled “Child Of Nature” written around the time the band was on retreat in India. Fans would know this of course, but perhaps they have to yet hear the awesome versions that are on this new set.
Sound engineers Sam Okell and Giles Martin was at the helm of this project and they brought the songs up to 2018 standards. To paraphrase one Rolling Stone writer, it’s “so these songs can sit comfortably, sonically, alongside Ed Sheeran’s songs.” First of all, that’s blasphemy. We won’t even get into that. But, yes, Okell and Martin did have their work cut out for them.
Thankfully, this pair already had a lot of practice when they updated the mixing of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” only last year. Giles of course, is the son of Sir George Martin, the producer that has worked with The Beatles on almost all of their albums (the exception would be “Let It Be” which as McCartney, at some point said, “messed it up”).
But back to the “White Album,” what’s remarkable is that the songs sound stunningly fresh. The guitar solos are cutting like on the George Harrison classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” That would be Eric Clapton on lead of course, but hearing it come to life again with the new mix just exhilarates. And may we add that this is one the songs that signalled his arrival as a major songwriter in the Beatles camp.
Also noticeable is that Ringo Starr’s drumming is raised up and can now be heard in all its tight rhythmic glory. His drumming on the rollicking “Back In The U.S.S.R.” for example, is the liveliest it’s ever been. Ditto the guitar tones just pops up on the songs, for example on “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” And how about “Glass Onion”? Besides being the song that triggered the whole “Paul Is Dead” myth, the Martin-Okell mix has indeed shown “Glass Onion” and all its “layers.”
In all, it seems like every nuance of each song gets the magnifying treatment. McCartney said of the remix “it sounds like you’re in the room (with the band). That’s the great thing about remasters.” He added that the project “stripped right back to John’s voice and a guitar, you just think, how good was John!” Do check out “I’m So Tired” and “Dear Prudence” as these somehow transport us right beside John Lennon as he strums his acoustic guitar.
The six-CD set has a 164-page hard bound book of photos of the band (natch!) around the time of the recordings. While we’re sure that this re-issue would surely cost so much more than the regular release, the streamed version (on Spotify) offers so much more. Check it out, each track has an accompanying video clip and or GIF of the Fab Four culled from the vaults that somehow serves like a miniature music video. Cool.
Other hotspots in a sea of Beatles songs are still the usual suspects from 1968: Macca’s “Blackbird.” Lennon dire channeling on “Yer Blues.” But the best track is reserved for “Helter Skelter” delivered here with an incisive punk rock attitude. This was alternative rock before the term was even coined.
Lastly an added insight comes from Giles Martin, who said that there was “laughter and unity” in (The Beatles), as opposed to being the chaotic sessions which was the prevailing undercurrent during the time of making this album. He finished by saying, contrary to that story, The Beatles “wanted to go back to being a band again.”
And what a great band they were—the greatest.