The Beatles' "White Album" 50th anniversary editions including the six disc version reviewed here will be released Nov. 9
The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road” are better albums in terms of cohesive musical statements but as for a collection of great songs, the 1968 self-titled double LP might just the Fab Four’s finest. Best known as “The White Album,” it features John Lennon and Paul McCartney largely contributing their own distinctive compositions, although still credited on each song as “Lennon-McCartney.”
Lennon offers the beautiful ballads “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” and rocks the self-referential highlight “Glass Onion.” McCartney has fun with the country-ish “Rocky Raccoon,” the ska-inspired "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and crushes with the pioneering heavy metal masterstroke “Helter Skelter.”
George Harrison gets two originals on each LP, per his norm, with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as good as anything on the album and one of the most timeless songs in The Beatles catalog. Ringo Starr receives his first solo songwriting credit on a Beatles album with the darling country ditty “Don’t Pass Me By.”
Last year, Beatles fans feasted on the “Sgt. Pepper” 50th anniversary editions. On Nov. 9, The Beatles will release “White Album” anniversary packages featuring the album’s 30 tracks newly mixed by producer Giles Martin and mix engineer Sam Okell in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, along with 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which are previously unreleased. Thanks, in large part at least, to the sprawling nature of the “White Album,” this anniversary release is even more thrilling than what we got with “Sgt. Pepper” and its multitude of unreleased tracks.
“The White Album” anniversary editions feature a full CD of the famed “Esher Demos” bootleg with tracks 1 through 19 sequenced in order of the finished song’s placement on the final double album plus tracks 20-27, which were not included. These are intimate, acoustic performances with the unreleased Harrison song “Sour Milk Sea” and Lennon’s “Child of Nature” (later reworked as “Jealous Guy”) among the treasures.
The final three discs put you in the recording studio with The Beatles and it’s an intriguing place to be, and a lot more fun than what you would expect considering all that has been written about the acrimony. Yes, even Yoko Ono sounds like a welcome presence on the 10-minute take of “Revolution 1.” The same disc four ends with 13 minutes of “Helter Skelter” that display The Beatles at their most down and dirty, hard and heavy. Really, they were doing heavy metal, and doing it damn well, even before Black Sabbath.
Disc five includes early, endearing versions of “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” while disc six ends with a gorgeous take of “Across the Universe.” It’s a lot of music, and while it’s not all essential it rarely bores, not even that cover of “Blue Moon.”
The six CDs and Blu-ray disc come in a 164-page hardbound book, with pull-out reproductions of the original album’s four glossy color portrait photographs of the Fab Four plus the album’s large fold-out poster with a photo collage on one side and lyrics on the other. Most interesting, the book includes in-depth chapters covering track-by-track details. For instance, there’s McCartney reflecting on “Good Night,” the final track on the “White Album.”
“John rarely showed his tender side,” McCartney says of Lennon. “But my key memories of John are when he was tender. I always cite ‘Good Night’ as an example of the John beneath the surface that we only saw occasionally.”
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