The Beatles – The White Album: Reissued, Remastered and Revisited

On the 50th anniversary of their ninth album, the powers that be are releasing a mammoth version of The Beatles. Quickly known as The White Album, it was originally released in Britain on the same day as Electric Ladyland and The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Indeed, that day in November 1968 saw quite a burst of timeless creativity.

For the Liverpudlians, the new album was a decided pivot from the polished opulence of Sgt Pepper from only a year earlier. The same back to basics ethos was being quietly explored by The Band in a pink house in the woods near Woodstock, NY.

“We had left Sgt. Pepper’s band to play in his sunny Elysian Fields and were now striding out in new directions without a map,”

says Paul McCartney in his written introduction for the new White Album releases. Depending on your bank account and desire, various configurations of the album are on offer.

As with the prior reissue efforts, producer Giles Martin newly mixed the original album’s 30 tracks (with mix engineer Sam Okell) in stereo and 5.1 surround audio. The package includes 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which are previously unreleased in any form (save for inferior sounding bootlegs, of course). Presented in a lavish slipcase (yes, individually numbered like the first run of the vinyl releases), The White Album reissue is a joy for the newly-initiated as well as the gray haired fan who has worn out the original vinyl release.

Martin’s new stereo album mix is sourced directly from the original four-track and eight-track session tapes. Martin’s new mix is guided by the album’s original stereo mixproduced by his late father, George Martin.

“In remixing ‘The White Album,’ we’ve tried to bring you as close as possible to The Beatles in the studio,” explains Giles Martin in his written introduction for the new edition. “We’ve peeled back the layers of the ‘Glass Onion’ with the hope of immersing old and new listeners into one of the most diverse and inspiring albums ever made.”

Martin has just been named Head of Audio & Sound at Universal Music Group.

The Super Deluxe package’s six CDs and Blu-ray disc are housed in a slip-sleeved 164-page hardbound book, with pull-out reproductions of the original album’s four glossy color portrait photographs of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, as well as the album’s large fold-out poster with a photo collage on one side and lyrics on the other. The beautiful book is illustrated with rare photographs, reproductions of handwritten and notated lyrics, previously unpublished photos of recording sheets and tape boxes, and reproduced original White Album print ads. It is a delightful rabbit hole in which to dive.

The new mix brings added depth, but purists may balk at any tampering with the original version. The bonus material generally follows the running order of the original album. The first batch of recordings are from sessions at George’s house, and are acoustic works in progress.

“Back in the USSR” only hints at the near-perfect homage to the Beach Boys in the final version. “Dear Prudence” reveals that the final version did not stray far from the demo, likewise for the equally acoustic “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Julia” and “Blackbird.” George finally gets to explore “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with the other lads, undoubtedly having already refined it often and alone in the same room in the weeks before the quartet gathered. As seen and heard in the decades since, the song has grown in stature. It is given a prominent role in the Cirque du Soleil production of LOVE, and it was stunningly performed by Prince and other top shelf artists at an indelible 2004 performance.

Back at Esher, John namechecks Yoko in “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” which the band undoubtedly vetoed for the final version. John riffed à la Elvis with a goofy spoken word interlude in “I’m So Tired.”

The experience of digesting the Esher tracks is akin to finally hearing the Let it Be Naked tracks, in which Phil Spector’s thick production was stripped. (The 2003 release is affectionately referred to as “Paul’s Revenge” in that John and George drove the bus on using Spector rather than George Martin; both John and George enlisted Spector on early solo albums).

A clutch of songs that did not make the final version of The White Album are offered. As with many such outtakes, it is relatively easy to discern why they were left on the editing floor. But as further glimpses into the band’s creative process, the tracks are intriguing. “Sour Milk Sea” wanders off after a promising start, and “Junk” is inappropriately named. Although it failed to make the album’s final cut, Paul brought the song nearly intact to his first solo album. The evocative melody in John’s “Child of Nature” would reappear as “Jealous Guy” on his monumental solo album Imagine, which recently was also given the massive box set reissue treatment. Apparently, George was not given much bandwidth to try out any more of his songs, which is why his All Things Must Pass became arguably the best post-Beatles solo album. It certainly gets the most spins [er, streams] in my household. That said, George’s “Not Guilty” was apparently one of the last tracks to be cut from the final album lineup. It was his answer to the ill-fated trip he spearheaded for the band to the Maharishi’s compound in India. The song eventually appeared in a far gentler version on George’s eponymous 1978 solo album.

Tell Santa Claus you want the Super Deluxe edition.

John explored his early primal scream therapy in “Revolution 1.” I can imagine the other guys raised their eyebrows as the song floated on.

The Esher sessions also revealed the Liverpudlians had a handful of songs ready for subsequent release. The presence in this collection of tracks like “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” whet the appetite for the inevitable Abbey Road box set. Also given early tryouts are future hits like “Lady Madonna,” “Across the Universe” and “Let It Be.” A rather ragtag version of Paul’s ode to John’s son Julian “Hey Jude” portends bigger things for that chestnut.

“What’s the News Mary Jane” is reminiscent of “You Know My Name,” a B-side only release. Both are fairly wacky excursions into the land of comedy, likely influenced by weed and a love of The Goons.

In the summer of ’68 The Beatles were in the midst of recording ‘The Beatles’ (The White Album). To produce a new set of more contemporary publicity images, Don McCullin, predominantly a photographer of war zones, was commissioned for a day-long shoot around various locations in London. He practically “levitated two inches off the ground” he was so surprised and thrilled to receive The Beatles’ invitation. On Sunday 28th July, having just photographed them for a Life Magazine cover, they set out on a jaunt now known as The Mad Day Out.

After running through the Esher sessions, The Beatles decamped to where they attained their greatest recording success. At Abbey Road, the equipment was plugged in and the rocking started. A long instrumental jam of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” undoubtedly drew on The Beatles’ challenge in Hamburg eight years earlier, stretching songs to meet the needs of insanely long live gigs.

Ringo’s reticence to get behind the microphone is belied by his brave attempts to crack “Good Night,” the album’s dreamy closer.

An early iteration of “Helter Skelter” reveals in a long jam some decidedly Hendrix-like guitar experimentations (it was McCartney who upon being gobsmacked by seeing the guitarist at a club in London whispered in the ear of record exec Joe Smith to sign Hendrix quickly). The song is easily the most Lennon-like song Paul crafted.

All in, the reissue is a delightful reminder of The Beatles’ timeless effect on rock music. With a recording history of only about eight years, The Beatles forever shaped the music that followed.

Click here for reissue album unpacking.

Click here for reissue album promo film.

Click here for that jaw dropping Prince-led version of “While My Guitar Gentle Weeps” … where did that airborne guitar end up?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been a fan of The White Album for as long as it’s been around, but I am now working with TunesMap to help deliver an experience while listening to the music that is far more immersive. The White Album is one of the many albums which will get extra special treatment.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.