December 4, 2018

The Beatles: The White Album


On November 9th, The Beatles re-leased a suite of lavishly presented White Album packages (Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe). The album’s 30 tracks are newly mixed by producer Giles Martin and mix engineer Sam Okell in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, joined by 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which are previously unreleased in any form.

“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.

This is the first time The BEATLES (White Album) has been remixed and presented with additional demos and session recordings. The album’s sweeping new edition follows 2017’s universally acclaimed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Anniversary Edition releases. To create the new stereo and ٥.١ surround audio mixes for The White Album, Martin and Okell worked with an expert team of engineers and audio restoration specialists at Abbey Road Studios in London. All the new White Album releases include Martin’s new stereo album mix, sourced directly from the original four-track and eight-track session tapes. Martin’s new mix is guided by the album’s original stereo mix produced by his 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.”

On September 28th, Giles Martin the Capitol Records Group and Apple Corps brass hosted a preview event of his 50th anniversary remix inside Studio A at Capitol Records in Hollywood. Giles guided the invited media members through his process of producing the album.

Martin took the throng into the assembly process of the 107-track box, which contains the “Esher demos,” that the group recorded at George Harrison’s home, 50 studio outtakes and remixes of the original 30 songs.

Martin referred to the “Escher demos” as “The Beatles unplugged,” and suggested that these recordings were “the spine of how the thing was made. It was almost like being around the campfire,” he admitted. “They discovered the sounds as they went along.”

St Pancras Old Church, London, July 28, 1968. © Apple Corps Ltd.

St Pancras Old Church, London, July 28, 1968. © Apple Corps Ltd.

During his studio presentation, Giles confessed that his father George Martin “didn’t have all that much fun making it. The Beatles had taken over the classroom… [and] they were much more individual in their process.”

Giles, reinforced, that contrary to some popular and distorted media beliefs, in 1968 The Beatles were still very much a unit and brotherhood, not in disarray or on the verge of breaking up. “I was looking for the arguments and the tension on the tapes, and it was very hard to find.”

Martin, who shares a October 9th birthday with John Lennon, was very delighted unveiling the very experimental ‘Revolution 9.’ “It’s really scary. You have to leave the lights on when you hear that,” he laughed.

Giles comically added that this new 2018 purchase “includes a pair of corduroy trousers that comes along with it. There’s a bag of drugs you can take.”

The minimalist artwork for The White Album was created by artist Richard Hamilton, one of Britain’s leading figures in the creation and rise of pop art. The top-loading gatefold sleeve’s stark white exterior had ‘The BEATLES’ embossed on the front and printed on the spine with the album’s catalogue number.

The book’s comprehensive written pieces include new introductions by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin, and in-depth chapters covering track-by-track details and session notes reflecting The Beatles’ year between the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and recording sessions for ‘The White Album,’ the band’s July 28 1968 “Mad Day Out” photo shoot in locations around London, the album artwork, the lead-up and execution of the album’s blockbuster issue, and its far-ranging influence, written by Beatles historian, author and radio producer Kevin Howlett; journalist and author John Harris; and Tate Britain’s Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Andrew Wilson.

Much of the initial songwriting for The White Album was done in Rishikesh, India between February and April 1968, when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr joined a course at the Maharishi’s Academy of Transcendental Meditation.

In a postcard to Ringo, who had returned to England before the others, John wrote, “we’ve got about two L.P.s worth of songs now so get your drums out.”

During the last week of May, The Beatles gathered at George’s house in Esher, Surrey, where they recorded acoustic demos for 27 songs. Known as the Esher Demos, all 27 recordings are included in the new edition’s deluxe and super deluxe packages, sourced from the original four-track tapes. Twenty-one of the demoed songs were recorded during the subsequent studio sessions, and 19 were ultimately finished and included on The White Album.

The Beatles’ studio sessions for The BEATLES (White Album) began on May 30, 1968 at Abbey Road Studios.

In the 20 weeks that followed, The Beatles devoted most of their time to sessions there for the new album, with some recording also done at Trident Studios. The final session for the album took place at Abbey Road on October 16, a 24-hour marathon with producer George Martin to sequence the double album’s four sides and to complete edits and cross-fades between its songs. The Beatles’ approach to recording for The White Album was quite different from what they had done for ‘Sgt. Pepper.’

Rather than layering individually overdubbed parts on a multi-track tape, many of the White Album session takes were recorded to four-track and eight-track tape as group performances with a live lead vocal. Halfway into The White Album, Abbey Road’s Studer J-37 one inch 4-track machine was replaced by a 3M-M56 8-track piece of equipment. Playbacks were heard on a sole Altec (604) speaker.

The Beatles often recorded take after take for a song, as evidenced by the super deluxe set’s Take 102 for “Not Guilty,” a song that was not included on the album. This live-take recording style resulted in a less intricately structured, more unbridled album that would shift the course of rock music and cut a path for punk and indie rock.

The Beatles’ newly adopted method of recording all through the night was time consuming and exhausting for their producer, George Martin and balance engineer Geoff Emerick.

Martin had other duties, including his management of AIR (Associated Independent Recording), and he had also composed the orchestral score for The Beatles’ animated feature film, Yellow Submarine, released in July 1968.

After the first three months of White Album sessions, Martin took a three-week holiday from the studio, temporary entrusting the control room to balance engineer Ken Scott, and Martin’s assistant/trainee Chris Thomas, from AIR.

Thomas played mellotron on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” piano on “Long, Long, Long” and harpsichord on “Piggies.” Nicky Hopkins did an overdub of electric piano on a version of “Revolution.”

On August 22, Ringo Starr also left the sessions, returning 11 days later to find his drum kit adorned with flowers from his bandmates. While the sessions’ four and a half months of long hours and many takes did spark occasional friction in the studio, the session recordings reveal the closeness, camaraderie, and collaborative strengths within the band, as well as with George Martin.

And then Geoff Emerick departed after nine songs during the production. Exhausted by the long hours and band bickering,

“I lost interest in the White Album because they were really arguing amongst themselves and swearing at each other. The expletives were really flying,” Emerick stated to author Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Geoff would later return to helm Abbey Road.

Emerick was replaced by Ken Scott, who first started working with The Beatles at Abbey Road as a button pusher on June 1, 1964, during sessions for A Hard Day’s Night. Songs not utilized in the film “I’ll Cry Instead” and “I’ll Be Back” as well as “Matchbox” and “Slow Down.” He became an EMI staff assistant engineer and then promoted to “cutting” (known as mastering).

Eventually Ken worked on Help! and Rubber Soul, before engineering Magical Mystery Tour, and completing The White Album at Abbey Road. John Smith was Scott’s assistant engineer.

“In working with The Beatles I got to experiment a lot and go through microphones and find out which mikes I liked for different things,” Ken Scott explained in a 2010 interview I conducted with him for Record Collector News. “So that moved on from there. Also, the learning experience with The Beatles is anything goes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a really bad sound as long as it fits.

Giles Martin. Photo by Jeremy Neech.

Giles Martin. Photo by Jeremy Neech.

“Ringo was a great drummer. Still so many people fail to realize that he was an incredible rock drummer. For me, it’s from his lack of technical knowledge. It was all feel for him. I’m of the opinion that he would go into a fill not knowing how he was ever going to get out of it. And halfway through he suddenly realized he has to get out of it, so come up with some unique way to get out of that fill

“It’s much like all of The Beatles. They all grew so much as musicians and as technicians. During the short life of The Beatles. Ringo did as well. He was an incredible drummer and great to work with all of them.”

I asked Ken about reported tensions and studio confrontations during the endeavor.

“Not as many as people believe. There really weren’t. Yes there were some blowups but the majority of the time it was fine.

“During The White Album period they were laying down the tracks and playing together, sorting out the arrangements together. It was all good. Obviously whoever wrote the song had more sort of sway over ideas than the others did. It was very much a group effort. Generally speaking the others would filter out whilst whoever’s song it was worked on the finished thing. And it was like that for all of them. You knew that it would go a lot quicker with John than it would with Paul or George. Vocals would take the longest with Ringo. [Laughs.] Especially ‘Good Night.’

“It was pretty much the same for all of them. I think very much the difference, writing wise, for George, was that he was on his own. Even during The White Album there were times when Paul and John would interact on how a song should be. But George didn’t have any of that. It was all him. And he didn’t initially have the confidence in his songs. Even at The White Album stage. Yes, he was coming up with incredible stuff. He didn’t know it yet. He was writing more for other people.

“If you think about it, he gave ‘My Sweet Lord’ away to Billy Preston. There was something he wanted to give away to Jackie Lomax. He didn’t have the confidence within himself to do those songs. Like ‘Not Guilty,’ even then, we never completed it. We never really got it to the point where it was even sort of even considered going on the album.”

“This was the first album and maybe the only album in which they had time restraints. And the reason they had time restraints was this was going to be the debut album out on Apple. There had been so much publicity about Apple there had been a date set for the release of The Beatles first album on Apple.

“So it had to be finished by a specific day to the point where the last day that we worked on it George was flying to L.A. the next day and he had to take masters with him. So we were using three studios, two playback rooms. We used the entire building. And John Smith, my second engineer was in one of the playback rooms sorting out running orders with John and George Martin whilst I was in one studio mixing something. We were working out asses off right to the end. That was the first 24 hour session I ever did.”

The BEATLES (White Album) was the first Beatles album to be released on the group’s own Apple Records label. Issued in both stereo and mono for the U.K. and in stereo for the U.S., the double album was an immediate bestseller, entering the British chart at number one and remaining there for eight of the 22 weeks it was listed. The White Album also debuted at number one on the U.S. chart, holding the top spot for nine weeks of its initial 65-week chart run.

During late November ’68 I saw the double pocket White Album LP initially stocked in a slew of record stores all over the Southern California basin: The Frigate, The Music Revolution, Phil Harris Records, Rancho Music, and Canterbury, and head shops named The Psychedelic Supermarket and The Third Eye.

I purchased my first mono copy that November at Wallach’s Music City on Sunset and Vine. I bought an English import at Lewin Record Paradise on Hollywood Blvd.

Over the last five decades I am thankful to have met all four Beatles, Sir George Martin, several Abbey Road engineers: Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott, Allan Rouse, road manager Mal Evans and publicist/confident Derek Taylor and published print and online interviews with Ringo, Paul and George.

The Beatles with George Martin during a recording session at Trident Studios, 1968. Tony Bramwell / © Apple Corps Ltd.

The Beatles with George Martin during a recording session at Trident Studios, 1968. Tony Bramwell / © Apple Corps Ltd.

“That was the environment in the band-everybody was very open to bringing in new ideas,” fellow Pisces George Harrison stressed to me in a 1997 HITS magazine interview. “We were listening to all sorts of things, Stockhausen, avant-garde music, whatever, and most of it made its way onto our records.”

In 2014 I wrote the book, It Was Fifty Years Ago Today The Beatles Invade America and Hollywood. It examines the Beatles’ musical relationship and songwriting legacy to Los Angeles and the rarely chronicled-at-length historical influence of Hollywood on them.

The physical impact of L.A. and Hollywood on the lads, especially George and Paul in 1968 just can’t be denied.

There are sonic, marketing, promotional, and subject specific retail factors regarding the American pressing of The White Album that prepared the initial delivery of the North American product.

How many Southern California AM and FM radio debuts and distribution machinations on their behalf were hatched at the 13-story Welton Becket–designed Capitol Records building near Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street?

On June 21, 1968, Paul McCartney flew to Los Angeles with childhood friend Ivan Vaughan and Apple Records employee Tony Bramwell to promote the Beatles’ Apple label to Stateside Capitol Records brass as well as spending time with his new girlfriend Linda Eastman. Paul bunked at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

McCartney appeared at a lunchtime gathering with founding president of Apple Records, Ron Kass, visited the Beverly Hills home of Capitol Records president Alan Livingston and his actress wife, Nancy Olson, and the residence of Capitol executive Ken Fritz.

On his promotional trip, Paul and Linda sailed to Santa Catalina Island on a yacht owned by John Calley of Warner Bros. The couple was spotted in West Hollywood at The Factory nightclub, the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Blvd, and at Romanoff’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills. After enjoying shopping, swimming, and fun in the sun, Paul split back to England on June 25th.

George Harrison had been in California earlier on June 7, 1968 when he arrived with his wife Pattie, Ringo Starr, Maureen Starkey and Mal Evans. The purpose of the trek was to film scenes for the Ravi Shankar film Raga. Harrison and Shankar did sitar-themed sequences June 8th at a Big Sur country retreat overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The party left California on June 18th.

George came back to Los Angeles California for nearly a month and a half during October and November 1968. On October 19th, Harrison and Pattie, Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell attended Cream’s final L.A. concert at the Forum in Inglewood.

During November 1968, Bill Halverson engineered the Felix Pappalardi–produced Cream’s recording session for the George Harrison and Eric Clapton written “Badge” at Wally Heider’s Studio 3, tracking Harrison’s rhythm guitar and Clapton’s lead.

Jeannie Franklyn, a/k/a “Genie the Tailor,” and Rodney Bingenheimer, soon to be a columnist in 1969 for GO! magazine, were in attendance. Harrison and Clapton were first introduced to a prototype Leslie foot pedal, courtesy of SIR (Studio Instrumental Rental). Harrison would soon utilize the Leslie on the Beatles’ Let It Be.

Harrison was producing the Jackie Lomax Apple Records debut Is This What You Want? at Armin Steiner’s Sound Records studio in Hollywood around the corner from the Capitol label.

I’d like to suggest that I and listeners in the Southern California radio region first heard The White Album before anybody in the United States on November 4, 1968. It was shipped to distributors and rack jobbers on November 22, 1968.

During his stay in L.A., George drove to radio station KPPC-FM in Pasadena on November 4th and was interviewed discussing Apple Records, Magical Mystery Tour, the film was screening in Pasadena, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Pirate Radio in the UK, the Royal Family, while touting The Beatles’ White album.

While visiting Capitol Records, a label executive handed Har-
rison an advance lacquer pressing
of The White Album planned for the North American company. George was a bit miffed at the sound of the reference disc he heard, and definitely not pleased by subtle changes in EQ and com-
pression the mastering engineers at the U.S. division had applied to the Abbey Road source tape.

So it was arranged for George over a two-day period to personally supervise a remastering process of a two-track stereo tape on the Capitol premises.

On November 15, 1968, Harrison went to AM radio station KRLA in Pasadena debuting selections live on the air with deejay Dave Hull from his newly mastered acetate copy of the upcoming double disc.

Sam Okel, 2015. Photo by Jan Klos.

Sam Okel, 2015. Photo by Jan Klos.

That evening, Harrison, clad in a yellow shirt, green-striped pants and a leather jacket, also stopped by The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour CBS-TV show in Television City to tape a surprise walk-on as Tom and Dick introduced Dion, Jennifer Warnes, the Committee and Beatles pal Donovan for the episode which broadcast November ١٧th. The Smothers duly passed along to George their praise for the “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” clips, which the Comedy Hour had exclusively premiered for North American audiences the previous month.

During Harrison’s journey around Los Angeles in November ‘68, George visited a recording session of The Doors at Elektra Studios on La Cienega Blvd.

Harrison wrote and recorded the sitar-informed instrumental track “The Inner Light” in Bombay, India at the EMI studios in January 1968, during his sessions for the Wonderwall Music soundtrack album. The 45 RPM appeared as the B-side to the “Lady Madonna” non-album single in March 1968.

To some it was a coming attraction teaser trailer previewing the winter ’68 launch of The White Album.

“The Inner Light” continued the embrace of Transcendental Meditation the Beatles were studying under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

On November 2, 1974, while reporting for Melody Maker, I attended the George Harrison press conference in Beverly Hills at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel where he announced his 1974 U.S. and Canadian tour. He cited the influence of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

“I have a lot of respect for him. He gave me help and plugged me in to a method of being able to contact that reservoir of energy which is within us all. He showed me how to reach that. Everything else is just words. Beyond the intellect is an experience you have to have in order to know.”

It was in 1966 that Ravi first met George. Harrison had first heard the sitar on the set of The Beatles’ 1965 movie Help! In September of ’66, Harrison went to Bombay to study sitar with Shankar.

“His music was the reason I wanted to meet him,” George volunteered in our HITS interview. “I liked it immediately, it intrigued me. I don’t know why I was so into it — I heard it, I liked it, and I had a gut feeling that I would meet him. Eventually a man from the Asian Music Circle in London arranged a meeting between Ravi and myself. Our meeting has made all the difference in my life.”

Jet & Piston Engine Aeroplane tape, used for the track "Back In The U.S.S.R."

Jet & Piston Engine Aeroplane tape, used for the track “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

“He’s a very rare person,” Ravi disclosed to me in an interview for HITS. “It is something so special. There are many other people who could do what George does, but they don’t have that depth. He’s so unusual. What has clicked between him and me, what he gets from me, and what I get from him, that love and that respect and understanding from music and everything, is really the most important thing. It’s not the money, or he helping me to record; that’s not the main thing. But it’s the very special bond between both of us.”

And it is a bond we also have with The Beatles and Sir George Martin CBE that was formed in 1963 and still in existence today.

In January 2019, a new UCLA course tells the story of The Beatles through the prism of film. Offered by the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s music industry program, the class will screen documentaries, television appearances and feature films — and students will hear first-hand accounts from industry executives and musicians, further illuminating the visual and aural record of the legendary band. 

The course, The Reel Beatles, is open to undergraduate and graduate students. It will be taught by David Leaf, an award-winning filmmaker and biographer, who was a co-writer, director and producer of the 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon.

Another rare tape box, this one for "Long, Long, Long." October 1968

Another rare tape box, this one for “Long, Long, Long.” October 1968

The Reel Beatles is a great example of what makes the music industry curriculum unique,” said Robert Fink, the program’s chair. “It combines critical and historical perspectives on popular music with the insight and practical knowledge of an experienced music industry insider.”

“The class will use video and film to tell the compelling story of how The Beatles became beloved and mythical,” said Leaf, a UCLA adjunct professor. “We’ll watch how their story unfolds on television and at the movies in real time, all as they created a body of timeless and enormously influential music. The group has both starred in and been the subject of dozens of films and documentaries which spread ‘the word’ worldwide as they became not just artistically iconic but in the 21st Century, a smartly-curated ‘brand’ that still generates over $١٠٠ million in worldwide revenue every year — even though the group last performed on a concert stage more than a half century ago.

“In my courses, I love to teach through living history and talk with people who were there when it happened, and this course will be no exception,” Leaf said.

David Leaf has taught at UCLA since 2010. The Beatles class will be taped and adapted as an online course offered by UCLA that will be available across the University of California system in 2020.

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 15 books, including heralded titles on Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. His 2017 volume, the acclaimed 1967 A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love was published by Sterling/Barnes and Noble. His Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection, Vol. 1 was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other Cottage Industries in March 2018. On November 6, 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Harvey’s book, The Story of The Band From Pig Pink to The Last Waltz, written with brother Kenneth Kubernik. In November 2006, Harvey Kubernik was a featured speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special hearings called by The Library of Congress and held in Hollywood, California).

One Comment

  1. Vickie May

    I happened to be at that party on October 19th on Benedict canyon rd. I was 15 and was invited to a party by the roadies for Cream. So my friend and I left the forum that night in a limo with Deep Purple.Being there was amazing. Cream,Deep Purple,George Harrison and Tommy Smothers among many others all there.Upon leaving literally ran into Jimi Hendrix

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