The Beatles "White Album" 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition Box Set Review
In November 1968, The Beatles released their first album on the group’s Apple Records label. Named for the band but better known as "The White Album,” the double disc set offered fans 30 new Fab Four songs. Now, 50 years later, the recording’s anniversary is being celebrated with a new Super Deluxe Edition box set.
For the first time ever, “The White Album” has been remixed and presented in the set with additional demos and session recordings. Giles Martin and Sam Okell, the duo behind the acclaimed 50th Anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, have joined with a team of engineers and audio restoration specialists to create the new “White Album” audio mixes.
“In remixing ‘The White Album,’ we’ve tried to bring you as close as possible to The Beatles in the studio,” Martin says 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.”
The Super Deluxe Edition box set consists of the 2018 remixed “White Album” on two discs, the 27 track “Esher Demos” CD, three CD’s of “White Album” studio sessions (most previously unreleased), a Blu-ray disc (which includes two 5.1 surround sound “White Album” mixes and a direct transfer of the record’s original mono mix) a hardbound book, and more.
Martin, son of Beatles producer George, and Okell’s remix brings out audio details that might not have been as noticeable in the past. The vocals are out front and centered in the 2018 remix, and there’s a clarity to the music. Paul McCartney’s bass seems to boom out of the speakers during “Dear Prudence”. His acoustic guitar sounds excellent, too, during “Blackbird”. The brass section parts of “Martha My Dear” and “Mother Nature’s Son” are more prominent in the 2018 “White Album” mix than in the past, and the acoustic guitar chimes out at the beginning of the latter tune. Ringo Starr’s drum fills on “Long, Long Long” are pronounced in the new mix. The background vocals and honky tonk piano at the end of “Rocky Raccoon” are also more noticeable in the 2018 mix, as are the harmony parts of “Sexy Sadie”.
Back In The U.S.S.R. (2018 Mix / Audio)
Glass Onion-2018 music video
The Esher Demos
The songs for much of “The White Album” were written during the group’s time spent in Rishikesh, India at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram between February and April 1968. In May 1968, The Beatles gathered at George Harrison’s house in Esher, Surrey to record acoustic demos for the tunes on his Ampex four track reel-to-reel tape recorder. The songs on the “Esher Demos” CD are all taken from the original tapes, and they sound crystal clear. The demos have been released on bootlegs before, but have never sounded this good. The audio is better in this disc compared to the seven “Esher” demos included on “The Beatles Anthology 3” double CD from 1996. The "Esher Demos" are sequenced to match, as close as possible, the lineup from “The White Album”, (19 in total), with eight tracks that weren’t on the record added. Many of the tunes feature double tracked vocals.
The “Esher Demos” are The Beatles “Unplugged”, 21 years before MTV launched their cable TV series of the same name. The tracks are so good, they could be released as a standalone CD. There’s a loose, relaxed feeling to these demos. John Lennon ends “Glass Onion” with a bit of Frank Sinatra’s “Chicago, Chicago that toddlin’ town”. “Revolution” opens with a Chuck Berry-esque“ guitar intro, leading to a fun version with hand claps throughout. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” begins with a 1,2,3,4 count-in and has a few alternate verses including such lines as “The Problems you sow are the troubles you’re reaping” and “I look at the trouble and hate that is raging”.
The non-“White Album” “Esher Demos” consists of songs not officially released by The Beatles. “Junk” would be re-recorded and ended up on McCartney’s self titled debut solo album. Studio versions of Harrison’s “Not Guilty” and “Circles” can be found on the “George Harrison” and “Gone Troppo” records, respectively. “The Quiet Beatle’s” “Sour Milk Sea” was recorded by Apple artist Jackie Lomax. John Lennon would keep the melody of Esher’s “Child of Nature” but change the lyrics, resulting in the “Imagine” track,“Jealous Guy".
While My Guitar Gently Weeps Esher Demo
The Sessions Discs
The three studio “Sessions” CD’s contain 50 recordings, and provide for a tremendous ‘fly on the wall” listening experience. Among the many highlights are “Good Night” with guitar instead of strings, and the other Beatles singing in harmony the “good night, sleep tight” parts to Ringo Starr’s lead vocal. For a faster tempo song, the instrumental backing track of the single version of “Revolution” really rocks, with distorted guitars heard throughout.
A brief, very early version of “Let It Be” (1 minute 17 seconds) appears as a “Sessions” track, with McCartney singing the line “Brother Malcolm comes to me” instead of “Mother Mary”. Short Beatles studio jams find McCartney crooning “Blue Moon” and channeling his inner Elvis on (You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care”. A take of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” has different guitar work from Eric Clapton than the released version. The song begins after what sounds like Harrison giving instructions to someone for a sandwich order!
Additionally, the Sessions discs give the listeners opportunities to try their hand at Beatles karaoke. Along with“Revolution”, the instrumental backing tracks for “Birthday”, “Piggies” “Honey Pie”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Savoy Truffle” and “Lady Madonna’s B-Side “The Inner Light” are featured.
The 164-page hardbound book included in the SDE set is delightful and extremely informative. Beatles author, historian, and radio producer Kevin Howlett provides track by track info for all the album’s songs, including dates recorded, additional musicians, and anecdotes. A host of fun facts can be gleaned from the book. McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son” was inspired by Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”. Lennon’s song for his mother and Yoko Ono, “Julia”, was the last one completed for “The White Album” although it’s the 17th of the 30 tracks on the record. “Revolution” was the first song worked on. McCartney sent a check after “The White Album” was released to Nigerian conga player Jimmy Scott who would tell him “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra” when they’d meet in London nightclubs, and thus inspired the song’s title. The fiddle part on Starr’s “Don’t Pass Me By” was played by Jack Fallon, who was known for his bass work for such jazz artists as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, and Sarah Vaughan. Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle” was written while he was hanging out with Clapton, who had a sweet tooth and according to Harrison, ate a lot of chocolates.
The book spotlights photos of McCartney’s hand written lyrics for his songs penned while in Rishikesh. Plenty of pictures of The Beatles recording the album at London’s Abbey Road and Trident Studios are seen in the book, as well as shots of tape boxes for the various songs. A noteworthy one is a box for the jet special effects used in “Back in the U.S.S.R.”. “White Album” advertisements are displayed, along with much more.
Unlike last year’s “Sgt. Pepper” box set, this release has no videos included. While not on “The White Album” itself, one of the Sessions discs has Take 1 of “Hey Jude” in its track lineup. The “Experiment in Television:Music!” 1968 clip of the band recording the song would have made for a nice addition, as well as the Apple Records in house promo film with segments showing McCartney performing “Blackbird” and “Helter Skelter” solo on acoustic guitar. You could add in the group’s “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” music videos shown on the “Frost On Sunday” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” TV programs and located on The Beatles “1” and “1+” DVD/Blu-ray releases.
Other White Album Configurations
The remixed “White Album” is available in configurations other than the box set. A CD deluxe edition or 180-gram four LP box set is made up of the remixed “White Album” and the Esher demos. A Standard 180-gram two LP or double CD contains just the 2018 remix edition. The three CD deluxe edition includes a booklet and the poster found in the vinyl “White Album”, but not the four individual photo/portraits of the group. The pictures themselves are found on one side of the fold out portion which holds the discs. The individual portraits are in the Super Deluxe box set and both vinyl editions.
Kudos to Martin, Okell, their team, and Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe for this 50th Anniversary “White Album” set. Bring on “Abbey Road”.