A half century after their records first premiered, the Beatles are coming up with the numbers. The 50th anniversary reissue of the band’s 1968 double album The Beatles debuted at number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album is also known the “White Album,” which also happened with the two post-breakup “Red” and “Blue” compilation double albums.
When it was first released, The “White” Album spent nine nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 between Dec. 28, 1968 and March 1, 1969. On March 29, 1969, the last week of its top 10 run, it was at number 5. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th anniversary reissue in 2017 premiered on the Billboard 200 at No. 3 on June 17, 2017. The original 1967 album was at number one for 15 weeks straight from July 1 through Oct. 7, 1967.
The Beatles remix was done by Giles Martin, the son of producer George Martin, and includes nuggets like the previously unreleased Esher Sessions, early acoustic version of the songs recorded in a studio at Harrison’s home in May 1968. The collection includes 50 previously-unreleased demos, early and alternative takes and isolated backing tracks. There are 107 cuts on the release.
In 1968 the Beatles’ producer worried that two albums worth of songs were too many. He wanted to cut some of filler songs, but what? “Revolution 9” is a mysterious departure for the band, “Honey Pie” gives Lennon a rare solo and gave Queen an excuse to later mine nostalgic aural perfection, and without “Why don’t we do it in the road?,” where would we get McCartney’s insanely controlled falsetto? “It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles’ ‘White Album.’ Shut up!,” McCartney said in Anthology. For every song someone could make a case for cutting, someone else will claim the piece among their favorites. Such was the power of the Beatles’ double album, they made something for everyone.
But not always for each other, as each member booked his own studio time, or referenced the others’ works. “We all know ‘Obla Di Obla Dah,” Harrison complained on the saccharine deprived song “Savoy Tuffle,” bemoaning his sideman status as much as session player Eric Clapton’s bad British teeth. The band bristled to be cooped up in the cold studio. Ringo quit for a few weeks after McCartney re-recorded some drum parts.
Each of the Beatles flexed their flexibility and dexterity. McCartney’s acoustic country fingering on “Blackbird” goes up against the Travis style one-bar fingerpicking Lennon uses in “Dear Prudence,” “Julia,” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” became as defining a Beatle piece as “She Loves You.” The album cages its animals on one side, “Piggies,” McCartney’s “Martha My Dear,” written for his dog, “Blackbird,” and “Rocky Raccoon” pass Ringo by. While’s Lennon’s “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” evades capture.
The reissue also includes the May, 1968 demos the Beatles made at Kinfauns, George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher, which had an Ampex reel-to-reel tape deck. The band wrote the 27 songs while on retreat with the Maharishi in Rishikesh, India. John recorded 15 tunes, Paul ran through 7, and George put five down on tape for future Abbey Road reference.
Considering some people claim The Beatles could be cut, it actually appears they could never add enough.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.