The Beatles (“The White Album”)
The Beatles (known as the White Album) is the band’s ninth studio album. It was released on 22 November 1968. Most of the songs on this double album were written in Rishikesh, India, in March and April 1968, while the group was there to study Transcendental Meditation. The group returned to EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London at the end of May to commence recording sessions that lasted through to mid-October.
This album was a stark departure from the previous album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The white album cover, and its uneven embossing of the band’s name, was to represent the absence of tight control over the album that William (as Paul) and record producer George Martin had exerted over the Sgt. Pepper’s album. For Peppers, the entire album followed a theme, and each song was re-worked until William and George determined that it met their standard.
By contrast, the White Album is largely a collection of individual efforts in which the band-mates helped out when they felt like it. Only 16 of the album’s 30 tracks feature all four band members performing. Even then, William re-worked the tracks that he wanted to (such as replacing some of Ringo’s drumming with his own work, or requiring Ringo, John, or George to re-record certain tracks), but was considerably less involved than before. The strict discipline and cohesion of Peppers was replaced with the fragmentation and absolute disconnect of the White Album. The cover art went from the most elaborate–and expensive–in history, to the plainest, and intentionally imperfect.
The result was amazing. Each artist was more independent, and more free to express his pain in his own way. The fragmentation expressed and intensified the band’s sorrow of missing Paul. For example, George Harrison shows his guitar weeping for Paul in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” To clue in those who missed the context of the song, he ends it singing, as if weeping, “Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul.”
Although, for it Masonic significance, William had intended the White Album to include 33 tracks, friction within the band resulted in three tracks being left off.