In 1968, The Beatles followed up the psychedelic sounds of Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour with a stripped back, 30 track, self-titled rock and roll album that would eventually be known simply as The White Album.
Much has been written about the sessions that created this iconic masterpiece but 50 years later, through an expansive box set, much of the misconceptions surrounding this record have been put to rest. Further, a remix of the original record was tackled by Giles Martin, son of the famed Beatles producer George Martin. Thanks in large part to the less lavish production and the expansion from four tracks to eight, the White Album was not in the dire need of a remix that Pepper or Mystery Tour were but this remix is a welcome project none the less.
Typically this site would do a track by track analysis of the album as it recently did with Village Green Preservation Society or Egypt Station but this album includes 30 tracks and the anniversary box contains 107. Suffice to say, the box is a must-have for die hard Beatles fans and the remix should be included in any casual fan’s collection.
There isn’t much revelatory information in the remix. Listeners are rarely treated to a guitar part that was previously burred in the mix but the mix is brought up to modern standards in terms of stereo spread, balance, and equalization. That said, there are minor revelations to be found.
Take Ob-La-Di, for example. The bass work on that track is much more pronounced on the remix and McCartney’s ghost notes between the sweeping arpeggio exhibit what a fantastic bass player he is.
Rockers like Back in the U.S.S.R., Savoy Truffle, and Glass Onion sound so amazing at loud volumes that it’d be easy to believe they were recorded recently. The drums and bass thumps, the guitars are gritty and raw, and the vocals are more present than any other recording of that era. Each Beatle has the benefit of a new, fresh showcase of their talents with Harrison’s guitar, Lennon’s voice, McCartney’s bass, and Starr’s drums highlighted in all the right places.
All that aside, though, it’s important to look at The White Album as a singular artistic statement. The full breadth of musical expression is covered in this album from the music hall sensibility of Honey Pie to the heavy metal blast of Helter Skelter to the folk ballad of Julia to the experimentation of Revolution 9, this album is arguably the most eclectic collection of songs any band has ever released.
It is often speculated that the album could have been improved if it were cut down to a single disc. That is a fun speculation but a debate hardly worth having as even the weakest songs on this album have their place as a palette cleanser for some very challenging material. This is not a happy album and as much of a throwaway Wild Honey Pie is, it does serve as a light-hearted reprieve on an album that covers topics like political revolution, murder, guitars weeping, insomnia, disillusionment, cavities, and the actual line “yes I’m lonely, wanna die.” The days of holding hands and yeah yeah yeah are long in the past.
The genius of The White Album is that the darkness of many of these songs doesn’t get bogged down with depressing music and the genius of this remix is that the listener is placed right in the middle of most influential musical acts of all time at the peak of their powers. The album doesn’t sound more polished than the original. In fact, in many places it sounds grittier, dirtier, and more claustrophobic than the original, and, in that way, it is more in the spirit of the music each disc contains.
When the guitar transition on Happiness is a Warm Gun kicks in, it stings you and pierces through the mix like it never has before. When Ringo’s drums explode on Long Long Long, it slaps you in the face as if you were sitting in front of the kit. And when the band is grooving, it is hard not to groove along with them.
The remix of this album, somehow, makes an already raw album more raw and more powerful. This album demands to be played full volume and it rewards listeners who heed that demand.
There are moments on this album that will elicit an emotional response simply because of their perfection and while there aren’t many “I never noticed that before” moments on the remix, a new appreciation for the genius of this body of work is destined to become a byproduct of each listen.
Take some time to listen to this album in its entirety, full blast, on a good sound system. Pay attention to the driving groove of Glass Onion, the subtle bass work of Ob-La-Di, the sheer rock of Savoy Truffle, the complex hemiola of Warm Gun‘s doo-wop section, or the near absence of defined meter in Monkey. These are not songs often cited by casual fans but each one offers such a rewarding musical experience to listeners who dig a little deeper into the track. This new remix helps guide listeners into that depth.
It is ridiculous to rate The White Album. It’s a masterpiece from the jet engine opening to the lullaby ending and everything in between just works to solidify the opinion that The Beatles were the best rock and roll ever had.