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Many ideas flurry around one’s mind when thinking about The White Album: Yoko Ono blowing up the band by clinging to John Lennon during recording sessions, Ringo Starr briefly quitting the group during a particularly contentious session, Charles Manson appropriating “Helter Skelter” for his own sinister purposes, fans playing “Revolution 9” backwards for evidence that Paul McCartney was dead, and the Beatles’ flirtation with guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, where most of the songs for the double album were written. Has any rock album given birth to so much enduring folklore?
The record was originally released housed in an all-white gatefold cover with “The Beatles,” the name of the album, embossed (in white) on the front. It album immediately became known as TheWhite Album and the name stuck. The 2LP set itself was released with the then-new Apple labels, but was recorded and owned by EMI and, in every other way, a Parlophone release. It largely remains a collection of individual Beatle solo recordings rather than a group effort, and the beginning of the end for the band as all four strong personalities started heading off in different directions. While the whole group usually recorded the backing tracks, the author of each song performed vocal overdubs without the band in the studio (or even in the country). Nonetheless, The White Album has come to be considered one of the Fab Four’s great albums and a favorite of many fans. It was released in both stereo and mono, and spawned several websites devoted to cataloging the differences between the two versions.
Mono or stereo, the 30-track TheWhite Album teems with music that, at times, sounds achingly beautiful, with stunning guitar work and artistically imaginative writing. George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” features Eric Clapton on lead guitar and cements Harrison’s legacy as a composer. McCartney’s “Honey Pie,” like “When I’m Sixty-Four,” embraces his debt to his father who encouraged his fascination with cabaret, night club, and dance music. But what really puts a unique stamp on the set are the handful of silly songs like “Rocky Raccoon,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road,” “Piggies,” “Glass Onion,” and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Decades of Beatles research shows how Lennon and McCartney could toss off nonsense lyrics with abandon, but in 1968, even the least-fanatical Beatles enthusiast listened to them seeking meaning they were convinced lurked there.
Apple’s 2014 100% analog reissue is the first release to challenge the primacy of an original U.K. pressing. Even if you’ve only heard the album in stereo, forget the Japanese and out-of-print Mobile Fidelity reissues. This mono reissue will win you over. Compared to a first U.K. pressing, the soundstage stretches wider on certain cuts (e.g., “Birthday”) on the original than on the reissue. An occasional loss of air around the instruments also occurs on the reissue. But several very strong advantages work in favor the 2014 copy. Almost across the board, keyboard and guitar parts sound much clearer—not louder but more three-dimensional. In fact, all the instrumental backing tracks seem to have better definition. Dynamic range is improved throughout, which makes the bass in particular feel as if possesses more body. At the end of the day, I’d be quite satisfied with either the reissue or a U.K. original, but with early pressings of the latter selling for six figures, the choice is easy.
Packaging is the only box Apple didn’t tick quite right. With every other mono Beatles reissue, the package borders on perfection. However, with this foldout cover, my sample is not accurately cut and, as a result, the cover does not stay flat. The four sheets of the foldout cover are also glued crooked, and the poor fit caused one disc to warp.
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