The White Album is without a doubt the most stylistically diverse Beatles album. This is in large part due to the individualism of the album's songs. When asked in a Rolling Stone interview when the Beatles actually broke up, John Lennon cited "The Beatles' White Album. ... Every track is an individual track – there isn't any Beatle music on it. … It was John and the Band, Paul and the Band, George and the Band” (The Ballad of John and Yoko, page 88). The White Album, then, is the point at which the four band members established their individuality, as opposed to the group-function that characterized and defined the band's earlier work. Consequently, the individualized tracks on The White Album foreshadow the solo careers of each Beatle.
George Harrison's "Long Long Long" could easily fit on his first solo album All Things Must Pass (1970). Its delicate and spiritual character is very similar to "My Sweet Lord", "Hear Me Lord", or the album's title track. Likewise, although the album version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is heavy, the first take of the song was very lite, and equally anticipatory of All Things Must Pass.
Although written by John Lennon, "Good Night" is sung by Ringo, and would not be out of place on his first solo album, Sentimental Journey (1970), which is a compilation of old song standards that Starr grew up listening to. While "Good Night" was written in 1968, it is in the same 1940's style as the tracks on Sentimental Journey. The one song on The White Album actually written by Ringo, "Don't Pass Me By", would similarly fit on his second solo album, Beaucoups of Blues (1970), which features country & western music. In fact, the track "I'd Be Talking All The Time" off Beaucoups of Blues features the lyrics, "For ev'ry dream that came my way, A million passed me by."
John Lennon's oedipally confessional "Julia", which closes disc 1 of The White Album, would fit perfectly on his first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970), which features similarly poignant tracks such as "Mother", "My Mummy's Dead", and "Look at Me" (which also uses the same fingerpicking style as "Julia"). And although ultimately left off The White Album, Lennon also wrote "Child of Nature" around the same time as "Julia". The song was re-worked and released on his second solo album, Imagine (1971).
Paul McCartney's White Album tracks do not fit quite so nicely into the foreshadowing category of the other three's songs. It is difficult, for example, to imagine "Helter Skelter", "Back in the USSR", or "Rocky Raccoon" on his first solo album, McCartney (1970). In his book Tell Me Why, Time Riley suggests that " 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' could have appeared on McCartney's Ram" (page 288), but I apparently don't find that match as strong as he does. McCartney's "Junk", however, much like Lennon's "Child of Nature", was originally considered for inclusion on The White Album, but ultimately left off. The song would be included on McCartney. Similarly, "Teddy Boy" was written at the same time (while in India), but considered for and ultimately left off the Let it Be project, to be revived and included on McCartney.
Cott, Jonathan and Christine Doudna, editors. The Ballad of John and Yoko. Rolling Stone Press, Dolphin Books, DoubleDay & Company, New York, NY, 1982.
Riley, Tim. Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, The Sixties and After. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 1989.
Having completed my study of documented hours spend in the recording studio on each Beatles album, I can now compile my findings to produce a visual illustration: a bar graph comparing total documented studio time per Beatles album.
Using this example, it is very clear indeed that The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) took the longest time to record by far (about twice as much time as it took the band to record Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, or Abbey Road). This isn't surprising as The White Album is the only Beatles double album, so it makes sense that it would take about twice as long to record.
Lastly, notice that both Let it Be and Yellow Submarine have asterisks next to their number. This is because documentation for those two albums is incomplete. No doubt both albums took more time than shown (probably about twice those figures), but the number listed is what is documented. Any attempt to estimate precise numbers above those shown would be futile.
When asked by Rolling Stone when the Beatles broke up, John Lennon cited "The Beatles' White Album. Listen - all you experts listen, none of you can hear. Every track is an individual track - there isn't any Beatle music on it. I just say, listen to the White Album. It was John and the band, Paul and the band, George and the Band, like that" (page 88). Using that quote as a springboard, this blog will cite the primary author of each track from The White Album.
Back In The USSR - McCartney
Dear Prudence - Lennon
Glass Onion - Lennon
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - McCartney
Wild Honey Pie - McCartney
The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill - Lennon
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - Harrison
Happiness Is A Warm Gun - Lennon
Martha My Dear - McCartney
I'm So Tired - Lennon
Blackbird - McCartney
Piggies - Harrison
Rocky Raccoon - McCartney
Don't Pass Me By - Starkey
Why Don't We Do It In The Road? - McCartney
I Will - McCartney
Julia - Lennon
Birthday - McCartney
Yer Blues - Lennon
Mother Nature's Son - McCartney
Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey - Lennon
Sexy Sadie - Lennon
Helter Skelter - McCartney
Long, Long, Long - Harrison
Revolution 1 - Lennon
Honey Pie - McCartney
Savoy Truffle - Harrison
Cry Baby Cry - Lennon/McCartney
Revolution 9 - Lennon (and Ono)
Good Night - Lennon
Of the 30 songs on the two discs, 12 ½ are Paul's, 12 ½ are John's, 4 are George's, and 1 is Ringo's.
The Editors of Rolling Stone. Jonathan Cott and Christine Doudna, ed. The Ballad of John and Yoko. A Rolling Stone Press Book, Dolphin Books Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1982.
Both the film and the album Magical Mystery Tour suffered from a lack of discipline. Increased drug use no doubt contributed, but aesthetic principles were at play as well. "Randomness as art appealed to all of the Beatles very much," wrote George Martin wrote in his 1994 book With a Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper. "Sometimes, therefore, they would jam for hours in the studio, and we would be expected to tape it all, recognizing the moment of great genius when it came through. The only trouble was, it never did come through. This free-form associative tinkering happened a lot after Pepper on Magical Mystery Tour. It was a side of the Beatles that I found rather tedious. 'If you want to be random, let's be organized about it,' which was definitely not what they wanted to hear when they were in that mood" (page 138).
This indulgence led to the Beatles' interest in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who advocated a much more spare and natural lifestyle through Transcendental Meditation. In February 1968, the band traveled to Rishikesh, India to pursue the holy man's teachings. At the Maharishi's suggestion, the Beatles formally renounced all drug use. It didn't last. But for the duration of their stay in Rishikesh, all four Beatles were sober. And even by Beatles standards, their Indian respite proved exceptionally fertile, with John, Paul, and George combining to write dozens of songs and song fragments. With no electricity, however, electric guitars were useless, and as a result many of their Rishikesh songs employ acoustic fingerpicking techniques and patterns distinctly different from their previous work, many of which found their way on to their next album, including “Blackbird”, “Dear Prudence”, and “Mother Nature's Son”.
It was also in India that Yoko Ono began to occupy John Lennon's mind. She would send him postcards saying things like, “I'm a cloud in the sky. Look for me.” Lennon, upon receiving these postcards, was supposed to look up, find a cloud, and think of Yoko. Apparently her tactics worked because in the ballad “Julia” (which is another acoustic fingerpicking song), Lennon sings, “ocean child calls me”, referring to Yoko (whose name in Japanese means “ocean child”) and her constant postcards.
The White Album was originally titled A Doll's House (after Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play of the same name) until the progressive rock band Family released their debut album titled Music in a Doll's House on 19 July 1968. (Frankly, A Doll's House might have been the better title given the albums rather disjointed content.) The new album was then changed simply to The Beatles, and the cover left blank white, to be known forever more as The White Album.
Martin, George. With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper. Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 1994.
The White Album served as the perfect antithesis to Sgt. Pepper. What, after all, could have been more different from Pepper's collage cover than plain white? And what could have been more different from Pepper's “concept album” layout, in which the entire record can be viewed as a single large-scale product, than a series of rather aimless fragments?
One of the most common sentiments regarding The White Album is that it should have been whittled down to a single album instead of a double album; but that means omitting half of the songs, and which ones go and which ones stay is a point of tremendous contention. In fact, if you want to start a fight among Beatles fans, this might be the surest way to do so.
One major reason for the album being a double is that the three songwriting Beatles all wanted their songs to be included - they all felt that their material was worthy of the album. Thus, the album grew because neither John nor Paul nor George wanted any of their songs cut. This insistence, however, was only the tip of the iceberg - the symptoms of a much greater, more fundamental problem: All four Beatles were growing apart, and wanted to spend progressively more time pursuing their own individual projects rather than unified Beatles projects. In fact, when asked when the Beatles broke up, John Lennon indicated The White Album, because, “Every track is an individual track – there isn't any Beatles music on it. … It was John and the band, Paul and the band, George and the band” (Cott, page 88). Here again, what could be further from Sgt. Pepper?
Cott, Jonathan, ed. and Christine Doudna, ed. The Ballad of John and Yoko. Rolling Stone Press, Dolphin Books, Double Day & Company, Inc, Garden City, NY, 1982.
In the early Sixties, black was the most significant color for the Beatles. They wore black leather stage outfits, wrote the song  "Baby's in Black", and Paul even admitted "Our favorite colour was black" (Anthology, page 160)
But by the mid-Sixties, however, that changed. The spread of color television helped, and no doubt psychedelic drugs (which inhibit the brain's ability to process colors) played a role, as well.
In the late Sixties, though, that changed yet again - at least for John Lennon. Yoko Ono, whose color preference was white, gradually and progressively began to occupy Lennon's thoughts from their first meeting in November 1966 through the realization of their romantic relationship in 1968. She once created an exhibition of all white objects – including an all white chess set, accompanied by the instructions, “Play it for as long as you can remember who is your opponent and who is your own self.” Chess is a game of war – strategic war rather than violent war, but war nonetheless. Furthermore, white is a symbol of innocence (which is why brides wear white dresses) and in the context of war, white is the color of surrender – meaning the end of violent conflict. Yoko was a pacifist long before she ever met John Lennon, and in creating an all-white chess set, what she is doing is pointing out the fact that despite humanity's differences we are all human and we all share the same planet (just as all pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, kings, and queens all share the same chess board), and we all need to find a way to get along peacefully, i.e. without war or violence. She found a fresh way to illustrate the cliche "more alike than different" while simultaneously advancing her pacifist principles. How different, after all, would an all-black chess set be?
Yoko's influence on John Lennon - and particularly her affinity for the color white - is discernible as early as 1968. The album The Beatles is more commonly known as The White Album because of its stark plain white color with white embossed letters. How different would the album The Beatles be if its cover was plain black?
Moreover, there are a great many pictures of the couple wearing all-white clothing:
Additionally, Lennon owned an all-white piano - not coincidentally on which he composed the song "Imagine".
Beatles. The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, 2000.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.