Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage
Giles Martin On Reissuing The Beatles' 1968 Enigma 'The White Album'
Stories about The Beatles' The White Album seized national attention when it was released on Nov. 22, 1968. Now, nearly 50 years later, a remixed reissue arrives with more than 75 previously unreleased tracks produced by Giles Martin, who has been sharing stories of his unexpected encounters with The Beatles' original sessions.
Album sales for the week ending Nov. 15 placed The White Album at No. 6 on the Billboard 200. The 6-CD set Super Deluxe Edition provides the most perspective ever on this musical package that was an enigma when it first came out, produced by George Martin, Giles' father. Perhaps the most unexpected take of them all was Giles' takeaway from his personal encounter with the recordings.
"All I have to go on is what's on tape," he told Variety. "The sessions are the sessions, and the sessions are a band recording." This flies in the face of what became the conventional consensus that the original 30 tracks were all over the place because of a lack of togetherness.
A 3-CD Deluxe reissue is also available, and the advanced lore surrounding the work's many details is not required for enjoyment.
"It's not for people that are going to buy it and listen to it over and over and have theories and write books," Giles Martin said. "It's for a generation that's never heard a Beatles song." He believes new ears will get with the sound that came together "on the live floor" for example when George Harrison asked how fast he should kick off "Sexy Sadie" and John Lennon replied, "Whatever you want, George, you can just feel it."
While Martin's impressions encourage a re-listen, and the album always had its own fresh charm, here are a few of the details that made it so challenging to accept in 1968.
Conceived from new songs written during a spiritual sojourn in India, the album was actually called The Beatles and was released with no promotional artwork — a startling anti-commercial statement in 1968.
The enthusiasm of its lead track, "Back In The U.S.S.R.," was attacked as anti-American. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" was attacked as inappropriately pro-violence, while meanwhile Americans were being drafted into the war in Vietnam. "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" was broadly perceived as obscene. These reactions suggest that in 1968 there was very limited mainstream tolerance for experiments in irony, because the cultural commentary seems more straightforward in 2018.
While mysteries such as the sound collage of "Revolution 9" were too way-out for most listeners 50 years ago, the saddest and weirdest interpretation of a track off the album was given to "Helter Skelter" by murder-cult leader Charles Manson, who considered it coded prophecy.
All of this suggests that the strains of what was conventionally considered "America" were being stretched or even broken in ways people found intimidating and offensive. As cultural icons and bestselling superstars, The Beatles released their unconventional collection, causing many to assume the band was falling apart. These new recordings offer perhaps a new perspective.
Martin attributed the reissue's main motivation to "inspiring generations" because he believes the songs can go head-to-head with new 2018 tracks, hits and artists. Outside of the history, that is a wonderful premise. But historically, it is also redeeming to know that the creative rock quartet that made such a mark on the world were not just a band at odds with each other while recording. Their experiments and explorations were a musical coming together, according to Martin, not a breaking apart.