When I entered my “Classic Rock Phase” that lasted from the ages of 13 to 16, I immersed myself one by one into great (and not-so-great) bands of the 60s and 70s. I started with The Beatles, and the first album I purchased – as a two-cassette package from Caldor – was The Beatles. I honestly thought it was some kind of greatest hits package even though I’d never heard of many of the tracks listed before. The cassette covers featured individual portraits of the four Beatles instead of a plain white cover, so it wouldn’t be later until I realized this was the infamous “White Album.”
I immediately loved it, just for the plain weirdness of it. This is the Beatles at their most experimental and it sees them performing in a wide variety of genres including folk, ska, blues, country, heavy metal, doo-wop, Edwardian music hall, and avant garde sound collage. Many of the songs were written and inspired by the Beatles time Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, but they also found inspiration from Paul McCartney’s dog, John Lennon’s mother, a box of chocolates, and a playground slide. Several songs are snippets or half-baked repetition of a few lines which are mediocre on their own, but gain something in the weird, wonderful mix of 30 songs. It’s a regular debate among Beatles fans that the White Album could be pared down to a single album of a dozen or so songs, but no one can ever agree which songs would make the cut.
The Super Deluxe rerelease of the Beatles’ White Album celebrates the 50th anniversary of the album’s release with over 50 additional recordings from the sessions that created the album, divided into three parts.
The first part of the Super Deluxe Edition is a remaster of the original 30 tracks. I’m no audiophile, but I do think this remaster sounds much better. The instrumentation sounds richer and the vocals more distinct from the rest of the mix.
The second part is called The Esher Demos, named for George Harrison’s house where the Beatles met to record 27 new tracks (including 8 that wouldn’t make it on the album). All the song are acoustic, so this is basically the long lost Beatles MTV Unplugged album. Conversations and banter within the demos shows the Beatles working together and not as divided as the legends would have it.
The third part is a collection of session recordings. For their first album, Please Please Me, The Beatles recorded all their tracks in a single day. Six years later, they were no longer touring and the studio became the place for them to experiment. Hundreds of takes were made for each song and one can hear the band working out the lyrics and instrumentation, and even changing the style of the song (there’s an extended blues jam of “Helter Skelter,” a song that would eventually be released as a short proto-Heavy Metal track). In addition to songs that would make the White Album, there are also takes of songs that would appear on later Beatles albums or solo albums.
These are all interesting to listen to for historical reasons but nothing really challenges the versions actually released with two exceptions. “Good Night” (take 10 with a guitar part from take 5) features all four Beatles singing accompanied only by acoustic guitar. The Beatles harmony (both literally in their singing and figuratively in how they’re working together) is beautiful and it’s much more touching than the over-orchestrated version on the official release. George Harrison’s song “Not Guilty” – which he would eventually re-record for a solo album in 1979 – should’ve made the album. It’s lyrical criticism of the band’s inner turmoil is cited as the reason for it not making the cut.
Overall, this is fun to listen to, albeit I don’t see returning it to it again and again. I remember eagerly waiting to buy the Anthology collections back in the 1990s, only to never listen to them again after the first few times. I feel the same with this super deluxe album that it is valuable as a historic resource, but for my listening pleasure I’ll return to the original releases alone. That being said, it may be worth getting it for the new stereo album mix.