The Beatles (White Album)

The title and cover artwork

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The working title for the White Album was A Doll’s House, after Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play. The Beatles decided to change it, however, when British prog group Family released their debut album Music In A Doll’s House in July 1968.

Having dazzled record-buyers with the Peter Blake-designed cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles had to carefully consider their next move. They enlisted notable pop artist Richard Hamilton, who designed a plain white sleeve with the group’s name lightly embossed on the right-hand side.

Art dealer and gallery owner Robert Fraser arranged for Hamilton to meet Paul McCartney at the Apple offices in Savile Row. On the day, however, McCartney was so late arriving that the artist nearly walked out.

I tried to get him interested in the whole thing. I laid out what it was we’d got. We’d got an album coming out, we hadn’t really got a title for it. ‘I’d like you to work on the cover. We’ve done Sgt. Pepper. We’ve worked with a fine artist before and I just had a feeling you might be right.’
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now

In addition to suggesting the minimalist approach, Hamilton also had the idea of consecutive numbered sleeves, which was a feature of early copies. In Michael Cooper’s book Blinds and Shutters, Hamilton described the meeting:

Since Sergeant Pepper was so over the top, I explained, ‘I would be inclined to do a very prissy thing, almost like a limited edition.’ He didn’t discourage me so I went on to propose a plain white album; if that were too clean and empty, then maybe we could print a ring of brown stain to look as if a coffee cup had been left on it – but that was thought a bit too flippant. I also suggested that they might number each copy, to create the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies. This was agreed, but then I began to feel a bit guilty at putting their double album under plain wrappers; even the lettering is casual, almost invisible, a blind stamping. I suggested it could be jazzed up with a large edition print, an insert that would be even more glamorous than a normal sleeve.
Richard Hamilton

Later pressings did not feature the serial numbers, and the lower figures subsequently proved highly collectable. However, there were several pressing plants worldwide which each used the same numeric system, so a number of copies each bore the same numbers.

Richard had the idea for the numbers. He said, ‘Can we do it?’ So I had to go and try and sell this to EMI. They said, ‘Can’t do it.’ I said, ‘Look, records must go through something to put the shrink wrap on or to staple them. Couldn’t you just have a little thing at the end of that process that hits the paper and prints a number on it? Then everyone would have a numbered copy.’

I think EMI only did this on a few thousand, then just immediately gave up. They have very very strict instructions that every single album that came out, even to this day, should still be numbered. That’s the whole idea: ‘I’ve got number 1,000,000!’ What a great number to have! We got the first four. I don’t know where mine is, of course. Everything got lost. It’s all coming up in Sotheby’s I imagine. John got 00001 because he shouted loudest. He said, ‘Baggsy number one!’ He knew the game, you’ve gotta baggsy it.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now

The album bore a gatefold sleeve, which also included a poster designed by Hamilton, with song lyrics on the reverse, and four photographs taken by John Kelly. The UK version also contained black inner sleeves which housed the vinyl discs.

The album’s simple title – The Beatles – was also suggested by Hamilton.

Richard asked, ‘Has there been an album called The Beatles?’ so I referred back to EMI and they said, ‘No. There’s been Meet The Beatles, Introducing The Beatles in America, but there’d never been an album called The Beatles.’ So he said, ‘Let’s call it that’; which is the official title of the White Album.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now

The white cover concept went through several revisions, one of which was to have the green stain of an apple.

Richard had a friend from Iceland, the artist Dieter Roth, who used to send him letters smeared in chocolate, and Richard liked that a lot, so then the idea grew; he said, ‘Well, maybe we could do something like that with an apple. We could bounce an apple on a bit of paper and get a smudge, a very light green smear with a little bit of pulp.’ But we ended up thinking that might be hard to print, because inevitably if these things do well, there are huge printings in places like Brazil and India and anything too subtle like a little apple smear can be lost, can just look like they printed it crappy. So that idea went by the wayside.

So now he was saying, ‘Let’s call it The Beatles and have it white, really white.’ I was saying, ‘Well, I dunno. It’s a great concept, but we are releasing an album here. This is not a piece of art for a rather elite gallery, this is more than that. I see the point. It’s a nice idea, but for what we were to people, and still are, it doesn’t quite fit, we’re not quite a blank space, a white wall, the Beatles. Somebody ought to piss on it or smudge an apple on it for it to become the Beatles, because a white wall’s just too German and marvellous for us.’ So the idea then emerged to do the embossing. ‘Maybe if we emboss the word “Beatles” out of the white, that’ll be good. We’ll get a shadow from the embossing but it’s white on white. It’s still white. That’ll be nice.’ But I still wanted something on the white, an idea, like the apple smudging.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now
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38 Responses to “The Beatles (White Album)”

  1. Colonel Salt

    Colonel Salt doesn’t like The White Album. No cohesiveness, no one getting along, Revolution 9, Glass Onion, Piggies, Yoko. A real downer record. Second rate. It’s like they used up all their good juju on Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour and then a slow slide into decay. Very sad.

    Reply
    • McLerristarr

      How can you call Abbey Road part of the slide into decay? It’s one of the greatest albums of all time. In my opinion, so is the White Album and Let It Be. Although I don’t like Revolution 9, most people probably agree there, however it is… interesting.

      Reply
    • dodgo

      For those four songs that you don’t like there’s 20 good songs on this double album. The point of this album was to be loose and genuine while sgt. peppers was self-conscious and self-indulgent. Sgt. Peppers had amazing production, but most of the compositions were on the weak side. Revolver and The White album has better songs IMO.

      Reply
      • Joseph Brush

        Slide into decay? LOL!!!
        There are numerous excellent songs on the White Album.
        It is different than the previous albums which was the main quality of the Beatles. Progression.

        Reply
    • LOMAN

      Magical Mystery Tour is their worst batch of songs in my opinion (still great stuff, it is The Beatles for Christ’s sske!). Of course, you can’t count that second side of singles and b-sides on Magical Mystery Tour as part of the original e.p.

      Reply
  2. BeatleMark

    The White Album would have made a great single disc, but the Beatles did it that way in order to get their recording contract over with sooner.

    Reply
  3. LOMAN

    I gotta disagree with those that suggest that The White Album should have been cut down to a single album. I think they should have added more songs to the record! They could have left “Not Guilty”, a Harrison composition, on the record and they could have put his other songs “Sour Milk Sea” and “Circles” on there as well. The McCartney track “Etcetera” (later recorded by the Black Dyke Mills Band) and the Lennon track “What’s the New Mary Jane” could have been left on as well in my opinion! The thing that makes The White Album one of my absolute favorites, and indeed, one of the best albums in history is it’s very speratic and bi-polar, if-you-will, nature. It’s up and down and back and forth, there’s so much on there but everything is completely different. The album successfully never repeates itself.

    Reply
    • brian

      I don’t count myself among those that would reduce the “The Beatles” lp down to one disc but obviously Revolution 9 is it’s most disposable track. While it does make for an interesting listen, it’s quite indulgent, certainly not musical, and makes me feel the album isn’t truly four sides of Beatle content but more like three and three quarters.

      Reply
    • JohnKing67

      I liked Paul’s response to the criticism that the album should have been a single record (“It’s the Beatles, it sold, shut up”.)

      Reply
  4. Karl

    Has anyone ever heard of a Beatles White Album having the nude picture of John & Yoko holding a newspaper in front of them on the inside cover? The picture has only their lower half’s covered. I have a Korean label double LP that has that picture in it. I had my Brother, who was stationed in Korea at the time, send me albums from the PX as they were only a $1.00 to purchase.

    I have read a lot of stories, but never anything about this. I do know that John & Yoko’s album, Two Virgins, was released at the same time, with similar pictures.

    So I’m wondering, do I have something that is quite rare? I believe the records themselves are produced in Mono.

    Reply
    • John

      I was 15 or 16 when the album came out. The album had a nude picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It was quickly pulled from the stores and replaced with the white album. It was even said then that whoever bought the original album it would be worth a lot of money.

      Reply
    • Will

      The only nude Beatle on the White Album is Paul, on the poster (a collage by Richard Hamilton, who designed the album cover). It’s a small photo near the middle, left of the photo of Ringo dancing with Elizabeth Taylor. There is a vertical line running through it to hide Paul’s dangly bits. You could still see his pubes though. On later printings the pubic hair was obscured.

      Reply
  5. beatleKen

    i’ve been readin that NICKY HOPKINS who did play on the REVOLUTION single also played on various other songs on the White Album and also on the HEY JUDE single. Someone needs to check on this.
    On his site it also says he started playin sessions startin with SPLHCB.

    Reply
  6. robert

    The thing that makes the White Album interesting for me (beyond the incredible music) is that the production techniques are pretty much just as complex as Pepper and Mystery Tour – the songs however are more straight forward.

    There’s tons of orchestra, horns, weird instruments and mixing tricks, and sound effects on the White Album yet it “appears” to be a simpler album.

    Listen to the horns on Revolution 1 – the strings on Piggies or at the end of Glass Onion – elaborate stuff yet used sparingly.

    It’s very sophisticated rock album

    Reply
    • EyesofBlue

      Well said, Robert! And how about the horns on Martha My Dear or the woodwinds on Honey Pie or the messed-up saxes on Savoy Truffle.

      Reply
  7. robert

    Exactly, Eyes, there’s a ton of complex yet sparingly used detail on that album.

    Almost every track has something on it that makes one think “Wow, that’s a little bit more involved than I first realized”

    The White Album, as great as it is, may be the most under appreciated album out there – and not just of the Beatles’ but in music overall.

    Reply
  8. MeanMrs.Mustard

    Anyone know why it was self-titled?
    My biggest beef with this album is that the songs don’t sound very “together”– so many of them sound like a lead singer and his “backing band.” Not that there aren’t songs on this album that are group efforts!

    Reply
    • Nicole

      I know that this was originally going to be titled “A Doll’s House” but another band had something similar already. My guess and from what I’ve read is that to make it contrast Sgt Pepper (with the cover art) that they made a minimalist cover design and to go along with it, they named it after themselves. I don’t really know why it’s self titled, I more so know why it’s not it’s original name!

      Reply
  9. Sara

    I saw a video of John and Yoko staring into each others eyes during the white album sessions, but I can no longer find it.. If anyone has/knows where it is, could you possibly post the link?

    Reply
  10. John Day

    I have a Beatles double LP Album titled The Beatles. It is in a white cover with the songs listed on the inside left side and the pictures of the Beatles on the right side. On the outside of the white cover is printed The Beatles. Also, the number C1-46443 is printed on the inside left side. On the back is printed 1968 Original sound Recordings made by EMI Records Ltd. 1968 EMI Records Ltd. The two records have the label Capitol. The records have all the original songs. I was under the impression the label was Apple. Do I have a remake or a bootleg copy?

    Reply
  11. sounds suite

    just trying to find out or maybe confirm some info about the copy of the white album i have here..
    heres some details-
    SWBO 101
    number on front – 0075953
    so from what i can tell this is a second pressing on capitol, pressed in LA.
    the titles on the label have all been corrected except for the “c” in raccoon, can anyone give any info on when the c was corrected?? any other info anyone can tell me about this copy?

    Reply
  12. Will

    Ringo did NOT agree with George Martin that the White Album should have been condensed down to one disk. Watch the video of the Anthology–he is clearly being sarcastic when he says, “There was a lot of information on the double album, but I agree that we should have put it out as two separate albums: the ‘White’ and the ‘Whiter’ albums.” Even when read, that statement oozes sarcasm.

    Reply
  13. Velvet Hand

    I love the white album so much that I wish they’d continued in the same way and put out a few more albums of this type. They may have quarrelled a lot while they made it, but to proceed like this (instead of lunging into the Get Back fiasco), allow for solo output, and maybe put in a few breaks, should have been possible… sigh…

    Reply
  14. Bill

    Actually, this album is much more self-indulgent than Pepper. Although there’s some great music on this album, there’s also a lot of second-rate material here too, which continued with the Get Back/Let It Be sessions (not to say that there aren’t good songs on that album either). I agree with George Martin’s assessment that at least 1/3 of this album should’ve been junked & more time & effort spent on the better songs. When Paul goes from writing songs like For No One, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There And Everywhere and She’s Leaving Home to schlock like Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, you know something’s wrong. I was a kid when this came out, & not knowing anything of their internal problems at the time, I was still struck at the lack of cohesiveness of this album. It just doesn’t sound like a group album. He’ll, the re-configured earlier Capitol LP’s sounded more coherent than this. It’s very schizophrenic. If Revolution 9 isn’t self-indulgent, I don’t know what is. That being said, there’s some good material here. There’s also a morbid curiosity because you can tell that this was the beginning of the end for them as a group, & that comes through in the music.

    For those of you post-Baby Boomers who didn’t grow up with the Cold War mentality, this might not gel for you. ’68 was a bad year, especially in the US. That was the year the country came close to a collective nervous breakdown, with the twin King/Kennedy assasinations, the riots that followed & the Tet Offensive (which is when things in Vietnam REALLY started going bad), just to name a few things.
    In the midst of that scenario, here come The Beatles with a new single & album that just by some of the song titles alone, sound a little bit subversive, mainly Revolution, Back In The USSR & Happiness Is A Warm Gun. It was a violent time back then & some people were wondering what point the boys were trying to make. With hindsight being 20/20, we know now that the songs weren’t subversive, but back then with the Cold War paranoia, some folks weren’t so sure.
    John said “count me out” in the single version of Revolution, but it’s still a very harsh, angry-sounding song to the casual listener. I remember some folks trying to make a Lennon/Lenin connection too. It all seems silly now, but back then a lot of folks took that kind of stuff seriously.

    The Manson connection the following year didn’t help this LP’s reputation either. Funnily enough, I don’t remember any controversy surrounding the next album released (Abbey Road), aside from the silly Paul is dead thing…

    Reply
  15. Bill

    Actually, the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I’ve thought about this scenario: The best of this album should’ve been released as a single LP, while the lesser songs should’ve been placed on side 2 of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack (they weren’t released that far apart), & George Martin’s score should’ve been scrapped. He could’ve always put it out on his own, like he did with his earlier Beatle-related material. I didn’t know of anyone at the time who ever played side 2 of that LP…

    Reply
  16. Bill

    In fact, out of the original US LP’s in my collection, the only 2 I never kept were Yellow Submarine & Hey Jude (aka The Beatles Again), because I thought they were both rip-offs. In the case of the Hey Jude LP, I already had all those singles (which I preferred, since the majority of them were in mono anyway), so why buy the LP? The only US single I didn’t have was If I Fell b/w And I Love Her. Hell, I’ve even got The Beatles Introduce New Songs, which is an extremely rare 1964 promo-only Capitol EP, plus the 1-sided Dialogue From Let It Be promo 45. At one time, I had Vee-Jay 498, with the mis-spelled “Beattles” (still kick myself for selling it)…

    Reply
  17. trev

    Say what you want about this album but there is more variation of musical styles than on almost any other album I have ever heard and that includes some various artists compilation albums. In the UK this album appeared for about 3 weeks in the new musical express singles chart. (it was actually at that time a best sellers chart but album rarely sold enough to enter the top 30) . I think it appeared at 11 and dropped to 18 then 30 before disappearing. I agree that a single album would be great but I have tried to do this personally and trying to keep it to about 40 odd minutes is impossible, Ob la di would have made a fantastic Xmas single and would have saved us from that awful marmalade version which topped the charts in Jan 1969. Lose revolution 9 put Goodnight maybe on B side of Obladi single, lose why don’t we do it. and wild honey pie but that still leaves far too much for one LP. Another single could have followed in March instead of Get Back but when ever did the beatles hold tracks back like this. Its great in retrospect to say all this. If they had done this we would probably be saying why didn’t they do a doulble album. Just think of all the NEW stuff which would have been on bootleg or anthology…..

    Reply
  18. CapnDave33

    I have the Capitol pressing of the album in white vinyl. I have only played it three times. I recorded it so I could listen to it, but now I have it on cd.

    Reply
  19. robert

    Here’s an opinion I’ve come to regarding the White Album. If you watch the interviews of John and Paul announcing Apple, which is right after India and during the White Album time, you’ll see John saying how regardless of the value TM – everyone came back more relaxed and with clearer minds.

    The you have the demos for the White Album made at George’s house – which are the songs written in India which make up most of the White Album.

    Looking at the John’s songs on the White Album – it seems to me that he was about to emerge as dominant songwriting force again. The biting rock attack of songs like Glass Onion, Revolution 1, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, etc – the return to gentleness as in Julia, Good Night, even Cry Baby Cry – throw in Yer Blues, Sexy Sadie, Bungalow Bill – it seems to me John was back in strength – not full not complete but returning.

    What happened?

    Yoko and heroin. Even though he’d “started up” with Yoko before India, it wasn’t until the return that he ditched Cynthia and went full time Yoko. That’s where the heroin use came in as well.

    That ended John’s role for a long time. Consider how John’s writing, playing etc, would have emerged if he’d kept on the path he was on after India. More relaxed and ready to write and play. They returned ready to work more – thus all the Apple announcements etc.

    A close examination of the White Album shows where John was headed, – amazing songwriting – heroin derailed it. Sad.

    Just my view of things

    Reply
    • James Ferrell

      I’ve thought the same thing too. John wrote a lot of songs for the White Album and they were strong. Not so for the next project Get Back/Let It Be. Maybe it was his involvement with Yoko or heroin or both that led to the decline.

      On the other hand, his contributions to Abbey Road, whose recording began immediately after the Let It Be sessions ended, were strong. His leftovers from India (Polythene Pam, Mean Mister Mustard) were good and his new songs (Because, Come Together, I Want You, Sun King) were at least as good. So maybe the Let It Be era slump was just a slump.

      Reply
    • Art

      I think the opposite view has some validity: Yoko and heroin were s much symptoms as causes of his disaffection – from the Beatles as well as his status quo generally. There is ample evidence and “scholarship so to speak that John’s process of checking out began way before the White Album. He’d said so himself – not in this conclusive form but in effect about what he and or the group might do next – in contemporaneous interviews in the mid-sixties at the latest. One think I think you can say is the dissociation, whatever its causes, robbed him of his strongest asset beyond his own talent, which was the collaboration with Paul.

      Reply
  20. Art

    Regarding the group contretemps over releasing (or deciding not to release) Revolution 1 as a single, it really would have been far out and Solomonic to have put out both versions on the same single. Although I think the uptempo Revolution is the more commercial (and indeed I like it better) it would have been mind-blowing to make it the B side. Wind down Rev 1 with the fade out, then flip it over and that screaming riff and screaming scream, hello! [Cross-posting this to the Revolution page as the decision on which version was suitable for the single is also discussed there.]

    Reply

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