The Beatles (White Album)

Critical reception

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The White Album was highly anticipated, being The Beatles' first full-length collection of new songs since Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, and it quickly topped the album charts in the UK and US.

Reviews were mostly positive, though some critics were bewildered or vexed by the eclecticism of the songs. In subsequent years, however, it has been regarded as one of the most significant albums of all time.

Sgt Pepper did its thing - it was the album of the decade, of the century maybe. It was very innovative with great songs, it was a real pleasure and I'm glad I was on it, but the White Album ended up a better album for me.
Ringo Starr
Anthology

Contemporary reviews included Tony Palmer in the UK Sunday newspaper The Observer. He wrote: "If there is still any doubt that Lennon and McCartney are the greatest song writers since Schubert, then next Friday - with the publication of the new Beatles double LP - should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making, which only the ignorant will not hear and only the deaf will not acknowledge." The full article was used weeks later for the sleeve notes on the UK release of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

In the New York Times, Richard Goldstein described the White Album as a "major success", but his enthusiasm was countered by Nik Cohn, who considered it to be "boring beyond belief" and full of "profound mediocrities".

Writing in the NME, Alan Smith described Revolution 9 as "pretentious" and an example of "idiotic immaturity", although he wrote enthusiastically about "most of the rest" of the album.

Chart success

The White Album was released on 22 November in the United Kingdom, five years to the day after the group's second album With The Beatles.

It was the last Beatles album to be released with different mono and stereo mixes. The mono mix was issued only in the UK, with 28 of the songs - the exceptions being Revolution 1 and Revolution 9 - having alternative mono versions. Subsequent Beatles releases in certain countries were released in mono, but these were fold-down versions of the regular stereo mixes.

On 1 December 1968 the album had its UK chart debut at number one, becoming their third album to do so after Help! and Revolver. In total, the album spent 24 weeks on the UK charts before dropping out.

It spent seven weeks at the top of the UK charts, including the entire Christmas period, and was eventually displaced by The Best Of The Seekers on 25 January 1969. The following week it returned to number one for an eighth and final week.

Thereafter it spent a further four weeks in the top 10. The White Album also forced The Beatles' Yellow Submarine soundtrack into the number three position, when it debuted and peaked on the charts on 8 February.

In the United States the White Album debuted at number 11, then reached number two, before finally topping the charts on its third week of release. It spent nine weeks in the top spot, with a total of 155 weeks on the Billboard 200.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, The Beatles is The Beatles' best-selling album at 19-times platinum, and is the 10th bestselling album of all time in the United States.

No singles were taken from the White Album at the time in the UK or US, although the standalone single Hey Jude/Revolution was recorded during the same sessions. In some countries Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was issued as a single, although this was a decision made by foreign record companies rather than The Beatles themselves.

When we started, I don't think we thought about whether the White Album would do as well as Sgt Pepper - I don't think we ever really concerned ourselves with the previous record and how many it had sold. In the early Sixties, whoever had a hit single would try to make the next record sound as close to it as possible - but we always tried to make things different. Things were always different, anyway - in just a matter of months we'd changed in so many ways there was no chance of a new record ever being like the previous one.

After Sgt Pepper, the new album felt more like a band recording together. There were a lot of tracks where we just played live, and then there were a lot of tracks that we'd recorded and that would need finishing together. There was also a lot more individual stuff and, for the first time, people were accepting that it was individual.

George Harrison
Anthology

Charles Manson and the White Album

In the months after its release, The Beatles were horrified to learn that Charles Manson had interpreted several of the White Album's songs as an incitement to commit murder and a prophecy of armageddon.

Look at the songs: songs sung all over the world by the young love. It ain't nothin' new... It's written in... Revelation, all about the four angels programming the holocaust... the four angels looking for the fifth angel to lead the people into the pit of fire... right out to Death Valley. It's all in black and white, in the White Album - white, so there ain't no mistakin' the color.
Charles Manson

Manson took particular notice of Paul McCartney's Helter Skelter, a song about a fairground ride which was nonetheless interpreted as a prophecy of chaos, which he tied in with the New Testament's Book of Revelation.

Like, Helter Skelter is a nightclub. Helter Skelter means confusion. Literally. It doesn't mean any war with anyone. It doesn't mean that those people are going to kill other people. It only means what it means. Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down fast. If you don't see the confusion coming down fast, you can call it what you wish. It's not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says 'Rise!' It says 'Kill!' Why blame it on me? I didn't write the music. I am not the person who projected it into your social consciousness.
Charles Manson, November 1970

Read our feature on Charles Manson and Helter Skelter.

Five songs by The Beatles were particularly significant for Charles Manson, all from the White Album: Helter Skelter, Revolution 1, Revolution 9, Blackbird and Piggies. He also found hidden meanings in I Will, Honey Pie, Glass Onion, Don't Pass Me By, Sexy Sadie, Rocky Raccoon and Happiness Is A Warm Gun.

Read about Charles Manson's interpretations of The Beatles' songs.

All that Manson stuff was built around George's song about pigs and this one, Paul's song about an English fairground. It has nothing to do with anything, and least of all to do with me.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Needless to say, Manson's interpretations were wholly unintended by The Beatles, who later expressed anger and disgust at his actions.

Charles Manson interpreted that Helter Skelter was something to do with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. I still don't know what all that stuff is; it's from the Bible, Revelations - I haven't read it so I wouldn't know. But he interpreted the whole thing - that we were the four horsemen, Helter Skelter the song - and arrived at having to go out and kill everyone.

It was terrible. You can't associate yourself with a thing like that. Some guy in the States had done it - but I've no idea why. It was frightening, because you don't write songs for those reasons. Maybe some heavy metal groups do nowadays, but we certainly never did.

Paul McCartney
Anthology

41 responses on “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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

    3. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

    1. 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!

  8. 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?

  9. 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?

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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…

  13. 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…

  14. 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…

  15. 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)…

  16. 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…..

  17. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. also-Paul

      After research and considerations for years I agree that the main reason for the split-up of The Beatles was Yoko (there were other reasons, too: the death of Brian Epstein, the low esteem of Georges compositions by John and Paul, and eventually Alan Klein).
      Yoko was selfish enough to want John for herself, most probably also as a tool to boost her own career, jealous of the group – and step by step she sabotaged the mood in the group completely.
      How can one talk reasonably to John (e.g. “C´mon, we never had our women in the studio, so what´s up with Yoko, simply leave her out”) when she´s always at his side? She was very intelligent and focused on her ultimate target to split up the group. Heroin was only one component …
      To the “White Album”:
      Sure there are great songs – and less great songs. But even the 2nd rate songs are much better than the bulk of releases by other groups in these days – and the diversity of this double album is one of its major strengths. There is one track – Revolution 9 (which is 99% influenced by Yoko) – that I wouldn´t miss at all … and I would prefer if George´s “Not Guilty” or perhaps “You Know My Name” would be there instead, but all other songs, even “Wild Honey Pie”, have their value …
      I´m a musician and composer myself, so I know a bit about creativiness … the way they did it is essentially connected with the eventual results. If they had concentrated on a single album from the beginning, many songs would never have been recorded at all – and the remaining ones wouldn´t be any better instead.
      I agree that all but 4 songs on the “Yellow Submarine” album (especially the back side) could be substituted by the lesser tracks from “The Beatles” – but all you would get is a definitely weak album! It is a difference if for instance “Glass Onion” follows “Back in the USSR” and “Dear Prudence” – or is heard between “Wild Honey Pie”, “Cry Baby Cry” and “Revolution 9″ – to name some lesser songs.
      So I think it´s fine like it is – I don´t want to miss it.

  18. 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.]

  19. Torch Corpses

    Even though Yoko really deserves nothing but pure contempt for her irresponsibility, shallow selfishness and underhanded motives(she’s nothing but scum)…she wasn’t really the root of the issues. The Beatles were really 2 different groups. Pre and Post August 1966. When you don’t play live anymore, you’re not really a “band”. At that point it’s more of a “collective”…an artists co-op. Which is great and cool, too…But it’s a different thing. Then Epstien kills himself and thats really the end. I mean, you can easily see it in their faces after hearing the news of it on national TV in September 67′. Lennon was maybe the most brilliant and wise dude who ever lived so, he’s not easily fooled. But I think Yoko was his way to get out of this lie he felt he was in. Sad but he would found a way with or without her to quit The Beatles.

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