The Beatles’ ninth original UK album, and their 15th in the United States, was their first double-length release. Commonly known as the White Album, the self-titled collection of 30 songs stands as a majestic cornucopia of styles, born from one of the group’s most creative periods.
Although financially secure, critically and commercially acclaimed, and assured as figureheads of popular music, by the summer of 1968 The Beatles were in a degree of turmoil. The previous year they’d achieved possibly their crowning glory in Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and suffered their first major artistic failure in the Magical Mystery Tour television film.
By 1968 The Beatles’ world had changed immeasurably from their early days. Having stopped touring in 1966, they were set free to explore the possibilities from inside the studio, and began enjoying the time that their fortunes allowed. Their musical output may have slowed from the mid-1960s, but their creativity was as strong as ever.
After Sgt Pepper changed the world, the world keenly awaited The Beatles’ next step. They had released just the six-track Magical Mystery Tour EP and the ‘Lady Madonna’ single since then, and there was widespread speculation in the press that they were a spent force.
While recording the album, the group was in the process of launching the multimedia business Apple Corps, while coping with various upheavals including drug busts, changing relationships and substance abuse.
The Beatles were old hands at dealing with such pressure. They turned away from the elaborate excesses of Sgt Pepper, recording instead a simple collection of 30 songs under an even simpler name: The Beatles.
George Martin later claimed he had wanted the group to omit the album’s weaker songs and focused instead on producing a solid single-disc release.
I thought we should probably have made a very, very good single album rather than a double. But they insisted. I think it could have been made fantastically good if it had been compressed a bit and condensed. A lot of people I know think it’s still the best album they made. I later learnt that by recording all those songs they were getting rid of their contract with EMI more quickly.
Ringo Starr agreed with the sentiment.
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.
Despite its faults as a collection, Paul McCartney stood by the album, saying that the wide variety of songs was a major part of its appeal.
I think it was a very good album. It stood up, but it wasn’t a pleasant one to make. Then again, sometimes those things work for your art. The fact that it’s got so much on it is one of the things that’s cool about it. The songs are very varied. I think it’s a fine album.
I don’t remember the reaction. Now I release records and I watch to see who likes it and how it does. But with The Beatles, I can’t ever remember scouring the charts to see what number it had come in at. I assume we hoped that people would like it. We just put it out and got on with life. A lot of our friends liked it and that was mainly what we were concerned with. If your mates liked it, the boutiques played it and it was played wherever you went – that was a sign of success for us.