Critical reception

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 June 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.

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 1968 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 was released on 25 November 1968. Its chart debut was at number 11, then it 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.

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