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The Beatles: The Rare and the Remixed   

Beatles White Album WRSU Review Image

On November 22, 1968 the Beatles released their ninth studio album, and despite the fact that it’s self-titled, it’s often referred to as “the White Album.” This double album manages to fool you with the simplicity of the cover: white and blank, only embossed with the band’s name, off-centered. Nonetheless, the music within speaks louder than any picture could describe. 

Thirty tracks in total, the work is a compilation of songs that are the product of their attempt to strengthen the band. However, still unbeknownst to them, The Beatles would soon break up.

Starting with “Back in the U.S.S.R” and ending with “Goodnight” The Beatles provide listeners with an eclectic variety of rock and roll. The majority of the songs were written during their trip India, which began in February of 1968. Denouncing drugs such as LSD after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they looked towards Transcendental Meditation as taught by guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Upon their return to the UK, The Beatles recorded these songs at the end of May within George Harrison’s home in Esher. Recently on November 9, a re-release was issued including 2018 remixes of the classic songs, as well as such Esher demos and original takes. Included are demos of gems such as “Junk” and “Circles” that don’t actually appear on the original album. In fact, “Junk” appears on a solo album by Paul McCartney in 1970, while “Circles” is on Harrison’s 1982 album, “Gone Troppo.”

Truly, the beauty of this new album lies within such demos and takes. Authentic and pure, these demos allow you to hear the love shared between the members. Still happy to be creating music together, the four of them were simply enjoying themselves and testing out sounds. It’s The Beatles at work; the album in the making—and now you get to be there.

The classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was released as a single early on and it proved to be a wonderful teaser. The Esher demo relies on acoustic guitars as the iconic keyboard had not yet been added in. Nonetheless, the layered voices work together to achieve such a beautiful sound that allows the track to compete with the released version. Interestingly, the Esher demo also includes different lyrics: in the first verse, the third line is changed to “Problems you sell are the troubles you’re reaping,” and the last verse is changed completely. Meanwhile, the listed acoustic version features only one vocal track, but Harrison’s voice is accompanied by a lovely organ in the background. This track has the same final verse as the Esher demo, but the first line of the verse changed to “I look from the wings at the play you are staging.”

The heartbreaking “Julia” has three versions including the new mix. Inspired by Donovan’s guitar picking style and dedicated to John Lennon’s deceased mother, all recordings of the song are solely performed by Lennon. Within the charming Esher demo, you hear a harmonic layering of Lennon’s voice. “Julia—Two Rehearsals” is obviously rawer as it starts with an offhand comment by Lennon about his difficulties singing the song; so difficult, in fact, that he stops playing a third of the way into the track and starts over “picking it slightly faster.”

Meanwhile, “Circles” stands to be a track that sends a shiver down your spine through the strangely haunting organ. Harrison’s voice subtly distorted, his lyrics reveal a newfound perspective of the cyclical world we live in. Though the lyrics become more developed by the time he releases it on his own, the sound of the original take can’t be beat. Harrison’s soulful “Long, Long, Long” stands to be equally as haunting; this song is a reflection of his lost relationship with God, which had been rekindled during the trip. From then on, Harrison’s spirituality began to be one of the biggest inspirations in his songwriting. We can observe this particular song’s path to perfection through “Long, Long, Long – Take 44” which starts off with Harrison joking that “We’re not really what we make out to be.” Ultimately, Harrison’s songs throughout never fail to reveal how profoundly he was affected by the trip to India.

One song that demonstrates a significant difference between the original demo and the final release is the famed “Helter Skelter.” The twelve minute long “Helter Skelter – First Version/Take 2” starts with two minutes of bluesy guitar and rhythmic drums before vocals make an appearance. There is a clear contrast in genre between this and the harshness of the released version, which sounded so dirty that it is thought to have influenced the development of heavy metal. Supposedly, McCartney was inspired to write this song in order to compete against the dirtiness of The Who’s new single “I Can See for Miles.” By the time the song was finished, critics were able to perceive the vocal and writing range that causes McCartney to be revered as one of the greats to this day.

Minor, but charmingly notable, tracks include “Can You Take Me Back” which now stands on its own instead of acting as an outro to “Cry Baby Cry.” Also, as the iconic band that continues to inspire future generations, their version of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Moon” provides to be a chipper bonus in the midst the album and acts as an homage to one of their own inspirations.

Truly, the amount of effort that went into making the original album was immense. In fact, it was perhaps their most carefully concocted album. Sober and in tune with themselves, they once again revolutionized their sound, but simultaneously stayed true to The Beatles. If you have the time to spare, the new five and a half hour album should not be second guessed. It’s an experience like no other, and out of the 107 tracks, you’re bound to find a song or two that simply speaks to your heart.

Album Rating: 10/10

Album Review By: Emily Girgis