“It was great. It sold. It’s the bloody Beatles’ White Album. Shut up!” So said Paul McCartney when someone suggested The Beatles’ self-titled magnum opus should have been a single LP.
On the one hand, he’s absolutely right — The White Album, as it’s become known, is one of rock ’n’ roll’s classic double albums. It boasts a ton of hits: Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Happiness is a Warm Gun — and that’s just Side 1. Add Blackbird, Birthday, Helter Skelter and Revolution 1 to that list and Macca’s stance speaks for itself.
But on the other hand — and sorry, Sir Paul — there’s also no denying The White Album has its share of filler (be honest, how often do you listen to Revolution 9 or some of the shorter deep-album cuts?). So maybe the ideal length is somewhere in the middle — for my money, I have long believed The White Album would have been a great three-sided record.
But whatever. It’s a moot point. That was then and this is now. The White Album isn’t getting any shorter. In fact, as every Beatlemaniac this side of the Mersey knows, it’s getting longer. A lot longer. This week marks the arrival of the massive White Album 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition, a seven-disc behemoth that includes the original album respectfully refurbished and subtly remixed by Giles (son of original producer and fifth Beatle George) Martin; a disc of acoustic demos cut at George Harrison‘s house; three discs of rehearsals, outtakes, alternate versions and jams from the Abbey Road Studios recording sessions; and a 5.1 audio DVD.
Who has time to listen to all that? Well, I do. And to save you some time, I’ve put together a list of 27 previously unreleased cuts that stand out from the pack. So I’ll shut up and get down to business. UPDATED: I’ve attached Spotify playlists for the entire box and my buried treasures list below.
Back in the U.S.S.R. (Demo)
It’s as good a place as any to start: With the first demo of the album’s opening track. This slightly slower, stripped-down twin-guitar version superbly illustrates the laid-back campfire vibe of these home-made takes. Plus they sing “awful flight” instead of “dreadful.”
Glass Onion (Demo)
With just two verses (and slightly different lyrics), it’s more of a sketch. But it’s a treat just to hear John Lennon and McCartney jabbering nonsensically after they mix up the words mid-song.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Demo)
This strummy acoustic version is much closer to a ’60s folk ballad than the finished product. And again, the lyrics are still a work-in-progress.
Bouncy and breezy and laced with falsetto harmonies and playful asides, it’s the sound of The Beatles having fun together.
Child of Nature (Demo)
If it sounds a lot like Lennon’s Jealous Guy, no wonder: It’s basically the same music with more cosmic, less personal lyrics.
Sour Milk Sea | Circles | Not Guilty (Demos)
Three treats for Harrison fans: Some numbers that didn’t end up on The White Album, but surfaced on later albums by him and others.
Mean Mr. Mustard | Polythene Pam
Enjoy two more tracks that didn’t make the cut here, but showed up the following year on Abbey Road.
What’s the New Mary Jane (Demo & Take 1)
Harrison wasn’t the only Beatle whose work was left by the wayside: Lennon’s kooky psychedelic freak-out — sample lyric: She liked to be married to yeti, he cooking such groovy spaghetti — was also abandoned. Perhaps with good reason.
Revolution 1 (Take 18)
You say you want an epic Revolution? Here you go — a 10-minute version that moves from the bluesy acoustic version into a groovy jam, then on to a noisy denouement. Two takes later, they recorded the version that ended up being broken into Revolution 1 & 9.
Helter Skelter (First Version / Take 2)
Like Revolution 1 above, this is also a marathon recording — but it’s a stomping slow-burner that bears little resemblance to the later version.
Not Guilty (Take 102)
Yeah, you read that right: They did more than 100 takes of Harrison’s bluesy shuffle, but still left it off the album. Sure, the vocals are a little lacklustre. Even so, you gotta wonder what the problem was.
Dear Prudence (Vocal, Guitar & Drums)
Stripped down to its essential elements, it becomes a twinkling, hypnotically beautiful work.
St. Louis Blues | (You’re so Square) Baby, I Don’t Care | Blue Moon | Step Inside Love | Los Paranoias (Studio Jams)
Between recording some of the most beloved songs of our time, the lads blew off steam with bite-sized renditions of rockabilly oldies, blues standards, Paul’s lounge-pop theme for Cilla Black‘s TV show and even an impromptu one-joke flamenco-pun jam.
Helter Skelter (Second version Take 17)
Featuring that familiar searing guitar and some grinding bass work from Paul — along with plenty of howling vocals — this version sounds possessed. “Keep that one,” says Paul at the end. “Mark it Fab!” And how.
Can You Take Me Back (Take 1)
A longer version of this song snippet would end up being the outro of Cry Baby Cry.
Lady Madonna (Take 2 / Piano and Drums) (Backing Vocals from Take 3) | The Inner Light (Take 6 / Instrumental Backing Track)
Work-in-progress segments of the familiar non-album single, along with Harrison’s groovy Indian-influenced number that ended up on the B-side.
Across the Universe (Take 6)
For the final track in the box, here’s one last look ahead with a solo acoustic rendition of the future Let It Be classic.