Ottawa, Canada
December 15
Greetings! I am a terminal music fan who will be writing about my life as a concertgoer from 1975 to the present. It’s about the music but also about the lives lived along with it. Many entries will feature a scan of the original ticket as well as a recollection of each gig as a whole experience rather than simply being a description of the performance. Therefore, this blog will be a mixture of memoir, concert review, music history, and philosophical musing. Concurrently, I will be writing about shows that I am seeing in the present. Thanks to Cublet for artwork assistance. **** I’m on Facebook ( mylifeinconcert) ... and have just launched a YouTube channel, VATV ( I also re/cross-post on my stand-alone blog ( Non-OS members who wish to comment can do so over at that site. *****

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NOVEMBER 22, 2013 7:55AM

I Need A Fix: Beatles' White Album @ 45/"I Buy White Albums"

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Beatles White Album Original 1968 Canadian pressing cover variousartists

My original copy from 1968.  I've never known why this was unnumbered as I am pretty positive it is from the first run.  Either I am mistaken or the individual numbering was solely in the UK & US. (All scans and photos on this page by VA.) 


While November 22 is a date rightly associated with an enduringly significant historical moment (the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy), it also marks the anniversary for an enduringly significant musical and artistic moment too: it was 45 years ago today that The Beatles released their eponymously titled double disc, colloquially referred to as The White Album.

It’s been there with me my whole life, or at least since my brother opened it up from under the Christmas tree in December 1968, and all these years later I’m still fascinated with the band’s one and only two-fer. I chose The Beatles’ ninth long player as one of my 15 Favourite Albums here on Open Salon back in 2010, and one of the key reasons behind why I love it has also been what has turned others off: the perversely eclectic nature of the material. Indeed, invoking "The White Album" as a descriptor has become shorthand through the years for when a musical act releases an ambitious-but-diverse collection.

The disc stitches together a broad range of competing styles into a panoply patchwork that’s more than the sum of its parts. In spite — or perhaps because — of its varied nature, it truly feels to me like a unified piece. Listening to it from start to finish — something I’ve done probably a few hundred times in my life — is like going on a journey or an adventure, in some ways almost literally: it lifts off with an airplane in flight and closes with a bedtime lullaby.


Beatles White Album Original Canadian Apple Label 1968 Side 1

   Above and below on the page: Labels for all four sides of my original copy of The Beatles aka The White Album.


In between, there are subdued acoustic numbers ("Blackbird," "Julia"), spiky rock ("Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey"), music hall ("Honey Pie"), musique concrète ("Revolution 9"), sprightly Brian Wilson-style pop ("Martha My Dear"), tongue-in-cheek excursions into country & western ("Don’t Pass Me By," "Rocky Raccoon"), a satiric response to the British blues boom ("Yer Blues"), psychedelic dénouements ("Glass Onion"), previews of ‘70s rock ("While My Guitar Gently Sleeps"), proto-heavy metal ("Helter Skelter"), retro-rock ("Back In the U.S.S.R.," "Birthday"), some numbers that seem to be beyond genre ("Happiness Is A Warm Gun," "Wild Honey Pie"), and more. 

Then there is its foreboding undercurrent. There’s a sublimated sense of darkness and tension that permeates it, synergistically ricocheting off its lighter moments, creating something highly distinctive. It’s an album that can be alternately warm and unsettling — sometimes simultaneously, such as with "Long, Long, Long" or "I’m So Tired."

I feel that its underlying noir vibe is another key part of its aesthetic unity. The White Album was famously recorded as the band started to fall apart, which is partially responsible for its stylistically schizophrenic nature. But that implosion also results in blood on the tracks, creating a vague underpinning of dread. I don’t think it’s an accident that a high number of punk/indie/alt-rock artists from across the years have covered or performed songs from this album (see: Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Pixies, The Breeders, Hüsker Dü, Elliot Smith, Sonic Youth, U2, Oasis, among others).


Beatles White Album Original Canadian Apple Label 1968 Side 2

There must also be a mention of its unintended, horrific post-release legacy. Namely, how sociopathic Charles Manson used it as tool to achieve his paranoid ends via his brainwashed gang of homicidal goons. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Manson used McCartney’s fluffy 1920s pastiche, "Honey Pie" (and seven other of the album’s thirty numbers), as a call to arms to slaughter a group of innocent people with unfathomable brutality. And while Paul intended "Helter Skelter" as a sexy rocker, with the title referencing a playground slide, it’s now forever twinned with probably the most infamous murders of the twentieth century.

While I’m endlessly drawn to the music on the album, its cover and packaging have also fascinated me since its release. As someone with a propensity towards minimalism in many senses (I tend to like painting my living spaces all white, save one dramatic highlight wall, with a high percentage of my wardrobe as either black or white), I’ve long thought it was a perfect merging of form and content. While it’s title may refer to a unity that crumbled to pieces during its gestation, the tabula rasa of a sleeve for me represents the blank slate that was their solo careers and post-Beatle lives that have their roots in this album.

And once inside that blank sleeve, there are the iconic portraits and collage poster, visually suggesting both the fragmentation and possibilities of everything contained within. (Regarding that poster, I have a humorous memory of walking to elementary school at the time of its release with my older sister and one of her friends who was breathlessly reporting that she had just bought the brand new Beatles album, and that it featured a shot of "John Lennon naked in bed with Yoko, but you can’t see anything!")


Beatles White Album Original Canadian Apple Label 1968 Side 2

Earlier this year, Big Salon ran a piece covering an event that touched on two of my favourite things: The Beatles’ White Album and conceptual art. Namely, artist Rutherford Chang’s We Buy White Albums exhibit at the Recess gallery in NYC this past spring. The exhibit was a collection of early editions of The Beatles, with each original album from the initial run sporting its own unique number on the cover, part of pop artist and White Album sleeve designer Richard Hamilton’s intended irony of contrasting the notion of an exclusive, limited run, but one of many millions.

Yet, each copy of The White Album in the show was unique beyond its original identification number.  Each displayed not only the specific wear and tear of its existence, everything from scratches on its exterior (and on the actual vinyl discs) to coffee stains, but also how many consumers of those albums had personalized their copies, using that broad white canvas for random doodles and visual expressions. (Me, I always thought it was the perfect surface to roll joints on.)

It’s a landmark sleeve.  Both its design and given title have been referenced often through the years.  For example, Joan Didion’s classic reflection of the 60s, The White Album, Metallica’s "Black Album," and Danger Mouse’s Grey Album mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles immediately all come to mind.


Beatles White Album Original Canadian Apple Label 1968 Side 4


This We Buy White Albums show got me to thinking about the various iterations of the The White Album that are in my own collection. I inherited my brother’s original vinyl copy from 1968 at some point, have purchased the CD four times in various capacities (five if one includes Disc One of Anthology 3, which could almost be titled "White Album Unplugged"), as well as created my own triple-CD alternative version as part of a handmade box set I created for myself and as a gift to my nephew some years ago. So, here is my own I Buy White Albums exhibition (following on from my original copy above):


Beatles White Album Original Canadian 1968 outside gatefold sleeve variousartists

 Outside and inside gatefold of original 1968 album.

Beatles White Album Original Canadian 1968 inside gatefold sleeve variousartists

Beatles White Album Original Canadian 1968 inside gatefold sleeve track listing variousartists

Detail of track listing (above) and panel of b&w photos (below) from inside cover, followed by the single colour shots and poster.

  Beatles White Album Original Canadian 1968 inside gatefold sleeve bw photos variousartists

Beatles White Album Original Canadian 1968 4 colour photos variousartists

Beatles White Album Original Canadian 1968 poster variousartists  


Beatles White Album Original Canadian CD 1987 Cover variousartists
  The orignal 1987 CD issue booklet (above) with cover detail and CDs (below).
Beatles White Album Original Canadian CD 1987 Cover number detail variousartists
Beatles White Album Original Canadian CD 1987 discs variousartists 
Beatles Anthology 3 Cover variousartists 
Anthology 3 cover (above) and Disc 1 (below, 1996).  This first disc is a compilation of White Album outtakes.  The best disc in the series, IMO.
Beatles Anthology 3 Disc 1 variousartists 
Beatles White Album 30th Anniversay CD reissue 1998 Cover variousartists 
CD and slip case for the 30th Anniversary mini-replica reissue in 1998 (above) with detail and inner-sleeves (below).
Beatles White Album Original Canadian CD 1987 Cover detail variousartists 
Beatles White Album Canadian 30th anniversary reissue inner sleeves Cover variousartists
variousartists Beatles ATV box set  Spines from the Beatles box set of outtakes, alternative versions etc. that I put together a decade ago (above), with the cover of the "Off-White Album" and the track listings (below).  Hey, Beatles Brain Trust: would it be asking too much to eventually see the release of high quality versions of the complete Esher demos?
variousartists Beatles Off White CD cover 2002  
variousartists's Beatles Off White Album 2002 track listing 1  variousartists Beatles Off White CD Listing 2
variousartists Beatles Off White CD Listing 3 Esher Demos 


Beatles White Album 2009 Canadian Stereo CD packaging variousartists
Slip cover and sleeve for the 2009 stereo CD reissue (above) and the back of the slip cover (below).
Beatles White Album Canadian Stereo 2009 reissue back variousartists 
Beatles White Album Canadian 2009 Mono reissue cover variousartists 
Cover for the 2009 mono CD reissue (above) and its CDs and inner sleeves (below).
Beatles White Album Canadian 2009 Mono reissue disc 1 and sleeve variousartists 
Beatles White Album Canadian 2009 mono reissue Disc 2 with sleeve variousartists 


My two favourite tracks from The Beatles: "Dear Prudence" (above) and "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" (below).


NOTE: I  also crosspost on my Wordpress blog.

© 2013 VariousArtists

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I stopped buying Beatles records after Sgt. Pepper and lost interest after that. Lschmoopie is going to have cardiac arrest:)

I loved the pop songs but hated the psychedelic ones. various.. you do the best music blogs ever..
I once found a first pressing in a discount store's cut out bin. I too found it to be ideal for rolling joints until Cheech and Chongs "Big Bambu"
While I appreciate the work you’ve put into this, I’m with George martin who thought it should have been a single album. To that end, tracks I’d remove would be:
Wild Honey Pie
I’m So Tired
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don't We Do It in the Road
Revolution 1
Revolution 9
Good Night

OK, that's only around 31 minutes but it would be a good start. It's hard to pick a fave but on the short list would be Bungalow Bill, Warm Gun, Long Long Long and Cry Baby Cry.

Overall for me it was too much a grab-bag and sounded like the tracks were selected by committee. Still, plenty of good music on it and we played it many, many times on its release.
VA, great story and interesting tie in to 11/22! I should look around here and see if my wife has the original album in her collection as I know I didn't happen to purchase it at the time. Thanks for the wonderful memories evoked here!
I have my original copy, A 1968 Xmas present. I play it once a year, usually after waking up my wife on her day with "Birthday" shaking the house.
I agree with Linda. You have an encyclopaedic memory and put together fascinating reviews filled with arcana that I'd certainly never hear about otherwise.

I was never a big Beatles fan, but there is no doubt this was a seminal album, although it came out at such a turbulent time for both the group and the larger world. Never understood how Manson and his murderous thugs could turn it into something so horrible.

(On a related note, and this made me feel real old, Manson is 79.)
You are a fan : )
I love that album, too, all of them, really.
Only the scraped up originals over here at my house...
Thanks for this, I'd much rather celebrate this anniversary today!
Linda: I’m sure lschmoopie will be fine: she’s a trooper! Thanks as always Linda.

bobbot: ... And for cleaning, there was always the textured cover for Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration album.

Abra: We shall have to agree to disagree on this one, although there are plenty in your camp. I think it’s perfect as is — imperfectly perfect — although if I had to cut one track it would easily be “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.” And while I don’t expect plenty to share my love of “Revolution 9,” I am truly shocked that “Julia” and “I’m So Tired” are on your cut list. On the other hand, that’s great that you singled out “Long, Long, Long,” an underrated fave of mine.

designanator: Definitely let me know if you happen to find that your wife has an original copy. Would love to know what her copy number is. John Lennon famously snagged 0000001. And here’s another Nov. 22 Beatles connection: on this day in 1963, the day of the JFK assassination, they issued their second album in the UK, With the Beatles (the Phil Spector Christmas album was also issued on 11/22/63 ... that one will be getting plenty of airings at Chez Various next month as per usual).

alsoknownas: Not a bad annual birthday treat at all!

Boanerges: I feel that a lot of the turbulence of that time comes out in this album; ditto The Rolling Stones contemporaneous Beggar’s Banquet. As for Manson ... well, admittedly I’ve been fascinated (which is quite different than supportive) with the whole Manson thing for years, and the more I know about the whole Manson family situation and life and all the related murders, going beyond Tate-LaBianca, the more unreal it all becomes. I’m going to be reading the newly issued biography by Jeff Guinn — apparently, the Dale Carnegie self-help program was a tool Manson enthusiastically studied in prison and used to his own ends.

Just Thinking ...: Yes, me too, although, as with Manson, the whole JFK thing has long fascinated me as well. And while, I love all the Beatles albums too, I like this one only behind Rubber Soul & Revolver.
:::gathering myself back together after reading Linda..... :) I knew she wasn't a fan of the psychedelic side. It's ok. I still love you, Linda!
Now onto VA. You, my friend, are the king of rock articles. This was wonderful and filled me with memories from the White Album: Cruising the strip with a carload of friends, roller skating, figuring out the chord progressions on my guitar, sangria in a bota bag, soft kisses on a hot night....
Now I need to go dig out my original vinyl and check the number.
P.S. Dear Prudence has always been my favorite from this album.
fab review, VA.

thanks for the spins and for the deep ethnography, from the politics to the personal to your lucky nephew.

look around, ´round...
lschmoopie: Thanks for sharing your memories relating to the album as well (and as for your generous praise, as always). Now I have a funny visual in my head of you cruising the strip to Revolution 9, he he. Would love to know what # your copy has!

catch-22: Your presence here is always fab and gear.