It was 50 years ago (1968) when I bought my first copy of The White Album on the day it was released. I went through at least two vinyl copies, the original CD release in 1987, the remastered CD’s in 2009, and now I bought the new 2018 Remix (Deluxe Version) on the day it was released…and it’s the best sounding version.
This 3 CD version is new, in that all of the songs have been completely remixed from the original studio tapes. Of course the original production was by George Martin, and this remix was done by his son Giles.
According to Giles Martin (shown above with his dad), the main purpose of remixing The Beatles albums is to improve the sound so that the recordings don’t seem dated when played beside more recent recordings. He feels it increases the possibility that future generations will enjoy the recordings.
Giles does a great job with the remixes. Basically, he centers the lead vocals and balances the instruments into a good stereo mix. He also provides a greater fullness by reducing the compression that is on the original mixes. Plus, he uses the original recordings before they were “bounced down” to other tapes to make room for more instruments. It all gives the recordings a cleaner sound that allows us to hear the voices and instruments with new clarity. These new mixes don’t take away from the original visions for the songs, and of course they’ve been approved by Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr. In fact, in a new Rolling Stone interview, Ringo says with the clearer mix “…you can really hear the drums”. He joked…”I have to pay Giles extra for that.”
The other addition to the “Deluxe” album is a third disc filled with demo versions of the songs. These are the rehearsal sessions that were recorded at George Harrison’s house in Esher prior to taking all these songs into the Abbey Road Studio. Most of the songs for The Beatles’ only double album were written while John, Paul, George & Ringo were on a break, studying with the Maharishi in India. The three main songwriters came back bursting with new tunes, and appeared anxious to share them.
The “Esher Demos”, as these recordings are called, have been bootlegged for years, but this is the best they’ve ever sounded. For the most part, the demos (27 of them) are as if The Beatles are sitting around with acoustic guitars in an “unplugged” performance. The difference is that near the end of many of the demos, The Beatles do something silly, or out of character with the song, probably because they haven’t yet developed an ending. So what you have are raw versions that are much simpler than the finished product, and they certainly could never replace the versions we know. Still, it’s an interesting glimpse into how the songs were written, and there’s an appeal to the casual intimacy of the recordings. It sounds like The Beatles are having fun. It also shows that The Beatles had already decided how to approach each of these songs, because there are few drastic differences between these recordings, and the final interpretations.
Giles Martin says even though the sessions for The White Album are infamous for The Beatles being at odds with one another, the tape recordings reveal a well-functioning band. One of the reasons they were going off on their own to separate studios, was because they were recording so many songs. There are 30 tracks on the double album…which is more than twice as many as their regular albums. They had even more songs that didn’t make the final cut.
So, the question is…do you need to buy this 3-disc “Deluxe” set. No, you can get by with the 2009 remastering that gives you the best copies of the recordings exactly as we have known them for these five decades. However, if you want to listen to these songs with new depth and clarity of sound, they’re more than worth the $24 price tag. As a bonus, you’ll get the demos (and people used to pay $24 just for the demo bootlegs). The more I listen to The White Album remix, the more I realize it’s a major improvement…a real listening pleasure! Anyone with a good sound system should treat themselves to the remix.
There’s also a “Super Deluxe” set for fans who want to dig even deeper into the album. It costs $139 on Amazon, and includes a 164 page book that details more of the recording process. The biggest draw is that the set includes 50 alternate recording studio takes. If you just want the digital downloads, the Super Deluxe set is $70 on iTunes.
The alternate recording takes are fascinating to listen to, but for the most part, they simply show how much better the final recordings are. It’s hard to listen to these without subconsciously hearing all the missing instruments, harmonies, and other details of the final recordings.
The alternate version that’s attracting the most attention is Take 10 of “Good Night”. It’s a song written by John Lennon, with the lead sung by Ringo Starr. This version includes the other Beatles supporting Ringo’s vocal with harmony parts, and a nice acoustic guitar part by Lennon (that was actually from Take 5). The other versions that drew my attention the most were the instrumental backings for “Back In The U.S.S.R.” and “Revolution”. They accent how rocking those songs are. You hear the really crunchy distortion of the guitars on “Revolution”. Besides singing lead, Paul McCartney played drums, bass and lead guitar on “Back In The U.S.S.R.” John and George also played multiple instruments. This was while Ringo was on break from the band, but he soon returned.
Last year, I bought the “Super Deluxe” version of Sgt. Pepper, but found that I don’t really listen to the alternate versions very much. So, for The White Album, I just bought the $24 “Deluxe” set, and then bought my favorite alternate takes from the iTunes version of the “Super Deluxe” download.
Since this article was written, Giles Martin has been doing more remixing of Beatles albums, and his work (along with engineer Sam Okell) has been impressive. There are reviews on this site for all of the remixed albums.
Bonus: The White Album has been on iTunes for many years now, so I was curious how those 30 songs rank with buyers. Here they are in order of popularity.
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
- Dear Prudence
- Back In The U.S.S.R.
- Rocky Raccoon
- I Will
- Helter Skelter
- Happiness Is A Warm Gun
- Revolution 1
- Martha My Dear
- I’m So Tired
- Mother Nature’s Son
- Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
- Glass Onion
- Cry Baby Cry
- The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
- Sexy Sadie
- Yer Blues
- Good Night
- Honey Pie
- Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
- Revolution #9
- Don’t Pass Me By
- Savoy Truffle
- Long Long Long
- Wild Honey Pie
A quick analysis shows 7 of the top 10 songs are by Paul McCartney. George’s great song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is #2, but his other three songs are at the bottom of the list, with only the short not-really-a-song “Wild Honey Pie” lower. While not exact science, I think we can agree that the public’s top 15 songs would make a much better single album than the bottom 15.
On The White Album it’s obvious which Beatle was the main writer of each song. There was also less co-writing by John and Paul. Still, the Beatles stayed together, and there was a lot of great music to come!