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Category:    Home > Reviews > Music > Rock > Pop > Blues > Experimental > Instrumental > Alternative > Multi-Channel Music > The Beatles: The White Album: 50th Anniversary Blu-ray/6 CD Set (1968/Universal Music/Apple Corps Ltd.)

The BEATLES: The White Album 50th Anniversary Blu-ray/6 CD Set (1968/Universal Music/Apple Corps Ltd.)

DTS/Dolby 5.1 Sound: A- PCM Mono/Stereo CD Sound: B Extras: A- Music: A-

One of the greatest double albums of all time, up there with Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, The Who's rock opera Tommy and Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, The White Album (1968) was the beginning of the end for The Beatles, whether they knew it at the time or not. Their existence as a whole, cohesive band had peaked on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (1967, reviewed elsewhere on this site), an album so successful that it prevented the soundtrack to their TV special Magical Mystery Tour from reaching #1 and actually became the first Beatles release to lose money. Making things worse, their great manager Brian Epstein had shockingly died at a young age, meaning they were now really on their own.

During the making of the album, they stopped following certain guidelines and the much-discussed presence of Lennon's then-new love Yoko Ono is said to have caused some friction in the band. That could be valid to some degree (other wives/girlfriends of the other members did also show up at times), but in reality, though never discussed, she is also representative proof that they were now totally grown men with growing personal lives and that was not and did not need to be delayed just to have them be a band. Additionally, all four had accomplished so much personally and professionally that turning back the clock would have been ridiculous and idiotic. Thus, including new ideas that George Harrison and Ringo Starr would have, if they had not released a double album, might they have split up sooner?

Fortunately, that did not yet happen and if anything, it was time to take a few bold new steps including harder-rocking music, more challenging music, bolder music, a rawness that was not on their early records and (in many cases) push the new 8-track recording systems they would have in their possession for the first time. After a series of groundbreaking, innovative masterworks of cover art, they decided that Magical Mystery Tour was the peak of that for a while and turned to delivering a blank white cover gatefold that only had their name (sometimes slightly tilted) in raised Helvetica font letters like an oversized business card. Thus, it was time to get down to business.

Producing even more music than could fit on four sides of a 33 1/3 vinyl disc set, Harrison started to show he was Lennon and McCartney's equal, Starr was getting more proficient in his drumming without sacrificing talent, instinct or feel and their signature harmonies were as tight as ever. For this new 6 CD/Blu-ray box set, the album is available in four versions on the Blu-ray (more on that technically below) and the first two of the six CDs here. I will comment on the album cuts referencing them by number, then in the extras section, choice extra tracks.

For Disc One, the opening Track 1 was an undeniable response to album burning, hatred of the group, its art, their 'foreigner' status and those who accused them of being left wing instigators, or all the non-fans of the band who don't care about people or any of the arts at all. If you took it too seriously, tough, especially as it also spoofed a Chuck Berry hit. Yet Track 3 shows they were ready to deconstruct their entire past for the fans who were with them, so in one sense, they were almost starting over. Tracks 8 and 12 were also meant to be as provocative as possible, while (coincidentally?) tracks 8 and 12 on Disc Two were also so in a more sly and even tricky way. Revolution 9 announced that they were never abandoning their previous sonic experimentation and it insists (a concept still too many do not get) that an album never has to be merely a collections of songs, concept album, rock opera or otherwise.

Another pattern that is amusing is that after we get a challenging rough and.or raw song, there's McCartney with a classic ballad and/or classic tune that is almost a break from the bolder side of the music, though of such high quality that it is not filler or surrender or some kind of sonic breather, but another side of the band that always was and will be there.

Disc 1, Track 7 is a still a stunning highlight, one of the sonically best tracks here, a masterwork by Harrison and guitar by Eric Clapton, while Track 8 is probably one of the most important political statements and honest songs about impotence and killing ever made. Disc Two, Tracks 4, 5 & 6 are the peak of the album's raw boldness, one of the strongest sets of songs the band ever recorded and Track 8 unfortunately entering into historical infamy they had nothing to do with. On their own outside of that, they were going into the territory of their friends The Rolling Stones and succeeded.

While re-listening to all of this, sounding as good or better than I have ever heard the album in my life (and among these are some of their most played songs ever) it can be sometimes like never having heard them before, they are playing in a higher musical level than most music bands and artists could ever dream of reaching and the rawness coincides with what happened and what was happening the year of its release. That is no coincidence, just a sense of the moment they knew as well as anyone.

By this time too, imitators of the band (The Monkees), latter-wave British Invasion groups and hit records that reflected the simple 'innocent' beginnings of The Beatles (Sugar Shack, World Without Love (the latter penned by McCartney)) showed that Beatlemania meant that imitators and musician fans were catching up with them in some ways, so they had to keep pushing to break new ground. Here, they succeeded.

Here is the Track Listings of all 6 CDs (the first two, again, of the Blu-ray as well), followed by tech comments and extras....

Disc: 1

1. Back In The U.S.S.R.

2. Dear Prudence

3. Glass Onion

4. Ob - La - Di, Ob - La - Da

5. Wild Honey Pie

6. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill

7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun

9. Martha My Dear

10. I'm So Tired

11. Blackbird

12. Piggies

13. Rocky Raccoon

14. Don't Pass Me By

15. Why Don't We Do It In The Road?

16. I Will

17. Julia

Disc: 2

1. Birthday

2. Yer Blues

3. Mother Nature's Son

4. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

5. Sexy Sadie

6. Helter Skelter

7. Long, Long, Long

8. Revolution 1

9. Honey Pie

10. Savoy Truffle

11. Cry Baby Cry

12. Revolution 9

13. Good Night

Disc: 3

1. Back In The U.S.S.R. (Esher Demo)

2. Dear Prudence (Esher Demo)

3. Glass Onion (Esher Demo)

4. Ob - La - Di, Ob - La - Da

5. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill (Esher Demo)

6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Esher Demo)

7. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Esher Demo)

8. I'm So Tired (Esher Demo)

9. Blackbird (Esher Demo)

10. Piggies (Esher Demo)

11. Rocky Raccoon (Esher Demo)

12. Julia (Esher Demo)

13. Yer Blues (Esher Demo)

14. Mother Nature's Son (Esher Demo)

15. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey (Esher Demo)

16. Sexy Sadie (Esher Demo)

17. Revolution (Esher Demo)

18. Honey Pie (Esher Demo)

19. Cry Baby Cry (Esher Demo)

20. Sour Milk Sea (Esher Demo)

21. Junk (Esher Demo)

22. Child Of Nature (Esher Demo)

23. Circles (Esher Demo)

24. Mean Mr Mustard (Esher Demo)

25. Polythene Pam (Esher Demo)

26. Not Guilty (Esher Demo)

27. What's The New Mary Jane (Esher Demo)

Disc: 4

1. Revolution 1 (Take 18)

2. A Beginning (Take 4)/Don't Pass Me By (Take 7)

3. Blackbird (Take 28)

4. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey (Unnumbered Rehearsal)

5. Good Night (Unnumbered Rehearsal)

6. Good Night (Take 10 With A Guitar Part From Take 7)

7. Good Night (Take 22)

8. Ob - La - Di, Ob - La - Da

9. Revolution (Unnumbered Rehearsal)

10. Revolution (Take 14 Instrumental Backing Track)

11. Cry Baby Cry (Unnumbered Rehearsal)

12. Helter Skelter (First Version Take 2)

Disc: 5

1. Sexy Sadie (Take 3)

2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Acoustic Version Take 2)

3. Hey Jude (Take 1)

4. St Louis Blues (Studio Jam)

5. Not Guilty (Take 102)

6. Mother Nature's Son (Take 15)

7. Yer Blues (Take 5 With Guide Vocal)

8. What's The New Mary Jane (Take 1)

9. Rocky Raccoon (Take 8)

10. Back In The U.S.S.R. (Take 5 Instrumental Backing Track)

11. Dear Prudence (Vocal, Guitar & Drums)

12. Let It Be (Unnumbered Rehearsal)

13. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Third Version Take 27)

14. (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care (Studio Jam)

15. Helter Skelter (Second Version Take 17)

16. Glass Onion (Take 10)

Disc: 6

1. I Will (Take 13)

2. Blue Moon (Studio Jam)

3. I Will (Take 29)

4. Step Inside Love (Studio Jam)

5. Los Paranoias (Studio Jam)

6. Can You Take Me Back (Take 1)

7. Birthday (Take 2 Instrumental Backing Track)

8. Piggies (Take 12 Instrumental Backing Track)

9. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Take 19)

10. Honey Pie (Instrumental Backing Track)

11. Savoy Truffle (Instrumental Backing Track)

12. Martha My Dear (Without Brass And Strings)

13. Long Long Long (Take 44)

14. I'm So Tired (Take 7)

15. I'm So Tired (Take 14)

16. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill (Take 2)

17. Why Don't We Do It In The Road? (Take 5)

18. Julia (Two Rehearsals)

19. The Inner Light (Take 6 Instrumental Backing Track)

20. Lady Madonna (Take 2 Piano & Drums)

21. Lady Madonna (Backing Vocals Take 3)

22. Across The Universe (Take 6)

The Esher Demos (pronounced EE-shrr) make for an interesting paired down version of the final album that fans will in particular be interested in hearing on Disc 3, recorded at George Harrison's house at the time, in the area named Esher). I thought they were interesting, but nothing to challenge the final product. However, Tracks 23 and 26 (both written by Harrison) are the big surprises and you should hear them ASAP. That leaves the final CDs 4, 5 and 6 with a bunch of choice sessions tracks, alternate takes, revealing behind-the-scenes moments and songs that were never finished or surfaced on later albums.

Disc 5, Track 3 has McCartney nailing the classic in the first take! The final single became their longest stay at #1 on the U.S. Pop Charts. On Track 14, they try to recreate the elvis Presley version of the hit classic. The instrumental backing tracks are always interesting and the phrasing choices they make as singers early on versus the final cuts show the creative process at its best.

The set comes in a coffee table hardcover book with a few pages that holds the seven disc, one double-page poster holder and in a clear slipcover (be careful not to rip it or have it cut into the book) with text printed on it best read when it is over the book. More on its contents monetarily, but now, to the playback quality of the discs.

All six CDs have PCM 2.0 16bit/44.1kHz Stereo sound and are nice, clean, clear and newly transferred in most if not all cases, but the original album sports new stereo mixes made for this anniversary edition that are fine, but not what you'd get on the previously remastered CD or earlier stereo versions of the album. Those tracks are also on the Blu-ray, though at a slightly higher 96kHz/24bit PCM 2.0 Stereo as well as the original 1968 monophonic sound in 96/24 PCM 2.0 Mono sound. Both are smoother, warmer and a little richer than the CD stereo, but in this case, only by so much.

Some audiophile fans might have wanted 11.1 or 7.1 mixes of the final album tracks on the Blu-ray, but Giles Martin and company have decided to stick with 5.1 mixes from the original 4-track and 8-track soundmasters, so we get a choice between lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and maybe very slightly better DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 96/24 mixes. I prefer to hear the album this way as I did with the Blu-ray on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band anniversary set from last year. The songs that especially shine in 5.1 include While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey, Helter Skelter and, as expected, Revolution 9.

Once again, you can really hear more so just how great these songs are, the singing, the musicianship, the engineering and George Martin's amazing producing (on most tracks). You hear things hardly anyone has ever heard in them before and save a rare moment that shows the age of the recordings, it is amazing how fresh and full these all actually sound. Though bombarded by (usually generic, tired digital recordings these days with zero character or memorability) digital sound music recordings, we again get character and nuance and richness digital cannot deliver and few but the people recording and performing here could have ever come up with. It makes the album as exciting as it must have first been to those stunned early buyers who darted to the first turntable (or tape player) they could find to listen to the whole album.

Since then, so many people have come up with albums named after a single color (some good, like those from Prince and Weezer, for instance, double albums or not), but The White Album remains an all-time classic and even after the arrival of Punk, Rap/Hip Hop, Hardcore and other rougher music forms, how many of those albums really had the guts to do what this one does? Hardly any.

Other extras from the 164-page book include a pullout poster with lyrics on one side and photos on the other, stills of the four famous stills of the four Beatles you could frame if you wished,little envelopes to go with all seven discs you can insert in seven marked spaces, while the book text adds rare photos, handwritten lyrics, promo material for the launch of the album, McCartney essay We, The Beatles, Giles Martin-penned intro, plus essays The Way To White by Kevin Howlett, Can You Take Me Back, Where I Came From? by John Harris, Track By Track by Kevin Howlett (which goes beyond just the tracks on the final album), The Mad Day Out by Kevin Howlett, White On White by Andrew Wilson and It's Here! by Kevin Howlett.

The White Album is one of the greatest albums ever made and this set is the definitive way to experience it now. There is a vinyl version of this set also issued, but this is the edition serious home theater and music audiophiles will want to get. Of course, megafans will likely buy both, but you can only get the 5.1 mixes here and they do not disappoint.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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