In the first part of our review of The Beatles’ White Album 50th Anniversary boxed set (coming out in early November), we took an in depth look at the brand new, first ever Surround Sound mixes of this influential rock album. Celebrating The Beatles’ legendary officially-eponymously-titled 1968 LP — subsequently dubbed by fans The White Album — this new multi-disc collection gives you a whole lot of Beatle bliss to explore. There are two CDs containing a brand new Stereo remix by producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell, a CD of long sought-after demos produced at George Harrison’s home by the band prior to heading into Abbey Road Studios and then there are an additional three CDs of session outtakes. And… you get a Blu-ray Disc containing the Stereo and original Mono mixes — as well as the aforementioned sparkly shiny 5.1 Surround Sound mix — all in high resolution 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity.
In this portion of our review we will explore the extensive outtakes and demos which populate four discs in the collection. Please note that some of these recordings have been issued in the mid-1990s on the Beatles Anthology series. But now most of these versions have been collected under one roof putting them all in context with related recordings from the period, newly remastered and in many instances in full-length unedited takes.
The Esher Demos
A holy grail for many Beatle fanatics, these demos leaked out many years ago in inferior quality and circulated on various bootlegs (and eventually on the Internet). So in some ways this is not “new” to hardcore Beatle fans. However, because now we can really hear it all in first generation clarity, in most ways these recordings are going to sound entirely fresh. This is serious time machine stuff here folks, taken right from the original tapes. These fascinating preparatory sessions led to the creation of one of the most beloved records in The Beatles’ catalog.
Among my favorites of course is George Harrison’s acoustic take on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and John Lennon’s early “Dear Prudence.” The latter is particularly cool because John tells a little tale about what happened in India to spur him to create the song (most Beatle fans know the story but if you don’t, worry not, I won’t spoil it for you, Dear Readers).
Many of you will be even more excited to hear the early versions of songs that later showed up on Abbey Road (“Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,”) and Paul McCartney’s first solo album (“Junk”). The early version of the song that eventually became John Lennon’s classic “Jealous Guy” is here as “Child of Nature” and George Harrison has several tracks that later showed up elsewhere (“Sour Milk Sea” was recorded by Jackie Lomax, one of the early signings to The Beatles’ Apple Records label and “Not Guilty” ended up on George’s eponymous 1978 album in a mellower and more considered arrangement). One of the most fun romps among these demos is John Lennon’s bit of mad stoner gonzo whimsey called “What’s The New Mary Jane,” a song which was originally intended as a single along with “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number).” The latter became the B-side to the “Let It Be” single.
Few songs went to waste in the Beatle universe!
The Session Outtakes
In The Beatles’ White Album 50th Anniversary boxed set we get to play fly-on-the-wall, experiencing the evolution and development of the key album tracks. For example, in an early version of “Revolution #1” we hear a 10 minute workout by John Lennon exploring the parameters of what this song would become in its several released incarnations. So while it starts out very much like the slow acoustic version you hear opening up Side Four of the final album, the song’s de-evolution into the avant-garde free-for-all feel that became “Revolution #9” is a bit mind-blowing! If you listen closely many of the grunts, groans and weird noises Lennon makes here along with Yoko Ono actually were used later on “#9”! In some ways, “Revolution #9” might even be considered an early “sampling” experiment given the way it was created!
In another outtake, we hear a lush orchestration that sounds like a left over from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Yet, prepare to be flabbergasted as the song kicks into not the anticipated easy-listening-flavored album closer “Goodnight,” but the other Ringo number on the album, the rollicking “Don’t Pass Me By”!
An expanded version of the lost song called “Not Guilty” is present as a non-edited version of Take 102! Written by George Harrison, I can kind of understand why it was left off the album. Despite it having a killer riff, the song never really lifts off (a sentiment we hear Lennon comment on in this version).
One of the super cool things about these outtakes in The Beatles’ White Album 50th Anniversary boxed set is that we get to hear the development of the crucial and even groundbreaking non-LP singles which came out in 1968 — particularly, “Hey Jude.” Some fans have already grumbled online over the exclusion of the actual singles for this song and it’s B-side (the hard rocking version of “Revolution”) in the set. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it given that those tracks were already issued in numerous collections including Past Masters and Beatles 1. I am happy they chose to fill the available space with more outtakes! Indeed we get to hear the very first take of “Hey Jude” as well as a super early run through of “Let It Be,” and some nifty jams on things like “St. Louis Blues” and a rocking version of the Elvis Presley hit “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care.”
Other unreleased sketches include Paul McCartney running through “Los Paranoias” and the hit they gave away to Cilla Black, “Step Inside Love.” We get to hear the gorgeous instrumental backing to George Harrison’s spiritually minded “The Inner Light” which was the B-side to “Lady Madonna” — the latter of which we also get to hear some different versions! I was thrilled to hear the full take of McCartney’s moody and haunting snippet “Can You Take Me Back?,” one stanza of which was tacked onto the end of “Cry Baby Cry” on the final recording.
And the best part is that this is all issued to us in first generation quality off the master tapes so everything sounds really excellent even though the mixes are raw works-in-progress. The Beatles’ White Album 50th Anniversary boxed set is a joy!
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our review where we will explore the new Stereo mix of The White Album created by producer Giles Martin…