My favorite release of 2018 is fifty years old.
I’m referring, of course, to the 2018 remix of The Beatles, more familiarly known as the White Album.
I love it for a couple of reasons. One, the remix, done by George Martin’s son, Giles, is brilliant.
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.
The Beatles stuffed their recordings, layer upon layer. Unfortunately, they were using 4-track and (sometimes) 8-track recording machines and the resulting sound was somewhat smothered. Martin’s work is breathtaking. Acoustic guitars shimmer. The barrelhouse piano in “Rocky Raccoon” sparkles. Ringo’s drumming now sounds spectacular. (Starr is one of rock’s most underrated drummers. Anyone who disagrees with that should be locked in a room and forced to listen to “Ticket to Ride” until their ears bleed.)
Everything sounds alive. You can hear it with the album’s very first track, “Back in the USSR”, which exuberantly leaps out of the speakers.
I got the White Album for my 13th birthday, a few months after its release. You didn’t have to be a genius rock critic to know the band was looking to do something different from the stylistic Sgt. Pepper’s album — the austere white cover gave that game away. I loved, and still love, the White Album more than its immediate predecessor (sacrilege, I know), mainly because the boys got back to being a rock band. You can hear how great they were at that in one of my favorite outtakes from the remix, an instrumental version of Birthday.
It’s a sprawling work. They touch on just about every pop music genre you can think of. Try this outtake of “Goodnight”, the schmaltzy finale that Ringo sings. Here it’s stripped down to vocals and John’s (?) guitar. The harmonies are wonderful.
The second reason? Oh, yeah, the remix is a myth buster.
It’s always been widely perceived that the ‘White Album’ coincided with the most fractious period in the band’s history. However, according to Martin, there is “little evidence” of this in any of the demos or recording sessions in the studios.
“The ‘White Album’ was really the band taking back control, the band becoming a band again,” Martin said. “I always thought the ‘White Album’ was a fractious time where the band are pulling each other apart but in essence when I listened to the outtakes, it’s not that…this is still a band functioning as a band [and] as a unit.”
According to Martin, there was “no real evidence” of the arguments many link with this period in the Beatles’ history save for a row Ringo had with Paul over his drumming. Ringo left during the sessions and flew to Sardinia, returning 11 days later. On his return, the band had adorned his drum kit with flowers as a peace offering and all was well again. After spending four months in the studio recording so many intense takes, there was bound to be friction – and there was – but not in the way many had previously thought.
Martin said: “You’ll hear it in ‘Goodnight’… they wanted Ringo to perform and… well, you hear the conversations. In ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, John says “it’s getting better but it’s not getting more fun,” and [in response] George says, “It’s getting fun and it’s getting better,” so there was [still] that element of love and support and I think that existed during the ‘White Album’. I think it was tough for my dad and for people who had to sit in the control room… they were taking more control.”
That was the spin I read from so many of those genius critics — that the band was falling apart, the songs were written, honed and recorded separately, that is was just each of four guys using the other three as little more than backing, that most of the album was mailed in, etc. To use the vernacular, this remix shows that all to be a load of bollocks. They cared, they worked together, mainly they worked hard at their craft. (There’s one outtake labeled ‘Take 102’ of a song that never appeared on the album.)
Then there’s this quote from Ringo: “”Yer Blues” is my favorite, only because of we were in a 10-foot room, not that huge room at EMI. And we were like a band again, you know – like a little club band,” he said.
Hell, I’ve said enough. Just go buy the damned thing. You won’t regret it.