||A bit over a year ago, at the advance listening session for the remastered "Sgt Pepper" box set, producer Giles Martin was asked if the technical and artistic approach applied to the package would provide the blueprint for future releases and the answer was a decisive "no", as each Apple/Beatles project is approached separately, based on its own merits.
That said, utilizing the mono mix of the album as a road map and presenting it in the stereo spectrum was a master stroke and given The Beatles own preference for the mono mixes and many fans´ affinity for "The Beatles" (hereafter, "the White Album"), it would seem a natural path in which to follow suit.
Guess again. The remastered White Album is a stereo mix alright, but not patterned on the mono template. Yes, Ringo still has blisters on his fingers (insert collective sigh of relief here ...).
While clearly a polar opposite artistic effort from "Sgt.Pepper" the new set is no less impressive in the deluxe edition arena.
While speculation surrounding the poorly kept secret of the 50th anniversary has been building for months (hell, Paul McCartney himself let it slip in a recent interview in advance of the official announcement), the wait was over for radio and press invited to the advance listening session in New York on Wednesday 9/26. The event led off with a brief electronic press kit announcing the album release and various configurations, set to tantalizing snippets of the remixed sound and unheard studio takes, followed by brief welcoming comments from Apple Corps CEO Jeff Jones, who thoughtfully put in to perspective the progression made in the five year gap between the release of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and the White Album. From there, Martin explained the approach taken by his team in remixing and remastering the album and sifting through the hundreds of alternate takes for inclusion in the set, including urges, thankfully resisted, to truncate certain takes of "Helter Skelter" and "Revolution" from their 13 and 10 minute lengths.
Recalling the tactics taken by the album´s original producer, his father George Martin,, he humorously told of his dad´s tendency to cringe when people told him that double-white was their favorite of all Beatles albums, he being more given to the more structured, less free-roaming, structure of say, "Sgt. Pepper". The younger Martin, though, focused on the collection´s timeless element, noting he has "Blackbird" on a personal playlist bumped up against music from current sensation Ed Sheeran,, noting that McCartney had recorded the song at the same age Sheeran is now.
Discussing the bonus disc containing the vaunted "Esher Demos", long believed to be recorded at George´s home, he pointed out that the double tracking on virtually all of the demos indicated they were done separately by John, Paul and George as deduced by hand claps and other overdubs added when compiled onto Harrison´s 4-track machine. While a half dozen or so of these appeared on the "Anthology 3" album 20+ years ago (in edited form), all 27 of the tracks are included on the remaster and, judging from the five tracks previewed, have been engineered to lessen the out-of-sync tracking that is evident on (and plagued) the bootleg versions of these songs that have traded hands over the years, based on the renditions of "Back In The USSR" and "Obladi-Oblada" we heard.
The material on the Esher reel was largely written during the band´s sojourn to India in the spring of 1968, so it was fitting that "Sexy Sadie", John Lennon´s, very toned down attack on The Maharishi,, was among the tracks shared during the session. Rounding out the set were two songs that would not be on the White Album proper, but appeared on post-Beatles recordings, "Not Guilty" (with some beautifully separated guitar parts) and "Child Of Nature", which was reincarnated as "Jealous Guy" on John´s "Imagine album in 1971 (it, too, getting the box set treatment this holiday season).
Interestingly, Martin, pointed out that what he heard on the session tapes was largely constructive and non-antagonistic banter between the members. The fact that the sessions took place in 4 different studios (often concurrently), the drummer quitting the band and the engineer tendering notice, each citing too much stress and tension, and the stories of legend from The Beatles, themselves about the infighting ("no George, don´t play echoing phrases on ´Hey Jude´", anyone ?), and the acerbic "Not Guilty" not withstanding.
Moving on to five selections from the set´s bounty of 50 studio outtakes, things got even more interesting. A slow/bluesy "Cry Baby Cry", collaborative "I Will", strummed "Julia" and revelatory alternate take of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with Eric Clapton, in tow were each breathtaking. The latter abruptly comes to a halt when George apologetically cops to “trying to pull a Smokey, and i´m not Smokey” alluding of course to Smokey Robinson,, a hero he would tip his hat to in song in later years. None of these though, would compare to the hair-raising 3-part harmony treatment given to, of all things, the album closer "Goodnight". I sensed, and Giles, concurred, the only reason for possibly passing this one over was its similarity to the finger-picking and melodic structure closely mirroring that of "Julia". No matter, it´s a track fans will delight in.
Wrapping up the sampling was a five song set of the remastered album tracks. "Dear Prudence" had an upfront "slap in the face lead vocal, and "Mother Nature´s Son" boasted a kick drum that will literally knock listeners off their feet. Each of John´s vocal parts for the musical quilt that is "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" are brought out in stunning clarity, forever rendering moot his own assessment of his voice as not sounding any good. "Helter Skelter" literally takes you on the loud, scary roller coaster ride it was intended to be, with it´s thumping rhythms, but perhaps the most revelatory track for me was "Long Long Long". It´s a song that is so gentle and suppressed that it gets the short shrift on most radio play lists. That should all change with this new mix, where the interplay between George´s guitar and Ringo´s masterful drumming are brought to the fore.
Like the Ukraine girls themselves, this one really knocks me out.
Set for release November 9th, the deluxe edition of The White Album will feature six cd´s (the two album remastered set, the Esher demos disc, and three discs of outtakes) along with a blu-ray containing 5.1 mixes and the original mono mix. The album will be available separately as a two-disc offering, as well as an expanded three-disc version containing the double album plus the demos and a 4-LP vinyl set.
Tom Frangione is a Beatle Brunch, contributor and also a writer for Beatlefan Magazine,. Tom can be heard Wednesday nights at 9 as one of the hosts of The Fab Fourum, on The Beatles Channel, on Sirius / XM.