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The Beatles White Album Release

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

On November 22, 1968, The Beatles released the "White Album", their ninth studio album and only double album. Its plain white sleeve has no graphics or text other than the band's name embossed, which was intended as a direct contrast to the vivid cover artwork of the band's previous LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles is recognized for its fragmentary style and diverse range of genres, including folk, British blues, ska, music hall and the avant-garde. It has since been viewed by some critics as a postmodern work, as well as among the greatest albums of all time.

Most of the songs on the album were written during March and April 1968 at a Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh, India. There, the only western instrument available to the band was the acoustic guitar; some of these songs remained acoustic on The Beatles and were recorded solo, or only by part of the group. The production aesthetic ensured that the album's sound was scaled-down and less reliant on studio innovation than all their releases since 1966's Revolver. The Beatles also broke with the band's recent tradition of incorporating several musical styles in one song by keeping each piece of music consistently faithful to a select genre.

Most of the songs for The Beatles were written during a Transcendental Meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, between February and April 1968. The retreat involved long periods of meditation, conceived by the band as a spiritual respite from all worldly endeavors – a chance, in John Lennon's words, to "get away from everything". Lennon and Paul McCartney quickly re-engaged themselves in songwriting, often meeting "clandestinely in the afternoons in each other's rooms" to review their new work. "Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing," Lennon later recalled, "I did write some of my best songs there." Author Ian MacDonald said Sgt Pepper was "shaped by LSD", but the Beatles took no drugs with them to India aside from marijuana, and their clear minds helped the group with their songwriting. The stay in Rishikesh proved especially fruitful for George Harrison as a songwriter, coinciding with his re-engagement with the guitar after two years studying the sitar. The musicologist Walter Everett likens Harrison's development as a composer in 1968 to that of Lennon and McCartney five years before, although he notes that Harrison became "privately prolific", given his customary junior status in the group.

Here is actual footage of the Beatles arriving in India along with their entourage that included actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence Farrow. The song "Dear Prudence" was written by John Lennon and was inspired by Prudence Farrow, who became obsessive about meditating while practising with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Her designated partners on the meditation course, Lennon and George Harrison, attempted to coax Farrow out of her seclusion, which led to Lennon writing the song.

At the end of May 1968, the Beatles returned to EMI Studios in London to commence recording sessions that lasted until mid-October. During these sessions, arguments broke out among the foursome over creative differences and John Lennon's new partner, Yoko Ono, whose constant presence subverted the Beatles' policy regarding wives and girlfriends in the studio. After a series of problems, including producer George Martin taking a sudden leave of absence and engineer Geoff Emerick suddenly quitting, Ringo Starr left the band briefly in August. The same tensions continued throughout the following year and led to the band's break-up. Here are ten interesting facts about The Beatles White Album:

The Beatles left Rishikesh before the end of the course. Ringo Starr was the first to leave, less than two weeks later, as he said he could not stand the food; McCartney departed in mid-March, while Harrison and Lennon were more interested in Indian religion and remained until April. Lennon left Rishikesh because he felt personally betrayed after hearing rumors that the Maharishi had behaved inappropriately towards women who accompanied the Beatles to India. McCartney and Harrison later discovered the rumors to be untrue and Lennon's wife Cynthia reported there was "not a shred of evidence or justification".

Collectively, the group wrote around 40 new compositions in Rishikesh, 26 of which would be recorded in very rough form at Kinfauns, Harrison's home in Esher, in May 1968. Lennon wrote the bulk of the new material, contributing 14 songs. Lennon and McCartney brought home-recorded demos to the session, and worked on them together. Some home demos and group sessions at Kinfauns were later released on the 1996 compilation Anthology 3.

Although Hey Jude was not intended to be included on any LP release, it was recorded during the White Album sessions and was released as a stand-alone single before the release of The Beatles album. Here are some outtakes of the recording of 'Hey Jude':

In the US, the album achieved huge commercial success. Capitol Records sold over 3.3 million copies of The Beatles to stores within the first four days of the album's release. It reached number 1 in its third week on December 28, spending a total of nine weeks at the top. In all, The Beatles White Album spent 186 weeks on the Billboard 200. The album has sold over 12 million copies in the US alone and according to the Recording Industry Association of America, The Beatles is the Beatles' most-certified album, at 24-times platinum.

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