The notion of recording a double album surfaced very early on in the sessions for The White Album, partly because there were so many new songs scrabbling for attention, but also because The Beatles were in very real danger of being left behind in one of the most exciting new races in rock.
Ever since Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde) and the Mothers of Invention (Freak Out) debuted the double album in 1966, a number of performers had been eyeing this revolutionary new statement. Now they were making their move.
Donovan’s A Gift from a Flower to a Garden opened the floodgates in December 1967. By the time The Beatles reconvened in the studio in May 1968, Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland), The Who (Tommy) and Cream (Wheels Of Fire) had all signaled their intentions to go double. Naturally, The Beatles had to follow suit.
Not everybody agreed with the notion. George Martin, in particular, was fiercely opposed to the idea on the grounds of overall quality if nothing else.
“I really didn’t think that a lot of the songs were worthy of release, and I told them
so,” said Martin. “I said, ‘I don’t want a double album. I think you ought to cut out some of these, concentrate on the really good ones and have yourself a really super album. Let’s whittle them down to 14 to 16 titles and concentrate on those’.”
His counsel, however, was ignored. The Beatles had four sides of vinyl to fill, and they were going to fill them. Even if the four musicians had to shred their unity in the process.
Harrison and Starr certainly welcomed the decision to go double, if only because it meant they would finally be given a chance to shine. Starr was scarcely a prolific songwriter and admitted he started work on his one contribution to the album, “Don’t Pass Me By,” as far back as 1963.
But, Harrison arrived at the sessions with no less than seven songs ready to roll — “Not Guilty,” “Circles,” “Sour Milk Sea” (none of which would make the final cut), “Savoy Truffle,” which he wrote about Eric Clapton’s love of candy (and consequent hatred of dentists), the bitter “Piggies,” the gorgeous “Long Long Long” and, of course, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a song that is not only ranked the greatest song he ever composed, but which comes close to topping various best of The Beatles polls, as well.
It is amazing to discover, then, that by the time Harrison came to complete the recording, the remainder of The Beatles had all but written it off.
“The [others] were not interested in it at all,” he confessed; he alone was convinced that “it was a nice song.” But take after take passed by, and the performance was nowhere near completion. Then he had a brainstorm. “The next day I was with Eric [Clapton], and I was going into the session, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song; come on and play on it’.”
Clapton was horrified at the suggestion. “I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on The Beatles’ records.” But, Harrison was adamant. “I said ‘Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it.’ So Eric came in…”
Clapton, studio engineer Brian Gibson told Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, was “very quiet, [he] just got on and played. I remember [him] telling George that Cream’s approach to recording would be rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, spending very little time in the studio itself, whereas The Beatles’ approach seemed to be record, record, record and t