The Beatles and Esher Demos
50TH ANNIVERSARY DELUXE EDITION
Apple/Universal (3-CD Box Set)
Two words have long been used to describe the sprawling, 30-track wonder that is The Beatles (aka the White Album): diverse and divisive. The diversity is due to the panoramic multiplicity of musical styles on display: everything from searing rockers, gentle acoustic numbers and bedtime ballads to musique concrete, good time reggae and music hall ditties—and more. It was long assumed that the White Album sowed the seeds of divisiveness and discord within the band and led to the record being little more than a collection of solo tracks. John Lennon’s perceived lack of interest in the band (with drugs and his burgeoning relationship with Yoko Ono playing a part), Paul McCartney’s borderline-obnoxious take charge attitude, George Harrison’s bristling over his compositions being dismissed, and Ringo Starr’s bruised ego after one too many criticisms of his drumming have all been cited as reasons for the supposed bad feelings inherent during the sessions.
But as producer Giles Martin explains in his introduction to the incredible new stereo remix of the White Album, this apparently is a long-held fallacy; according to Martin, the session tapes prove that the band’s “…collective spirit and inventiveness were, in fact, stronger than ever,” with “…extraordinary inspiration—mixed with plenty of love and laughter.” Listeners can now marvel anew at The Beatles’ spirit, inventiveness, and inspiration as Martin and mix engineer Sam Okell bring a fresh perspective to the act (and album) you’ve known for all these years with a sparkling remix that sounds absolutely fantastic without sacrificing the integrity of the original recordings. (In addition to the album proper, the three-disc version of the reissue also contains what are known as the Esher Demos, acoustic workups of most of the album’s tunes—and others that didn’t make the cut—compiled at George Harrison’s home.)
The newfound overall sonic clarity is the initial “wow” factor here (particularly the bass and drums), but upon closer and repeated listening, subtle differences and previously buried bits in most all of the tunes are apparent: the acoustic guitar on “Piggies” is more prominent; the horns on “Savoy Truffle” are beefier; the guitars on “Wild Honey Pie” are “springier”; McCartney’s lead vocal on “Rocky Racoon” sounds as if he’s crooning and picking in the room with the listener, while the remixed “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road” packs a wallop with its “Paul screaming in your face” vibe. Other tunes feature John Lennon’s “raw” (read: no reverb) lead vocals, some find the tambourine brought down in the mix (“Happiness is a Warm Gun”), and “Good Night” brings the string arrangement more to the forefront. And so on, and so forth.
Even though most of them have been available on bootlegs for years, the acoustic Esher demos as presented here are revelatory for several reasons: they’re the complete collection, newly mixed in stereo and uncut. They provide a fascinating, intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the genesis of these iconic songs, with some of them nearly identical in structure to the finished versions (both musically and lyrically), and others featuring either unfinished lyrics or some slight variations. George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is presented at a much quicker tempo, for example, with some lyrics that were excised from the completed version; “Happiness is a Warm Gun” finds John doing some brief scat singing (“Yoko Ono, oh yes”) mid-song, with the song’s concluding segment not yet added. Many of the tunes utilize double-tracked vocals (“Blackbird,” “Julia,” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” among them), and some have musical ideas that were later scrapped, such as the cowboy guitar on “Rocky Raccoon.”
The tracks which didn’t make the completed original White Album are nice to hear in this context as well: Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea” (later given to Apple Records recording artists Jackie Lomax) and “Not Guilty” are both sturdy tunes and would have slotted in nicely on the record, while McCartney’s gently beautiful “Junk” would eventually show up on his 1970 solo debut. Harrison’s meditative “Circles” is another winner, Lennon’s “Child of Nature” would morph into his 1971 solo track “Jealous Guy,” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” were fragments that would go on to be used as part of Abbey Road’s side two medley. Things close out with Lennon’s odd, free-associating “What’s the New Mary Jane,” which was wisely cut from the White Album at the eleventh hour. It’s all great fun to listen to, with a tangible sense of joy and spirit permeating the proceedings. (Note: A handful of the Esher demos were available on the Anthology 3 release back in the 1990s, but the versions presented on the 50th anniversary version of the White Album are either different versions or different mixes.)
Needless to say, the newly minted White Album is a must-own for any Beatles fan, whether it’s the Super Deluxe version (six discs plus a Blu Ray, with session outtakes), the four LP vinyl box, 2-LP version or the CD release. Rather than the sound of a band falling apart, it’s the timeless, joyous sound of The Beatles getting back to where they once belonged.
—John M. Borack
Goldmine’s December 2018 issue is dedicated to The Beatles’ "White Album" and is on sale now at select Barnes and Noble, Books A Million and indie record stores.
Goldmine celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ with the December 2018 issue — on sale now at select Barnes & Noble and Books A Million stores until December 10, 2018.
Fifty years later, remastered editions of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ have been released by UMe/Apple/Capitol, and these editions include plenty of extras to get excited about. Learn more about the ‘White Album,’ past and present, and why so many of us are obsessed with it.
• The Making of The White Album
• The 50th Anniversary Review: Super Deluxe Edition and the Esher Demos
• Interview with producer Giles Martin
• Five underappreciated songs from The White Album
• The ultimate White Album collection
• One of the rarest White Albums available
• The story behind the White Album cover … and more!
Also, interviews with Marianne Faithfull and Reverend Horton Heat, features on the latest John Lennon “Imagine” editions,Ringo Starr‘s photographs, David Bowie’s ’80s box set, Unicorn (Where Are They Now?), 10 albums that changed the life of Dave Fenton of The Vapors, Queen’s cinematic history and a Vintage Shot of Freddie Mercury to own and more!
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Watch the unboxing of The Beatles 50th Anniversary editions of the ‘White Album’ (above).