The self-titled Beatles album, commonly referred to as ‘The White Album‘, has comfortably sat on its throne in the music industry since its release in 1968. Critics and musical greats all around have held the album in such a high regard that those in the biz have come to nickname an artist’s most imperative album as being their “white album”. But exactly how did it come to achieve that status? In honour of the album’s 50th anniversary, we take a look at its longstanding legacy.
By 1968, The Beatles were a common household name. They were riding the wave of success from the mid-1967 release of their album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ which stayed number one on the UK charts for 27 weeks straight, and they aired a TV film called ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, which although received negative critical response, was absolutely devoured by fans. They were everywhere, and the world had their eyes on their every move just desperately waiting to see what they would do next.
In came “The White Album,” a record so raw and control-free that it was almost sexy. It was the most rebellion the world had seen from the band and it made everyone rethink what they thought they already knew about the name The Beatles. The double album featured a whopping 30 songs with no two being even remotely the same genre, let alone having the familiar Beatles sound. It was authentic and shocking, and it just might be the best thing the band has ever produced.
Most of the songs on the album were written during a Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh, India during March that year. Where ‘Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’ was shaped by LSD and the psychedelic movement that was 1967, “The White Album” was created from spiritual awakenings and clarity. This would also explain the juxtaposition between the two album artworks, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’ being a detailed masterpiece that told a thousand stories versus “The White Album” being a reflective mirror that told just one.
The album was possibly the first to showcase The Beatles as being individuals. The band wanted to prove that they were more than just a concept and that they all had different elements to bring to the table, which is why “The White Album” sounds like four solo records with each member having songs identifiable to them specifically. Julia, a lovely acoustic track about Lennon’s mother was the only time he sang unaccompanied from the rest of the band, and Revolution 9 saw the input from his prominent love interest Yoko Ono. And there are definitely “Paul songs” scattered throughout such as the beautiful Blackbird, the lovey-dovey Martha My Dear and the humourous Why Don’t We Do It In The Road. George Harrison’s claim is While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Ringo Starr’s is Good Night.
There are many things to be said about the legendary White Album but the underlying factor is that it is a stripped-down look at the bones of rock and roll, despite its chaos. For the first time, The Beatles were left in the recording studio to their own devices and the exploration and self-expression from that lead to the makings of the iconic double album. And that is why, 50 years on, the world still appreciates it.