The White Album: The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1968

The Beatle world is in the middle of The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) 50th Anniversary fever right now.

Giles Martin’s 2018 stereo remix is now out, as are the accompanying album demos (a.k.a. The Esher Demos). Add to that no less than three CDs of previously unreleased recording session outtakes and studio chatter, a new 5.1 surround sound mix, plus a lavish accompanying book about the making of the album. The package is getting very good reviews too. But to get all that content you’ll have to buy the Super Deluxe Edition.

If you’re a more casual Beatle fan though, or the purse strings don’t quite stretch to the significant asking price of the SDE, there’s a possible alternate route for you. Just buy the new remix/Esher demos in the reasonably priced three-disc “basic” CD version, and add this new book by Brian Southall called The White Album – Revolution, Politics and Recording: The Beatles and the World in 1968.

Brian Southall worked as a journalist with Music Business Weekly, Melody Maker and Disc magazines before joining A&M Records and then EMI Music, where over a 15-year career he served in press, promotion, marketing, artist development and corporate communications, working on many Beatle solo projects. He’s been a consultant to Warner Music International, the HMV Group and both the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). His other books include the official history of Abbey Road Studios, the story behind the Beatles’ publishing company, Northern Songs, The Beatles in 100 Objects, and (with Julian Lennon) Beatles Memorabilia: The Julian Lennon Collection.

True to its title, Southall’s book takes an in-depth look The White Album in what he likens to two “sides” of a record. The A-side providing a definitive guide to the album, it’s recording and the events surrounding it, while the B-side examines world events, politics and the history of 1968, and how turmoil and revolution helped shape the context in which The Beatles where working on their extraordinary new double LP.    

The book has a great Foreword written by Chris Thomas who, in 1968 as a fledgling producer, found himself almost by accident in the studio producing (and playing with) the greatest band in the world as they made their new LP.

It is also filled with a treasure trove of great images, around 150 of them in colour and black and white, and there’s a song-by-song breakdown of the album, with each track examined in detail. The story of how the album’s stark white cover came about is told, and there’s a section on the reaction the record received in 1968: “Within a week The Beatles was at No.1 in Australia, Canada, France, Norway and West Germany, while in America Capitol Records sold over 3 million copies into record stores within 4 days. Consequently, on December 14 it debuted at No.11, jumped to No.2 the following week, and topped the US album chart on December 28 – and stayed there for nine weeks, spending a total of 155 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart.”

Brian Southall’s White Album book is a companion to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967where he utilises a similar A-side/B-side examination linked to the 50th anniversary re-issue of the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band LP last year: 

The White Album – Revolution, Politics and Recording: The Beatles and the World in 1968 is published in the UK by Carlton Books.

(As usual, click on images to see larger versions)

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Vale Geoff Emerick – Audio Engineer Extraordinaire

Very sad to learn that Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer who worked on so many legendary Beatle and McCartney recordings, has passed away. He suffered a heart attack at the age of 72.

Paul McCartney pays tribute on his official site, and recalls Geoff being central to the recording of his classic Band On The Run LP from 1973.

Rolling Stone magazine says he was a crucial collaborator who helped The Beatles re-invent music.

When reviewing his 2006 book Here,There and Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles, the magazine said “Emerick was integral to the sounds of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper – he is, in his way, as responsible for McCartney’s bass tone at the time as the bassist himself – and the band’s sonic palette was never richer.”

As we said in our own review of his memoir: we wouldn’t have the Beatle canon without him.

George Martin Biography – Part Two: Sound Pictures

The second installment in an exceptional two-part biography of Beatle producer, the late Sir George Martin, has just hit bookstores in the US and the UK.

We reviewed Part 1, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), back in January and have been hanging out to get our hands on Part 2 ever since.

Now, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years: 1966-2016) is finally here.

Like the first book in the series, there are different covers for each market. Here is the US jacket:

And here is the cover for the UK:

Author Kenneth Womack really has created the definitive biography of the man widely regarded as The Fifth Beatle. In this second volume he takes up the story from 1966, when the Beatles have just released their Rubber Soul album to huge audience and critical acclaim: “At this point, the Beatles were in the midst of riding a winning streak in the UK, with eleven consecutive number-one singles – the latest being the double A-sided “Day Tripper” backed with “We Can Work It Out”, which was released in December 1965 and had rung in 1966 atop the UK charts. The pressure was definitely on to maintain the Beatles’ commercial dominion in their home country, and the group’s principal songwriters took the competition very seriously indeed, with John and Paul regularly vying to see who could land the next A-side.”

In those sentences Womack sums up the huge weight of expectation that was on the band, not only to keep on coming up with the goods in the form of hit records, and to maintain their hectic performance and appearance schedule, but also internally to keep moving forward creatively, to stretch themselves, try out new sounds and new ways of doing things.

In Sound Pictures we get a birds-eye view of the Beatles at their most creative. With the decision in late 1966 not to tour anymore but instead to use their albums to talk to their fans, they set a course that led to the release of four consecutive LPs that always make it into any ‘Best Albums of All Time’ lists: Revolver 1966, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967, The Beatles (The White Album) 1968, and Abbey Road 1969. When the Beatles decided to use the studio as their instrument it was Sir George who was there to guide them – and we’re all the luckier for it.

Add to that amazing list of LPs a string of Number 1 singles (like ‘All You Need Is Love’/’Baby, You’re A Rich Man’, ‘Hello, Goodbye’/’I Am the Walrus’, ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields’, ‘Lady Madonna’/’The Inner Light’, ‘Hey Jude’/’Revolution’ and ‘Something’/Come Together’ to name but a few) and you start to get an idea of the wave of creativity being unleashed between 1966-1969. George Martin was central and influential in each and every recording.

Sure, as the Beatles became more confident in the studio the dynamic between the band and their production team changed throughout this period – especially around the time of The White Album (and Womack goes into this in some detail) – but they usually found their way back to George Martin for guidance in some form or other. It’s a trend that continued right through the eighties with the release of the Beatle catalogue on CD for the first time; the huge Anthology project; and right up to more recent releases like the Beatles Love, where many of their songs were remastered and radically remixed. As well as having helped create it, Martin was closely involved in caretaking the legacy too.

Throughout the timeframe of Sound Pictures, Sir George was working as an independent producer, arranger and composer. He started up his own company called AIR, and established his own recording studio facilities as well, so in the book we get to learn about the huge catalogue of artists he collaborated with alongside some of the significant musical productions he was associated with. George Martin has worked with performers as diverse as Cilla Black, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, Kenny Rogers, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney as solo artists, America, Celine Dion, Jimmy Webb and John McLaughlin. It extends right up to his passing in 2016, and goes well beyond his work with the Beatles.

This is an excellent book, a great read, and Kenneth Womack should be congratulated for the depth of his research and the engaging way he tells the story of one of the greats of the music business. Highly recommended.

If you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany these two volumes as you read you could do worse than getting hold of the six CD set, Produced By George Martin – 50 Years In Recording. It was released in 2001:

John Lennon ‘Imagine’ – Film, Audio and DVD/BluRay On The Way?

Speculation and rumours that there would be a number of additional elements accompanying the forthcoming Imagine John Yoko book (due on October 9) has had an on again/off again nature over the last few days.

The story so far…..

Officially, all we know is that the book is happening, as is a cinema release of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono film Imagine, announced this week: This is the 1972 film with each of the songs from Imagine portrayed (plus four songs from the Ono LP FLY, recorded at the same time) in between glimpses into the lives of John and Yoko, plus some fun sequences featuring the pair and a host of celebrity mates. It looks like it’s the original 70 minute cut of the film, plus an additional 15 minutes or so of bonus material.

If you’d like to go along and see the movie on the big screen there’s a special site set up find out where it is on near you and you can book tickets. Screenings start from September 17.

We also now know that there will be definitely be a DVD and Blu-ray release of the 1972 Imagine film, coupled on the one disc with Gimme Some Truth – The Making of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ Album which dates from 2000 and is directed by Andrew Solt:Gimme Some Truth is a surprisingly good examination of the recording process, a fly-on-the-wall window on Lennon in the studio creating the Imagine album that stands the test of time. The DVD and Blu-ray will be available from October 5, and Amazon is taking pre-orders now. There will be bonus material included, but it has not yet been revealed just what this will be. These two films will be great to have in remixed sound, 5.1 mixes (if that is your thing), and fully restored visual content.

And that leads us to what hasn’t been announced yet regarding the last piece in the puzzle: the audio from the Imagine sessions.

There’s been lots of talk about a super deluxe box set; a single CD; a double CD; and a double LP (with a limited edition in clear vinyl for collectors too). Depending on who you believe this is about to be officially announced (like in the next few days, with an October 9 release date), or this part of the Imagine re-issue project has been delayed and we won’t see it until at least February, 2019. (This courtesy of Lennon producer, Jack Douglas, who apparently stated at the Chicago Fest for Beatles last weekend that the project had been shelved to February next year).

Until something official comes out it all remains speculation, but the big box set (which will be audio only) will likely contain four CDs, plus two Blu-rays of material. On these will be some 140 tracks – which is HUGE!

In the box we’ll get the remixed stereo Imagine album, plus singles and extras; outtakes from the album, singles and extras; the Quadraphonic album remastered; raw studio mixes; plus a host of other audio content. For example, someone well-connected to the project has posted this as the content on CD2:

CD 2 – ELEMENTS & OUTTAKES
Elements Mixes and Album & Single Outtakes
ELEMENTS MIXES
Imagine (Strings only) 
Jealous Guy (Piano, bass & drums)
Oh My Love (Vocals only) 
How? (Strings only) 
ALBUM OUTTAKES
Imagine (Original demo recorded at Ascot) 
Imagine (Take 1) 
Crippled Inside (Take 3) 
Crippled Inside (Take 6 alternate guitar solo)
Jealous Guy (Take 9) 
It’s So Hard (Take 6) 
I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier (Take 25) 
Gimme Some Truth (Take 4)
Oh My Love (Take 6) 
How Do You Sleep? (Takes 1 & 2) 
How? (Take 31)

That’s just for one CD. Those two Blu-rays alone will contain a massive amount of additional audio and this release (if it comes about) will set a precedent for the Apple/Universal box set re-issue approach so far. There will be raw studio mixes; “elements” mixes with instruments and voices separated out; documentary content about the evolution of the songs; plus interview material from the time of Imagine with John and Yoko included. To date the breadth of material planned for release is unprecedented.

The promotional music site Ultimate Classic Rock jumped the gun today and published an article called “John Lennon’s Imagine Album Explored in a Six-Disc Box Set“. As you can see if you click through, they’ve subsequently taken that story down, possibly with a big rap across the knuckles form Apple/Universal….

We reckon this big release program WILL happen. It’s just a matter of when.

UPDATE: The official Lennon site has now uploaded a teaser Imagine the Music page and a video (a beautiful short extract of just the isolated vocals from ‘Oh My Love’). Looks like we’ll know exactly what is on offer on August 23, when The Ultimate Deep Listening Experience will be officially announced.

Dreaming The Beatles – Book Review

We’ve been reading a terrific Beatle book called Dreaming The Beatles – The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield. It’s not new. The hardcover first edition was released last year – and won great accolades then. It has though just been re-issued as a  paperback, and it’s recommended that you go get yourself a copy:

Rob Sheffield is a columnist for Rolling Stone magazine and has been writing about music, TV and popular culture since 1997. He’s written a number of other books on music including works on David Bowie and Duran Duran.

Sheffield has a delightful and refreshing writing style and delivers some truly unique insights and observations into The Beatles: as a band, as individuals, as musicians, and as a world-wide pop phenomenon involved in a love affair that persists up to today (and will do well in the future).

The big difference here is that Sheffield’s take on it all is a decidedly fresh one. Given the huge number of words written about this band over many, many years, that is really saying something.

The basic premise of Dreaming The Beatles is to examine why they have remained so loved and so central – not only in the Sixties, but right up to the present day. Sheffield writes: “The Beatles didn’t plan it this way – they couldn’t have. In 1964, their publicist Derek Taylor wrote liner notes for one of their albums predicting it would still sound fine to “the kids of AD 2000”, a bold claim that looks hilariously small potatoes now…..Taylor upped the ante with his 1995 liner notes for Anthology, calling the Beatles’ story “the twentieth century’s greatest romance.” How was he supposed to know that the romance was just beginning?”

The world, it seems, just keeps on falling in love with The Beatles. Sheffield again: “They tried to break the spell they’d cast and were genuinely surprised when they failed. When John Lennon sang “The dream is over” in 1970, he wanted to free his listeners and himself from the dream. But it didn’t work, because the group didn’t belong to these four men anymore. The dream wasn’t theirs to break.” As four individuals they each tried to end it, pursue new paths, and get on with the rest of their lives. Sheffield observes that the world just smiled politely and said, “I think I disagree.”

Through a series of short vignettes and essays Sheffield examines how this came to be and (with lots of detours along the way) picks apart various significant albums, songs and transitional moments and connections in their career to gradually build up a picture of why it all mattered – and why it continues to matter.

Dreaming the Beatles is often funny too, and is always an engrossing read frequently offering up interesting and entertaining opinions. Take for instance the chapter ‘Beatles or Stones?’ where the traditional rivalry between the two bands is delightfully unpacked. “The Stones flourished during the all-to-brief phase when Mick Jagger thought he was Paul McCartney.”, writes Sheffield. “‘Dandelion’ is easily the best faux-McCartney song of the Sixties. Alas, this phase has been underrated through the years, for the admittedly excellent reason that as soon as Mick gave up trying to be Paul he got ten times better at being Mick, which is when the Stones hit their prime.”

If you feel jaded about reading yet another Beatle book, pluck up the courage and seek this one out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by an author who knows his stuff, can look at the time-worn tale in new ways, understands why the story continues on, and in the end just loves the music. Like he says: “Being born on the same planet as the Beatles is one of the 10 best things that’s ever happened to me.”

Dreaming The Beatles – The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World is published by Dey Street Books (Harper Collins)

Strange/Unusual Find of the Month

A small local library was having a clear-out. They’d decided that their shelf space was at a premium and so books that they had more than one copy of, those which hadn’t been borrowed in a while, and those that’d been in storage for years, had to go.

Rather than just throw them away they kindly put them all out on tables and invited locals to browse choose whatever they liked – for free.

We scored a couple of Beatle treasures.

The first is Hunter Davies’ iconic early The Beatles – The Authorised Biography dating from 1968. This is a genuine UK first edition. It’s an important book because, despite the glossing over of some aspects of their lives, it is the only authorised biography of the Beatles written during their career.

The cover has that clear plastic film libraries use to protect the dust cover, so it looks a little beaten up – but is really in very good condition for it’s age (click on images for larger versions): The rear cover has those four terrrific Richard Avedon portraits:

Inside are some more pages of great photos:

What we really like is that the library hasn’t remove the old-school borrowing card and date stamp sheet inside the back of the book!

The other title was Peter Brown’s The Love You Make – An Insider’s Story of The Beatles:

Again, some interesting photo pages inside:

And the original borrowing card and date stamp sheet still intact:

This is a UK first edition from 1983. Again, it has lived a good life, but is not in too bad condition for it’s age. Peter Brown was a Beatle insider having been a personal assitant to their manager Brian Epstein and an executive at Apple Corps. Wikipedia says the critics are mixed in their views on this book, with some stating it is not a true representation of the facts as it ncludes recollections of episodes that Brown could not possibly have been witness to. Still, an interesting addition to the collection.

Lennon ‘Imagine’ Re-Issue Rumours Abound

With a press release and first photos issued earlier this week giving details of a new book about the making of John Lennon’s 1971 LP Imagine – plus a social media marketing blitz for the book getting under way yesterday (coordinated Tweets from @yokoono@johnlennon; and the publishers @thamesandhudson and @GrandCentralPub, not to mention Facebook) – the rumour mill is ripe with talk that the book will also be accompanied by a significant re-issue of the recording.

The book, which looks to be an impressive 320 page hardback, is due in store on October 9th:From the press release: “Imagine tells the story of John & Yoko’s life, work and relationship during this intensely creative period. It transports readers to home and working environments through artfully compiled narrative film stills, Yoko’s closely guarded archive photos and artefacts, and stitched-together panoramas taken from outtake film footage that recreate the interiors in evocative detail. Each chapter and song is introduced with text by John & Yoko compiled from published and unpublished sources and complemented by comments from Yoko today. Fresh insights are provided by musicians, engineers and staff who took part, many of whom feature on the inner sleeve’s enigmatic picture wheel, in which the identities are finally revealed. All the minutiae is examined: the locations, the key players, the music and lyrics, the production techniques and the artworks – including the creative process behind the double exposure Polaroids used on the album cover.”

Even the page edges have been given a special cloud treatment:

Imagine will be published in the USA by Grand Central Publishing, and the UK by Thames and Hudson.

Have to say – the book looks impressive and will no doubt conatin some real treasures, both in information and photographs….

So, what about a re-mixed Imagine CD, vinyl, or deluxe box set to accompany it?

Some weeks back The Beatles Daily blog had this, quoting former Beatle aide and insider Tony Bramwell that a “song and dance” version of the album was in the works, while on the popular Steve Hoffman Music Forums they are talking about a new remix, possible DVD and Blu-Ray, and maybe a box set to be bundled with the book…..

So far it is all speculation. If there’s something in the works expect an offical announcement soon I guess.

One thing is certain: Yoko Ono will be credited for the first time officially as co-writer of the song ‘Imagine’. This is because when “Imagine” received the National Music Publishers Association’s inaugural Centennial Song Award last year, the organisation took on board John Lennon’s statement from 1980 that it really was a co-write – and bestowed the honour upon her at the ceremony. Yoko (and son Sean) were at the awards to receive it and you can watch what happened here:

Interesting, isn’t it.

Again, from the official press release about the forthcoming book: “In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono conceived and recorded the critically acclaimed album Imagine at their Georgian country home, Tittenhurst Park, in Berkshire, England, and in the state-of-the-art studio they built in the grounds and at the Record Plant in New York. The lyrics of its title track were inspired by Yoko Ono’s ‘event scores’ in her 1964 book Grapefruit, and she was officially co-credited as writer in June 2017.

If there is to be a major re-issue later this year (and it’s looking very likely that there will), it’ll become the very first release to carry that new co-writer song credit for the song ‘Imagine”.