Friday, June 02, 2006
White Gold and Onion Soup – Recording The Beatles' White Album
“Well, you know, it’s the next move. I can’t say yes, but I think so. Why not? Because it’s only another LP, really. It’s not that important.”
- John Lennon, 1968, discussing the probability of topping Sgt. Pepper
“There was one instance just before I left when they were doing ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ for the umpteenth time. Paul was re-recording the vocal again and George Martin made some remark about how he should be lilting onto the half-beat or whatever and Paul, in no refined way, said something to the effect of ‘Well you come down and sing it’.”
- Geoff Emerick, engineer
The Beatles’ meditative sojourn in Rishikesh had yielded an unusually high number of new songs to add to their list of prospective songs for the new album. The large quantity of songs made the idea of heading into the studio cold less appealing than on previous efforts. Paul was to remark in late May, 1968: “We had hoped this time to do a lot of rehearsing before we reached the studios rather than rehearse actually on the instruments but, as it happens, all we got was one day.” That particular day was spent in George’s home, Kinfauns, in Esher, Surrey, recording basic demos and mostly acoustic versions of current works in progress. Among the songs laid down on the four-track machine were several that failed to make it on the final LP. Among John’s numbers were “What’s The New Mary Jane,” which was left unissued, “Child Of Nature,” which was transformed into “Jealous Guy” for his 1971 Imagine LP, and “Polythene Pam” and “Mean Mr. Mustard,” songs never to be completed, but instead resurrected to fit in the side 2 medley for Abbey Road. George gave “Sour Milk Sea” to Apple artist Jackie Lomax to record, and the song “Circles” was saved until 1982’s Gone Troppo. Paul’s one unreleased song “Junk” was used two years later for his first solo album McCartney.
Upon their entry once again into the recording studio on the 30th of May, the question remained as to what their schedule would be, and how many tracks would make up the new album. “We’re just recording until we are finished,” Paul said. “We have the studio booked for a couple of weeks initially and then we go on from there. We might record all thirty songs and pick fourteen or so for an album or it could turn out to be two albums or even a three-album pack.”
George was also in favour at this early stage for an album package containing multiple LPs: “I suppose we’ve got a vague idea of the overall conception of the kind of album we want to do, but it takes time to work out. We could do a double album, I suppose, or maybe even a triple album. There’s enough stuff there.” Coincidentally enough, the triple-LP plateau would not be attained in rock music until George’s All Things Must Pass LP in 1970.
With vague ideas in mind, the Beatles’ began by taping 18 takes of “Revolution” in their first new session in Studio Two. Lennon originally conceived the politically charged number at a fast tempo when he laid down the demo at Kinfauns, but he drastically slowed it down bringing it into the studio a little over a week later. “The Beatles were getting real tense with each other,” John remarked. “I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single, as a statement of the Beatles’ position on Vietnam and the Beatles’ position on revolution. . . . George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn't fast enough.” This slow version was to become “Revolution 1” on The Beatles, though the original ten-minute recording was cut to four. The excised final six minutes would form the basis of “Revolution 9,” with John screaming “alright” repeatedly and moaning into the microphone with his new girlfriend Yoko Ono, who herself also contributed various intermittent phrases such as “you become naked.”
Lennon worked over the coming days on the words of the song during vocal overdubs in Studio Three at Abbey Road, changing ever so slightly the words, particularly the line “when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.” Lennon was unsure if he wanted to be counted “in” or “out,” but “Revolution 1” settled for both. For effect, Lennon uniquely recorded the final vocal track lying flat on his back with a boom microphone positioned directly above him. Paul and George contributed equally bizarre backing vocals of “mama dada mama dada” near the end, and all four made a tape loop consisting of them singing a very high and long “aaaaah,” both overdubs failing to make the final cut.
The Beatles’ turned next to recording Ringo’s first solo composition, a country and western tune brought into the studio with the curious working title “This Is Some Friendly.” Curious because, even as early as 1963 when the song was first being written, Ringo had been calling the song “Don’t Pass Me By.” Early takes of the song featured mainly Paul and Ringo laying down piano and drum tracks, with the odd choice of a sleigh-bell being added to the mix. Ringo manually double-tracked his vocals, and for Paul to add a new bass track to the recording – the Beatles still working a four-track machine – reduction mixes were made, freeing up extra tracks for recording overdubs. The Beatles took time out on this day to record an interview with Kenny Everett in the studio, with John remarking: “We’ve just done two tracks, both unfinished. The second one is Ringo’s first song that we're working on this very moment. He composed it himself in a fit of lethargy. We got to a stage with one where the next bit is musicians, so we’ll have to write the musicians’ bit.”
“Don’t Pass Me By” being set aside for the day, Lennon began working on his new pet project, a sound collage to be titled “Revolution 9.” Often cited solely as a John & Yoko creation, it has long been left unacknowledged that, with the exception of Paul, the other Beatles did assist in the making of the audio montage. George recalled decades later, “Ringo and I compiled that. We went into the tape library and looked through the entire room and pulled main selections and gave the tapes to John, and he cut them together. The whole thing, ‘Number nine, number nine,’ is because I pulled the box number nine. It was some kind of educational programme. John sat there and decided which bits to cross-fade together, but, if Ringo and I hadn’t gone there in the first place, he wouldn’t have had anything.” George and Ringo left for America the next day, and so then it was up to John to compile the sound effects tapes while continuing to search for new effects from the Abbey Road library and his own homemade collections. While John remained in Studio Three, Paul stayed productive by recording “Blackbird” in 32 takes in Studio Two and he finished mixing it into mono in a single six-hour session. The singing blackbird on the recording was culled from the tape “Volume Seven: Birds of Feather” in the Abbey Road sound effects collection.
With George and Ringo recently returned from America, it was Paul’s turn to fly there, and the three remaining Beatles worked on finishing “Revolution 9,” occupying all three studios at Abbey Road to accomplish the task. “John was really the producer of ‘Revolution 9’,” tape operator Richard Lush recalled, “but George Harrison joined him at Abbey Road that night and they both had vocal mikes and were saying strange things like ‘the Watusi’, ‘the Twist’ …” Lennon’s off the wall prose consisted of lines such as: “His legs were drawn and his hands were tied and his feet were bent and his nose was burning. His head was on fire. His glasses were insane. This was the end of his audience.” Random words were injected into the mix: “onion soup,” “economically viable,” “financial imbalance,” and “Eldorado.” To top things off, George and John whispered quietly into the microphone six times, “There ain’t no rule for the company freaks!” It would be a week before Paul could listen to the results, and as Richard Lush noted, “I know it didn’t get a fantastic reaction from McCartney when he heard it.”
Once Paul did return, the reunited foursome began a system of recording rehearsals in order to perfect the rhythm track, a method of working that would later become an integral part of the Get Back sessions. The first song tried in this way was Lennon’s “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,” which, not surprisingly, was initially recorded sans title. The number gained its fast tempo by being sped up through reduction mixing, a length of 3:07 eventually being reduced to 2:24. The rocker was nicely contrasted with the recording of a Lennon ballad, what was to be the album’s finale, “Good Night.” Written for five-year-old Julian and created for Ringo to sing, John worked extensively with Ringo on the song, providing warm electric guitar accompaniment while Ringo improvised a charming introduction on each take. The unscripted nature of it made timing Ringo’s singing entry difficult with lines such as, “Come on children! It’s time to toddle off to bed. We’ve had a lovely day at the park and now it’s time for sleep.” George Martin made copies of the finished early take 15 in order to create an orchestral score as per Lennon’s instructions, and in the end, none of the early takes, instrumentation, or vocals for “Good Night” would be used in the final recording.
McCartney was eager to record “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and true to form, the song was given a full treatment and excessive time dedicated to getting it down on tape, going through two remakes over the course of a week. The first version contained saxophones, a piccolo, and bongos, the latter being supplied by none other than Jimmy Scott, who had originally supplied Paul with the title catchphrase. On July 8, after attending a screening of their most recent film Yellow Submarine, Paul commented on the current album sessions: “I am pleased with its progress. We get new ideas every day, but I hope it will be made quicker than the Pepper album. We want it out before the Yellow Submarine LP comes out. We are family grocers. You want yoghurt; we will give it to you. You want cornflakes, we have that too. Mums and dads can’t take some of our album stuff, so we make it simple for them on our singles.” Ringo revealed his unique contribution: “I have already recorded my song for the next LP. It has two titles, so I can’t say what it will be called yet.” George also expressed a desire to finish the album quickly, in addition, saying, “I have written ten songs for the next LP. We have about forty in all and we don’t know yet which ones we’ll use.”
The Beatles returned to the studio that evening to record the first remake of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” with Lennon providing a new blue-beat piano intro fuelled by his boredom and frustration. John was not the only one wishing to move on to something else. “I can remember sitting in the control room before a session dying to hear them start a new one,” said Richard Lush. This session in particular can be pinpointed as the start of a sense of acrimony within the Beatles, providing for a tense recording atmosphere. “The first cracks appeared in the Beatles’ set up on the White Album,” Ringo remembered. “We never really argued. That was the funny thing. We always sort of held back a bit, and maybe if we had argued a lot more, then it wouldn’t have got to the stage it got to.” Paul pressed forward, beginning another remake of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” before finally deciding that the first remake was best. After overdubbing what seemed like a flawless vocal the next day, McCartney realized that he had sung, “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face” instead of Molly. “Oh, it sounds great anyway,” Paul decided. “Let’s just leave it in – create a bit of confusion there. Everyone will wonder whether Desmond’s a bisexual or a transvestite.”
Lennon broke the monotony by introducing a new, faster, rock version of “Revolution” at the end of the session for rehearsal. He obtained the fuzz sound on the guitars through what the engineers termed as “abuse of equipment.” George Martin recalled that “John wanted a very dirty sound on guitar, and he couldn’t get it through his amps. What we did … was just overload one of the preamps.” The drum tracks were compressed and given a hard sound, and Lennon gave a screaming introduction and double-tracked his vocal intermittently, leaving the mistakes in to maintain the live feel. The electric piano was added in a special overdub by Nicky Hopkins, later to play on solo albums by John, George, and Ringo.
The “musicians’ bit” was finally added at this point to “Don’t Pass Me By,” with Jack Fallon, a former booking agent for the Beatles, playing a violin overdub. The mono mix of the song was to contain an extended ending featuring additional fiddle playing. “I thought that they had had enough so I just busked around a bit,” said Fallon. “I was very surprised they kept it in, it was pretty dreadful.” Rehearsals and laying down the basic tracks for the Lennon nursery-rhyme-styled composition “Cry Baby Cry” were underway next, and it was during this time that the tense atmosphere surrounding the recordings caused the Beatles’ talented engineer, Geoff Emerick, to quit the sessions, not working with them again until 1969. “I lost interest in the White Album,” said Geoff, “because they were really arguing amongst themselves and swearing at each other. The expletives were really flying. I went down to the studio to explain it the group and John said ‘Look, we’re not moaning and getting uptight about you, we’re complaining about EMI. Look at this place, Studio Two, all we’ve seen is bricks for the past year. Why can’t they decorate it?’ Admittedly the studio did need smartening up a little bit but I knew this was just an outlet for a bigger problem. They were falling apart.”
With a new engineer named Ken Scott filling Emerick’s role, the Beatles set about recording the long, slow versions of “Helter Skelter”; recordings to gain mythical status for Beatles collectors, with take three lasting 27:11, the longest recording the Beatles ever committed to tape. All three takes drew out their length from extended instrumental passages and jams, and featured a superb McCartney vocal backed by bass, heavy guitars and drums. Lennon vented his angst through “Sexy Sadie,” and he briefly demonstrated to McCartney his original vision for the song: “You little twat, who the fuck do you think you are? Oh, you cunt.” Paul replied that this made the song sound more sympathetic. In between run-throughs the Beatles recorded a brief derogatory blues improvisation concerning Brian Epstein and his brother Clive, and an instrumental jam of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Yoko offered her opinion on the “Sexy Sadie” recordings during playbacks. “Yes,” said Paul in response, “you mean we can do it better?” John was quick to cut in: “Well, maybe I can.”
Moving into the large Studio One to record the orchestra for “Good Night,” Ringo began recorded his vocal around midnight, telling jokes and breaking into laughter between takes, and these outtakes were preserved on a “Beatles Chat” tape they had begun assembling ten days earlier for posterity. Back in Studio Two, Lennon recorded a new vocal for “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,” and gave frenetic screams where the fadeout on the song would be. The next day he led the Beatles through the first of two remakes for “Sexy Sadie,” going up to take 47 before being satisfied for the time being.
George had yet to debut one of his new songs for consideration, but he finally did so with the recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which began mostly as a solo acoustic number. George said, “I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not interested in it at all. And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song.” Take one was recorded on the first day, featuring an overdubbed organ part near the end, and was to be released three decades later on the retrospective Anthology 3.
Paul was already envisioning the next Beatles single as being “Hey Jude,” and after he and John had put the final touches on the song back at Paul’s home in Cavendish Avenue, extensive rehearsals began. A camera crew from the National Music Council of Great Britain arrived on the second day, in the process of making a documentary entitled Music!, and shot hours worth of footage of the Beatles at work. A frustrated Harrison was to be found in the control room, not participating in the initial recordings. “I remember on ‘Hey Jude’ telling George not to play guitar,” said Paul. “He wanted to echo riffs after the vocal phrases, which I didn’t think was appropriate. He didn’t see it like that, and it was a bit of a number for me to have to dare to tell George Harrison – who’s one of the greats – not to play. It was like an insult. But that’s how we did a lot of our stuff.” The Beatles moved to Trident Studios, which had eight-track recording facilities, to record the final version with a 36-piece orchestra. The session musicians were given an extra role, George Martin recalled: “We also got them singing on the end, because we wanted this general big noise. I don’t think they liked doing it very much. In fact, one of them asked me for a special fee afterwards, which I think he got.”
While “Hey Jude” was being remixed back at Abbey Road, George ran through his new composition “Not Guilty” with the rest of the Beatles, recording an incredible 101 takes over the next two days. The song featured a distinctive harpsichord (after an electric piano had first been tried out) and was subjected to numerous guitar overdubs, which brought the numbers of takes to 102. After the Beatles had left for the day, Paul recorded “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Wild Honey Pie” acoustically on his own, much as he had previously done for “Blackbird.” He also recorded the unreleased “Etcetera,” and took the tape of it home after one take. On the next session, George wanted a certain atmosphere to record his lead vocal for “Not Guilty,” as engineer Ken Scott remembered: “George had this idea that he wanted to do it in the control room with the speakers blasting, so that he got more of an onstage feel. So we had to monitor through headphones, setting the monitor speakers at a level where he felt comfortable and it wouldn’t completely blast out his vocal.” Acetates were eventually cut, but “Not Guilty” progressed no further and was not slated for inclusion on the upcoming album. George ultimately released the song on his 1979 George Harrison LP, and the Beatles’ version, with a verse edited out, was officially released on Anthology 3.
After remaking “Sexy Sadie” for the second time, Lennon acted on idea given to him by Ken Scott during vocal overdubs for “Not Guilty”: “I remember that John Lennon came in at one point,” said Scott, “and I turned to him and said, ‘Bloody hell, the way you lot are carrying on you’ll be wanting to record everything in the room next door!’ The room next door was tiny, where the four-track tape machines were once kept, and it had no proper studio walls or acoustic set-up of any kind. Lennon replied ‘That’s a great idea, let’s try it on the next number!’” And so, the blues pastiche “Yer Blues,” a Lennon composition, was recorded live in the small room next to Studio Two. The engineers, Paul noted, “were worried about separation but what we did was turn the amplifiers to the wall and put a microphone in there, so we actually got amazing separation on them.” The song was virtually finished in that room, save for a second vocal overdub and a count-in edit piece later recorded by Ringo.
John, George, Mal Evans, and Yoko set about next to record “What’s The New Mary Jane,” featuring John on piano and George on guitar. The utterly peculiar avant-garde comedic number lasted four takes, with the final one lasting over six minutes, after which John commented, “Let’s hear it, before we get taken away!” Paul recorded “Rocky Raccoon” with the others and had it mixed in mono in a single session, with John bringing the harmonica out of the mothballs and George Martin overdubbing a piano solo. John was on organ for a new version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” though this remake would eventually be scrapped.
George took off for a four-day holiday in Greece, so Lennon tied up loose ends on his recordings (predominantly “Revolution 9” and “Yer Blues”), and Paul focused mainly on brass overdubs for “Mother Nature’s Son.” Feelings amongst the Beatles were taking a turn for the worse, said Ken Scott, “Suddenly, half way through, John and Ringo walked in you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. An instant change. It was like that for ten minutes and then as soon as they left it felt great again. It was very bizarre.”
Ron Richards, another producer at EMI, noticed on August 22 that Ringo in particular was beginning to become fed up with the sessions: “Ringo was always sitting in the reception area waiting, just sitting there or reading a newspaper. He used to sit there for hours waiting for the others to turn up.” As recordings for “Back In The USSR” began, Paul told Ringo, not for the first or last time, how to play his drum part. On this occasion, it infuriated the normally calm Ringo and drove him to telling the others that he was quitting immediately. “I’m sure it pissed Ringo off,” Paul said, “when he couldn’t quite get the drums to ‘Back In The USSR,’ and I sat in. It’s very weird to know that you can do a thing someone else is having trouble with.” Ringo was also tired of sitting through endless sessions and having to deal with the tense atmosphere. “I had to leave,” he later reflected. “I thought that the other three were together and I wasn’t with them. I was separate. I was feeling down. Also, I thought I wasn’t playing right. But I went round to each one, and said, ‘Look, I’ve gotta leave. I can’t make it!’ But then, each one I went to said, ‘I thought it was you three, and I was on my own.’” John commented, “Ringo quit because he felt he was no longer necessary in the group and nobody knows what they’re doing.” Ringo flew to the Mediterranean to spend time on Peter Sellers’ yacht, while the other Beatles continued recording, with Paul taking over as drummer. “Back In The USSR” was to have three drum, bass, and lead guitar parts all adding to the massive sound of the recording. The final touch, the jet aeroplane taking off and landing, was added in the remix stage and again the effect was found in the Abbey Road sound library.
For “Dear Prudence,” the three remaining Beatles decided to record the Lennon number at Trident Studios, taking advantage once more of the eight-track machine available there. In order to perfect each part, the Beatles recorded each instrument over and over again, with each successive attempt being wiped. This technique led to “Dear Prudence” having only one single “take.” McCartney once again played the drums in Ringo’s absence, and Jackie Lomax – his album at the time being produced by Harrison – joined in on backing vocals. Back at Abbey Road, the Beatles had an eight-track machine unscrupulously installed ahead of schedule, so that George could fashion a backwards guitar solo for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” though these overdubs were ultimately not used.
Ringo returned to the group in time to shoot the promo films for “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” on September 4, and his happy expression on film clearly showed that he was glad to be back. “Paul is the greatest bass guitar player in the world,” Ringo said later on. “But he is also very determined; he goes on and on to see if he can get his own way. While that may be a virtue, it did mean that musical disagreements inevitably arose from time to time.” Returning to EMI Studios the next day, Ringo found his drum kit decorated with flowers, courtesy of Mal Evans. Once Ringo had the opportunity to listen to the tracks made in his absence, he deemed the drumming on “Back In The USSR” to be excellent, but in contrast, Paul’s percussive work on “Dear Prudence” to be substandard. The second remake of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was then taped, and Eric Clapton was brought in by George especially to record a guitar solo. George explained, “I was going into the session, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it.’ He said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records.’ I said, ‘Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it.’ So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold – because he was there.”
George Martin, producer for the Beatles since “Love Me Do,” took a holiday at this point, and left his assistant Chris Thomas in charge, though the Beatles had been essentially producing themselves throughout most of the sessions. Though Thomas had sat in the control room earlier, he was unprepared for the welcome he received from Paul his first day on the job: “Well, if you wanna produce us you can produce us. If you don’t, we might just tell you to fuck off!” McCartney’s mood suited the song recorded that night perfectly, the final remake of “Helter Skelter,” which had quickly become his heaviest and most raucous song ever. It had been drastically sped up and to increase the cacophony, John added a discordant saxophone part and Mal Evans played a maladroit trumpet. Thomas recalled, “While Paul was doing his vocal, George Harrison had set fire to an ashtray and was running around the studio with it above his head, doing an Arthur Brown! All in all, a pretty undisciplined session, you could say!” Instead of going for length as they had done the first time, the Beatles focused on making a tighter, more frantic performance of “Helter Skelter,” and each take generally lasted five minutes. “We tried everything we could to dirty it up,” said Paul, “and in the end you can hear Ringo say, ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers.’ That wasn’t a joke put-on: his hands were actually bleeding at the end of the take, he’d been drumming so ferociously. We did work very hard on that track.” McCartney added that “unfortunately it inspired people to evil deeds,” referring to Charles Manson, whose bizarre interpretation of the song led him to have his group commit the Tate and LaBianca murders in August 1969. “He’s barmy,” Lennon said of Manson in 1970. “He’s like any other Beatle kind of fan who reads mysticism into it … I don’t know what’s ‘Helter Skelter’ got to do with knifin’ somebody, you know?”
False interpretations of this kind of the Beatles’ songs was the exact source of inspiration for Lennon’s sharp “Glass Onion,” the next number to be recorded. “I was just having a laugh,” John said, “because there had been so much gobbledegook written about Sgt. Pepper … this one was just my way of saying, ‘You’re all full of shit!’” Paul worked with John and Ringo to complete his ballad “I Will,” briefly lapsing into brief jams or improvisations in between the 67 takes, including a short piece, “Can You Take Me Back,” a portion of which found its way onto the album following “Cry Baby Cry.”
For the session on September 18, Paul wanted to create a spontaneous song: “We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff.” The song was “Birthday,” and after laying down the rhythm track everyone travelled to Paul’s home in Cavendish Avenue to watch The Girl Can’t Help It, a 1956 film starring Jayne Mansfield. Vocal overdubs for “Birthday” featured not only John and Paul, but also Yoko Ono and Pattie Harrison singing backup during the chorus. George’s “Piggies” was recorded the next day, with Chris Thomas supplying harpsichord and Lennon the sound effects tape of pig grunting noises. Before taping began, Harrison also debuted another new composition, “Something,” though it would not be recorded for another year. Lennon’s “Happiness Is A Warm Gun In Your Hand,” (the last three words eventually being dropped from the title) was recorded over a space of three days, taking a total of 70 takes to perfect the rhythm track. “They all said it was about drugs,” Lennon said of the song, “but it was more about rock ‘n’ roll than drugs. It’s sort of a history of rock ‘n’ roll.”
With George Martin back from holiday, the Beatles moved again to Trident to record three more numbers, this time Paul’s “Honey Pie” and “Martha My Dear,” and George’s “Savoy Truffle.” Lennon was less involved in the recording of these three songs, though according to George, he played the guitar solo on “Honey Pie: “John played a brilliant solo on ‘Honey Pie’ … sounded like Django Reinhardt or something. It was one of them where you just close your eyes and happen to hit all the right notes – sounded like a little jazz solo.” Returning to Abbey Road, George, with Paul and Ringo, worked on “It’s Been A Long Long Long Time,” later to be shortened to “Long Long Long.” George was in great spirits throughout the recording, and was to recall afterwards, “There was a bottle of Blue Nun wine on the top of the Leslie speaker during the recording, and when our Paul hit some organ note the Leslie started vibrating and the bottle rattling. You can hear it on the record – at the very end.” When Lennon returned on the 8th of October he was impatient in getting the rest of his numbers completed, and so recorded “I’m So Tired” and “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” in one 16-hour marathon session. “That night was really fast going,” revealed Chris Thomas. “Everyone who was in the vicinity of the studio joined in on ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’. Yoko sang her line and I played a mandolin-type mellotron bit in the verses and the trombone-type bit in the choruses.”
With the current songs at the mixing stage, Paul taped “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” solo, with a drum part later overdubbed by Ringo. “That’s Paul,” John said. “He even recorded it by himself in another room …we came in, and he’d made the whole record. I can’t speak for George, but I was always hurt when Paul would knock something off without involving us. But that’s just the way it was then.” The last song to be taped for the White Album, ironically, was a Lennon solo effort this time, the acoustic ballad “Julia.” This was to be the only song John recorded solely by himself during the Beatles’ career, though on this session McCartney offered his input via the studio intercom. John double-tracked both his vocal and guitar parts, perfecting the song in a mere three takes. “That was John’s song about his mum, folk finger-picking style, and a very good song,” McCartney remembered.
Ringo left for a holiday in Sardinia on October 14 and George flew to Los Angeles on the 16th, so John, Paul, George Martin and the engineers were left with the task of mixing the album and deciding on the final running order. Time was evidently running out, as they spent an entire 24-hour session from the 16th to the 17th trying desperately to finish off the album. “What’s The New Mary Jane” was dropped from contention, and it appeared that “Not Guilty” had been mysteriously shelved beforehand, never having been remixed for stereo. This left 30 tracks to work with, and John and Paul decided to cross-fade the tracks, eliminating the silence between numbers much as they done for Sgt. Pepper. Little sections from the “Beatles Chat” tapes were added to the mix: Paul’s “Can You Take Me Back” adlib and a humorous exchange between Alistair Taylor and George Martin in the control room. The five-month recording sessions for the The Beatles had come to a close, the self-titled album seeing its release on November 22 in Britain and on November 25 in the United States. It sold an estimated 6.5 million copies by the end of 1970.
“Paul was always upset about the White Album,” said John, summing up his thoughts on the album. “He never liked it because, on that one, I did my music, he did his, and George did his. And first, he didn’t like George having so many tracks, and second, he wanted it to be more a group thing, which really meant more Paul. So, he never liked that album. I always preferred it to all the other albums, including Pepper, because I thought the music was better. The Pepper myth is bigger, but the music on the White Album is far superior, I think. I wrote a lot of good stuff on that. I like all the stuff I did on that and the other stuff as well. I like the whole album.”