November 9, 2018
If you got the Sgt Pepper box set last year, you've probably been waiting for this one with bated breath. Like the Pepper box, you get the original inserts from the vinyl edition. (The four 8x10" glossies of each member, the huge poster, with the lyrics on the back.) Also accompanying the box is a beautiful hard back book, describing the white album sessions, and giving insight into the Escher demos, plus what's going on with each take. But the real meat and potatoes here of course is the music. Let's check that out.
THE ESCHER DEMOS
If you are into Beatles bootlegs, you've probably had this for years. When Anthology was released, the Beatles added songs to the Escher Demos list, that were never on bootleg. (Honey Pie, Mean mister Mustard, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Etc.) Well, this is the same Escher Demos I know from the bootleg, but really cleaned up. The backround chatter is missing. A couple songs sound different, since Sour Milk Sea has less overdubbing. Also, the original sequence of te bootleg is changed to reflect the album, with the songs omitted from the project inserted at the end. Each song iis played on guitar, usually overdubbed with John, Paul or George playing a second guitar part, and harmony. Ringo is heard on tambourine, hitting a box, or clapping his hands to establish the beat. If MTV UNPLUGGED existed in 1968, and if the Beatles appeared on the show to play the white album, this is basically what you would have heard. Even at the demo level, they had the guitar parts written.
Lots of surprises, bits of studio talk, incomplete takes and jokes, mixed into insights on their process. One the whole, what you see with their recordings, is exactly what we know about Stawberry Fields Forever. They started out with an acoustic demo, elaborated the sound, experimented with making the song harder, faster, more electric, then maybe backed off, added overdubs and effects, and produced various mixes. A few songs didn't get the band process obviously (Julia, Mother Natures Son, etc) and others were evolved from studio jams (Birthday, Helter Skelter, the I Will takes with Step Inside Love, Los Paranoias - the four minute version, and the long Will you Take me Back Home.)
For a typical song, like Me and My Monkey, you'll find the Escher Demo version, a rehearsal, then maybe a version of the final take. Lots of surprises to be found here, the best being the Good Night sequence. (early rehearsal breakdown, then a beautiful version on acoustic guitar, with John Paul and George singing backup, then a piano version of the song, closer to the released song. Also, there's Take two of Helter Skelter, the complete song that runs 12 minutes. You get Revolution 1 take 18, also about 10 plus minutes, but less extreme than the YouTube version that was on line for years. This is the version where they flip out at the end, and used as one of the loops on Revolution #9. Take one of Mary Jane had a Pain at the Party isn't as far out as take four, and doesn't include the psychedelic jam at the end. If you have Anthology 3, you'll find a few songs included here and there, but it won't all be repeated. Other highlights is an early run thru of Let It Be, take 27 of Guitar Gently Weeps so you can watch it flesh out, a few instrumental backing tracks (Birthday, Piggies, Honey Pie, Savoy Truffle, Inner Light, etc) and a piano drum version of Lady Madonna. The Take 6 of Across the Universe is cool, coz its just Lennon and his guitar. No sitars, no strings, no birds.
WHATS LEFT OFF
The long 27 minute Helter Skelter. Personally, like leaving Carvival of Light off Sgt Pepper, some of us are going to be disappointed. Maybe even pissed off.
Songs written in India, that were either jams (Spiritual Regeneration/Happy Birthday Mike Love, Maharishi Song, etc) or songs that were actual songs (Lennon's India India, plus George had some stuff like that too.)
The hard version of Revolution take 17, heard on YouTube. I thought this was their best song ever. The released version is still fun to hear, of course.
Revolution #9 remix. I have this, and it came from an old acetate, so it doesn't have a very good sound quality. It lets you hear the spoken bits more plainly, and stops at "take this brother may it serve you well". They could have recreated that remix, since #9 exists as a four track master at least.
Sexy Sadie ---the version on the Peter Seller's tape has a much longer ending.
AND IN THE END...….
For many people, this album is their best. Even if you don't like every song, it contains many of their best compositions. I always liked John's work here especially, George sounds clear, and Macca shines as a rock artist. If your intension in buying this box is to create an alternate White Album, composed of various early takes, you'll be able to do that as long as you don't mind skipping Revolution #9, and Wild Honey Pie. I'll replace them with Mary Jane and Not Guilty of course, on my Alternate White Album play list.
ABOUT THE REMIX
I'm not sure about the balance on the remix, which doesn't always center Ringo like the Pepper remix did. In fact, it's pretty faithful to the standard stereo mix overall. What you hear more of, are piano parts, percussion, on Glass Onion I hear the string part better. It's a bit cleaner sounding. Honestly I've heard the White Album hundreds of times, with my consciousness altered every way possible. You just can't penetrate some of these songs, due to their overdubbing. That's exactly why listening to this album has been such an obsession with Beatles fans. So don't worry. That hasn't changed. If anything, the new mix just helps peal back more layers to amaze yourself with.