And Then There Were Four

1968 was the year of revolutions which mostly failed. The Beatles started their own revolution; Apple Corps. Vanity label? Maybe, but as well as releasing their own records The Beatles were offering funds to kick start any creative artist and they began producing as well as writing for other artists. They kicked off this creative jamboree by playing Hey Jude live on the David Frost Show and releasing it as a single backed by the awesome Revolution. A group at the height of their powers? Sounds like it. Hey Jude was the best selling single of the year globally and remains a favourite of British fans; provocative and criticised at the time Revolution sounds like it’s reflections on 1968 were…well you know, we all want to change the world.

The White Album was the first album NOT to feature a group picture of the Beatles on its white, elegantly produced, Richard Hamilton sleeve; just four solo pictures of the boys looking very different and arty. I heard the album the day after it came out and my story is about that. George Martin first heard it when the Beatles turned up at Abbey Road with a tape prepared by the group at George’s house in May 68 containing 27 songs! They had 35 new songs altogether, it was Rishikesh Unplugged. The studio produced version starts off with the drivingly wonderful Beach Boys/Chuck Berry spoof Back In the USSR, which had them branded as Communists and was banned across large swathes of the USA; irony with harmony, and Paul on the drums. Side One is peerless, a bewitching sequence of songs featuring a wide range of Beatles styles created this time not as overdubs but, as Ringo points out, by a group. However this time it was more like three solo artists using the Beatles as a backing group. We were overwhelmed by it all at the time and George Martin was running three studios to keep up, but the sequencing on side one delivered a masterfully segued side of music. As the boys touch down looking for Ukraine girls, Dear Prudence liltingly fades in, Glass Onion fries the Walrus, Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da naturalises Jamaica, there is an amuse-bouche of Wild Honey Pie, before Bungalow Bill cheerfully amortises a tiger, George’s guitar weeps all over Clapton (already!) and Lennon scrambles the eggs of the gun happy. This is Music Hall refashioned for 1968. Happiness is guaranteed for all. Go back to the beginning of side 1 and play it again!

And there is more of it, so much more. Side Two starts with a McCartney ditty and a Lennon dirge, both beautifully performed but followed by some ordinary songs before Paul’s great 68 homage Blackbird lifts the side. Paul’s I Will is also a highlight, and sets up Julia, John’s tribute to his Mum and prep for Plastic Ono Band, but Side Two isn’t a compelling side of music. Half of what it says is meaningless, but they are offering plenty of beautifully crafted trifles to amuse us, and this phenomenal range of styles is also what kept the great British Public interested in them, even in 1968, when more Beatles “wierdness” was on display.

Such a cornucopia of music actually works best when you dip in. I remember when we played it at boarding school we tended to play only one side at a time and then switch to something else, we couldn’t eat Savoy Truffles all day. And then, as Ringo puts it, “shake out the jams” it’s Side Three. Happy Birthday a rockin and roarin storm is followed by the exquisite Yer Blues where, in the middle of the British Blues Boom, Lennon demonstrates that he can do the Blues; been there done that. Check the amazing live version with Clapton and Keith Richard. And then there was Sexy Sadie, the Rishikesh album’s defrocking of its own guru. Followed by Charles Manson’s call to arms, Helter Skelter. Bit this sounds like a live band dying to get performing again.

And Side Four, another dip, two revolutions more than we needed, ending with the schmaltzy, lovely Vera Lynn tribute Good Night. It was twenty years ago that the Beatles were listening to this with their parents and the family could still sit down together with the boys.

They had given you three part harmonies and said form a band, they had stretched recording possibilities and said play the studio and now they were saying, you can be any band you want to be, try some of these. The great iconoclasts had left us a toolkit to play with in revolutionary 68. Two great sides and two mixed sides; take your pick says Paul, it’s The Beatles bloody White Album.

In 2009, 42 years after being founded, Apple Corps released the digital remasters of all the Beatles album, so the world’s first multimedia corporation looks like it was built to last after all, you say you want a revolution…

No Poll, 30 tracks, please comment if you want one. There is a YouTube version of this post on A Beatles YouTube Album.

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