On this day in 1968, working at Abbey Road Studios in London, the Beatles recoded overdubs onto the new George Harrison song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Eric Clapton added the guitar solo and became the first outside musician to play on a Beatles recording. At first Clapton was reluctant to join them in the studio, saying, "Nobody ever plays on the Beatles' records," but Harrison convinced him.
George and Eric had become good friends over the years, which saw Clapton becoming a little too friendly with Harrison’s wife, Patti. The former Cream guitarist eventually married George’s first love and wrote both "Layla" and "Wonderful Tonight" about the former model.
Clapton also loved chocolates, and his mate George wrote “Savoy Truffle” featured on the album as a tribute to Eric’s chocolate addiction; the title and many of the lyrics come from a box of Mackintosh's Good News chocolates.
Now back to The White Album. I was 12 years old in 1968 and remember vividly my best mate's brother coming home from university with a copy. We talked him into letting us listen to it and we sat there next to the speaker (mono record deck) and couldn’t believe what we heard. (Do 12-year-olds still do this with music? I hope so.)
With the working title of A Doll's House (which was changed after UK prog rock band Family released the similarly titled Music in a Doll's House earlier that year), the Beatles' ninth album in seven years is arguably one of their best.
With no graphics or text other than the band's name embossed in grey letters (and, on the early LP and CD releases, a serial number) on its plain white sleeve, the album was the first that the Beatles undertook following the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, and the first released by their own record label, Apple.
Anticipation for the release was huge - how were the fab four going to follow up and better their last album, Sgt. Pepper's?
Well, quite simply, in many ways, they did. The eclectic nature of its songs shows the four members still at the top of their game. As well as Harrison’s contributions, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Long Long Long” and “Savoy Truffle”, Lennon laid down some of his most memorable work with three of his finest on side one of the album: “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. And then we had Paul’s tunes, Chuck Berry meets The Beach Boys on “Back In The U.S.S.R.” (with McCartney on drums after Ringo quit the group for a couple of weeks), the bouncy song about his old English sheepdog, “Martha My Dear”, and what has become one of his signature tunes, the beautiful “Blackbird”.
The White Album was written and recorded during a period of turmoil for the group, after visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and having a particularly productive songwriting session in early 1968. The group returned to the studio for recording from May to October 1968, only to have conflict and dissent drive the members apart. Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving Paul McCartney to perform drums on some of the album's songs. Many of the songs were "solo" recordings, or at least by less than the full group, as each individual member began to explore his own talent.
Although "Hey Jude" was not intended to be included on the LP release, it was recorded during these sessions and was released as a stand-alone single before the release of the album. The B-side, "Revolution", was an alternative version of the album's "Revolution 1". Lennon had wanted the original version of "Revolution" to be released as a single, but the other three Beatles objected on the grounds that it was too slow. A new, faster version, with heavily distorted guitar and a high-energy keyboard solo from Nicky Hopkins, was recorded, and was relegated to the flip side of "Hey Jude". The resulting release - "Hey Jude" on side A and "Revolution" on side B - emerged as the first release on The Beatles' new Apple Records label. It went on to be their most successful single, with world sales over five million by the end of 1968 and 7.5 million by October 1972.
Many Beatles fans have long debated what a great ‘single’ album this would’ve made. Fair point, but it’s the White Album, a double album with 30 tracks. Yes we have the eight minutes of madness that is “Revolution 9”, which, hands up, we all skip. And Ringo’s “Good Night”, as well as Paul’s “Honey Pie” are, well not my favorite Beatles songs.
The Beatles might have been falling apart at the seams during the making of the record. But the Beatles never let us down, they were just having their own minor revolution.