Joel Goldenberg: The White Album, magnified

George Harrison and Ringo Starr during the making of the White Album. Don't drop any food on the EMI knobs, George!

The next installment of the S list will have to wait, as there is a necessity to dissect the 50th anniversary release of The Beatles, better known as The White Album.

But first, a couple of notes:

• My latest recommendation for headphone listening: I just got a new Android phone, and the sound I get from that on my Bluetooth Phillips $30 headphones is all right. But when I sync with my Amazon Fire tablet, the sound is a whole lot bigger and my headphones sound like more pricey ones. Yes, I have to carry the tablet around, but it doesn't matter. Everything sounds more lively, especially classic rock.

• Of the many streaming services out there, I highly recommend YouTube Premium, which includes YouTube Music. On first glance, YouTube Music is not much different from the likes of Spotify and the legal version of Napster. But YouTube Premium enables the listener to hear music videos on regular YouTube without ads, and on YouTube Music, you can create a playlist featuring both songs available for streaming and the wider selection on regular YouTube.

One piece of advice — start the playlist with a YouTube Music streaming selection. Then the regular YouTube songs will play without the accompanying video content and thus not slow down your computer.

And now to the White Album:


When I reviewed the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band two-CD 50th anniversary special edition last year, containing a remixed version of the highly acclaimed album in stereo, it seemed to me that producer Giles Martin (son of original Beatles producer George Martin) had transformed The Beatles into The Who. The new mix was generally more aggressive, especially Ringo Starr's drumming. What was a colourful, kaleidoscope type of album became a slab of psychedelic near-rage

Interesting to hear, but it's a good thing the original mix still exists.

I can't say the same about the newly remixed White Album. Almost every track is an improvement on the original album, and solidifies the LP's reputation as one of the best albums ever made — and best of all — relevant for a 2018 audience.

What was edgy on the original is even more edgy, with new prominence for the guitars, and backing vocals. What was ornate (with horns) is even more ornate. What was bizarre is even more bizarre. And what seemed somewhat inconsequential or mixed too low on the original now should command as much attention as the more acclaimed songs.

For instance, Martha My Dear, which seemed understated and even subtle, is now "in your face." The horns and strings are as prominent as in the band's most famous "ornate" song, Eleanor Rigby. The same goes for the rather strange song, Piggies.

One of the weirdest songs on the album, the very short, Wild Honey Pie, sounds even stranger as the discordant quality of the instrumentation is even more evident. The quiet Long Long Long is now louder and better.

Also, the new mix makes the album sound like a more collaborative effort than stories about its creation indicate. The official story is that many tracks were not recorded by the entire band working together.

Not every track is improved, though. My favourite of all Beatle songs — Helter Skelter — actually sounds a bit weaker. The avant-garde Revolution 9 doesn't sound appreciably different, and the same goes for the more acoustic tracks, except for greater clarity on the vocals. A lot of the remixes have the effect of cleaning a window that has been dirty for years.

There are several other elements to this release. The three-CD set I have contains what is known as The Esher Demos, 27 songs recorded in stereo by the band on George Harrison's four-track equipment as demos. Some commentators think this would have been a better album than what actually came out.

I disagree. Everything sounds lightweight and the band  sounds baked on marijuana. It's an interesting alternative way to hear these songs, sung in high-pitched voices and mainly performed acoustically.

The third element of this release is available on the much more expensive multi-disc set — alternate takes from the studio. These songs indicate that a lot of creativity went into creating the White Album, as different arrangements are tried out and the band sounds like they're in a collegial mood. Nice to hear as stories abound of tension amongst the band members throughout the sessions. I heard these tracks on Spotify.

The most interesting alternates are the elongated version of Revolution 1 with all sorts of weird noises that ended up on Revolution 9, and a fast-paced very early version of Let It Be.

The fourth element of this set is one I will likely never obtain, unless it's released separately. A Blu-ray disc contains a surround sound mix of the White Album and its original 1968 mono mix.

From what I've heard, the surround mix features overdubs (elements added after the basic track and vocals) in the rear speakers, and is quite good overall. On the other hand, I do have the original mono mix, which has many different elements that are not on the original stereo mix. But I expect the Blu-ray version of the mono mix is better than what I have in mp3 form because of the format's higher resolution capabilities.

Altogether, I highly recommend at least the 3-CD set. It makes a great album even better.

But one thing: Where's the legendary 27-minute version of Helter Skelter?

Next time: The S list continues unless something significant is released in the interim.

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