The White Album History
By Cynthia Okoben
(Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, left to right)
On April 10, 1968, John Lennon and George Harrison left the Maharishi camp. The night before, the two Beatles and their wives, Pattie Boyd and Cynthia Lennon, as well as their friend Johan Alexis Mardas (known better as “Magic Alex”) sat up debating a rumor that the Maharishi had made advances towards Magic Alex’s girlfriend, a school-teacher from New York called Rosalyn Bonas (Shumsky).
Early the next morning, Lennon and Harrison confronted the Maharishi in his hut. And, as the oh, so fitting Hamilton lyrics go, “No one else was in the room where it happened.” They walked out and declared that they were leaving. They went back to England with the experience behind them and enough songs to fill two albums.
(John Lennon, The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, left to right)
In February of the previous year, Pattie Boyd had begun practicing meditation with the Maharishi. Becoming enamored with it, she encouraged her husband George Harrison to try it. In late August, as the “Summer of Love,” spurred on by the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, came to a close, the Beatles (minus Ringo, who was at the hospital with his wife and newborn son) attended one of the Maharishi’s lectures and, too, became infatuated with what was called “transcendental meditation,” or TM for short.
Shortly after their beloved manager Brian Epstein died and their Magical Mystery Tour project, meant to be a sort of sequel to Sgt. Pepper, did not exactly live up to expectations, particularly the film, which was clearly only McCartney’s pet project, the Beatles arrived at the Maharishi camp in February of 1968.
Ringo Starr and his then-wife Maureen stayed about two weeks (1). Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher left in late March with one of the Beatles road managers and the president of their Apple company (the original Apple) due to some contractual obligations. But John Lennon and George Harrison stayed until they became disenchanted in early April of 1968.
(Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon, The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Pattie, Boyd, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Maureen Starkey, left to right)
However, while they were at the camp, having nothing really to do but meditate, they were able to compose a lot of songs. These songs, as well as some others they had composed in the past and not used, would become The Beatles, more commonly known as the White Album, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on November 22, the same day as the fifty-fifth anniversary of their second British album, With the Beatles.
A few days before the studio recordings of this album, the four Beatles met at George Harrison’s house in Esher. They recorded demos for 27 of the songs they wrote in India, which are now known as the Esher tapes and were included in the reissue, which came out on November 9th.
Some would argue that the White Album was the beginning of the end of the band, who would privately break up the following year (2). However, the producer of the reissue, Giles Martin (son of the late Sir George Martin CBE, who produced the original White Album, as well as all of the other albums, save for Let It Be, which was produced by Phil Spector for the most part) says in the liner notes of the reissue that you can clearly hear the comradery of the band, even though this was the time when Ringo left for a few days before returning to find that George (Harrison) had decorated his drums with flowers to welcome him back, but that’s a whole other story.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. While the band was still friendly to each other, both Ringo and George felt neglected, Ringo because he felt that the other three were happy without him and George because he felt that John and Paul didn’t respect his songwriting (3). The two themselves also seemed to be having problems. While they were still credited Lennon-McCartney, the songs were really written only by Lennon or McCartney, with the rest of the band functioning more as just backing. The tensions were high with the producers as well. George Martin stormed out one day and went on an unannounced vacation, and Geoff Emerick (who just died in October) quit and didn’t come back until the Abbey Road sessions. And Derek Taylor, who worked at Apple, is reported to have said that the Paul McCartney of 1968 was the most loathsome person he’d ever met.
The band spent almost all of their time not divorcing their wives/breaking up with their girlfriends (Lennon and McCartney), finding new girlfriends (Lennon and McCartney), and building business utopias (the REAL Apple, Steve Jobs) since getting back from Rishikesh working on the new album. According to Shout! The Beatles in their Generation by Philip Norman, when the band had finished the album, it was snowing outside. The girls who usually stalked Paul McCartney from inside his house, who were at that time waiting outside of the studio, were called inside to hear the completed White Album first played, and they were free to take any of the garbage that the Beatles had left on the floor as a souvenir, because they were that crazy about the Beatles. (You can’t even imagine. Girls used to wait for days in front of each Beatle’s houses. Even Ringo. George used to kick them. He was very fed up with all of it. I mean, I get it, but still, don’t kick people, George.)
(The White Album)
When the album finally hit the record stores on November 22, 1968, the cover was the complete opposite of the Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour albums that came before it. While those album covers were colorful and full of life, the White album was completely blank. The name of the album was in embossed letters just to show how much trouble they were willing to go through to not use any color on it (hence the name of the album). The album impressed both the critics and the public. It sold so well that it went platinum nineteen times. And it has continued selling for fifty years.
(George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, left to right)
(1) He had been a sickly child, and so had a weak stomach. The spicy food served at the Maharishi camp made him sick, and so he had to leave.
(2) They would publically break up in 1970 with the release of an album they had withheld from release called Let It Be. This is controversial because, although Abbey Road was recorded last, Let It Be was released last, and some refer to it as the last album (“Even though it’s not,” scream some fans while others stick their tongue out). It is also controversial, more so, perhaps, because Paul McCartney released his first solo album, McCartney, which he had recorded with his new wife Linda, a few weeks before Let It Be was released, and had disparaged it and the band in the liner notes. It is because of this, and the fact that Paul was the first to publicly announce his leaving, that McCartney was at first blamed for the breakup of the band, even though the other three had all left before him. However, some would still say that it was his fault, but for different reasons than initially believed, like that Paul had just gotten on everyone’s nerves when he became power hungry after Brian Epstein’s death. This can be vouched for by several people who knew McCartney both before and after the breakup and the Beatles, so the pattern seems to have stuck.
(3) There were dozens of takes of an unused track that Harrison wrote, entitled “Not Guilty,” which he would later use of his 1979 album, entitled George Harrison, that went without going on the album, perhaps because Lennon and McCartney still wanted their own songs to predominantly featured. It couldn’t have been because of the quality of the songs, which was very good. The same happened with another of Harrison’s songs, called “All Things Must Pass,” which would become the title track of his 1970 debut album, arguably the best solo album by any individual Beatle.
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