Having been on the road a lot, I haven’t had time to give the White Album 50th anniversary reissue a full listen. When it comes to the album itself, I don’t know if I’ll have sensitive enough ears to tell the difference between the previous (2009) remaster and this one; I kind of doubt it. I have sifted through some the remastered Esher Demos, and they have definitely been cleaned up quite a bit — as well as reordered to reflect the album sequence. (I’m not sure if that’s a good idea or a bad one.)

But over the last few days I’ve finally had a chance to spend some quality time with all the new material (discs 4, 5, and 6 in the physical format). I’ll be posting some commentary here over the next three days, one post for each CD (even though I’m listening on Spotify — it’s a convenient organizing principle). If this interests you, read on; if not, no hard feelings, see you in a few days.

Here we go:

“Revolution 1” (take 18): Considered too wild to be on the album, this was cut down to four minutes, with some of the omitted material serving as seed and fertilizer for “Revolution 9.” The version that appears here is pretty good, but not as good as the noisier one in circulation as a bootleg.

“A Beginning” (take 4)/“Don’t Pass Me By” (take 7): Here “A Beginning” serves, as originally intended, as an intro to Ringo’s tune (it was the first track on Anthology 3, where it was followed by “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”). The version of “Don’t Pass Me By” here may be better than one on the album — possibly because it is shorter. “DPMB” is charming but slight, and need not go on at great length.

“Blackbird” (take 28): One of many, many extant takes of “Blackbird” (a bootleg called Gone Tomorrow, Here Today has 15), this is notable mostly for Paul’s comments at the end: “Do you just want to keep a few that you think are worth it, you know? If we’re ever able to reach it, I’ll be able to tell you when I’ve just done it…. It just needs forgetting about.”

“Me and My Monkey” (unnumbered rehearsal): Listening to this, you can hear why Geoff Emerick found this song so annoying. In its early form, there’s not much there but a screeching, repetitive guitar riff that gets old quick.

“Good Night” (three versions): These all have their moments, but Rob Sheffield is rightfully enamored of the second one, which has all The Beatles harmonizing; it’s vocally splendid, if instrumentally a bit ragged.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (take 3): I find this one far preferable to the album version; it carries itself more lightly, as befits the subject matter.

“Revolution” (two more versions): There’s not a lot here. The instrumental version of the single version is somewhat interesting, I guess, as it lets you hear that guitar sound in its full glory. But not quite a revelation.

“Cry Baby Cry” (unnumbered rehearsal): Another nice take of this song, sitting somewhere between the full-fledged album version and the ultra-spare one that appears on Anthology 3.

“Helter Skelter” (take 2): Of strictly historical interest. Plods along for almost 13 minutes, nowhere near as loud or ridiculous as the song we all know, but with some notable alternate lyrics:

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the hill
And I stop and I turn and I give you a pill

At this point Paul is still singing both “Helter Skelter” and “Hell for Leather”; had he stuck with the latter title, what would Charlie Manson have done?

To be continued…


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