50 Years of The Beatles White Album
“They say it’s your birthday, we’re gonna have a good time, I’m glad it’s your birthday, happy birthday to you” are the opening lyrics to the song “Birthday” off of The Beatles’ legendary White Album.
The White Album, officially named “The Beatles,” turns 50 on November 22nd. Originally released in 1968, the double album has a plain white sleeve with no graphics or text other than the band’s name embossed on the front cover of the album.
The White Album contains 30 tracks and is diverse with many musical styles. Rock, pop, blues, country, reggae, avant-garde, folk, psychedelic and Indian music are all featured on this landmark album. It was a groundbreaking eclectic mix of musical styles for the year 1968.
While there were no singles released from the White Album, the songs “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” were both recorded during the same recording sessions but left off the album. This was the same pattern that was used when “Penny Lane” and Strawberry Fields Forever” were left off the Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper” album in 1967.
By no means will this article attempt to rank songs, claim to be a definitive source or declare that any tune from the White Album is the “greatest or best” from the album. If you are looking for that type of analysis, I would encourage you to check out other Internet sources for that kind of information.
According to The Beatles Bible, most of the songs from the White Album were written during a “transcendental meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, between February and April 1968.”
During the time the band was in India, Beatle fans were clamoring for more music. The “Lady Madonna” single became a number 1 song during that time period but that was the only music released by the band.
After the Sgt. Pepper’s album was released in May 1967, The Beatles did not put out any more full-length studio albums for a year and a half. The six-track “Magical Mystery Tour” EP and the four new songs for the “Yellow Submarine” LP were the only new Beatles music being produced. Some wondered if the band were all washed up.
Once back in England, the Beatles started recording the White Album in May 1968 and didn’t complete the process until October of that year. It was an extremely long and arduous undertaking that many music historians link to the beginning of the end for the most popular band of the 60’s.
Along with the recording of the White Album, the band also formed the Apple Record Company, which brought many new challenges to the Beatles’ empire.
Most of the tracks of the White Album were recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London. But as my friend Steve Delaney of Virginia Beach shared with me, a few of the tracks on the album were also recorded at London’s Trident Studios. Delaney learned of that information when he and his brother Dave Delaney visited the legendary Abbey Road Studio during August 2018.
Beatles record producer George Martin decided to take two tracks from the White Album recording sessions, Hey Jude and Revolution, and release those songs as a double A sided single during August 1968. “Hey Jude” was not only was the biggest song of 1968 but also was the best selling single for the entire 60’s decade.
One of the most interesting quotes that I read researching the history of the White Album is from writer Jann S. Wenner that was published in Rolling Stone Magazine on December 21st, 1968:
“There is almost no attempt in this new set to be anything but what the Beatles actually are: John, Paul, George and Ringo. Four different people, each with songs and styles and abilities. They are no longer Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and it is possible that they are no longer The Beatles.
Wenner’s review is almost seems prophetic as the demise of The Beatles became reality when John Lennon privately told his band mates that he was leaving the band ten months later during September 1969. (Public announcement of the Beatles break-up came in April 1970 when Paul McCartney announced that he was also leaving the band).
For this 50th anniversary of the White Album, I have asked some of the biggest Beatle fans that I know for their thoughts on the album released exactly 5 years after the assassination of U.S. President John F Kennedy on 11/22/63.
But before I share my friends’ thoughts on various songs from the White Album, I want to express what are my favorite songs from the album turning 50 years old this month. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is my absolute favorite Beatles song of all time and “Back in the USSR” is my third favorite song ever by the band.
Above is an audio clip when I was a guest DJ, for a My Fab Four segment on the Beatles Channel, with SiriusXM. I countdown my four favorite Beatles songs of all-time. This featured aired multiple times during August and September 2017.
Besides “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Back in the USSR”, rounding out my top 5 songs on the White Album are “Blackbird,” “Helter Skelter” and “Revolution 1.”
If you ask 100 individuals what are the top five songs on the White Album, most likely you would end up with 100 different answers. With this in mind, I have asked friends of mine who are huge Beatles fans, to share some of their thoughts on this legendary album.
David Hollandsworth: Roanoke, Virginia:
“I was only 11 when the While album came out so it wasn’t until a
couple years later that I first heard it at a friend’s house. I was
intrigued by it because it was a double LP release in a plain white
Favorite songs would include “Back in the USSR”, “Birthday,” “Ob-La-Di,
Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird,” “Happiness Is a Warm
Gun” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.
Probably my favorite is “Dear Prudence”; I’ve just always liked the
melancholy chord progression and mood.
I used to think this was kind of a hodge-podge album but it’s grown on me over the decades and next to Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s, I would say this is my third favorite Beatles album. Hard to believe it’s turning 50 years old! Happy birthday to ya!”
Sherry Hicks Richardson: Roanoke, Virginia:
“The Beatles White Album is one of my all-time favorites. I remember getting this album for Christmas and listening to it non-stop for weeks. It’s iconic. Wow! Favorite song off the album? I really like “Glass Onion” for the historical references (although Paul was not the walrus — John was) and I still remember photos of Paul with his sheepdog Martha, so “Martha My Dear” is a big fave too. I’ve always liked “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George — it’s one of his best Beatles songs. It is just too hard to pick just one favorite.”
Gayle Deel: Roanoke, Virginia:
“The White Album – 50 years ago – I was 14. I had been what I call myself an ‘original Beatlemaniac’ since 9 years old. This album helped to continue the hunger for more music, more Beatles, more growth in their societal involvement.
The album was an eclectic contribution by all four of my favorite musicians and idols.
What I know factually is that they recorded for many weeks and for many 24-hour marathons and it was during this period that they first recorded on an eight-track tape machine.
From the hard driving “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to the ironic “Happiness is a Warm Gun” to the moving “Julia” or the most beautiful of the album – George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – I loved them all. I can’t choose. It is impossible.
Love you John, Paul, George and Ringo – thank you for all the creativity, the dedication, the genius that has personally helped me through many times and provided me with a lifetime of memories.”
Dave Delaney: Roanoke, Virginia:
“I have definitely gone through phases with the White Album. I remember my brother Steve and I hearing this for the first time in late 1968, visiting our grandparents for Thanksgiving. The next-door neighbor had a teenager who had gotten it and played it for us.
Even at 11 years old I could tell that these were no longer songs meant to blow up the pop charts. This was music that older kids would sit down and listen to, even more so than Sgt. Pepper’s had been. Later I remember thinking that the whole album was a bit of a sloppy attempt at self-indulgence (“yeah we’re the Beatles – it doesn’t matter what we play – people will listen to it”). Only later did I really come to appreciate that this was indeed additional ground-breaking work. I grew to love this album so much that I named my car after it! And the Beatles song people most ask me to play when I’m sitting around holding a guitar is ‘Blackbird.’”
Steve Delaney: Virginia Beach, Virginia:
“I think perhaps more than any album, the White Album highlighted the amazing range of musical styles they were able to pull off. Contrast “Julia” with “Helter Skelter” or “Yer Blues” with “Mother Nature’s Son.” Then add in unusual tracks like “Ob-La-Di” or “Piggies” and you have a smorgasbord of styles and sounds.
It also might be interesting to point out that the White Album wasn’t entirely recorded at Abbey Road. A few tracks were recorded at Trident Studios in London. They had 8 track equipment as opposed to EMI’s 4 track machines.”
Here are the 30 tracks on the White Album:
- Side 1
Back In The USSR
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is A Warm Gu
- Side 2
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
- Side 3
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
Long, Long, Long
- Side 4
Cry Baby Cry
Fifty years after the White Album was released, it remains one of the greatest rock albums of the 20th Century. In 2003, the White Album was ranked number 10 on the Rolling Stone “Greatest Albums of All Time” listing.
Critics all rank the White Album as one of the top three Beatles albums of all time. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but one thing is sure: The Beatles’ White Album is a beautiful collection of songs and is now celebrating 50 years of wonderful music.
They say it’s your birthday: I am sure glad that John, Paul, George and Ringo recorded the White Album, “All Those Years Ago.” Rock on!
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9 thoughts on “The Beatles White Album: They Say It’s Your Birthday—50 Years”
Well done, loved everyone’s input. The Beatles music is iconic at every mile of their journey, but The White Album is an icon unto itself.
I often wonder what would have come out of another year or two of the Fab Four. It seemed every year together was another peak.
Great blog! Makes me wanna listen to the album right now!
Thanx Dave. Always a great read. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!!!!
Can’t believe it has been 50 years. Boy, do I feel old. Happy Thanksgiving.
This album stands the test of time. Sounds as good today as it did 50 years ago. Bittersweet listening to it. Takes me back to the sixties and my early teenage years. Enjoyed the blog, David, Thanks for calling our attention to a milestone worth celebrating — and one worthy of being thankful for on this Thanksgiving day.
David as always a very thorough and well thought out analysis and review of your blog’s subject. The subject matter in this case was the Beatle’s White Album. Thank you for asking me to review the album with your very knowledgeable guests. A man has to know his limitations and in American Literature my analysis of the Beatle’s White Album would be similar to comparing Washington Irving whose stories and subjects were only surface level matter to Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne who delved into the deep subject matter of the subjects and times , leaving the reader with much to ponder and think about. In other words, like Wayne’s World I was not worthy. IMHO the White Album brought out the best in the Fab Four. I am not sure that they realized their greatness just then but I do feel that they had a cathartic sense about them to realize that this was their last hoorah and that it was owed by them to their many fans to give them something big to out on and put forth an all out effort to do so. It is pretty obvious that they delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed your comments and those of your guests. All of you continue to astound me with your knowledge and love of music. Incomparing myself to you all, I feel like I am riding a bicycle at the Daytona 500. Rock on and keep up the good work.
This was awesome…hearing these songs again made me ask myself why did you wait so long to listen again …I enjoyed everyone’s take on the album…this was great David…
AWESOME GREAT POST
I remember 2 songs. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. Very interesting how the group didn’t add some songs to a particular album and the chronological info is really interesting.