Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, previewed his 50th anniversary remix of “The Beatles,” the two-LP opus better known as the White Album, at an invitational event at Capitol Records’ Studio A in Hollywood on Friday.
Unlike last year’s private playback of the younger Martin’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” remix, in which the entire album was unveiled, the White Album session necessarily offered just a sampling of the voluminous seven-disc Super Deluxe package, which will see release Nov. 9, 13 days shy of the collection’s 1968 U.K. release date.
Following brief opening remarks by Capitol Records Group chairman/CEO Steve Barnett and Apple Corps CEO Jeff Jones, Martin presented an overview of the 107-track box – which will contain the 27 so-called “Esher demos” recorded at George Harrison’s home, remixes of the 30 original songs and 50 outtakes from the recording sessions, which stretched across five months and hundreds of hours of studio time.
Of the boxed set’s plentiful bells and whistles, which include a hardbound book, Martin quipped, “There’s a pair of corduroy trousers that comes along with it. There’s a bag of drugs you can take.”
Martin walked his audience through the process of making the album chronologically, beginning the playback with five of the four-track stereo demos, previously bootlegged and now released in authorized form for the first time, in startling clarity. These recordings, Martin noted, were “the spine of how the thing was made,” and were executed in intimate sing-along fashion.
“It was almost like being around the campfire,” he said.
The demos of Paul McCartney’s album-opening “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (freshly available as an authorized YouTube video), John Lennon’s hard backhand at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “Sexy Sadie,” and the ska-inflected “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” reveal that the basic arrangements of some White Album songs were already well in place by the time the group entered Abbey Road.
Two fascinating songs that didn’t make the cut were also played in their demo form: “Child of Nature,” a cosmic Lennon composition whose melody was later employed for “Jealous Guy,” as heard on his solo album “Imagine” (also being reissued in a deluxe six-disc box next week), and “Not Guilty,” a bitter George Harrison number that was recorded but left in the can (and tardily released on the guitarist’s self-titled 1979 album in a new version).
Selections from the White Album’s mountain of outtakes will only be heard on the super deluxe boxed edition. Martin compared the Beatles’ freewheeling methods in the studio to the concoction of a very British cocktail with several ingredients. “The White Album has the Beatles making Pimms without measuring,” he said — a stark contrast to the more methodical approach favored earlier in their recording career by his very Pimms-measuring dad.
Martin pointed out that certain coveted outtakes, such as a rampaging 30-minute rendering of “Helter Skelter,” were left in the vault to allow more tracks to be included in the package. However, the 10-minute version of “Revolution” that spawned the full-blown freakout “Revolution 9” will be included.
The Capitol playback aired outtakes that indicate the deluxe set may be worth purchasing for these revealing sides alone. An alternate “Cry Baby Cry” finds the song taken at a sinuous pace. An early version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that ends abruptly with a blown chord change features already stirring solo work by guest guitarist Eric Clapton. An early version of “Good Night,” sans strings, shows off luxuriant vocal harmonies by the band members.
Perhaps most striking is an early run-through of “Julia,” Lennon’s poignant song about his mother, which begins with the declaration, “It’s very hard to sing this, you know.”
Martin said that the “pyramid” of studio recordings that were finally shaped into “The Beatles” was the result of the band’s intuitive and exploratory methods (coupled with the rare degree of license they enjoyed at EMI). “They discovered the sounds as they went along.”
He added that the experience of making the record was not an entirely satisfying one for his father, who had enjoyed a firm production hand on all the group’s previous sessions.
“He didn’t have all that much fun making it,” Martin said, “The Beatles had taken up the classroom… [and] they were much more individual in their process.”
Martin indicated that remixing the White Album, which was far simpler in its conception, was a somewhat easier task than formulating last year’s reimagining of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” in which the limitations of EMI’s four-track board had to be overcome. “The Beatles” deployed far fewer additional musicians, and benefited from eight-track recording sessions at Trident Studios and on EMI’s new eight-track machine.
For the sound of the White Album remix, Martin said he took his cues from McCartney, who told him, “Your job is to push boundaries, not to be safe.”
Nowhere is this mandate more obvious than in Martin’s in-your-face mix of McCartney’s hard-rocking “Helter Skelter” and a literally hair-raising version of Lennon’s chilling “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” But more subdued, folk-based numbers like “Dear Prudence” and “Mother Nature’s Son” and Harrison’s ethereal “Long, Long, Long” have also been dramatically opened out.
Though none of the new 5.1 mix of the album, to be included on a Blu-ray disc with the box, was aired, Martin indicated that some of it has a hold-onto-your-seat quality. He said of the roiling, experimental “Revolution 9,” “It’s really scary. You have to leave the lights on when you hear that.”
Though the conventional wisdom about this period of the Beatles’ history – which included the angry departure of Ringo Starr in the midst of the sessions – is that the band was in a state of constant tumult during the recording of the White Album, Martin opined more than once that the case has been overstated.
“I was looking for the arguments and the tension on the tapes, and it was very hard to find,” he said.
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