A Guide to 12 Acoustic Guitar-Based Tracks on The Beatles' 'White Album'
Guitar World takes a look at the acoustic guitar-based songs on the "White Album" -- how they were written and the process they went through to become finished tracks.
From the earliest days, the Beatles prominently featured the acoustic guitar on their recordings.
Whether used as a rhythm instrument ("Love Me Do," "P.S. I Love You," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away") or in a more ambitious context ("And I Love Her," "Michelle," "Norwegian Wood"), the acoustic was always an integral and interesting part of the group's sound.
But on The Beatles, the 1968 double album universally known as the "White Album," the band elevated the acoustic guitar to an even higher plane. In addition to such bona fide acoustic masterpieces as "Blackbird" and "Julia," the record features a whole slew of songs that contain no electric guitar whatsoever.
How did the "White Album" come to be so "unplugged"? Many of its songs were written in April 1968, when the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh, India, to study with the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement. During their month-long stay, the group -- along with a contingent of prominent Westerners that included film actress Mia Farrow, folk-pop singer Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love -- meditated and attended seminars on spirituality.
They also wrote a lot of new music. Using acoustic guitars they'd brought along for the occasion, John Lennon and Paul McCartney composed at least a dozen new songs between them, including "Dear Prudence," "Revolution," "Mother Nature's Son," "Wild Honey Pie" and "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill."
When it came time to record the new material in London, the Beatles in many instances simply laid down the acoustic accompaniments they'd worked out in India. Even songs that in their final form feature electric guitar, such as Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and Lennon's "Sexy Sadie," were originally demoed with acoustic guitars.
Below, we take a close look at some of the great acoustic guitar-based tracks on the "White Album" -- how they were written and the process they went through to become finished tracks.
Recorded May 30 & 31 and June 21, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
On May 30, recording sessions for the "White Album" commenced in Studio Two with the slow, acoustic guitar-driven "Revolution 1." At this point called simply "Revolution," this version of the Lennon-penned song didn't receive its numeric designation until the group recorded a faster, electric rendition, released as the B-side to the single "Hey Jude" in August of 1968.
"Revolution" was John Lennon's response to counterculture groups who advocated violence to overthrow the status quo. "I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution," Lennon said after the "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" single's release. "I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this 'God will save us' feeling about it. "
Even at this first session, it was obvious that the Beatles were taking their music and recording methods in a new direction. As presented on the "White Album," "Revolution 1" is a slow blues-style tune propelled along by a standard boogie riff played on an acoustic guitar. The original session tapes reveal tl1at although the song was trimmed to 4:15 for the album, the Beatles continued jamming on the tune for another six increasingly raucous minutes, with Lennon repeatedly screaming "All right" and Yoko Ono -- Lennon's new love, who was already becoming a regular presence at the group's recording sessions -- uttering non sequiturs.
Such scenes were repeated throughout the "White Album" sessions, largely because the Beatles had adopted a new method of recording. Previously they would rehearse a song and then record it, usually getting the basic tracks to tape within ten takes and adding overdubs afterward. For the "White Album," the band recorded all of their rehearsals and then selected a "best" version, to which they subsequently added overdubs.
One consequence of this change is that many of the album's recordings sound much looser than anything the group had previously committed to tape. "Revolution 1," for example, actually features recording engineer Geoff Emerick announcing the take number within the song's intro, an interjection which, had it occurred during the Beatles' previous sessions, would have been cut from the final recording.
And what became of those wild final six minutes of "Revolution 1"? They were hived off and adapted by Lennon for his "White Album" experiment in musique concrete, "Revolution 9."
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