Editor’s Note: With double albums, most listeners tend to gravitate towards one of the two discs. But will those allegiances shift with the recently released remixes of The Beatles’ beloved White Album? A lot of noticeable changes have certainly been made in this new reissue (as we’ve already noted in an earlier analysis devoted to Disc 1). Here Fab Four authority Anthony Robustelli (I Want to Tell You – The Definitive Guide to the Music of the Beatles) takes on Disc 2 as he explores The White Album in all its re-engineered glory.
• From the opening lick of “Birthday,” it’s apparent that nowadays stereo is king. For the first time one can truly hear the octave guitar leads of George Harrison (right channel) and John Lennon (left channel) clearly with Paul McCartney’s bass ruling the center channel. The heaviness of the guitars during the bridge is truly striking and you can also now hear Lennon’s flub at the end of the bridge (1:53) but also McCartney’s last “yeah” at 1:27. I’m also digging the clarity of the piano played through the Vox Conqueror Amp lending to its unique sound.
• The second song on side three, “Yer Blues,” utilizes the Beatles original four-piece lineup once again and the first thing that’s noticeable is that the slap back delay on Lennon’s vocal is quite a bit more forward in the mix. The placement of the drums — closer to, but not completely in, the center — makes the band sound more cohesive and the bass has a thump to it not heard in the original. The edit at 3:17 is also much smoother due to the fact that Harrison’s lead guitar extends over the cut rather than abruptly stopping.
• “Mother Nature’s Son” has been brought into the 21st century here. By taking the acoustic guitar from the left channel and bringing it towards the center from the start (rather than through a pan before the vocals come in as it did in 1968), we have a fuller sound from the beginning. I also like the fact that the horns (one of my favorite things about this song) are louder and spread across the stereo spectrum.
• “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” has always rocked. But the band sounded disjointed in the 1968 mix with drums and bass panned hard left and guitars panned hard right. In this 2018 update, the drums are more centered, the bass is straight down the middle, and the guitars are now spread out with Lennon’s rhythm heard on the left channel and Harrison’s lead (which sounds less brittle) on the right. It’s a huge improvement to a fantastic song. Listen for Lennon’s “bah”s at 2:20, something I’ve never heard before.
• The stereo spread of the piano intro to “Sexy Sadie” has been widened with the original piano more to the left and the delayed piano heard more in the right channel. The bass is richer and not as bright and I love how the toms are panned, even if they weren’t originally recorded in stereo. As with the rest of the White Album, Lennon’s vocals are more present, as are the backing vocals. The separation of rhythm guitar, organ, and piano make for a much clearer presentation of each instrument (I heard a buried piano lick for the first time at 1:15) and the two guitars on the outro are more clearly separated. There are quite a few surprises that are now apparent in the outro like Lennon’s “Sexy Sadie” at 2:52 and the dissonance between instruments right before the song fades out.
• For some reason, the guitars that open “Helter Skelter” are much quieter than the original and don’t pack the same punch. I do however like how the drums sound like they’re in the room with you while the centered bass makes a huge difference in gluing the mix together. The lead guitar is also pushed forward as are the backing vocals. Listen for McCartney’s random words starting at 3:00. Unfortunately due to a bit of feedback that was deemed necessary at 4:26 we can no longer hear McCartney’s chuckle or Lennon’s “How was that?” before Ringo Starr delivers his infamous line: “I’ve got blisters on my fingers.”
• The intro guitar for “Long, Long, Long” is a little thinner but the lead vocal is quite a bit louder with the double mixed behind it. There is also a pleasant phasing on the acoustic guitar and drums starting at 0:47. Unfortunately, by turning the piano into a stereo track via delay, it isn’t as punchy, or as booming, as the original, which was mixed straight up the middle. While I like the way the outro is mixed in full stereo without the slightly awkward panning of the original, I do miss hearing the groaning noise at 2:35 that was originally heard solo in the left channel.
• Side Four begins with “Revolution 1” and while the changes are minor in the intro, the wider mix brings the vocals from the center to the sides. I’ve never heard Lennon’s breath at 0:05 until it was moved to the left channel. Actually, there are a number of little asides by Lennon and McCartney that were formerly buried in the original mix. Once the lead vocals begin it’s apparent that the vocals will continue to be spread wider across the stereo field — a nice choice. In general, “Revolution 1” now has more heft to it with increased low end, a louder organ, stereo horns, and more present backing vocals. Listen for Lennon’s vocals at 3:28, a previously unheard drum fill at 3:47, and the interplay between the two lead guitars on the outro.
• The best thing about “Honey Pie” — George Martin’s score for clarinet and saxophone — can finally be heard in all its glory in full stereo and upfront. Along with an increased presence of bass and drums, this change really makes the song sound more modern, even if it is a ’60s pastiche of a ’20s style. Here “Honey Pie” feels so much fuller and dynamic, it’s like hearing it for the first time.
• “Savoy Truffle” has always been one of my favorites and the new mix doesn’t disappoint. Not only is Harrison’s vocal front and center, rather than relegated to the right channel, but the bass has been mixed in the middle and the drums have been panned in from the hard left making Starr’s fills pop. Chris Thomas’ electric piano and horn arrangement drive the song as they always did, but Harrison’s guitars blend better with the horns now that the panning isn’t so extreme. Listen for Harrison’s lead guitar at 2:39, something that was missing from the original mix.
• From the start of “Cry Baby Cry,” Lennon’s vocal is centered rather than centered for the verse then panned left for each chorus. Instead, the two drum parts are now panned left and right making them easier to distinguish from one another. Additionally, the organ is panned left rather than centered making the part more noticeable while the “tea party” sounds at 1:09 come through clearer than ever.
• All that can be said about “Revolution 9” is to close your eyes and listen to the 5.1 mix. I guarantee you will hear things you’ve never heard before.
• From the first note of “Goodnight,” the mix sounds new. The vocals by the Mike Sammes singers are much louder (as they were on the original mono mix) while the sound of Ringo taking a breath is gone. In general the increased volume of the background vocals make it easier to hear each part distinctly, especially the lower male vocals. The orchestra always sounded fantastic on this Lennon lullaby written for his son Julian and only more so now. Listen for Ringo’s final “goodnight” at 3:03, which was buried and a bit distorted on the ‘68 mix.
Overall I am extremely pleased with the 2018 remix of The Beatles eponymous 1968 double album. Although there are a few things that have gotten “lost in the mix,” this release is a welcome addition to the Beatles canon. The White Album may be the Fab Four at their most modern. It is the sound of a band daring to tackle multiple genres, and doing them all incredibly well. Numerous bands that followed were inspired to produce albums that weren’t confined to one particular style. We all have the Beatles to thank for that.
Photo Credit: Paul McCartney of The Beatles circa 1968/69. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)