- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
More from year 1968
Some songs from this session appear on:
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After a 3 months break from the recording studios, a trip to India where most of the new material was written, and a day of rehearsals at the end of May, The Beatles were back at EMI Studios to start the recording of their new album, which would officially be named “The Beatles” and unofficially called the White Album.
The studio had been booked from May 20 to July 26, Mondays to Fridays, from 2.30pm to 12.00pm each day. But the opening session was on May 30.
The day (from 2:30 pm to 2:40 am) was spent recording the basic rhythm track for “Revolution 1” (simply titled “Revolution” for the first few sessions). Sixteen takes were recorded (numbered from 1 to 18 as there were no takes 11 and 12), with John Lennon on acoustic guitar, Paul McCartney on piano and Ringo Starr on drums.
Geoff Emerick explains the mood in the studios, especially the attitude of John Lennon:
As usual, we were starting the album with one of John’s songs: ‘Revolution 1’ – the slow version that would open side four of the vinyl release. Paul seemed unusually subdued that night; perhaps he was annoyed that John was dominating the proceedings so much. As the band began rehearsals, I noticed that they were playing louder than ever before; John in particular had turned his guitar amp up to an ear-splitting level. Eventually I got on the talkback and politely asked him to turn it down because there was so much leakage on all the other microphones. John’s response was to shoot me a look to kill. ‘
I’ve got something to say to you,’ he sneered acidly. ‘It’s your job to control it, so just do your bloody job.’ Upstairs, George Martin and I exchanged wary glances. ‘I think you’d better go talk to him,’ he said timidly. I was boggled. ‘Why me? You’re the producer,’ I thought. But George was steadfastly refusing to get involved, so the ball was in my court. I made a point of walking down the steps leading to the studio slowly and deliberately. By the time I arrived, Lennon had calmed down a little. ‘Look, the reason I’ve got my amp turned up so high is that I’m trying to distort the sh*t out of it,’ he explained. ‘If you need me to turn it down, I will, but you have to do something to get my guitar to sound a lot more nasty. That’s what I’m after for this song.’
The request wasn’t entirely unreasonable – heavily distorted guitars were being made fashionable by artists like Cream and Jimi Hendrix – and I was about to tell him, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll think of something…,’ but then John couldn’t resist one last jab, as he imperiously dismissed me with a wave of his arm. ‘Come on, get with it, Geoff. I think it’s about bloody time you got your act together.’ ‘F*ck you, John,’ I thought. I was incensed, but I kept my mouth shut. Weren’t we supposed to be working as a team? The moment I returned to the control room, George (Martin) and Phil (McDonald) could see just how furious I was. ‘What’s he on about?’ George asked me. I was so mad I couldn’t even answer.
After taking a few minutes to regain my composure, I decided to overload the mic preamp that was carrying John’s guitar signal. It was basically the same trick I had done to put his voice ‘over the moon’ when he sang ‘I Am The Walrus.’ That satisfied John to some degree, but I could see that he was good and pissed off that it had taken me a period of time to get the sound sorted out. At the best of times, Lennon had limited patience, and tonight he seemed to have almost none. Fuming and sputtering, he pushed the band to play the song over and over again.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
Before take 13, Paul McCartney led the band into an improvisation mentioning the recent events in France – “Civil war is raging in France, the general cannot cope“. From May 68 – Wikipedia:
Beginning in May 1968, a period of civil unrest occurred throughout France, lasting some seven weeks and punctuated by demonstrations, general strikes, as well as the occupation of universities and factories. At the height of events, which have since become known as May 68, the economy of France came to a halt. The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution; the national government briefly ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly fled France to Germany at one point. The protests spurred movements worldwide, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans
Take 18 lasted 10:17, much longer than the earlier takes, and was chosen to add the first overdubs. John Lennon added vocals and played Mellotron, Paul McCartney added a bass line (according to “The Beatles” super deluxe book, 2018, not according to “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn), and some electronic sound effects by Yoko Ono were also put into the mix. At 7:31, John Lennon is heard saying “Ok, I’ve had enough” but the band continued. Overall, the last six minutes were musical chaos, with discordant instruments, screams, overlay of sounds from Yoko Ono’s tape machines including non-sense phrases like “Maybe if you become naked“… This prefigured “Revolution 9” and several elements recorded on this day would be used on it. Where they left the song at the end of the day was released as an outtake on the reissue of “The Beatles” album in 2018.
This first session for the White Album was also the first session with Yoko Ono in the room. As Paul McCartney would later remember:
Because we’d been such a tight-knit group, the fact that John was getting pretty serious about Yoko at that time, I can see now that he was enjoying his newfound freedom and getting excited by it. But when she turned up in the studio and sat in the middle of us doing nothing, I still admit now that we were all cheesed off…Lots of things that went down were good for us, really. At the time, though, we certainly did not think that.Paul McCartney – Interview with Q Magazine, 2013
Last updated on September 11, 2021
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!
The fourth book of this critically acclaimed series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 4: The Beatles through Yellow Submarine (1968 - early 1969)" captures The Beatles as they take the lessons of Sgt. Pepper forward with an ambitious double-album that is equally innovative and progressive. From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time. Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.
If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.