"The Beatles" (aka the White Album) sessions
May 30 - Oct 18, 1968 • Songs recorded during this session appear on The Beatles (Mono)
- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
More from year 1968
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In recent months, the Beatles had recorded “Hey Jude” and “Dear Prudence” at Trident Studios to benefit from the eight-track recording facilities of this studio, a technology that was not yet available at Abbey Road. The Beatles found out that it was not entirely true: there were two 3M eight-track machines at Abbey Road, held up in Francis Thompson’s office, where they were inspected and readied for eventual installation.
The studios were never allowed to use any equipment until Francis had said that it was up to standard, which was great, fine, but when you’ve got four innovative lads from Liverpool who want to make better recordings, and they’ve got a smell of the machine, matters can take a different course. They must have been getting on to Ken Scott about it because Ken called me and suggested we get [one of the machines] out of Francis’s office and take it along to number two. Understandably, this led to repercussions. I very nearly got the sack over that.Dave Harries – Technical engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
The next day, Dave [Harries] and I were reamed new rear ends. George Martin was away and it wasn’t until much later that I found out he not only knew EMI had acquired the eight-track machines, but that he’d actually been asked if he wanted to use them on the White Album sessions and had said no. This was because George knew the Beatles would hit the roof when they discovered that, without the 3M being modified, they couldn’t do many of the things that they’d been used to doing on four-track… and they did.Ken Scott – From The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (soundonsound.com)
George Martin was indeed right regarding the shortcomings of the 3M eight-track machine:
The eight-track machines were not suitable at that stage for pop recordings. The Beatles had become reliant on the use of Automatic Double Tracking and phasing so before the 3M machines were pressed into service, extensive modifications – particularly to the head block – were designed and implemented by Francis Thompson at the studios.Ken Townshend – Technical engineer – From “The Beatles” Super Deluxe edition book (2018)
One of the great things about the Studer four-tracks was that they were the only machines to have individual playback and sync amps. This meant you could take off the sync head at the same time as you were taking off the playback head, which was essential to doing ADT, and we couldn’t do that on the 3Ms until, eventually, Abbey Road got an extra playback card and wired it up so that it could be plugged in anywhere we wanted to do ADT. This wasn’t available to us for the White Album, so Chris flanged the organ and Eric [Clapton]’s guitar on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ before we bounced the four-track across to the eight-trackKen Scott – From The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (soundonsound.com)
Unless the tape operator remembered to mute the output from the machine when you spooled back and wanted to hear the tape traveling past the heads, it would send the spooling noise straight into the Beatles’ (headphones), almost blasting their heads off. They got very uptight about that, understandably, because it can be very disconcerting.Mike Sheady – Engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
But despite those issues, The Beatles first used eight-track recording at Abbey Road on this day, to continue the recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps“.
There was no producer in the room for this session, as George Martin was absent and had gone on holiday. The next Monday, his assistant, Chris Thomas, would be back from his own holiday and learn that he would produce the Beatles during all the September sessions!
Another event made this day a special one. On August 22, Ringo Starr had decided to walk out of the session of the day and to leave The Beatles. On this day, September 3, he rejoined the band in the recording studio.
I had definitely left, I couldn’t take it any more. There was no magic and the relationships were terrible. I’d come to a bad spot in life. It could have been paranoia, but I just didn’t feel good – I felt like an outsider. But then I realised that we were all feeling like outsiders, and it just needed me to go around knocking to bring it to a head.
I got a telegram saying, ‘You’re the best rock’n’roll drummer in the world. Come on home, we love you.’ And so I came back. We all needed that little shake-up. When I got back to the studio I found George had had it decked out with flowers – there were flowers everywhere. I felt good about myself again, we’d got through that little crisis and it was great. And then the ‘White’ album really took off – we all left the studio and went to a little room so there was no separation and lots of group activity going down.Ringo Starr – from the Beatles Anthology
An awful lot has been written about the Beatles being at odds with each other the entire time they were recording the White Album, but that to me is completely false. Most certainly, they acted as backing musicians for each other up to a point, but there were also times when they were closer than they’d been in ages. After Ringo quit the band and then returned, suddenly they were a band again. They were so close, it was amazing, and we got more work done during that period than they’d previously done in months.Ken Scott – From The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (soundonsound.com)
Although Ringo’s return was much celebrated, there was little for him to do in this recording session, as only George would record music on this day.
The Beatles (minus Ringo) had last worked on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on August 16. The basic track had been recorded, and the first task of this day was to transfer Take 15 to an eight-track tape. The result was considered to be Take 16, onto which George Harrison double-tracked his lead vocal and added a backwards guitar solo.
George particularly wanted to get the sound of a crying guitar but he didn’t want to use a wah-wah (tone) pedal, so he was experimenting with a backwards guitar solo. This meant a lot of time-consuming shuttling back and forth from the studio to the control room. We spent a long night trying to get it to work but in the end the whole thing was scrapped.Brian Gibson – Technical engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
Work would continue on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” two days later, on September 5.
The day after – September 4 – The Beatles would film two promotional clips for “Hey Jude” and “Revolution“. In anticipation, at some point during the session of this day, a tape copy of the rhythm track of “Revolution” was created for use during the filming.
Last updated on September 5, 2021
Written by George Harrison
Tape copying • Tape copying of take 15 into take 16
Written by George Harrison
Recording • SI onto take 16
Tape copying • Tape copying of take 16, rhythm track only
Musicians on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
- Ken Scott:
- John Smith:
- Second Engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn
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 Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 4: The Beatles through Yellow Submarine (1968 - early 1969)
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.
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