For a band that broke up in 1970 and is down to only two surviving original members, the Beatles appear to be deathless.
On November 9, their 1968 White Album will be reissued for its 50th anniversary. Spanning seven discs, the Super Deluxe edition of the box set will include remixed and remastered original tracks, as well as almost 30 demos, 50 session takes, a 164-page hardbound book, color pictures, and a poster.
It will set you back close to $160. Add on a special edition t-shirt and the price jumps to $185.
Since there haven’t been any new Beatles recordings since they broke up (we can talk about those Anthology songs later), a 2018 reissue, no matter how sumptuous and comprehensive, can rightly be seen as another classic rock cash grab.
Here’s 10 reasons why you should give them your money.
1. The demos are a revelation
The group met at George Harrison’s house in Esher, Surrey, and demoed their new material sometime around May, 1968. Thanks to the reissue, you can hear many of those recordings for the first time. Though none of it was intended for release, the collection would have made a defining episode of Unplugged.
Most of the songs demoed made the record, but some would reappear later: Paul McCartney’s Junk is featured on his first solo outing, while John Lennon’s Child of Nature got a lyrical rewrite and was recorded as Jealous Guy for 1971’s Imagine.
Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam may have ended up on Abbey Road, but they were written for the White Album. Some of these demos have been available in lo-fi bootleg form for years, but the reissued versions were mastered from Harrison’s original tapes.
They’re a record in their own right.
2. The songwriting is stellar
To paraphrase album producer and soundtrack composer (Lady Bird, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Jon Brion, there are performance songs and there are crafted songs.
Performance songs only make sense a certain way—you don’t bust out Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love on a ukulele, at least not without irony. Almost every song on the White Album is crafted and lends itself to any arrangement, from unadorned demos to kitchen sink wall of sound. They’re still great songs.
This adventurousness and sonic purity is a hallmark of the White Album, from the wobbly piano on Sexy Sadie to the exquisite acoustic guitar of Blackbird.
3. The production is a marvel
Beginning with Revolver, Abbey Road engineer Geoff Emerick got creative with his recording technique, like close-miking the kick drum and running Lennon’s vocals through a Leslie speaker.
The new mixes, done by project producer Giles Martin (son of Beatles’ producer George Martin), help, and not hinder, the aural experience. The new mix is in stereo as well as 5.1 surround sound, sourced from the original tapes.
4. Watch the Beatles murder their darlings
Record labels, especially in the 20th century, were notoriously conservative. If something worked, they wanted it repeated, endlessly.
Recording for the White Album began about a year after Sgt. Pepper, and everything about it—from its pastoral heart to the plain white record sleeve—is a reaction to that psych-rock landmark. The Beatles may have invented the Mersey Sound and Baroque Pop, but they were the first to bury them.
5. Hear the album being built
The Esher demos have been around for a while, but many of the session takes on the White Album reissue have never been heard. Sundry jams, session takes, and basic tracks all add color and context.
It may be wonderful to listen to demos of well-crafted pop songs, but it’s a positive marvel to hear them methodically polished and still sound inspired. The radical tinkering on Helter Skelter is remarkable, especially considering the aggressive fever dream of the issued version.
In every case, even in odd in-studio throwaway jams like Los Paranoias, you hear four iconoclasts working in unison.
6. It’s the most diverse Beatles record
The band was incapable of limiting themselves beyond their own imagination, but you’re never going to get the orchestral butterfly kisses of Good Night and the Dada cut-up savagery of Revolution 9 anywhere else.
In between are hints of doo-wop, echoes of British music hall, cockeyed ranting, acoustic idylls, and pure noise. It’s glorious.
7. Listen to the Beatles with new ears
In your youth, if the band was overplayed, or if you memorized all their records, here’s an opportunity to hear them anew. An alternate take will defy expectations.
Start with Take 19 of Happiness Is A Warm Gun, or maybe Take 102 of Harrison’s Not Guilty, where he takes out his frustrations on the Lennon/McCartney hegemony, for 100 or so takes. The latter didn’t make the original release, but what are reissues for?
8. It’s the first and best indie record
For all of the above-mentioned reasons: songwriting, production, and general sonic risk-taking. The White Album is as diverse as a college radio playlist, and as adventurous as a band with nothing to lose.
Nostalgia dictates that McCartney’s ongoing live versions of Beatles’ classics stay true to the originals, but those songs were created in a world of almost limitless possibility, by a band who refused to do the same thing twice. This album has no heroes. It’s worth getting lost in.
9. By rights, it should have been crap
The White Album was created during a challenging time for the band: Strawberry Fields Forever was the first Beatles single to not reach number 1; band manager Brian Epstein had recently overdosed and died; the 1967 made-for-television movie Magical Mystery Tour was considered a failure.
The band had recently returned from a retreat to India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught them Transcendental Meditation. (It was there, in Rishikesh, that most of the new material was written.)
Then there were the tensions for which the album is famous: George Martin went on holiday in the middle of the sessions, having grown tired of sitting around watching the group jam. Emerick also left, because Lennon “could be rude and cynical, and wasn’t terribly nice to me sometimes.”
Drummer Ringo Starr walked out at one point, annoyed at McCartney’s increasing insistence on playing drums.
“But then when he went, they realized they weren’t the Beatles,” Giles Martin told Billboard. “There were four of them, and then he was gone.”
After bumming around Sardinia on Peter Seller’s yacht for 11 weeks, Starr returned to a drum kit draped with flowers. You would think the resulting album would be an unfocused mess. Nope.
10. It’s eponymous for a reason
The record is not actually titled the White Album. It’s called, simply, The Beatles. This, then, is what the band themselves thought as their definitive work. That should be good enough. Pre-order here.