Great facts about The Beatles' 'White Album,' which celebrates 55 years since the initial release

The ninth studio album, self-titled by The Beatles, is a mega-sized double album and is considered one of the greatest of all time.
Beatles And Maharishi
Beatles And Maharishi / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

On the heels of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, The Beatles released what is commonly known as The White Album on November 22, 1968. The album consists of 30 tracks drastically different from the previous album, with a lot of interesting history. Below, we highlight some little-known facts about the album.

The Beatles album from 1968 features 19 of the 30 songs written while the band was attending a Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh, India. While in India, the only Western instrument available to them was the guitar, which explains why several songs remained in their original acoustic version. This album was scaled down, and while many other Beatles songs incorporate several different musical styles, The White Album kept each song centered on a specific genre.

The album cover, designed by Pop Artist Richard Hamilton, was plain white save for the band name
blind embossed in Helvetica font, slightly off-kilter below the middle of the cover's right side. This was a stark contrast from Sgt. Pepper's brightly colored cover was designed by Peter Blake.

Beatlemania Exhibition Opening
Beatlemania Exhibition Opening / Krafft Angerer/GettyImages

The Beatles White Album interesting trivia

"Back In The U.S.S.R." was inspired by Chuck Berry's "Back In The U.S.A." and a bit of a parody of Beach Boys. Mike Love of the Beach Boys was also present at the meditation camp in India, sparking McCartney's inspiration.

"“I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And ‘Back in the USA’ was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there. I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know?”"

Paul McCartney

Several songs mention specific names:

  • "Dear Prudence" is a song written by John Lennon about Prudence Farrow, sister of Mia (Rosemary's Baby), who also attended the meditation camp.
  • "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" is Lennon's story about a resident at the meditation camp, Richard A. Cooke III, who, after killing a tiger, felt so awful for killing the animal could never hunt again. This is also the first song featuring Lennon's new girlfriend, Yoko Ono.
  • "Martha, My Dear" is inspired by McCartney's Old English Sheepdog.
  • "Julia" was Lennon's ballad about his mother, who was tragically killed in a road accident when he was 17.
  • "Sexy Sadie" was a dig at the Maharishi who had what Lennon and George Harrison believed were less than wholesome intentions toward some of the females at the camp.

The fourth track on the album "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" came from a saying by the band's friend Jimmy Scott, a Nigerian conga player, “Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra." McCartney just loved the expression, and thus, the song was created.

A well-known fact is that musician and friend of Harrison, Eric Clapton, played guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." But the reason why may not be as well known. Harrison, who wrote the song, didn't feel his bandmates were taking things as seriously as he hoped regarding the song. Clapton was initially hesitant as no outside musician had joined the Beatles. Harrison was insistent regarding Clapton's inclusion, which made Lennon and McCartney take notice and gave the song the attention Harrison sought.

Eric Clapton, George Harrison
Eric Clapton And George Harrison / Dave Hogan/GettyImages

After hearing that The Who created a loud, raucous, and dirty song, "I Can See For Miles," he vowed to out-rock them. "Helter Skelter" was his answer, but contrary to Charles Manson's interpretation of the song, it was written about about an amusement park ride.

Harrison was set to fly to L. A with the master tapes requiring all hands on deck for a 24-hour period in a rush to complete the album. At 4 a.m. McCartney fell asleep on the board trying to get the right sound for "Helter Skelter."

The Beatles' "White Album" has been certified 24x Platinum by the RIAA and a remixed and expanded version was released in 2018 in celebration of the album's 50th anniversary.

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