It was 52 years ago this week in May 1968 that the Beatles began recording four-track demos for its self-titled double album, which is commonly known as the “White Album.” The legendary — and long-bootlegged — group demos were finally released in 2018 as part of the “White Album's” super deluxe box set.
The songs, which were primarily recorded as a group at George Harrison's English Bungalow in Esher, featured material written by the group during their infamous stay in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh, India. Upon returning to England, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr regrouped at Harrison's house and for the one and only time in the band's career, laid down bare-bones, acoustic, group versions of their latest music.
Filmmaker Paul Saltzman documented his time in Rishikesh studying transcendental meditation with the group in his photo book The Beatles In India, and told us that they were always friendly and approachable: “John looked up at me, and he was two feet away from me, and I said, 'May I join you?' and John said, 'Sure mate, pull up a chair.' And Paul said, 'Come and sit here' — he pulled next to him and I sat down. At that moment John turns to me, 'cause they had finished their conversation, and he says, 'So, you're American then?,' in his sort of teasing way. And I said, 'No, Canadian,' and he turns to the group and says, 'Ah, he's from one of the colonies!' And everyone breaks up (in laughter).”
1968's “White Album” material marked a creative rebirth for John Lennon — and pointed the way towards his more brutal and soul searching solo works in the 1970's: “Looking back at it, whenever I comment about writing, I always (laughs) seem to be suffering, whether it was writing 'A Day In The Life.' or whatever. When I comment on every little thing it's like I'm suffering. I always seem to have an intense time writing, thinking 'this is the end' and 'nothing's coming' and 'this is dumb' and how can. . . and y'know, 'this is no good' and all that business.”
Paul McCartney has written several topical and sociopolitical songs over the years. It's only been in the past decade or so, that he's revealed that “Blackbird” was directly inspired by the civil rights movement during the turbulent 1960's: “When you do a show, certain songs, you just find yourself talking about them. I could probably talk about every single song and find a story about it, but when you find a story that seems to mean something, you tend to just keep it in. In England, we call girls 'birds' — and so it's a double meaning. And it was originally about the struggles going on in Alabama, particularly, in the '60s, and the civil rights disturbances. Which, y'know a lot of us with any morals around the world were very sensitive to and very supportive of the people who were going through the rubbish that they were going through.”
The Beatles “Esher” demos include:
“Back In The U.S.S.R.” “Dear Prudence” “Glass Onion” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” “I’m So Tired” “Blackbird” “Piggies” “Rocky Raccoon” “Julia” “Yer Blues” “Mother Nature’s Son” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey” “Sexy Sadie” “Revolution” “Honey Pie” “Cry Baby Cry” “Sour Milk Sea” “Junk” “Child Of Nature” “Circles” “Mean Mr. Mustard” “Polythene Pam” “Not Guilty” “What’s The New Mary Jane”
Paul Saltzman On Meeting The Beatles In India :
Paul McCartney On Writing ‘Blackbird’ :
John Lennon On Songwriting Being Intense :