The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide

We delve deep into the 1968 home recordings that planted the seeds for the band's classic self-titled double LP

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Anti–Vietnam War demonstrations, Prague Spring, the assassination of Martin Luther King – John Lennon pondered the tumultuous events of early 1968 from his bucolic hideaway in the shadow of the Himalayas. "I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India," he told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I still had this 'God will save us' feeling about it: 'It's going to be all right.'" The sentiment would because a positive mantra in one of Lennon's most enduring songs; one he hoped would shake the youth out of the dreamily complacent Summer of Love era. "I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it." In the band's early days, he felt gagged by the unofficial code of silence that prohibited celebrities from speaking out about political matters for fear of antagonizing their audience. "For years, on the Beatles' tours, [manager] Brian Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn't allow questions about it. But on one of the last tours, I said, 'I am going to answer about the war. We can't ignore it.' I absolutely wanted the Beatles to say something about the war." Putting pen to paper, "Revolution" was an outlet for Lennon to finally say his piece.

It would be the first song recorded as the White Album sessions commenced on May 30th. Listening to the demo taped just days earlier at Kinfauns, it's clear that the majority of the lyrics are already assembled, save for the verse concerning Chairman Mao – a slam he came to regret. ("I should never have put that in about Chairman Mao ... I was just finishing off in the studio when I did that.") At this stage, Lennon makes it clear that you can count him "out" for destruction, a choice he hedged by singing "out ... in" when it came time to record the song.

Despite the life-or-death seriousness of the subject matter, the track is perhaps the most uplifting on the demo tape, featuring a neat introductory guitar figure, enthusiastic clap-alongs, and a scatted solo trimmed from the final version. With his buoyant double tracked vocals, it's easy to see this as the single that Lennon wanted it to be. When the other Beatles complained that the completed midtempo rocker was too slow to be a commercial standalone, he submitted to recording a faster take, boasting a crunchy guitar intro cribbed from bluesman Pee Wee Crayton's 1954 song "Do Unto Others." It narrowly missed out on becoming Apple Records' inaugural release in August, serving instead as the B side to McCartney's 7-minute epic, "Hey Jude." The initial version, titled "Revolution 1" to differentiate it from its amped-up sibling, would become a peak of the White Album.

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