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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"Sour Milk Sea"

Preferring to pursue his serious study of the sitar, Harrison rarely played guitar outside of Beatle business during the Sgt. Pepper era. Ironically, the time at Maharishi's camp-like retreat forced him to reengage with the more portable acoustic six-string and reignited his interest in the music that inspired him as a teenager. Among the first fruits of this rock renaissance was "Sour Milk Sea," a tune he wrote "in 10 minutes" on a guitar borrowed from Lennon. "Even though I was in India, I always imagined the song as rock & roll," he said later in 1968. Though he's embracing Western sounds once again, the words are still rooted in the East, reading almost like a jingle for the restorative properties of Transcendental Meditation. "It's based on Vishvasara Tantra, from Tantric art," he said in his 1980 memoir, I Me Mine. "'What is here is elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere.' It's a picture, and the picture is called Sour Milk Sea – Kalladadi Samudra in Sanskrit. I used Sour Milk Sea as the idea of – if you're in the shit, don't go around moaning about it: do something about it."

"Sour Milk Sea" is easily the most energetic of Harrison's contributions to the Kinfauns demos, featuring a strong falsetto lead vocal over a strutting rhythm on acoustic guitar. A rudimentary bass line can also be heard, plucked out on a low E string, in addition to a soft electric guitar part – a rarity for the session. Even though it ranks among the most fully formed arrangements to be unveiled that day, the song was never attempted by the band in the studio. Instead, Harrison offered it to Jackie Lomax, an old friend from the Liverpool club circuit who became one of the first artists signed to Apple Records. Assuming the role of producer, Harrison assembled an impressive lineup: McCartney on bass, Starr on drums, himself and Eric Clapton on guitar, and session virtuoso Nicky Hopkins on piano.

Despite having more Beatles playing on it than on some White Album tracks, "Sour Milk Sea" received a tepid response when it was issued in August 1968 as part of Apple's "Our First Four" campaign, a quadruple release to announce the official launch of the label. To Harrison's certain chagrin, the glory went to the McCartney, who scored twin smashes with "Those Were the Days," an old gypsy cabaret number he produced for the folk singer Mary Hopkin, and the Beatles' own "Hey Jude."

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