The follow-up to Magical Mystery Tour, it showcases better than any other album of their the range and depth of their talents. Along with such standard rockers as the opening "Back in the USSR" (widely interpreted as a parody/tribute to The Beach Boys and more specifically "California Girls"), it contains classic ballads like "I Will" and "Julia" (the latter written by John--one of his few ballads, dedicated to his mother who was killed by an off-duty police officer when he was just 16), whimsical tunes like "Rocky Raccoon" and "Ob-La-Di", the outright heavy metal "Helter Skelter", social commentary such as George's "Piggies" and John's "Happiness is a Warm Gun", and a mix of other tunes, many of which became popular as singles. A Helter-Skelter is a type of British funfair ride and the lyrics make that clear, Charles Manson took it to mean some kind of apocalypse. Perhaps as a reaction to the trend of dramatic album covers and extras they themselves helped foster, this album had a plain white cover with only "The BEATLES" in small lettering; (hence the nickname). Included in the interior of the album is a set of photographs taken by John Kelley in autumn of 1968 that have themselves become classic.
Many of the songs here are personal and self-referencing; for example "Dear Prudence" is about actress Mia Farrow's sister Prudence who attended Transcendental Meditation classes in Rishikesh, India at the same time as the group. "Sexy Sadie" is about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who led those classes. "Glass Onion" is John's song for those fans who spent their time trying to find hidden meanings in the group's lyrics; it references several other Beatles songs in its lyric.
Yoko Ono makes her first appearance, as backing vocals in "Birthday" (along with Patti Harrison), singing a single line of "Bungalow Bill" and as a strong influence to John's bizarre "Revolution 9" which is a very early precursor to the concept of sampling.
Eric Clapton, at Harrison's invitation, provides an extra lead guitar for Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"--the tension in the group was quite high at this point and Harrison did not feel the other members were taking his song seriously, so he invited an outsider to the session so they would have to act professionally. (Clapton himself needed the same favor later, bringing Harrison to record "Badge" for Cream under the pseudonym "L'Angelo Misterioso".)
The album was produced and orchestrated by George Martin, and was the first album released by Apple Records. Martin was personally dissatisfied with the double album and advised the group to reduce the number of songs in order to feature their stronger work on a single disc. However, the group overruled him.
(All songs by Lennon/McCartney except * Harrison and ** Starkey)
- "Back in the USSR"
- "Dear Prudence"
- "Glass Onion"
- "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
- "Wild Honey Pie"
- "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" *
- "Happiness is a Warm Gun"
- "Martha My Dear"
- "I'm So Tired"
- "Piggies" *
- "Rocky Raccoon"
- "Don't Pass Me By" **
- "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"
- "I Will"