Critics' Choice

By Phil Gallo

When Giles Martin started to ruminate over the direction of an expanded edition of The Beatles’ “White Album,” he knew he needed a story. The history books have positioned the album as the result of Fab Four fracturing and working as soloists, controlling their destinies by sidestepping the structure and demands of Giles’ father, the producer George Martin, and, at times, suggesting the band’s days were numbered.

To arrive at an answer required tasks such as listening to all 107 takes of “Sexy Sadie,” the band’s earliest demos for the album and countless tapes from the vaults. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band, the first Beatles album to be remixed and amended with bonus tracks, “had a different motivation,” Gilles says, specifically to bring the stereo version more in line with the Beatles-approved mono mix. “With the ‘White Album,’ it was where do we start?”

The answer, per Giles, hardly a Beatles expert, was initially discovered within demos of 27 songs assembled at George Harrison’s house in Esher, Surrey, in the spring of 1968.

His decision? “Tell the story of how it was made,” Martin said during a listening session at New York’s Power Station studio. “The Esher demos are a record in their own right. To me, it’s Beatles Unplugged.”

And putting aside reports that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were at odds with one another throughout the recording, Martin says the demos and outtakes reveal “the two of them are definitely in cahoots on this album. We looked for the arguments [on the tapes], looked for the stress and there wasn’t any.”

During the listening session, Martin played five tracks from the Esher sessions, five of the newly remixed tracks and five outttakes from the Abbey Road sessions, one of which is an absolutely stunning exercise in harmony on “Good Night.”

The Esher tracks included raw, acoustic guitar versions of “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Sexy Sadie” and “Ob-la-Di, Ob-la-Da,” Harrison’s original take on “Not Guilty” and Lennon’s “Child of Nature,” the melody of which he would use for “Jealous Guy” on his Imagine album.

From the demos, Martin offered a rendition of “Cry Baby Cry” far bluesier than the album version, two different approaches to the acoustic guitar on “Julia,” and a Lennon-less “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Eric Clapton that abruptly ends with Harrison saying “I tried to do a Smokey [Robinson] and I just weren’t Smokey.”

“There’s a trigger point where you say ‘can we make something people want to listen to?’ Even if you haven’t heard The Beatles, it has to be easy to listen to,” Martin said. The goal “was to get as close to what I experienced at Abbey Road” when they first went over the tapes.

The result is a Super Deluxe version of The Beatles—that’s its official title, non-Beatles fans—with the 27 Esher demos, 50 studio outtakes and a Blu-ray that incudes a 5.1 mix. “The best surround sound mix I’ve ever done is ‘Revolution 9’,” Martin avers. “It’s really disturbing, which is how it should be.”

“Paul and Ringo said something separates it [from other albums]. Yes, it’s a band album. There’s a beauty in it and warmth. [Music] had become a young man’s game and dad was wise in getting Chris Thomas involved, saying ‘you take over for awhile.’ And [engineer] Ken Scott was 21.

“They changed their hours in the studio, working later, and discovered tracks in the studio” rather than showing up with all ideas formalized. “[My dad] liked things to be organized and this wasn’t.”

To provide a taste of the new remixes, among Martin’s choices were “Mother Nature’s Son,” which boasts a brighter and more focused brass section, “Long, Long, Long,” with a starker intro, fatter bass and denser middle section, and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” with its fuzz guitar gloriously rendered.

“You work on instinct,” he said, singling out “Dear Prudence,” which seemed to have a broader field than earlier editions. “It’s not about making things sound perfect. It’s about how the songs feel.”