The Beatles' self-titled ninth studio album, released in 1968, marked a significant musical departure for the group. The band's albums had grown more experimental, and the album that would become known as The White Album was no exception, taking influences from a variety of places including the band's trip to India where they studied Transcendental Meditation.
Recording of The White Album proved to be a tense experience, with the presence of Yoko Ono breaking their rule about girlfriends and wives in the studio and causing problems within the group. Things got so bad that engineers quit and one member even briefly left the band. Despite the drama surrounding the album, it went on to become one of The Beatles' most acclaimed releases. Let's take a look at some of the most fascinating aspects of the legendary White Album.
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Ringo Starr Wrote 'Don't Pass Me By' Over Five Years
By the time the band began working on songs for The White Album, they had been passing over Starr's "Don't Pass Me By" for roughly five years. The song was mentioned in a 1964 BBC interview, when Starr was asked whether he'd be contributing any songs. McCartney interjected by singing a portion of the song.
In another interview around the same time, Starr described the process of writing the song.
"I was fiddling with the piano – I just bang away – and then if a melody comes and some words, I just have to keep going. That's how it happened: I was just sitting at home alone and 'Don't Pass Me By' arrived," he said.
The song's inclusion on the album wasn't welcomed by everyone, as producer George Martin urged the band to trim the length of the album. They ultimately refused allegedly because Lennon and McCartney were trying hard to fulfill their contractual obligations.
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The Album Prompted Ringo Starr To Quit The Band
The Beatles began to come apart during the making of The White Album. The sessions were often tense and staff at Abbey Road Studios would be asked to leave when the band needed to figure things out.
At some point, Ringo Starr hit a wall and began to question whether he was the one causing the tension due to the way he was playing at the time. He decided to leave the band, and visited John Lennon to give him the news.
"I said, 'I'm leaving the group because I'm not playing well and I feel unloved and out of it, and you three are really close.' And John said, 'I thought it was you three!'" Starr recalled in Anthology. "So then I went over to Paul [McCartney]'s and knocked on his door. I said the same thing: 'I'm leaving the band. I feel you three guys are really close and I'm out of it.' And Paul said, 'I thought it was you three!'"
After recording "Back In The U.S.S.R." with McCartney on drums, the band realized that they needed their drummer and sent a telegram asking him to come back.
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The Phrase 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' Came From A Conga Player
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was a McCartney song that came from a Nigerian conga player named Jimmy Scott. The song's hook - "Ob la di, ob la da, life goes on" - was a catchphrase used frequently by Scott.
"I used to love this expression... He sounded like a philosopher to me. He was a great guy anyway and I said to him, 'I really like that expression and I'm thinking of using it,' and I sent him a cheque in recognition of that fact later because even though I had written the whole song and he didn't help me, it was his expression," McCartney later said of the song in Anthology.
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The Songs Spawned From The Band's Trip To India
In 1968, The Beatles traveled to Rishikesh, India. They were invited by the Maharishi, and were joined by several notable figures including the folk singer Donovan and actress Mia Farrow. Although the trip was meant to last several months, each of the band members ultimately left early for various reasons.
Over the course of their time in India, the group wrote 17 songs that ended up on The White Album, including "Sexy Sadie" - which was written by Lennon about allegations of inappropriate behavior by the Maharishi and Farrow.