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What If: The Beatles stayed with psychedelia in 1968: No White Album


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Showing 1-25 of 100 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 16, 2013, 8:49:34 PM PDT
In terms of the late 1960's music development the double Beatles album which we today call "The White album" was huge in more ways than one. Most importantly is how the Beatles moved away from the psychedelia of Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper and returned to rock, pop, etc..This without a doubt signaled the END of the Psychedelic era. Many great small psychedelic bands simply disbanded due to this change in the direction of popular music (bands like Tomorrow, Tintern Abbey, July, Dantalian's Chariot)

Now imagine if the Beatles had continued with psychedelia into 1968 and even 1969, would their peers have done the same? Another Satanic Majesties type album from the Rolling Stones?

Posted on Mar 16, 2013, 10:02:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2013, 10:09:41 PM PDT
The Rolling Stones returned to a rootsier style with the spring 1968 sessions for "Beggar's Banquet" before The Beatles had released or even recorded The White Album, so no, there would have been no "Satanic II" from them, even if The Fabs had stayed psychedelic.

The White Album was not the first musical sign that the psych era was waning. I'd say the two earliest signs of a shift in direction were Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" at the tail end of '67, and the UK blues revival of Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, and Chicken Shack which hit early in '68. The Stones released "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in May. Then The Byrds went country in the summer with "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo", while The Band brought roots influences to the forefront with "Music From Big Pink" at the same time. The Beatles themselves had already signaled a shift in direction with "Lady Madonna" in March. Most of the smaller psych bands you mention either shifted with the times, or morphed into progressive rock acts (a genre that still retained some characteristics of psych). The shift away from psychedelia was a general trend which gradually increased as 1968 progressed, there was no one band or album that signaled a definite death-knell IMO.

There are lingering traces of psychedelia on The White Album, most notably on "Dear Prudence", "Helter Skelter", "Cry Baby Cry" and Revolutions 1 & 9. Still, it was a new direction overall.

Posted on Mar 16, 2013, 10:43:37 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2013, 11:03:10 PM PDT
Exile says:
The Stones also had already released "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in mid '68 which charted new territory for them and the direction they would take in the future, leaving psychedelia far in the rearview mirror.

If the Beatles had done another Pepper they would have been behind the times and the direction music was taking in 1968.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2013, 10:46:03 PM PDT
Exile says:
Ahhhh, I see Topper is already on top of it...LOL

Posted on Mar 16, 2013, 10:47:53 PM PDT
@Exile: yes, but you said it far more succinctly than I did!

Posted on Mar 16, 2013, 10:56:50 PM PDT
Park says:
Yet, I will have to say that Jefferson Airplane managed to keep their sound through ~ 1971.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2013, 11:04:45 PM PDT
Exile says:
But even they had begun taking a more direct approach by the time of "Volunteers".

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2013, 11:12:54 PM PDT
Park says:
True..............You know who were diversified during the mid-late 60's?.....The Chambers Brothers.

Posted on Mar 16, 2013, 11:17:36 PM PDT
The Manson family wouldve written Gimme Shelter on the walls if no Helter Skelter.

Posted on Mar 16, 2013, 11:23:00 PM PDT
The Beatles couldn't have stayed with psychedelia in 1968. It was no longer the summer of love and optimism. '68 was a year that became the closest this country has ever come to a revolution in the 20th century. You are talking about a year that included the following: the height of the Vietnam war and the dispiriting Tet Offensive; the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy; students at Columbia University in NY seizing five university buildings for 26 hours in protest of the lifting of student draft deferments; constant riots in the nation's black ghettos; the turmoil that erupted in the streets of Chicago between war protesters and the police during the 1968 Democratic convention; the Soviets putting a firm stop to Czechoslovakia's attempt to break from communist rule.

Combine these world events with the internal chaos of the band (disagreement on who would manage the band after the death of Brian Epstein; John's attention centering on his relationship with Yoko and away from the group; George's full bloom as a songwriter who wanted more space on the band's albums), and it's no wonder the 'White Album' sounds as dark and forboding as it does. There's no way they could repeat the sunny days of 'Sgt. Pepper'.

Posted on Mar 17, 2013, 4:35:19 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 17, 2013, 8:35:01 AM PDT
The Beatles realised psychedelia had a limited shelf life and then jumped one step ahead of the game as usual - perhaps also the generally negative reaction to The Magical Mystery Tour film at the end of 1967 dampened their enthusiasm for kaleidoscopic works. Of course, Yellow Submarine came out in 68 but used mainly old material. The rootsier sound of their 1968 material plus that of the Stones, the Band, the Byrds, Creedence and, in 1969, the Grateful Dead seemed to echo the cries of a Western world that, in a very short space of time, had gone from being a potential technicolour Utopia to a monochrome purgatory that had become suddenly very tired and corrupted with selfishness, turmoil and anxiety and desperately in need of finding itself again by returning to simpler values. The Doors also brilliantly nailed these uncertain times with Unknown Soldier, Five To One and, in the previous year, the 'what have they done to the earth?' section of When The Music's Over. In a way I'm paraphrasing much of what Robert said in his post which was a brilliant encapsulation of what was happening to both the Beatles and the world around them.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 17, 2013, 10:33:19 AM PDT
DK Pete says:
Nothing much to add after reading S.C.'s, Toppers and Roberts' great posts. I just want to add that, had The Beatles stuck with that 'sound", they would have ended up as Sgt. Pepper parodies of themselves cheapening not only their own creative value but that of Pepper's as well.

One of their greatest strengths was having the creative vision to always "move on" and to realize when enough was enough-including their very unity as a musical force.

Posted on Mar 17, 2013, 10:37:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 17, 2013, 10:39:49 AM PDT
Johnny Bee says:
The Beatles never really released a psych album, anyway. Pepper may have had psych flourishes but it had just as much to do with the music hall tradition and studio trickery, with a couple of their best songs thrown in. And I'm not talking about 64 or Lovely Rita.

Now 'Piper At The Gates of Dawn' on the other hand, that was the real deal.

Posted on Mar 17, 2013, 11:42:52 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 17, 2013, 11:45:15 AM PDT
I think the major reason for the shift back to simpler styles, outside of the atmosphere of general turmoil of 1968, was the natural tendency of human beings to move on to something else, when something has been played out. People like doing the opposite of what came before; John said at the beginning of the White Album sessions that he wanted it to be the "anti-Pepper", and I think just the idea of being "anti" the thing before, appealed to him as much as the political or social climate of the period (though I do think that also had something to do with it).

The real argument here was whether psych had really played itself out by mid-68--it had only been a going concern for two or so years at that point, and was still producing outstanding music when it died off. However, when you look at some of the releases from late 67/early 68, the music had become almost blindingly ornate. Things had moved so fast, so quickly that I'm sure a lot of bands collectively paused for breath.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 17, 2013, 11:43:38 AM PDT
@Johnny Bee: "The Beatles never really released a psych album, anyway."

Now, this is highly debatable.

Posted on Mar 17, 2013, 1:12:48 PM PDT
Hinch says:
I'd say Lucy was the most psychedelic song on Pepper. I've always thought REVOLVER and PEPPER weren't far different in sound. Some songs on MMT were psychedelic.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 17, 2013, 1:19:41 PM PDT
You had a good post going there Topper until the lingering part. Who sees traces of psychedelia in "Dear Prudence", "Helter Skelter", "Cry Baby Cry" and "Revolution 1"? Not I.

Posted on Mar 17, 2013, 1:44:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 17, 2013, 1:45:39 PM PDT
@Antediluvian: "Dear Prudence" has a general mystical vibe that celebrates nature, that is reminiscent of the spirit of '67; the way it builds including those eerie backing vocals during the "look around" portion, the electric guitar lead, the sudden electric piano flourish that irradiates everything at the close, all have a stoner quality to them. It's not psych in the way they had made psychedelia before, but traces of the style? Certainly.

"Helter Skelter"'s closing cacophony features trippy reverb, blaring freak-out trumpets clashed with amped-up guitars, and various electronic effects applied to the instruments, that give it a heavy acid-rock feel. The song moves toward heavy metal, but early heavy metal was itself an evolution of the acid-rock sound of Hendrix and Cream (just check out Led Zeppelin's debut album). "Cry Baby Cry" has some of the Lewis Carrol-inspired imagery and surreal character sketching of "Lucy" or "Walrus", and the application of sound effects at various points which fit the lyric, giving it a cinematic feel. Again, this isn't full-blown psych, but definitely lingering traces of the '67 Lennon. "Revolution 1" has a relaxed stoner vibe to it (especially compared to the single version), with its glazed-over vocal, glassy horns, and closing freakout with the gnarled electric guitars and panting noises (the full-length ten minute take extends the freakout and adds many more sound effects, making the psych connection even more obvious). "Revolution 9" I shouldn't have to explain. The outtake "What's The New Mary Jane" was probably the trippiest thing from the sessions, though.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2013, 2:45:30 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 4, 2013, 2:47:24 PM PDT
This Psychedelia business had already died in San Francisco in 1967 before the tour buses even got there and experiments would continue to occur but after Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles could not go on repeating themselves as "Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane" was released in February 1967 and by the summer of 1968 (a lifetime in 1960's time) they were not the same band they had been when Brian was alive to guide them.

Music had been stockpiling since the January 1968 trip to India and Paul, John & George had enough material to release three solo records. The band was breaking up by the time of the sessions for "The White Album" began but there were some songs and changes in the way those songs sounded that gave the lads (at least a little) more life.

I bought the White Album a week before Thanksgiving in 1968 and it had been played in it's entire form on radio already and it was cool to say: "you got the White Album yet?" as it was the correct answer to say: "yes!"

The Beatles stayed ahead of the pack all throughout the 1960's and even if you don't like it today...This album was BIG in late 1968 and you can say the band moved forward or they took a step or two back, it's your choice.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2013, 4:36:05 PM PDT
DK Pete says:
Philip, nice post. I just finished reading Ian Macdonald's Revolution In The Head; while he may have a lot to say about specific Beatle recordings/songs which I disagree with, I pretty much saw eye to eye with his overall assessment of The White Album. Although, again, I differed on a few of his song opinions, he basically referred to it as a double album which has a feel like no other released around the same time period. He went into discussing how John and Paul took the time to sequence it "just so" for it to come off as enigmatically as it does.

Another thing I like about his section on it: his analysis of Revolution 9. Unlike many writers and fans alike, he does not dismiss it as an interruption to an otherwise brilliantly made album; if anything, he goes a pretty long way in describing how it works as an integral part OF the album as well as the effort that Lennon put into it.

I'm not sure how I would have perceived The Beatles' progress (or lack thereof) had I been in my upper teens when The White Album came out. As an eleven year old at the time, however, I was nothing short of mystified by it-it made a much stronger impression on me than the recordings from the previous year which, arguably, stood the music world and its' surrounding culture on its' head.

It instantly became my favorite album of the few I had listened to and/or owned up to that point in time; it has kept that position forty-something years later.

Posted on Aug 4, 2013, 4:51:12 PM PDT
a customer says:
beatles psychedelia is still listenable . The same cannot be said of many other groups of that time.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2013, 5:03:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 4, 2013, 5:05:34 PM PDT
@DKPete: I am SHOCKED by your favorable impression of MacDonald's review of the White Album. Given that you have called the White Album one of your all-time faves, and the fact that MacDonald expresses extreme disdain and/or dismissiveness for at least half of the album, I was really expecting you to disagree with him. It *is* interesting what he says about "Rev 9", and that may just be his best review out of all the 30 songs on the album. But if I'm remembering rightly, he dismisses a number of the rest of the songs with just one or two lines of withering comment, or when he does take his time, savages classic numbers like "Helter Skelter". It was actually his review of White that pretty much had me wondering why the book was so praised at the time.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2013, 5:08:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 4, 2013, 5:14:05 PM PDT
DKPete ~

I've heard of the book you mention but I have not read that one yet.
My older sister had Beatles records and singles from 1964 onwards and (for me) I knew more about them in 1968 than any other band of the era. The White Album had impact and sold really well and The Beatles had more success than ever before and as John, George & Ringo wanted to get outta there. Paul, (ever the cheerleader) started a new project for the band in January 1969 and after "Abbey Road" in the fall of that same year it was indeed all over.

I always thought Number 9 was a dark audio experiment and when the Paul is dead stuff came about later I couldn't listen to it anymore as it contained so many clues. We took The Beatles very serious back then!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2013, 5:55:27 PM PDT
onsenkuma says:
@Philip S. Wolf,
What a great post. And, you're spot on about the space between February '67 and summer '68 being the equivalent of a 'lifetime'. Only the rapid developments in underground/alternative music in the immediate post-punk years of roughly '78 to '82 ever came anywhere near close to matching the pace of change in music between '66 and '70 or so. The Beatles (aka White Album) has been picked apart endlessly in recent years in particular, but I remember being completely blown away by the sheer scope of the album when it was released. The band had already sent a warning signal of their move away from psychedelia months earlier with Lady Madonna, but this album put an end to that chapter in their development.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 4, 2013, 6:13:48 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 4, 2013, 6:16:55 PM PDT
Yee cats, it's true that articles were writen about The Beatles in early 1967 that said: "Are The Beatles all washed-up?" as it had been six months since "Revolver" and The Monkees had since conquered the planet while they (the Fabs) held up inside the studio working on Sgt. Pepper. Most groups had a single out every three-six months and two albums a year was about the correct pace for those long players.

After The Sex Pistols brokeup as the US tour ended in San Francisco in 1978 there were tags being thrown out like: "The New Wave" and "The New Romantics" and other titles of that style to get a handle on bands such as: Blondie, The Cars, Television and the Talking Heads. The new look of pop/rock that took on a new style (not that far removed) but different from the Punk bands. Things would change again in 1982 and I point my finger at the release of the first album from ASIA.

The White Album, stands apart from the other Beatles albums as being four solo albums fused together as a group effort and when you heard Yoko Ono on that album from The Beatles it was a bit shocking!
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Initial post:  Mar 16, 2013
Latest post:  Sep 1, 2013

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