In the end the revolutionary nature of Richard Hamilton’s final design was in its utter simplicity
Richard Hamilton, a notable pop artist who had organized a Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the Tate Gallery the previous year, was responsible for the albums original sleeve design. It is the only sleeve of a Beatles studio album not to show the members of the band on the front. His design was in stark contrast to Peter Blake’s vivid cover art for Sgt. Pepper, and consisted of a plain white sleeve with the band’s name discreetly embossed slightly below the middle of the album’s right side. The cover also featured a unique stamped serial number, “to create,” in Hamilton’s words, “the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies.”
Paul McCartney requested the design be as stark a contrast to Sgt Pepper’s day-glo explosion as possible… he got it!
Hamilton intended the cover design to resemble the “look” of conceptual art, an emerging movement in contemporary art at the time. The album’s inter-gatefold opened at the top originally, not the sides.
Hamilton produced an iconic masterpiece of minimalist modern design
He had landed the job via mutual friend and gallery owner Robert Fraser. In the early stages of his design, he proposed that the white sleeve be augmented with a coffee cup stain, that was deemed “too flippant”. He then suggested that the cover be impregnated with apple pulp, in homage to The Beatles’ company Apple Corp, this too was considered “impractical” and was also rejected. In the end the revolutionary nature of Hamilton’s design was in it’s simplicity.
The inter-sleeve was a bit more conventional, with song titles listed on the inter-left gatefold, on the lower right, and four black and white portraits on the lower portion of the inter-gatefolds right side. The poster, with its collage of snapshots and contact sheets put together by Hamilton, along with the color portraits of the individual members, was also included with the album. As the music contained within was less a collaboration and more the result of three distinct songwriters in John, Paul and George, so too did Hamilton’s design, with it’s utilization of solo shots of each band member, focus on The Beatles as individuals rather than a group.
The first two million copies of the LP also had an individual edition number. Copies were numbered, the same system used at all 12 pressing plants (so there are 12 1s, 12 2s, etc). Also, due to a dispute over banding (where the space between songs is visible on the record disc), some copies are banded and some aren’t – even between copies pressed at the same plant. John got 00001 “because he shouted the loudest” recalled Paul. No singles were issued from the album until 1976, when “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was released as a single with “Julia” as the B-side.
The album included a set of four color photographs taken by John Kelly during the autumn of 1968. Richard Hamilton also came up with the montage idea for the large free poster, which included the lyrics on it’s rear. Original copies of the album also had a top opening sleeve, and black paper inner sleeves.
The first UK release album cover had outlets at its top, as it was called as the “Open Top” cover. Flaps inside the gatefold cover were visible at the left and the right sides. Early copies were issued with a protector sheet placed on the top of each photo and had a custom black inner sleeve. The music publisher’s name for George’s and Ringo’s songs was printed “Apple Publishing Ltd.” on the first printing and was changed afterwards to “Harrisongs Ltd.” and “Startling Mus.”
The albums design and art direction are officially credited to Richard Hamilton, Gordon House and Jeremy Banks, with photography by John Kelly.
The US version of “The Beatles” did not feature black sleeves as the UK version did, and the four photos were smaller. Reports indicate that Capitol had compressed most of the album but George Harrison discovered this and set things right, although due to some mechanical error there is audible evidence of this during “Cry Baby Cry”, near the line “all the children”.
Above: An extremely rare deluxe all-white vinyl version of the Beatles double-album was released by Apple Records in 1968. This special edition is highly prized by collectors. Apple Records, 1968
Above: This extremely rare original British release of the White Album in which the records were inserted from the top rather than the sides. It was known as the “Open Top” cover. Note the flaps inside the gatefold cover were visible at the left and the right sides. Apple Records, 1968
Later vinyl record releases in the U.S. showed the title in grey printed (rather than embossed) letters. Early copies on compact disc were also numbered. Later CD releases rendered the album’s title in black or grey. The 30th anniversary CD release was done to look like the original album sleeve, with an embossed title and serial number, including a small reproduction of the poster and pictures.
Above: 1978 saw two re-issues (one by Capitol Records, the other by Parlophone) Capitol’s purple label 30-track 2-LP set with the album pressed on white vinyl was housed in a gatefold sleeve and contained the 4 color photos and original poster. (Capitol SWBO 101)
Above: South African only double LP pressed on clear vinyl with a unique non-embossed front laminated white gatefold sleeve with the track-listing printed in gold. Only 400 of this extremely rare Parlophone re-issue were manufactured, an is the only issue in the world on clear vinyl. (PCSJ7067/8)
On January 7, 1982, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released the album with a non-embossed unnumbered version of the cover art containing an ORIGINAL MASTER RECORDING banner across the top. Neither the poster nor the portraits were included. The labels to these discs were white with black text and the Capitol dome logo at three o’clock. The MFSL discs were made with Super Vinyl, providing an extraordinary quiet playing surface. Although MFSL leased the album from Capitol and used the company’s sub-master, fans believe they sounded superior to the standard British and American pressings. The discs were stored in static-free, dust-free rice paper inner sleeves enclosed in an off-white gatefold with a reinforced stiff board that fit into the custom fabricated album jacket.
In 1985, EMI Electrola released a DMM (direct metal mastering) white vinyl pressing of the album in Germany, which was imported to the United States in large numbers. Another popular white vinyl pressing was manufactured in France. The 1978 Parlophone white vinyl export pressing and the German DMM pressing are considered by many to be the best-sounding versions of the album. This is due to the use of the famed Neumann lathe on the 1978 export pressing and the use of the DMM process on the 1985 pressing.
The album was was released on twin 8-track stereo continuous playing cartridges (3¾ ips) with the catalogue no.8X2-PCS 8501. The album was also available on 5″ reel-to-reel tape in 1968 with the catalogue numbers DTA-PMC 7067/8 (3¾ ips twin-track mono tape), and DTD-PCS 7067/8 (3¾ ips 4-track stereo) both these editions were packaged in a “jewel” box. The album was also available on 7″ reel-to-reel tape in 1968, Apple catalogue number Y2WB-101, (3¾ ips twin-track stereo tape), the entire album was placed on one 7″ reel. Prior to 1973 the album was released on stereo twin-cassette tapes (1⅞ ips) with the catalogue number TC2-PCS 4501. In November 1988 the double-album was re-released once again on twin cassette tapes (in stereo only) using the original catalogue number TC2-PCS 4501.
Tape versions of the album did not feature a white cover. Instead, cassette, reel-to-reel, and 8-track versions (first issued in early 1969) contained cover artwork that featured a black and white (with no grey) version of the John Kelly photographs. In both the cassette and 8-track versions of the album, the two tapes were sold in a black slip-cover box. This departure from the LP’s design not only made it difficult for less-informed fans to identify the tape in record stores, but it also led some fans to jokingly refer to the 8-track or cassette not as the “white album” but as the “black tape.”
8-Track Black Shell (1969)
This issue contained 2 cartridges individually numbered “8XW-160” and “8XW-161” in a black custom Apple slip-on title box.
The 1976-1979 re-issue no longer had the Apple graphic on the outer slip-on box.
8-Track White Shell (1969)
This issue contained 2 cartridges individually numbered “8XW-160” and “8XW-161” in white custom Apple slip-on title box.
Apple Y2WB-101 7″ stereo 3¾ ips | brown box, 1 reel
This 7″ Reel to Reel issue contained edited versions of Glass Onion, Don’t Pass Me By, Yer Blues, Helter Skelter, and Revolution # 9, and omits Can You Take Me Back.
Apple Records 1968
Apple/Ampex L 101/L2 101 7″ stereo 7½ ips | blue box, 2 reels
The sound quality was enhanced on these blue-box versions when the tapes were recorded for playback at 7½ ips. This made for twice the tape length and a heavier reel for the same amount of musical material.
Capitol/Apple Cassette (1969)
The original cassette release contained 2 cassettes Apple 4XWB 101 and were individually numbered “4XW-160” and “4XW-161” in a black custom Apple slip-on title box. In 1988, Capitol/EMI re-issued this 2-cassette version of the album with the same cover artwork as the original cassettes but without the black slip-cover box
EMI/Apple Double Cassette (1971)
The ‘White Album’ cassette originally came in a cigarette type packet/card box. In mid-1971 it was re-issued without the box and used this standard inlay design.
EMI/Apple Gold Re-Issue Double Play Cassette (1976)
The cassette was re-issued in the UK in 1976. Known as the ‘Gold Re-Issue” early versions used metallic gold paint. Bar-coded gold inlays appeared later on around 1985.
The 2009 remastered release was available for the first time in both mono and stereo (Apple/Capitol/EMI)
On September 9th, 2009 Apple Records in conjunction with Capitol Records and EMI released the long awaited completely remastered Beatles catalog. The “White Album” was considered by many the centerpiece of this release. Both the mono and stereo versions of the ‘White Album’ were re-issued in their own distinctly designed packages. The stereo version was available separately for purchase, however the mono version (shown below) was only available by purchasing the complete limited edition mono box-set. For these new releases, the slipcover holding the CD digipak was embossed in much the same style as the original sleeve (though lacking a serial number).
September 9, 2009: The limited edition Beatles mono box-set with the “White Album” as it’s centerpiece was release by Apple Records.
The Beatles Collection Stuffed Inside USB Apple
On December 7, 2009 EMI Music and Apple Corps Ltd. released the entire Beatles catalog on a special limited edition (30,000 seems to be the total number of Apples being made available) 16GB USB stick. Included on the stick are the re-mastered audio recordings for The Beatles’ 14 stereo titles, as well as all of the re-mastered CDs’ visual elements, including 13 mini-documentary films about the studio albums, replicated original UK album art, rare photos and expanded liner notes.
The USB Apple release was met with both joy and disappointment from diehard Beatles fans. On the one hand, it’s a very cool piece of Beatles merchandise, it’s a limited edition and it’s the entire catalog, which kind of makes it a must have. On the other hand, it costs £200 in the UK and $279 in the US, which is pretty pricey.
The Beatles on iTunes
Thanks to the Beatles and EMI, we are now realizing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes 10 years ago.”
Paul McCartney has said in the official press release:” “We’re really excited to bring the Beatles’ music to iTunes. It’s fantastic to see the songs we originally released on vinyl receive as much love in the digital world as they did the first time around.”
In the same press release, Ringo Starr is more forthright about his opinion of the band finally making it onto iTunes. “I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes.” He said, “At last, if you want it–you can get it now–The Beatles from Liverpool to now! Peace and Love, Ringo.”
Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, and lifelong Beatles fan, couldn’t resist celebrating the Beatles’ arrival with an obvious quip. “It has been a long and winding road to get here,” he said in a statement. “Thanks to the Beatles and EMI, we are now realizing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes 10 years ago.”