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!

~ Richard Hamilton

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.

Peter Blake's iconic Sgt. Pepper album cover design

Peter Blake’s iconic sleeve design for Sgt Pepper

Richard Hamilton's minimalist sleeve design for 'The Beatles'

Richard Hamilton’s min­i­mal­ist sleeve design

Most assume the stark white cover that adorns The Bea­t­les’ ninth LP was the brain­child of John Lennon or Yoko Ono. It’s min­i­mal­ist and con­cep­tual art influ­ence was def­i­nitely in step with the pair’s avant-garde lean­ings. Lennon him­self had uti­lized both a white can­vas and white bal­loons in his “You Are Here” exhi­bi­tion held July of that year at the Robert Fraser Gallery.

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.

Hamilton's inter-gatefold design for the Beatles 'White Album'

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.

This 1976 45rpm sleeve design mimics the white album

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.

Hamilton's photo collage poster included with the album

The back of poster included all the song lyrics

Hamilton’s orig­i­nal sleeve design has been altered numer­ous times over the years to adjust to the var­i­ous media used for its release with sep­a­rate designs cre­ated for vinyl records, reel-to-reel tapess, 8-track tape, cas­settes, com­pact disc and mp3’s.

On Vinyl

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

Vinyl Re-issues

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.

This Capitol Records 1978 Limited Edition re-issue was pressed on white vinyl.

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)

Released in 1978 only in South Africa, this rare Parlophone re-issue was pressed on clear vinyl.

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.

On Tape

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.

The album on twin-cassettes.

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

1971 re-issue cassette inlay.

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.

1976 re-issue gold cassette inlay

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.

note: Gold inlay’s were orig­i­nally accom­pa­nied by the same old yel­low labelled cas­settes, but these soon gave way to white labels. Direct blue inked cas­settes began to appear around 1977, these being the first Dolby ver­sions of the Bea­t­les albums.
Below: The most elab­o­rate cas­sette re-issued yet was released in 1987 as a XDR [eXtended Dynamic Range] Cas­sette. The “XDR Qual­ity Sys­tem” tapes were the final gen­er­a­tion of UK Bea­tle cas­settes, they were issued dur­ing the same year that the Bea­t­les albums were first issued on Com­pact Disc and, for the first time, all the cas­settes pre­sented the tracks in the cor­rect run­ning order*. The XDR inlays were mainly white but included all of the orig­i­nal art­work found on the back cov­ers and gate­folds of the vinyl edi­tions. The White Album, which had pre­vi­ously been issued as a sin­gle “Dou­ble Play Tape”, was now issued on a pair of cas­settes (so like the vinyl ver­sion, it was now spread over 4 sides).
1987 Cassette Re-Issue Panel A
1987 Cas­sette Re-Issue Panel A (shown above)
1987 Cassette Re-Issue Panel B
1987 Cas­sette Re-Issue Panel B (shown above)
1987 Cassette Re-Issue Panel C
1987 Cas­sette Re-Issue Panel C (shown above)
1987 Cassette Re-Issue Panel D
1987 Cas­sette Re-Issue Panel D (shown above)
The XDR tape shells were clear plas­tic with details printed in white ink (includ­ing a Par­lophone logo) and the cas­settes were all housed in com­pletely clear boxes (front AND back). As with the CD’s, orig­i­nal XDR tapes (includ­ing The White Album through to Let it be) did NOT include any Apple logo’s on the inlay or on the shell, it was only from around 1992/93 that re-pressings of Bea­t­les cas­settes and CD’s began to include the full colour Apple logo. By 1993 Com­pact Discs were out­selling cas­settes and with the advent of CD-R and MP3 play­ers at the turn of the Mil­len­nium, the cas­sette era came to an end.

Dig­i­tal Releases

The White Album became available for the first time on compact disc in 1987.
In 1987 the Bea­t­les (White Album) was re-issued for the first time on CD (Apple/Capitol)

30th Anniversary Edition Japan

In 1998, a 30th Anniver­sary re-issue of the album was released on a two-disc com­pact disc ver­sion in the United King­dom. The pack­ag­ing of this release is vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to its vinyl coun­ter­part. It has the same pure white gate­fold cover, com­plete with the title “The BEATLES” in a slightly raised, embossed graphic at a slight angle. It also included the now-classic sequen­tially num­bered ser­ial num­ber on the front of this cover, thus mak­ing this one a real lim­ited edi­tion. The inte­rior of this cover fea­tures the song titles on the left-hand side, and the four black-and-white pho­tos of the group mem­bers on the right. This ver­sion of the cover even accu­rately mim­ics the orig­i­nal British vinyl press­ing from 1968, with the open­ings for the discs at the top rather than the sides. There are minia­tures of the four full-colour glossy por­trait pho­tos included, as well as an exact replica of the poster with the photo col­lage on one side, and the album’s com­plete song lyrics on the oppo­site side. The CDs are housed in black sleeves, which were also used for the orig­i­nal British album. This com­mem­o­ra­tive dou­ble CD album is housed in a clear plas­tic slip­case. (shown above right as it was pack­aged in Japan)

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

On Novem­ber 16, 2010 the com­plete Bea­t­les cat­a­log finally became avail­able for down­load­ing and pur­chas­ing from the iTunes music store. At last, The Bea­t­les music is acces­si­ble for a new gen­er­a­tion of music fans, bring­ing them firmly into the 21st cen­tury. For many Bea­t­les fans young and old this event has been a long time com­ing. After many years legal wran­gling between EMI, the Bea­t­les own com­pany Apple, and the ‘other’ Apple behind iTunes have pre­vented the bands back cat­a­logue from been avail­able to download.

Thanks to the Bea­t­les and EMI, we are now real­iz­ing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes 10 years ago.”

~ Steve Jobs, Apple CEO

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.”

The Beatles (White Album) as it appeared for sale for the first time in Apple's iTunes store

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.“