The Beatles' "White Album" demos: listen and learn

One May day in 1968, The Beatles gathered in Esher, London at George Harrison psychedelic bungalow Kinfauns to make music. They jammed through numerous songs written during or after their time hanging with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Those demos are the skeleton of what would become the White Album. Some of those acoustic renditions have since been officially released or made their way to YouTube. Over at Rolling Stone, Jordan Runtagh takes us through the "Esher Tapes." Here are two of the tracks with Runtagh's commentary:

"Revolution"

Anti–Vietnam War demonstrations, Prague Spring, the assassination of Martin Luther King – John Lennon pondered the tumultuous events of early 1968 from his bucolic hideaway in the shadow of the Himalayas. "I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India," he told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I still had this 'God will save us' feeling about it: 'It's going to be all right.'" The sentiment would because a positive mantra in one of Lennon's most enduring songs; one he hoped would shake the youth out of the dreamily complacent Summer of Love era. "I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it." In the band's early days, he felt gagged by the unofficial code of silence that prohibited celebrities from speaking out about political matters for fear of antagonizing their audience. "For years, on the Beatles' tours, [manager] Brian Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn't allow questions about it. But on one of the last tours, I said, 'I am going to answer about the war. We can't ignore it.' I absolutely wanted the Beatles to say something about the war." Putting pen to paper, "Revolution" was an outlet for Lennon to finally say his piece.

It would be the first song recorded as the White Album sessions commenced on May 30th. Listening to the demo taped just days earlier at Kinfauns, it's clear that the majority of the lyrics are already assembled, save for the verse concerning Chairman Mao – a slam he came to regret. ("I should never have put that in about Chairman Mao ... I was just finishing off in the studio when I did that.") At this stage, Lennon makes it clear that you can count him "out" for destruction, a choice he hedged by singing "out ... in" when it came time to record the song....

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

George Harrison's soaring guitar showdown with Eric Clapton began as a comparatively gentle meditation drawn from his reading of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text. "In the West we think of coincidence as being something that just happens ... but the Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence – every little item that's going down has a purpose," he explained in the Beatles Anthology documentary project. Harrison sought to test the theory while visiting his parents' Cheshire home in the spring of 1968 by using a melody written during the India sojourn. "I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book, as it would be relative to that moment, at that time," he recalled. Grabbing a volume off the shelf at random, he likely opened up to Coates Kinney's 1849 poem "Rain on the Roof," which contains the couplet: "And the melancholy darkness/Gently weeps in rainy tears."

The lines provided a lyrical starting point, but Harrison still had some tinkering to do when he presented the song to his mates during the Esher session. The first verse contains the soon-to-be-deleted line, "Problems you sow are the troubles you're reaping," while the final verse is completely different from the White Album version: "I look at the trouble and hate that is raging/While my guitar gently weeps/As I'm sitting here doing nothing but aging/While my guitar gently weeps." As Harrison backs himself on a double-tracked acoustic guitar, the ferociously scrubbed descending figure gives the song a flamenco air in this early state, despite the somber B-3 organ hits on the bridge – played by McCartney, who can be heard emitting an enthusiastic "Cool!" as the song wraps at just two-and-a-half-minutes...

"The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide" (Rolling Stone)