The Beatles
Off White
(WHT 868)

This bootleg of "White Album" demos (mostly the 4-track recordings done at Esher) is actually one of the few Beatles CDs I frequently listen to. To me, the Beatles' studio genius is so over-established that the only way I can really marvel at them is by hearing their works in progress. And while the Anthology series has its moments, it made the mistake of trying to make "albums" out of this sort of material. I guess part of me thinks that bootleg Beatles are best experienced on bootlegs.

Off White is something of an underground classic, packaged like a rejected version of the real album cover and throwing in weird sound effects in places to simulate the flow of the actual White Album (i.e. a bad airplane sound opens the CD in an attempt to ape "Birthday"). These tacked-on sound effects are the only real drawback to the CD (aside from the fact that it probably doesn't exist anymore – I bought it around '88 and have not seen it since – happy hunting!).

Great, acoustic-based, swampy-sounding versions of all the songs you know, with all sorts of surprises: lyric changes, funny remarks, etc. This must have been a fun time to be in the Beatles; everyone sounds incredibly inspired but are very relaxed about it.

The big highlight for me is Paul McCartney's solo demo of "Goodbye," popularized later by Mary Hopkin – beautiful rendition, very un-self-conscious and honest. Should have been on the White Album (but then "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" would have had to come off – what a shame). At the very least, I'm shocked they didn't include it on Anthology 3; it must be one of the five best unreleased Beatle performances. (Good thing they included an alternate mix of "Octopus's Garden.")

Other highlights here are "Child of Nature" (the original version of "Jealous Guy"), "Everyone Had a Hard Year" (later used in "Dig a Pony") and a rollickin' unplugged "Revolution." The versions of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" featured on Anthology 3 made their presence known to me on Off White. Many of the demos are not too far from the final versions ("Julia," "Dear Prudence," "Cry Baby Cry") but it's really cool peering in on the creative process at work.

Songs I don't love in their finished versions are pretty interesting here ("Everybody's Got Something to Hide," "Hey Jude," "Bungalow Bill"). A couple alternate mixes show up ("It's All Too Much," "Honey Pie") which don't sound significantly different except these sound like they were recorded off a TV player. A couple lesser inclusions are two versions of "What's the New Maryjane?" (which ten years ago I would have argued was great; in fact, it is not) and a muddy vocal mix of "Birthday" which is not welcome no matter what the context.

I think it's high time the record companies stop complaining about illegal recordings like this one and fill the need officially. I mean, the Anthologies are a nice representation of what is out there, but they could devote 6 solid discs alone to the Let It Be/Abbey Road sessions, or at least 3 to the White Album. I suppose they are worries about "tarnishing the artists' reputation" or disappointing sales (admittedly, the mass market has no real need to hear this stuff) but seriously, aren't fans like us really the lifeblood of the industry? We're the idiots who will buy four different versions of Kind of Blue and thank the company for the privilige.

The Pet Sounds box may be a step in the right direction. Capitol seems to acknowledge that the Beach Boys are really only appealing to songwriters, producers, and pop fans at this point. It's time to roll out a thorough Basement Tapes box, and more official Beatles boots. The market is there, now we only need some spine on the part of the Beatles themselves and all those record label execs padding their fat wallets with the profits on this week's 9/11 cash-in.

Review by Red-Red Richards