The Beatles posing for Borge, London
(Credit: Bent Rej)

Paul McCartney talks through The Beatles ‘White Album’ track by track in rare 1968 interview

When an artist is as legendary as The Beatles, there are literally thousands upon thousands of online reviews for every single release the band ever uttered. It makes for the moment you hear one of the members of the Fab Four talking about their own releases that bit more treasurable.

In this wonderful piece of audio from 1968, we can listen back to Paul McCartney taking host Tony MacArthur through the newly released self-titled double LP track by track—known to most fans as, The White Album. For Beatles fans everywhere, hearing this kind of insight into the album so soon after it was released, is like pure sonic gold.

A sonic gold which was so often replicated in The Beatles musical output. Following Sgt. Pepper incredible reception, being widely adored and heralded as truly ‘game-changing’, the public were already waiting for the next album and what the next “step” towards psychedelia may sound like. After a brief verbal dance. MacArthur asks McCartney to speak about the album, “What do you want me to tell you about it, Tony?” he responds dryly.

MacArthur doesn’t exactly pull punches when faced with one quarter of the biggest musical act the world had ever seen. He suggests that the new album is maybe out of the line of expectation when reflecting on Sgt. Pepper. McCartney quickly assures his interviewer “Well, it is another step but not necessarily in the way people expected.”

It’s true. Following the genre-bending, mind-altering power of Paul McCartney’s very own pet project with The Beatles, the concept album Sgt. Pepper, much of the audience was expecting an extension of this new vein of creativity. They were expecting more colour, more high-art, more vibrancy, more tambourine! Instead, The Beatles gave them the White Album.

A cunning move for a band who never stood still on an idea long enough for it to squeal. In the clip, Macca dissects some of this work and shows the inner cogs that go into the apparent songwriting machine that the Beatles were at that time. While, the bassist refuses to comment on his songwriting partner’s tracks (in fact, they’d been increasingly working apart for a while now) he does offer some insight into a lot of the tracks on the record, including showing his appreciation for ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ and ‘Good Night’.

He also offers a view on the band’s big rocker, ‘Back In The USSR’, which Macca says was based on an old Chuck Berry song ‘Back In The U.S.A’. He reveals “This one is about a spy who has been in America a long long time and he’s very American but he gets back to the USSR,” McCartney joking that the spy in question is quick to see his wife for some overdue respite. The song Macca admits is “about the attributes of Russian women but created through George’s guitar and heavy brass.”

McCartney also reveals that Lennon found the title for ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ in an American newspaper and found the line so full of poetry that he had to use it. It goes down as one of the band’s more serious songs but that’s something McCartney laughs off, “If you asked him would he be willing to die for these words, I’m sure he wouldn’t. So it’s not that serious.” He concludes, “it’s just good poetry.”

The clip below continues on to deliver some shining behind the scenes thinking as to the composition and creation of one of the rock and roll world’s greatest records, from none other than Paul McCartney himself. It’s not only a helpful swotting suggestion for all those online reviews but also a moment of sheer joy as McCartney speaks earnestly about his work with The Beatles without reproach.

Listen below to Paul McCartney taking us through The White Album track by track back in 1968.

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