Back for 50th-anniversary reissue, Beatles White album is still inspiring

For an LP with a plain white cover, eponymous ninth studio album – more commonly referred to as the “White Album” – has generated a mass of symbolism since its release 50 years ago in November 1968.

With its glossy all-white gatefold cover, black inner sleeves and portraits of the Fab Four hidden inside the sleeve, the influence of the can be traced across a huge range of cultural artefacts. For example, the author of New Journalism, Joan Didion, named her study of the end of the 1960s dream, The White Album. The starkness of the LP’s presentation seemed aligned to the collapse of post-war idealism documented by Didion’s book.

For cult leader Charles Manson, the record contained a litany of hidden messages that only he and understood. George Harrison’s Piggies and Paul McCartney’s (admittedly crazed) Helter Skelter foretold the chaos of a bloody race war, a new apocalypse that Manson was to instigate and alone survive.

In 2004 Brian Joseph Burton, AKA Danger Mouse, issued The Grey Album, a mash-up of The Beatles and rapper Jay-Z’s The Black Album.

And, as if the cultural and commercial importance of the could be doubted, a re-issue of the record to coincide with its 50th anniversary went into the Billboard top 200 with a bullet at number six. Interestingly, of the 63,000 units sold in the week from November 9 to 16, 52,000 were in traditional album sales.

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