A few years ago, I had the great luxury of spending an afternoon with Ringo Starr. The former Beatle was launching an exhibition of his digital artwork for his Lotus Foundation charity, and was meeting the press. I watched as he gamely answered question after question about his former band, even though it was hardly the reason he was there.
Eventually, we ended up in a small room, just the two of us, perusing a Basquiat on the wall. Starr had recently announced he would no longer sign autographs, but it was just the two of us, and so as we chatted amiably about mutual friends and the album he was working on, I started to slip my copies of Revolver and the “White Album” out of my bag.
Starr stopped me. “Don’t even ask,” he said firmly, but with a smile. “But let me see that.” He took my well-worn copy of the “White Album,” an album he recorded when he was just 28, looking at his younger self and his bandmates in the gatefold, lingering on the image of George Harrison.
“You know what I love about this album?” Starr offered, after a long, reflective moment. “We were a band again. I always say I learned to play chess while we were making Pepper, because it took ages to make and there was lots of waiting around, but on this one, it was us in a room again, playing with each other, making music.”
Somewhere over the past 50 years a legend grew up around The Beatles’ self-titled 1968 album, that the sessions grew acrimonious as they dragged on, and that it was essentially a series of solo recordings that happened to have the other Beatles as the backing musicians, thus marking the beginning of the end for the world’s greatest band.
“I know that’s the story—largely because right after the band broke up, George and John were pretty negative about that period, and then it grew from there—but I honestly don’t remember a cross word between them,” said the legendary producer Chris Thomas, who was a fledgling assistant to The Beatles’ producer George Martin during the sessions. “It took a long time to make, and it was an intensely creative atmosphere, so I understand why they, and George Martin, may have felt that way, but I remember the sessions as a pure joy.”