John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr created what would be the longest Beatles album (around 93 minutes) between May 30 and October 14, 1968.

Released a month later as simply The Beatles, it became, for obvious reasons, better known as The White Album. Produced by George Martin, the album ambitiously merged rock, blues, folk, country, music hall and avant-garde music; its scaled down production and monochromatic cover were intended as a dramatic departure from the trailblazing psychedelia of 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Upon release, some critics found the approach scattershot, the quality of songs dramatically uneven. But most raved. The Observer’s Tony Palmer called Lennon and McCartney the greatest songwriters since Schubert. Derek Jewell of The Sunday Times wrote, “Musically, there is beauty, horror, surprise, chaos, order. And that is the world; and that is what the Beatles are on about.” And it has continued to thrill. In 2009, Chuck Klosterman called the album “almost beyond an A+.”

And yet The White Album is also the sound of a great band splintering, with three solo projects jostling for space in the same studio. “Every track is an individual track,” Lennon reflected in a 1970 Rolling Stone interview. “There isn’t any Beatle music on it.” Lennon and McCartney had found themselves creatively and personally at odds. By all accounts the experience was supremely challenging—more fraught, McCartney later stated, than the recording of any other Beatles album.

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