The Beatles: Unplugged Collects Acoustic Demos of White Album Songs (1968)

I am a child of Beatles fans; we owned nearly every album in original mono vinyl pressings. But somehow there was a hole in our collection—a whale-sized hole, it turned out—because we didn’t have a copy of the White Album. I was introduced to it later by a friend, who shared its secrets with me like one would share the favorite work of a favorite poet—reverently. We delved into the history and learned that recording sessions were notoriously fractious—with Ringo stepping away for a while and Paul stepping in on the drums, and with the others recording solo, sometimes with session players, rarely in the same room together— a situation reflected in the tracking of the record, which feels like a compilation of songs by each Beatle (but Ringo), rather than the usual smooth affair of Lennon/McCartney, and occasional Harrison productions.

That ranginess is what makes the White Album special: it’s feels so familiar, and yet it’s not like anything they’d done before and presages the genius to come in their solo careers. So imagine my surprised delight at stumbling across a bootleg that die-hard completists have surely known about for ages (though it only saw release in 2002): The Beatles: Unplugged is a recording of acoustic songs, most of which would appear on the the White Album, played and sung by John, Paul, and George at George’s house in Esher—hence the bootleg’s subtitle, the Kinfauns-Sessions (Kinfauns was the name of George’s home). Here are the close vocal harmonies that seemed to mark a group of musicians in near-perfect harmony with each other (but without Ringo, again). And here are some of the Beatles’ most poignant, pointed, and vaudevillian songs live and direct, without any studio tricks whatsoever.

Of course these were recorded as demos, and not meant for release of any kind, but even so, they’re fairly high-quality, in a lo-fi kind of way. Listening to the songs in this form makes me think of the folk/psych revivalism of the so-called New Weird America that hearkened back to so much sixties’ trippy playfulness, but mostly eschewed the major label studio sound of sixties’ records and welcomed prominent tape hiss and single-track, bedroom takes. Given the rapid pop-culture recycling that is the hallmark of the early 21st century, The Beatles: Unplugged sounds strangely modern.

The Unplugged session includes a wonderfully airy rendition of “Dear Prudence,” which like so many of these songs, was written during The Beatles’ sojourn in India, about Mia Farrow’s sister (a complete tracklist is here). The compilers of the release have tacked on three additional songs: “Spiritual Regeneration India” (also a birthday tribute to The Beach Boy’s Mike Love), an oddly upbeat studio run-through of “Helter Skelter,” and a free-form acoustic medley of traditional songs called “Rishikesh No. 9” (also called “Spiritual Christmas”). In addition to the slew of White Album songs, the recording session also features McCartney’s “Junk,” which later appeared on his 1970 solo album McCartney and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” (here called “Child of Nature”), which surfaced on 1971’s Imagine. As Allmusic’s Bruce Eder writes, Unplugged is a bootleg so good, “the folks at Apple and EMI ought to be kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician. He recently finished a dissertation on land, landscape, and labor. 

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Comments (33)
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  • Wow, the Beatles White Album unplugged – and I thought I heard it all, it’s great.

    • Michael K says:

      So although Paul and his band invented the ‘Unplugged’ album series in 1991, it turns out he and his band invented it in 1968

  • Fudge says:

    Nice to hear these again.. they’ve been floating around the Beatle fan community for years, often referred to as the Esher Demos:

  • “a compilation of songs by each Beatle (but Ringo)”

    Actually, “Don’t Pass Me By” is by Ringo.

  • michael sandoval says:

    I don’t think it sounds like a compilation of individual songs. why keep repeating that nonsense? Its a great BEATLE Album. At least Ringo agrees with me.

  • CHris says:

    It says that these songs are “live and direct, without any studio tricks whatsoever.” Actually just listening to the first couple of songs, you can hear that John is double-tracked.

    Nonetheless, great to hear these! Thanks!

  • John says:

    With Apple already reactivated, they should reintroduce the “Zapple” label and release material like this. It could be done similar to Frank Zappa’s beat the bootlegs releases.

  • Mark says:

    I think you do a disservice to George Martin when you say the album “feels like a compilation”. I think it sounds amazingly cohesive and not at all like a compilation. I wonder if the after the fact knowledge of tension influences how one feels. Thanks for bringing these tracks to my attention. They are terrific.

  • Peter says:

    This is fantastic! How can I get it?

  • David says:

    Would love to get my hands on a copy of this!

  • Valerie says:

    where can I get a copy, and what is it called?

  • Ron says:

    Wow…some nice laid back tracks, but they really should have had George’s Sour Milk Sea in place of Revolution No.9 on the real album…a good song wasted.

  • Josh Jones says:

    I will not post a link here, but google “beatles unplugged bootleg” and you will find one.

  • David Markham says:

    It’s not called “The White Album” anyway. It’s title is “The Beatles”. Wouldn’t it be funny if people who “report” on entertainment actually took the time to get the facts right before writing.

    But that’s asking too much, isn’t it?

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks for the correction, friend.

  • Si says:

    Point well made regarding the album title, but as it’s been referred to by all and sundry as ‘The White Album’, I think it’s fair to say that pretty much all readers will know what is being referred to here. Indeed, whenever I’ve ever said to anyone “Oh I was listening to ‘The Beatles’ earlier”, the guaranteed response has always been “Oh yes, which album?” ;-)
    ‘Unplugged’ is a bit of a gem!

  • paul says:

    Were can we get this album ? is it available to buy for example either as a download or on cd?

  • Simon says:

    Thanks for this, wasn’t even aware it existed. Really great to hear songs like Circles. However, pedant’s query about the “close harmonies” remark…it sounds like most of the recordings have double-tracked vocals, rather than backing from the other members?

  • Fredrik Asplund says:

    What an amazing find! This was news to me. Gotta love The Beatles!

    Linked on Sprawler:

  • vernieb says:

    Are there any music collectors out there? Even before the internet you could get plenty of this stuff from their entire career. I now have 150 gigs of The Beatles, and that does not include the official stuff.Heck, you can get the entire Let it Be sessions out there which is 72 cds long!And practically every TV performance is available. The Beatles Anthology is 5 dvds long. You can find the “Director’s Cut” and it’s 10 dvds!

  • vernieb says:

    And when I said in the above post “150 gigs”, I didn’t mean shows, I MEANT GIGABYTES!!!

  • Andrew says:

    Where can I get this?

  • Michael K says:

    Unfortunately the information here is inaccurate. These are demos of songs that were kicking around The Beatles’ camp in India and done when they reunite with George, he having arrived back last. ‘Double-tracking’ was already their standard practice and a preferred sound and there is no co-performance on these demos. They’re just the songwriters recording to tape every item from the trip that they don’t want to forget and is partly occasioned by the fact of some already having begun to be forgotten.
    The ambient sounds give evidence of the general ‘freshly arrived’ vibe at George’s house.
    So there’s no harmonising or performing of Beatles here, in general but it is the sketchbook for their next album./

  • Ludo says:

    It is a widely circulated bootleg. It is just a matter of time that some of these will be released as ‘Official Bootleg’, like those of Bob Dylan. There is still a few live album(s) too, including the Live at the Hollywood Bowl and a lot of stuff recorded during the Let it Be sessions…

  • enzo says:

    I thought Abbey Road was my favorite Beatle Album, until I heard the Beatles White Album, unplugged. You’re right, why wasn’t this rendition released. Quality is great, real and honest. They even make mistakes which make it more fascinating. I still think they should release it, as is. I would love a vinyl copy of these great tunes. Listening to the Unplugged version is like being in George’s living room jamming with the fab four. I love to play along with my Gibson Hummingbird. I wasn’t a big fan of the White Album till I heard the unplugged, still prefer the unplugged version to the released version.

    Let me know if they release this album. Cheers,

  • bert espinoza says:

    Is there a released unplugged of white album

  • bert espinoza says:

    Where can I get it

  • Craig says:

    I found my copy on a Tumblr blog called “Midnight Cafe Bootlegs” but it’s also avaialble on Archive dot org.

  • Steve says:

    The video for “The Beatles: Unplugged Collects Acoustic Demos of White Album Songs (1968)” is no longer available.

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