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.”

Relat­ed Con­tent

Eric Clapton’s Iso­lat­ed Gui­tar Track From the Clas­sic Bea­t­les Song, ‘While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps’ (1968)

Hear the 1962 Bea­t­les Demo that Dec­ca Reject­ed: “Gui­tar Groups are on Their Way Out, Mr. Epstein”

How Bertrand Rus­sell Turned The Bea­t­les Against the Viet­nam War

Peter Sell­ers Reads The Bea­t­les’ “She Loves You” in Four Voic­es

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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