Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The question is, like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is: none.

Generally speaking I assume any question even vaguely relating to The Beatles has been definitively answered somewhere, but I couldn't find an answer to this one: was the famous cover of the "White Album" influenced by the cover of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem?"

Just to recap the story behind that cover: Britten recorded his pacifist "War Requiem" (sort of a "make love, not war" piece before that became fashionable) for Decca/London in 1963, a year after its premiere. After the recording was made, Britten's producer, John Culshaw, wasn't satisfied with any of the potential covers that the art department came up with. Finally it was decided to use a very simple cover based on the cover of the published score: just the composer's name and the title of the work in white letters against a black background. Culshaw argued that the stark black cover would actually stand out more among the other records in store windows. (The original cover did not have the record company logo as prominently displayed as this CD reissue, which kind of spoils the effect.)



The "War Requiem" recording was a gigantic best-seller, probably the biggest-selling recording ever made of a new work of "classical" music. The Beatles had probably heard the album as had the people they worked with. And the idea behind the White Album always seemed a bit similar to me -- it uses a white background instead of black, but the principle is the same: no cover art to speak of, just the background and the name (not even a title in this case). And again, back when covers were more important than they became in the CD age, to say nothing of the download era, the idea may have actually worked better than another elaborate cover would have: everybody was doing elaborate cover art by that point, so a plain white cover in the middle of a display actually stood out.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The image of the "White Album" that you're using is also from the CD era.

As I recall, the original "White Album" did not print the words "The Beatles" in black ink...or even white ink. No ink was used at all. The text was embossed on the album cover.

Which, I suppose, makes it the "Whiter than White Album."

Bill Peschel said...

Never read of any connection. As I understand it, the cover was more of a reaction to the elaborate Sgt. Pepper cover. I can understand how that design may inspire The Beatles, and they certainly took their influences where they found them.

Anonymous said...

The original White Album cover also had "The Beatles" printed at a slightly off angle. The whole idea of the White Album cover was to recreate the look of a promo copy, which usually came in a plain white sleeve with a stamp for the artist and title:

http://members.tripod.com/~Vinylville/faq-8.html

No connection to Britten. (Though it was a response to Sgt. Pepper--Pepper led every other rock band to use hyper-elaborate cover designs, so the Beatles topped it by going in completely the opposite direction.)

moopot said...

I heard that the white album cover was actually inspired by the several pages of nothing in Tristram Shandy. I don't know if this is true or not: But I imagine that the Beatles would have liked Tristram Shandy. It's sort of like Monty Python, but made a hundred years ago.

Anonymous said...

The original White Album not only had "The Beatles" embossed on the front, but also a "limited edition" type serial number stamped on it as well in ink.