Michael Gerber
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Rejected cover for the White Album. Find out more about it here.

Over on another thread, Anonymous posted the following question, which I thought was meaty enough to merit its own post:

Hey guys, this is way off topic but if you get to it I’d love to hear your thoughts. The White Album was the first major project to use 8 track recording. I’ve recently read somewhere that the engineers were confused about the distinctive sound they produced and went so far as to check the machine. They later discovered it was the solid state mixing board that caused the difference and by Abbey Road had things sorted out. Okay, here’s the question for discussion: Given the different sound output on The Beatles, could it have impacted the negative feelings in the band. If they come back from India, Lennon’s back on drugs and now with Yoko, and they start recording to find radically different – and, I’m guessing, shocking – results, might this have contributed to a sense of frustration, particularly if the engineers kept telling them the machine was working fine? What do you think? Consider, everyone felt good about Abbey Road.

I don’t have any opinion on this—my White-phobia may have made me overlook the recording issues of those LPs. (I do  know that Elliott Smith famously tried to recreate the Magical Mystery Tour board in his house here in LA.)

A quick research for this post turned up this great website, called The White Album Project—which yielded the following:

EMI's 8-track recorder

The recorder in question!

The ses­sions for The Bea­t­les were notable for the band’s for­mal tran­si­tion from 4-track to 8-track record­ing. As work on this album began, Abbey Road Stu­dios pos­sessed, but had yet to install, an 8-track machine that had sup­pos­edly been sit­ting in a stor­age room for months. This was in accor­dance with EMI’s pol­icy of test­ing and cus­tomiz­ing new gear, some­times for months, before putting it into use in the stu­dios. The Bea­t­les recorded Hey Jude and Dear Pru­dence at Tri­dent Stu­dios in cen­tral Lon­don, which had an 8-track recorder. When they found out about EMI’s 8-track recorder they insisted on using it, and engi­neers Ken Scott andDave Har­ries took the machine (with­out autho­riza­tion from the stu­dio chiefs) into the Num­ber 2 record­ing stu­dio for the group to use.The result­ing tracks did not have the same sound as pre­vi­ous Bea­t­les albums had. Think­ing that some­thing was wrong with the sound of EMI’s new 3M 8-Track machine (see left), they asked to have a tech­ni­cian check the fac­tory cal­i­bra­tion of the machine. The tech­ni­cian using a cal­i­bra­tion tape showed the record­ing engi­neers that noth­ing was wrong with the machine, that it was cal­i­brated per­fectly to fac­tory stan­dards. The record­ing engi­neers were stymied — until they were told by indus­try pro­fes­sion­als that the pre­vi­ous mix­ing boards at EMI had been valve (USEng­lish: tube) pow­ered boards mak­ing the ear­lier Bea­t­les albums sound dif­fer­ent. The new mix­ing boards were the cul­prit — not the new 3M 8-Track record­ing machine. It, there­fore, took some time before the EMI engi­neers were able to get the qual­ity of sound they wanted using these tran­sis­tor­ized mix­ing con­soles. The EMI engi­neers were finally able to get the same qual­ity of sound of eariler Bea­t­les albums on Abbey Road.