When you look at the tracklist for the Beatles’ White Album (1968), you can see why the band’s producer thought it should have been trimmed down. In fact, George Martin believed it ought to go out as one “really super album” rather than a two-record set.
Between a solo improvisation by Paul McCartney (“Wild Honey Pie”), a song about chocolates (“Savoy Truffle“), and a seven-minute sound experiment (“Revolution 9”), we’d have a hard time arguing it was all essential Beatles material.
The crazy thing is, The Beatles actually did scrap two songs during the White Album sessions. If you’ve ever heard John Lennon’s wild “What’s the New Mary Jane,” you probably understand why that one got cut.
However, regarding the second — George’s “Not Guilty” — you can’t make the same case. And it gets even harder when you learn the Fab Four took over 100 stabs at the song.
The Beatles tried ‘Not Guilty’ 101 times over 2 days
In Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, it’s quite clear the Fab Four intended to use “Not Guilty” on The White Album. Otherwise, you can’t explain the insane number of times the band tried to record the basic rhythm track.
According to Lewisohn’s notes, the number soared to 101 takes between August 7-8 of ’68. However, the band wasn’t exactly romping its way through “Not Guilty.” Of the first 46 tries, the band only reached the end of the song on five occasions.
On the second day, John hopped off the electric piano he’d began on and went at the next 50+ takes on a harpsichord. Over two days in the coming week, George overdubbed lead guitar parts and his vocal while a second drum track (plus another bass track) got recorded.
Lewisohn notes in his book that this was the first time the band had ever attempted so many takes on a song. So it’s even more unusual that The Beatles didn’t release in on their double album.
George’s unhappiness with the vocal may have led to its exclusion
Over the years, people have tried to pin down the reason why “Not Guilty” got left off The White Album in favor of other trackss. One theory was that the band found the song too difficult to perform with its changing time signatures.
But while the song proved difficult, the theory falls apart when you note the band did get through it. Looking back on the sessions, engineer Ken Scott said George simply didn’t like the finished product. “George wasn’t feeling it,” Scott recalled in 2012.
“He could not get a vocal he was happy with. He couldn’t get even into sort of the mood of singing it. That’s why we tried different ways of him singing it, in different places within the studio.”
On top of these frustrations, other tensions were brewing in the studio. Before giving up on “Not Guilty,” George took an unplanned trip to Greece. A few days after he returned, Ringo walked out on the group over a separate set of frustrations.
Then you have to consider the lyrics, which many heard as digs aimed at Lennon/McCartney and the newly formed Apple records. “Not guilty,” George sang. “For getting in your way / While you’re trying to steal the day.” That certainly sounds like he could have had Paul and John in mind.
Meanwhile, his reference to “upsetting the Apple cart” probably sounded like bad business to the group as it got its new record label off the ground. Whatever the final reason, “Not Guilty” remained buried until George recorded it for his own 1979 solo album.