Every time someone invents a new technology, I have one
friend who says, “Oh, no! I have to buy the White Album again!
Said “White Album,” of course, is the 2 disc 1968 album by
the Fab Four technically entitled simply “The Beatles.” It was released 45 years ago this week.
But...why THAT album? Many fans argue that it’s their
weakest release. Out of 30 official tracks (at a time when most US albums had
only about 11), only 4 could be said to be genuine classics but even then not
arguably up to the group’s own admittedly high standards.
I bought the LP in the seventies and later the CD in the
nineties. That’s it. Well no, I also bought a cassette of it in its very
different Mono version as well as one where the whole thing is played
Personally I find The White Album to be a mish-mash of
styles, influences, tributes and parodies. As a Beatles release, I’m one of
those who’ve long felt it could have been best-served by being a single disc
only, concentrating on the stronger material.
Recorded at a time after Brian’s death and while all four
lads (still in their 20’s, remember!) were all feeling a tad full of themselves
and yet having no concrete direction creatively, it often seems like a
collection of solo material by each Beatle. Much of what makes each individual
song interesting can be credited, as always really, to George Martin. It’s not
like he could have done it without them but then they couldn’t have done it
without him either.
Let’s take a look at each cut, shall we?
BACK IN THE USSR-The album starts strong with this heavy
rocker from Paul that features a Beach Boys tribute. Most of the songs here
were written while the group was in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Beach
Boy Mike Love had been there with them.
DEAR PRUDENCE-A sleepy song with a consistent beat from John
but nothing all that special.
GLASS ONION-Self-referential lyrics and a driving beat but
doesn’t really go anywhere.
OB-LA-DI-OB-LA-DA-It’s aged better than some of the songs
but it’s still just a fun little bit of Paulie fluff. Lennon is said to have
considered this the worst Beatles recording.
WILD HONEY PIE-Seriously? Name one other group who could
have gotten this unfinished goofiness on an album in the first place.
THE CONTNUING STORY OF BUNGALOW BILL-Notorious for featuring
Yoko’s voice on a Beatles record, it’s a catchy John tune but pretty light both
lyrically and musically for what was expected from him in that period.
WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS-One of George’s masterpieces
but he had to bring Eric Clapton in on guitar to make it so.
HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN-This one seems to be John just
putting words together to see how they sound. The middle section is clearly
from another unfinished song entirely.
MARTHA MY DEAR-Macca’s charming little ode to his sheepdog.
I’M SO TIRED-John trying hard to be deep and almost
succeeding. But it’s like he has to work at what used to come simply.
BLACKBIRD-Nobody’s definition of rock music, this beautiful
piece has legitimately become a classic that’s been covered by scores of other
singers and groups.
PIGGIES-Infamous for allegedly inspiring Charles Manson’s
nightmarish killing spree, it’s really just a heavy-handed Harrison song about
social issues of the day.
ROCKY RACCOON-Paul goes country-western with this old-fashioned
story ballad, badly sung but with a few good lyrical moments.
DON’T PASS ME BY-Ringo wrote it and sings it with his voice
seemingly speeded up a tad. More country music and not particularly good
WHY DON’T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD?-Nothing but a little bit of
naughtiness but with a great bass and drum track.
I WILL-One of Paul’s smoothest vocal jobs ever, it’s a
pretty but inconsequential little love song.
JULIA-John’s equally beautiful tribute to his mother and his
new love, Yoko.
BIRTHDAY-Not just a perennial favorite for birthdays and
McCartney concerts through the years, this has some of the best instrumental
work the Beatles ever did.
YER BLUES-John again trying to be deep and again nearly
succeeding, this time in a bluesy number. It’s essentially a preview of the TMI
songs to come on most of his solo records.
MOTHER NATURE’S SON-John Denver sort of adopted this Paul
song as his theme song years later and it fit him more than it fit Paul.
EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY
MONKEY-a strong rocker from Lennon.
SEXY SADIE-John making fun of Maharishi with whom he was by
HELTER SKELTER- Although also associated with the Manson
murders, this one’s rep has grown through the years. A solid rocker about a
playground slide, there exist some versions that are more than 10 minutes long!
LONG ,LONG, LONG-This time it’s George putting the listener
REVOLUTION 1-There are two versions of this that were
released—the wonderful rock version on the single and this sing-song version.
HONEY PIE-Not as bad as HONEY PIE but a million miles from
rock music. Music hall silliness.
SAVOY TRUFFLE-Lyrically, this is a song about Eric Clapton
eating so much candy he might rot his teeth but it’s musically a strong piece.
CRY BABY CRY-John again with the sleepytime stuff—a
dirge-like fairy tale song. Attached to the end of this and leading into the
next piece is a brief bit of a longer McCartney song entitled CAN YOU TAKE ME
BACK which can be found in its entirety on some bootlegs.
REVOLUTION 9-Let’s face it, love it or hate it, it’s this
mega-length experimental tape loop mix, mostly from John, that shows that the
Beatles really were still leading the way. And then there’s those backwards bits!
Turn me on dead man, indeed!
GOOD NIGHT-And finally, Ringo’s turn to put everyone to
sleep...literally. With its massive over-orchestration and production, this is
often said to be a parody but I can’t help but think its just exactly the type
of thing it’s said to be parodying.
Okay. Now. That said...I LOVE THIS ALBUM! The White Album’s
actual greatest strength is in its overwhelming diversity. There is quite
literally something for everyone. Very little of what’s on the album can be
categorized as rock music and yet every bit of it, in the context of the career
of the world’s most influential rock group, is amazing! ROCKY RACOON was
covered by Benny Goodman’s Orchestra! BLACKBIRD became a harmony staple for
CSN! Sheepdog Martha became world-famous! REVOLUTION became a Nike
Listening to this album with the benefit of hindsight, it
becomes obvious the Beatles were both growing up and growing apart. There were
NO singles from this album when it was new. Had it been anyone but the Beatles,
a large portion of the songs herein would be written off and forgotten—if
they’d been recorded at all. But the Lads had the power to self-indulgently get
anything they wanted recorded in 1968 and that’s exactly what they did. George
Martin’s always impeccable production heightened every single piece to a level
many probably didn’t even deserve. Through the years, every single cut on this
album has been analyzed to death in books, articles, blogs and even classes!
Simply because it was, as the record’s actual title so succinctly put it, The
For the record, here’s my take on what might have been a
great single disc release at the time.
1-BACK IN THE USSR
3-WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS
6-REVOLUTION (the single version)
1-EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHNG...