Thursday, September 10, 2009

LP Love: The White Album

As I'm out of the country until September 15, my normal song-a-day listening schedule is being put on hold. Instead, rediscover your love for the LP format by enjoying a complete Beatles album per day. Try to keep your finger away from the "shuffle" or "skip" buttons for the ultimate retro experience! See you in September to wrap up the Beatles' catalog song by song, remastered-style.

The Beatles (a.k.a. the White Album)

Release Date: November 22, 1968

Here's a poignant little factoid for you: the album that's much better known as the White Album was released on the fifth anniversary of the release of With the Beatles, their second studio album. It's as good an indicator as any of how far the band has come in just five years-- in fact, thanks largely to them, the pop music scene itself had changed irrevocably. And the band members themselves had changed, as we begin to hear for the first time here on the White Album. After the end of their touring career, and the gargantuan creative heights they had scaled together on Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper, each Beatle was moving in his own direction and finding a new voice. If Beatles for Sale showcased a band in flux, the White Album showcases four independent musicians in flux.

The album is a double album because of the sheer quantity of songs that the Beatles, notably John and Paul, had written, especially during their long retreat in Rishikesh. (George contributed a few good ones too, of course, including the underrated "Long, Long, Long" and the possibly overrated "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and even Ringo contributes his first song here, "Don't Pass Me By.") Although producer George Martin suggested taking the best songs and releasing a very strong single-disc album, at this point the egos of all four prevented such a step. On the White Album, it's instantly clear who wrote each song, as each song sounds more like its composer playing with a backup band. We've lost a bit of the ineffable group dynamic that's always been a part of what made the Beatles special, and we've lost the sense of one central intelligence that came through on Sgt. Pepper. The fact that songs as strikingly different as "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" and "Revolution #9" can exist on the same album just speaks volumes about the different directions the band are moving in.

And yet the White Album contains some of the truly great Beatles songs, with each composer contributing a wide variety of songs to the mix: Paul rocks out on "Helter Skelter" and "Back in the USSR," but also gets retro on "Honey Pie" and folksy on "Blackbird," while John explores the darker sides of his brain in "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and "Yer Blues," yet also delivers the tender "Julia" and the sunny "Dear Prudence." This was their first try at being solo artists, but many of these songs are stronger than what would come later when their solo careers really took off. It sounds as though, even when they weren't working as closely as they might, each Beatle benefitted the most when the others were around.

High Points: "Back in the USSR," "Dear Prudence," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "I Will," "Julia," "Birthday," "Helter Skelter," "Revolution #1"

My Secret Favorite: "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"

The Song I'm Not Supposed to Love So Much But Totally Do Anyway: "Why Don't We Do It in the Road"

Track Listing:


"Don't Pass Me By"

"Sexy Sadie"

"Revolution #9"


  1. IIRC the reason they insisted on 30 songs is that they wanted to fulfill some contractural obligation . . .AND they had plenty of songs !

  2. Wow, Meg, you're out of town and you still give us a nice post. Thanks for thinking ahead for us. It's interesting to see different folks' top ten song picks from this album. There are always four or five that appear on everyone's list, but then the choices go off in different directions much like the album does. As i recall, Troy and I posted our top ten White Album songs several months ago. It's actually a hard thing to do, make those choices among so many strong songs.

    I wonder, was there ever a disclosure of which songs GM would have put on a single album, if it had been his decision? Just curious.