The Beatles – The Beatles

Well since we’re nearing the end of the year and all these silly album writeups, it’s about time we finished the latter half of The Beatles’ discography with one of their most famous albums, which is self-titled but for reasons that should be fairly understandable, is also called “The White Album”:

Ok that’s really confusing since I’m typing this against a white backround…

The Beatles was an album that arrived after the puzzlingly “best album of all time” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the clearly better (well to me anyway) Magical Mystery Tour. While those two albums were born out of an era of The Beatles’ career where they had ceased touring and were only making “studio albums”, the difficult sessions they started after leaving for a trip to India, during which their manager died, was the beginning of the end of the group in general. In fact, drummer Ringo quit the group for a couple of weeks, and some reports state that the other members quit at various points too.

Still, the band carried on, and eventually recorded and released their only double album, which after 15 months of waiting from the fans (about 13 months more than usual given the speed at which most artists were coming out with albums in those days), sailed straight to #1 and remained there even after they released another album. I guess it’s not so bad to have an album at #1 and #2, if anyone would be familiar with having the gold AND silver medals, it would be The Beatles, owning 4 of the top 10 spots on Rolling Stones’ 500 Best Examples Of How Bad We Are At Making Lists.

This album, in fact, is supposedly the 10th best album ever made. I strongly contest that on the grounds that it would only be a good album in my book if half the songs were thrown away or, I don’t know, slapped onto Yellow Submarine to make that album somehow worse.

See, I love about half of this album with all my music-loving heart. It’s got some legendary songs on it, and some really interesting experiments at work, but for every “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, there’s a “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill”.

Unlike when I attempted to deflate Sgt. Peppers some time back (which I still stand by, I still love the album but still don’t consider it anywhere near “best”), I actually took the time to read extensively about this particularly white album, and I tried to look at it based on its place in The Beatles’ career, in the world of pop music at large (which might as well had been called Variations On Beatles Music at large), and how I felt about it simply based on what I hear with my ears versus what I read with my eyes. My conclusion about this album is very genuine: about half of it would have made it the 10th best Beatles album.

The album just goes off into so many random directions. The weird thing is, each member, despite not really being that interested in working with each other (though quite interested in complaining about “not being included” as they frequently weren’t), has their own part to play in this album’s irritating bits. Even George Harrison, who is usually the most sensible guy of the group (or at least the least-prone-to-make-silly-clarinet-songs-like-McCartney of the group) wrote an especially irritating number called “Piggies” which is about as subtle as car crash. Still, on this very album, ol’ George composed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and “Long, Long, Long”, and “Savoy Truffle”, the last of which, perhaps, is a bit iffy but is actually a favorite of mine (not just because They Might Be Giants covered it, either).

Another oddity is a bit of a flip on the usual formula: McCartney wrote a song I really like, and Lennon wrote one I kind of slap my head about. Beatle Paul actually has a few good hits on this one, but his general style (“Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”, “Birthday”) doesn’t sit well with me, and those are here too. The good ones are “Helter Skelter”, which despite being used as the soundtrack to some mass murders, is a really interesting and invigorating tune, considering the time period and the dude writing the thing. Sure, it’s noisy and wrong, but it feels so right.

Still, in the same album he also wrote and recorded “Rocky Raccoon”, and the less said about that, the better.

Let’s not forget that the “White Album” introduced a young fella named Yoko Ono to the mix. On top of having a vocal presence on the album for a line or two, her bat-shit insanity and total lack of musical responsibility caused something like “Revolution 9” to happen. Based on a previous song on the album, “Revolution 1” by Lennon, which is actually really good, “Revolution 9” is a lot of noise and repetition and more noise, for 8 1/2 minutes straight. Now, this whole “avant-garde” thing is not something I’m strictly opposed to, you may have noticed me speaking highly of it in yesterday’s writeup, but “Revolution 9” is non-music. Music is tone and time, it’s really hard to mess that up. You take a tone, and repeat, and that could technically be considered a song, though a really terrible one. “Revolution 9” can’t be called a terrible song, only a terrible assortment of sounds arranged, with no real care, against the swelling sense of importance of whomever thought it would be a great idea to include this waste of time on an album that was already far too long.

The thing is, one must look hard and sternly at one’s self when it comes to deciding whether to knock an album like this that gets universally good ratings and was a huge seller for years. When I think about whether an album that sings about the U.S.S.R., then birthdays, then weird fictional characters, then doing it in the middle of the road, then making random noises at you for many minutes, and then ending with Ringo slurpingly whispering “good-night” to you against the cheesiest Wall Of Strings I’ve ever heard is a good album or bad album, I have to look at the intentions of who put this stuff together. Sure, knocking an album for being all over the place would probably make me the pretentious one here, but I am almost certain that no band of people came together and decided unanimously that this was the work they wanted to put out there for the world. I’m thoroughly convinced that the “White Album”, despite having a lot of moments I consider to be the group’s(?) strongest, is an album that was born out of compromises and conciliatory shrugging. A drugged-out band (oh yeah I forgot to mention they were on a lot of drugs. Lennon was doing heroin!) without a manager, being forced to come to a democratic consensus on what to do with their time, and this is what came of it.

“10th Best Album Ever” my eye.

Anyway, things would unfortunately get worse for The Beatles before ending in a fizzle. We already heard about Abbey Road, brilliant thing that it is, which was made when the situation was worse but everyone at least got a little wiser about it. Still, before the year’s out, we’re going to have to see what happens when The Beatles meet Phil Spector. Until then!

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One Response

  1. […] while this may sound slightly similar to a story reported on yesterday, the decline of King Crimson was actually not necessarily a bad thing, because Red is a fantastic […]

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