The 9th studio album by The Beatles released in November 1968 is often cited, for obvious reasons as “The White Album”.
Was this an album made by a band that had already peaked? Possibly, then again, possibly not.
One could see The Beatles as pushing their sound forwards and growing at frightening speed and depth up to Revolver, which may be their best album? Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band added techni-colour to Revolver and is so highly regarded by many that surely they could not keep raising the bar?
I’m not too happy with my Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band write-up as it is an album I have always disliked (see review) yet I cannot deny how strong it is too.
What I have enjoyed about writing up my take on The Beatles albums chronologically is that I have discovered for myself some songs I have never heard before.
Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a run of three albums few bands could ever compete with. After a good think about this – the only band I (and very few will agree) think have a run of three better albums are Husker Du with Zen Arcade, Flip Your Wig and New Day Rising. Not even The Ramones have a run that span three classics back to back, they could do but the production on Leave Home leaves me cold. Joy Division may have managed this feat had they actually recorded three studio albums. The Beastie Boys manage two with Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, but then again a lot of bands strung two classics together? Anyway, I’m rambling…
It is worth acknowledging I am listening to a lot of The White Album (I’ll go with that title to avoid confusion), for the first time as I’m writing. The album, after a bit of research, features more solo work that may mirror cracks in the magic. I have always considered tension in a band to be a good thing that generally can push the art deeper. The White Album is also the first album not to feature the band on the sleeve / cover. The album is iconic before I even listen to it in the context that many bands / artists used the idea of having a deep album that stands apart, for example, The Damned – The Black Album, Prince – The Black Album, Weezer – The Green Album, etc.
Back In The USSR (Lennon / McCartney) is a very popular song. Immediately very upbeat and driven. With hindsight it could sit on any of the previous three albums too even if it treads a welcome rockier road for my ears.
Dear Prudence (Lennon / McCartney) is a song I first heard via the Siouxsie & the Banshees cover in the 80’s. When hearing the cover version I wondered why a) it was selling so well, and b) why everyone thought it (the Siouxsie & the Banshees version) was so good. The Beatles original version is far superior. Those minimal bars bleeding into a much wider sound.
Glass Onion (Lennon / McCartney) is solid and quietly unremarkable until it changes a gear with John Lennon singing “oh yeah”. Again it sees a rockier all round sound.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Lennon / McCartney) and it’s back to “nursery rhyme” Beatles. Not necessarily a bad thing and a catchy pop gem.
Wild Honey Pie (Lennon / McCartney) is the first Beatles song I have ever heard where I have raised an eyebrow and considered “is that The Beatles?” Experimental even if it is no Butthole Surfers.
The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill (Lennon / McCartney) shows The White Album is the most diverse album yet by the group. Slightly crazed even if it has a sing-a-long chorus.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Harrison) is yet further evidence of what a great songwriter George Harrison was. Lush, layered yet deep it is the best song on the album so far with ease. It almost ventures into Led Zeppelin sounds before that band released a record. If I have learned one thing from this project it is that further listening of Beatles solo material should start with Harrison.
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Lennon / McCartney) if nothing else has one hell of a great title. Now that it is playing I do like the sound a lot. This is not the fab four I am used too and it sounds edgy. Wait up, I do know this, who covered this? A great song.
Martha My Dear (Lennon / McCartney) is a tad wishy washy. Just when I was getting into The White Album too. Hmm.
I’m So Tired (Lennon / McCartney) is minimal yet quite bluesy. Again the rawer sounding Beatles is something I am enjoying.
Blackbird (Lennon / McCartney) is a gentle song. Harmonic and very acoustic.
Piggies (Harrison) has a BBC theme vibe almost in its guitar picking. The most experimental George Harrison song I have heard so far but also far from his best.
Rocky Raccoon (Lennon / McCartney) and another eyebrow gets raised (okay, it’s the same eyebrow). Initially sounding like a drunk Bob Dylan the song quickly checks itself and normality is almost resumed before ragtime kicks-in.
Don’t Pass Me By (Starr) and even Ringo is pushing the proverbial boat out. Bluesy and hammy it plods out with no real stand out quality. It may sound better after 5 gins or so.
Why Don’t We Do It In The Road (Lennon / McCartney) and Macca gets all gutsy / bluesy on us. This is not a song that could work on any previous Beatles album but, here adds more “who cares” charm. Short and welcomingly a bit barmy.
I Will (Lennon / McCartney) is soft and restores order even if it never soars or really goes anywhere other than gentleville.
Julia (Lennon / McCartney) is almost read above (I Will) even if it is a quite different sound as a whole. Nice but nothing sonic.
Birthday (Lennon / McCartney) and that Beatles “boxer-beat” is welcomingly back. Venturing into an more electric Beatles than I may have ever heard it works. On first listen, I’m not sure why it isn’t more widely used at birthday parties?
Yer Blues (Lennon / McCartney) is dark and really quite “out-there”. On first listen The Doors came to mind, and that is no bad thing – no bad thing at all.
Mother Nature’s Son (Lennon / McCartney) is a lot softer on the ear. A familiar guitar run and a hush vocal. The album is certainly diverse.
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey (Lennon / McCartney) sounds Rolling Stones like before an unmistakable, all-be-it left of centre Beatles guitar streak that adds further charge to a song that sounds welcomingly like a jam. A possible narcotic reference?
Sexy Sadie (Lennon / McCartney) offers that languid Beatles sound. It roams a bit but is more structured than the album has ventured already.
Helter Skelter (Lennon / McCartney) and NOW we are talking. An epic song. I’m no Beatles fan – but this is real music. So good that I’m going to stop writing and pour some wine (red, not Beatles blue)…. Break over, this may be, to me, the most important Beatles song. Echoes of pre-heavy metal and even pre-experimental punk (The Damned – “You Know”). A show stopper. I’m actually going to play it again right now.
Long, Long, Long (Harrison) is a bit of a come down after Helter Skelter. It ambles along before a nice bit of experimentation at its very death.
Revolution 1 (Lennon / McCartney) is a very popular / famous song. Soft instrumentally yet powerful lyrically. It works a different kind of Beatles magic.
Honey Pie (Lennon / McCartney) is endearing and quaint. Almost Beatles doing music decades before their era? Charming but not sonic. Can I go back to Helter Skelter again?
Savoy Truffle (Harrison) is more eccentric Beatles. A turn of pace for The White Album again.
Cry Baby Cry (Lennon / McCartney) is soft and well paced. It does sound like a mature Beatles and the pop ditties appear consigned to history as the album stews.
Revolution 9 (Lennon / McCartney) and its hard for me to listen to this without thinking of The Simpsons Barber Shop parody “Number 8”. I’m all for experimentation and credit to a band this big for being so bold. It is quite unlistenable though which is a bit daft, if it was a Velvet Underground track I would like it a lot more.
Good Night (Starr) misses the mark even if it is charming in its own way and the way it can make you feel homely.
Right. I enjoyed that a lot more than I thought I would. I can’t help think had “The White Album” been condensed into a single album it could have been, for me, The Beatles best album so far, especially if it had showcased the heavier material…