uReview: The White Album

White Album

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Okay, The Beatles are everywhere again and we haven’t got a single post about them anywhere. Here’s why. When I list my top five bands, I usually just ignore these guys. Like an automatic number 1. “Besides the Beatles.” Of course, no contest.

That said. I’ve never had a strong opinion on the White Album. Very curious to hear your thoughts. What’s your take? As Len wondered:

Flawed but indispensible masterpiece, or overlong self-indugent monument to a crumbling institution?

😀 CD Reissue | 2009 | EMI | at amazon ]


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21 Comments.

  • philspector

    Everybody says “ahhh if it was only a single Lp…..”, but they’re wrong my friend!!! i think it will have being a greater album if it has been a triple Lp with “Hey Jude” / “Revolution(single version)” / all the futur solo songs, specially the ones (by Harrison and Macca) rehearsed during the sessions / and even “What’s The New Mary Jane”

    as it is it still is the greatest double Lp ever made (93min!!!!) with “Electric Ladyland” probably

  • I’ll go with flawed but indispensible overlong self-indugent masterpiece.

    It’s flawed and overlong because of its sprawling nature some not-so-great songs (Revolution No. 9, Bungalo Bill, Ob-la-di, Rocky Racoon, etc.), but its also an indispensible masterpiece thanks to many truly great songs (Dear Prudence, My Guitar, Warm Gun, Blackbird, Yer Blues, Mother Nature’s Son, Me & My Monkey, Sexy Sadie, Cry Baby Cry). The self-indulgent part is self-evident, but they’d earned the right to do it that way.

    As for the greatest double albums ever made, don’t forget Blonde on Blonde and London Calling.

  • tosasteve

    The “White Album” is the Beatles’ “Sandinista!” and I mean that in the best possible way. There’s so much to take in and it’s not all great, but it is consistently rewarding. Besides “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide But Me and My Monkey” might be the best love song ever written!

  • Stormy

    If it was anyone but the The Beatles, I’d say “overlong self-indulgent monument”. But it’s easy to forget that even the songs that we now consider to be throwaway experimental tracks were breaking new ground at the time of The White Album’s release. The Beatles were pushing the envelope in so many ways at this point, they earned the right to self-indulge, because even their most self-indulgent tracks continue to cast a long shadow in rock history.

  • Kim

    What can I say? It was the first Beatles album I ever listened to, and it was always my favorite. It presages the kind of self-indulgent albums I would continue to like from other artists… :)

  • vandrop

    It is their most contemporary record. It sounds as fresh today as it ever did. It’s gnarly, sad, weird, experimental, frenetic, slabby, rockin’, noisy, pushy, stupid and brilliant. Just like rock and roll.

  • Pris

    George’s Long, Long, Long is a personal favorite from this album. Don’t miss his Electronic Sound solo LP for a glimpse into his world at the time, 1968-1969!

  • Len Liechti

    Well, it was my suggestion to uReview this album, so I guess I’d better add my threepennyworth. Firstly, Vandrop’s succinct description is about as good a one-sentence overview as you’ll ever read of The White Album – nice one, Van. As for my alternative possible readings, I’m in the flawed masterpiece camp, and not so badly flawed at that. Yes, we could have done without McCartney’s tacky throwaways: “Wild Honey Pie”, “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”, “Birthday”, “Good Night”. On the other hand there’s a string of undeniable gems in which, for the first time, the newly discontented Fab Four openly wear their emotional hearts on their compositional sleeves, and to hell with what the public thinks. The album is a clear musical document of where the four individuals were at its time of recording, given that all the tracks were essentially solo efforts with the other three acting as session musicians. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is sensitively indicative of George’s yearning to get his own tunes recognised by the Big Two. “Don’t Pass Me By” reflects Ringo’s disappointment at his gradual relegation to the background of creative Beatledom. McCartney’s vaudevillean “Honey Pie”, “Rocky Raccoon” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, and of course the above-mentioned throwaways, are evidence of his urge to move away from the po-faced media environment which regarded all Beatle product as High Art. Lennon’s “Bungalow Bill”, “Julia” and “Sexy Sadie” reveal the introspective and frequently vindictive direction in which his solo work would take him. Those four guys must have had a lot of time to think about music during the long, tedious days at Rishikesh after the doubts set in, and it shows in these tunes. I recall how we waited for what seemed to be a long, long time for the proper follow-up to Pepper, and when it arrived we didn’t know what to make of it. Hindsight has revealed a lot, but the joy of this album is that you can put it on today and there’s still a bit of mystery about it. Like all the best art, it still has the capacity to leave you wondering.

  • Jason

    There are some tracks that are tough listening: Revolution #9, Piggies, Don’t Pass Me By and so forth. But as reviewers have noted, the point of the White Album was for the Beatles to indulge in all of their obsessions. The triple album idea sounds good too, I’m sure it would have been a fun listening experience, after all this is the Beatles, not the Clash. Maybe they could have added a few of the singles from around that time and subtracted Piggies and Revolution #9 and came up with a killer double LP that was uniformly strong….but the best songs on here are as good as anything I’ve heard.

  • Case Quarter

    The White Album will probably always be my favorite album. This was the Beatles soaking up everything that had happened to them, and probably the rest of the world in the preceding eight years of the 60’s, and spitting it all out as art. It’s experimental, messy in places, and sometimes indulgent, but for every one of those moments we have those of pure beauty, exquisite playing (especially the acoustic guitar playing, side question: Was McCartney the best acoustic guitar player in rock and roll?) and fine songwriting. It’s a little weird and it’s also very accessible. It’s fun and it’s a little scary. It’s loud but it was recorded perfectly. It has “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “Martha My Dear.” It’s everything a rock and roll record should be.

  • Friends of mine once tried to rank Beatles albums by rating 1-10 the individual songs and then coming up with an average for each record. By this method, the White Album was the worst Beatles record. But over the years, its revealed itself as my favorite — and I applaud the “shoulda been three LPs” suggestion when you think about the greatness some of the leftovers that appeared on Hey Jude / Past Masters. The Beatles were brilliants but the pre-White Album stuff often feels too manicured to me, where the White Album just lets loose with all their brilliance completely unrefined and honest. It’s one of those rare records where you can revisit it and the songs you liked before sound a bit boring, and the ones you didn’t like, now sound brilliant. I thought “Long Long Long” was a throwaway until recently, and now it haunts me. “I’m So Tired” is another odd favorite that’s totally unlike anything on any other Beatles record. Great great album.

  • alllal

    I had more trouble getting into the White Album then any other Beatles’ album. Slowly as each song became familiar to me it became my favorite Beatles album and remains so to this day. If “Hey Jude” replaced “Revolution #9” on the album’s running order it would become my favorite album of all time. I’ve never tired of hearing it and some new aspect of the album reveals itself upon every listen up to this day. It will be my first purchase in my replacing the old Beatles CD’s with the new remixes.

  • Len Liechti

    Whoops – “Good Night” was Lennon’s. Mea culpa.

  • Side 1 (of the original double LP)) extablishes standards the rest of the album couldn’t live up to. As with most of your commenters, I adore its brilliance while recognizing its flaws. And like other LPs from the period such as Beggars Banquet – sans Junpin’ Jack Flash; Let It Bleed – sans Honky Tonk Women or earlier Blonde on Blonde sans Positively 4th St; Rubber Soul sans Day Tripper & We Can Work It Out), it would have been elevated enormously by the inclusion of near-concurrent single tracks Revolution & Hey Jude.

  • “Julia” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I dig sprawl.

  • Len Liechti

    Actually, perhaps the greatest double album ever made is Carla Bley’s Escalator Over The hill. Now THERE’S a rarity . . .

  • Michael

    Actually, if memory serves me well, Escalator Over The Hill was a triple album, on vinyl at least.
    It came in a BOX.
    I hated the White Album at the time because there was a lot of rubbish on it, but in retrospect there were more good tunes on it than most bands manage in a lifetime, and as Batman says , not manicured (except for While My Guitar perhaps). Rock on.

  • To me the best way to define this record (and it is my favorite record of all time) is its original working title “A Doll’s House”. That name alone to me defines what this album is all about, a series of rooms of all kinds. Miniature pieces that include the attic, the dining room and yes, the trash room. It’s Victorian. It needs them all to be what it is…Yes some songs suck, but I find myself listening to this every few months and having a new favorite track everytime (Now is Long, Long, Long). Plus my favorite song to sing in the shower is ….Rocky Raccoon!Somewhere In the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota..Brilliant, Enough said.

  • Phil

    It’s a great hodge-podge of an album, a real helter-skelter -sorry!- of a musical ride. I first got into the White Album in college back in 1977 and after having explored the joys of both Revolver and Pepper, found it to be pretty dark in comparison. Fascinating too! Although I knd of agree with George Martin that it could have made for one killer single album, the fact that it’s so sprawling gives it its unique character.

    My biggest problem with the White Album is McCartney’s increasing tendency towards tweeness, something that really had begun in ’67. I just don’t care much for his Ob-la-di-bla-da-isms and all that Honey Pie. Although, to be fair, Blackbird and I Will are lovely, along with the bone-crunching Helter Skelter. I general, I find Lennon’s songs to be much more compelling. On the previous albums and singles, John and Paul, to my ears, were equally strong albeit going in increasingly divergent directions after Rubber Soul. As for George, well, while overhearing While My Guitar Gently Weeps on AOR FM radio back in the day has forever robbed that tune of its luster for me, I still get a real charge out of Piggies with its baroque-y feel and oh-so-English humourous misanthropy.

    Sure, the White Album is far from being the fabulous unified whole that is Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper but any LP with Happiness is a Warm Gun, Cry Baby Cry, Savoy Truffle, and Back in the U.S.S.R, on it, for starters, is still a bloody masterpiece. My two shillings worth…

  • Arguably the most influential of the band’s long-form releases—how much subsequent music out there actually resembles Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road or even Revolver?—The White Album is generally recognized as ambitious and visionary, pregnant with top-notch tunes, but incredibly uneven, nonetheless. It is for good reason that respected music journalist Charles Shaar Murray once referred to it as the best and the worst of The Beatles all in one: acoustic ballads, forays into hard rock/blues/proto metal, avant garde experiments and classic Beatles pop, all of varying quality and complexity; alternately performed by a unit clearly in flux and by individuals as band leaders with their own musical statements to make. To echo Shaar Murray’s above statement, there is some wonderful, transcendent music here. As well as some sub par nonsense—even a few unworthy of filler status—that should’ve never seen the light of day.

    This was, of course, the record The Beatles set out to make, despite the objections of their most important collaborator, über producer George Martin himself, who was not at all partial to the idea of making it any lengthier than a single album; and over the years many have agreed with him. (I do.) But, as seems to be the case with every revered double album since, no one seems to agree on a single album-length track listing. Some may argue this indeed proves the overall greatness of the record, while I am inclined to think that perhaps a lack of the necessary mettle to discard sentimental favorites is mostly to blame.

    Of course, who can argue the inclusion of such gems as “Back in the USSR”, “Dear Prudence”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Martha My Dear”, “Blackbird”, “I Will”, “Julia”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, and “Long Long Long”? But then the selection process starts getting murky and, for many, objectivity becomes hard to muster. One would think the likes of “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, “Wild Honey Pie”, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, “Piggies”, “Rocky Raccoon”, “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” would be imminent castoffs for those seeking to streamline the record into a more cohesive statement. Yeah, right. Good luck with that. (To wit: the late Ian MacDonald, who wrote the must-read, chronological account of every song The Beatles recorded, Revolution in the Head, would certainly add “Helter Skelter” to the latter bunch. But I wouldn’t. So there you go.)

    One rarely mentioned and very important aspect of The White Album’s influence is how, for better or for worse, its very nature—the sometimes maddening variety and scope of the record—can be seen as the future indie/alt-rock generation’s musical ADD blueprint. This influence, is what leads me to consider it much more far-reaching in affixing its stamp on subsequent artists and like-minded albums, than the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road or Revolver.

    On a personal level, while The White Album is not my top favorite among the Fabs’ records—that distinction belongs to Abbey Road—it has been, however, very near and dear to my heart from the very moment I discovered it decades ago. Like all of The Beatles’ best work, once you put aside the myth and the hype, it’s easy to understand why we’re still talking about it four decades on.

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