Monday, October 27, 2008

The Beatles' "WHITE ALBUM":
...still challenging to listen to after all these years...

Oh great...just another thing I became aware of that makes me feel Really Old. The most famous album in the world that featured (in its original pressing) absolutely NOTHING on the cover, except for the words, "The BEATLES", in raised-letter print, set at an angle in the lower right-hand corner, was released 40 years ago this month. Original copies were also Numbered...mine is 0094485, which is a pretty low number, considering that the White Album sold at least a couple million copies back then. It is still one of their weirdest albums; even though there were no psychedelic effects on it, it's chaotic, it's disjointed, and parts of it are STRANGE. In 1968, things were so bad, John, Paul and George recorded a lot of the albums' songs separately, while Ringo went from studio to studio to provide drum licks. In fact, things got so bad within the group, that Ringo quit the band for a few days; that's when "Back In The U.S.S.R" and "Dear Prudence", the first two songs on the album, were recorded, with Paul on drums.

Beatles Producer George Martin wanted to boil down The White Album by featuring the best songs, which would comprise a really good single album, but by then, The Beatles weren't letting anyone tell them what to do, and wanted to release all the material as a 2-record set. John said the "White Album" was his favorite, because he got to portray himself and his music accurately, while Paul described it as "The Tension Album", due to the fact that John didn't want to do anything Paul wanted him to do, and George was fast growing into a great songwriter and got sick and tired of Paul telling him what to do. I've read one Beatles' book that describes the "White Album" recording sessions as "poisonous", which is about as bad as any given situation can get (as stated in recording engineer Geoff Emerick's recent book, "The Long And Winding Road", a great read and a fascinating character study of the Beatles).

John, Paul, George and Ringo; photos which were included with the White Album.

So, if to you, the "White Album" sounds chaotic, slightly off-center, and threatening to collapse upon itself, that's because that's how it was back then. I always felt the album had a weird "vibe" to it...much later, when I read about those recording sessions, I can see why it sounded so absolutely fractuous. They all hated each other back then and no one was getting along. And that "vibe" translated into the music. It's a hot, tense, uncomfortable vibe. I think it's a real testament to the group that they still managed to record some great music under a great deal of stress and strain, which was only made worse by John bringing Yoko into the recording studio during the sessions, something which the other Beatles absolutely HATED. In fact, she SINGS on the "White Album" (side one, track 5,"Bungalow Bill"...that's her high whiny voice on the line "not when he looked so fierce"). To cap it all off, John insisted that "Revolution 9", an 8-minute montage of sound effects, radio anarchy and speech excerpts be included in the album's tracks, which went directly against the wishes of everyone else in the group.

My take on the "White Album"? It's hard to listen to. "Revolution 9" SHOULD have been left off. I didn't like George's track, "Piggies" all that much, either. Ringo's "Don't Pass Me By" is barely passable. There are songs that indeed could have been left off, but after all these years, it is what it is, an audio documentary rife with animosity among the Beatles when they were recording it. Is it a good album? I think so, although I tend to agree with most critics who say the album is nothing more than a collection of solo tracks, John's, Paul's, Georges' (and even one track written by Ringo), with the others functioning as sessionmen, not really caring about what the others were doing. Without Paul pushing everyone else in the band, there might not have been a "White Album", or even an "Abbey Road"...trouble was, the other group members hated Paul for Pushing So Hard, trying to keep the group together. The Beatles didn't so much break up as BLOW up, and the White Album is where the bad vibes came to the surface. It's not the easiest album to listen to, but it's honest, laid out there for us all to see. 40 years later, it still sounds fairly bizarre.

The next album, "Abbey Road", was the last thing the group ever recorded, and by that time, the group knew it would be their last, and they wanted to go out on a good note, which is why "Abbey Road" sounds much more harmonious than the White Album, although "Abbey Road" did have its tense moments. Anyway, since I included the Beatles' "White Album" photos above, and I've mentioned "Abbey Road" here, here's a little Halloween Salute inspired by John, Paul, George and Ringo...if you look closely, you'll see the faces are actually pumpkins...

"Abbey Road" was the last album the Beatles recorded, although "Let It Be" was the last album they released. If you want to experience Beatle Tension first-hand, all you have to do is view the "Let It Be" movie. That movie is as hard to watch as the White Album is to listen to.


Anonymous Songwraith said...

Interesting post with significant insight!

2:36 PM  
Blogger Idaho Escapee said...

Thanks, Songwraith...I don't know if I supplied any original insight there; mostly, I combined the way I felt about the music, combined with a whole lotta things I read; really, all I did was just kinda pack everything together in my haphazard way, but I do appreciate the comment! You are probably a Very Nice Person.

10:31 PM  
Blogger DmRofAtoZ said...

Found this while Googling for "Beatle pumpkins" . . . .
2 notes :
They didn't know for a fact that "Abbey Road" was the last, but it was feeling that way.
And 2, talking about all this "hate" during "The White Album" is just a bit extreme.
Tension ? . . . at times ?? . . . sure.
But "hate" ?!
That's rather like sweeping up a lot of loose bits off the floor, sprinkling one's own emotional reaction over the top, and saying "ooh, it looks like a big hairy ball of ____"
You know ?

4:16 PM  
Blogger DmRofAtoZ said...

Hmm . . .
Just re-read my comment there, and it "sounds" a whole lot more admonishing & finger-wagging then I meant it !
I was more try'na balance one or two of your points, and now I'm balancing one of my own !
( balance is tricky and ever-shifting, huh ? )

5:05 PM  

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