One of my favorite shots of the Beatles during the White Album era. They all look quite majestic here.
For the past few years in Beatleland, every other week seems to be the 50th anniversary of something. First in 2013, it was 50 years since the Beatles released their debut album “Please Please Me” and took Britain by storm. Then, in 2014, it was 50 years since the Beatles invaded America and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Last year marked 50 years since the release of the landmark Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which I wrote about here. And now, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of two iconic Beatles projects, the movie Yellow Submarine and the release of one of the most eclectic Beatles albums, known by fans as “White Album.”
“White Album” was, like all Beatles albums, innovative and interesting for many reasons. It was released after all four Beatles took a trip to India to learn about the Maharishi and learn about Hinduism and meditation (which Ringo famously did not take to very much). It featured several songs that only had one Beatle on them, such as “Mother Nature’s Son” for Paul and “Julia” for John. Ringo also briefly quit the band while they were recording this album, though I believe that only lasted a couple of weeks. “White Album” was one of the first Beatles albums I was fully aware of, and to me it’s always marked the beginning of the Beatles coming into their own as solo songwriters.
“White Album” is also well-known for being one of the very first double albums, and the first one ever to top the charts. Even now, it’s uncommon for artists to release so much material at once that it qualifies as a double album, but back in 1968 the Beatles clearly were overflowing with inspiration. Whenever I read anything about “White Album,” it usually includes the question “what songs would you cut from ‘White Album’ to make it a single album?” Sometimes I read replies along the lines of “I wouldn’t cut anything, it’s perfect the way it is.” And I agree that its status as a double album was certainly no hindrance on the Beatles’ success. But I also don’t think that it is a perfect album. Its imperfections help solidify its iconic status, but let’s be real here, I’d be hard pressed to find a Beatles fan that truly thinks every song on this album is a masterpiece.
Theoretically, if I were to cut “White Album” down to a single album, I’d have to cut it down from 30 songs to about 17, the number of songs on disc 1 of the album. That’s 13 songs, which sounds like a lot at first. Let’s see if I can even get that far.
Songs from “White Album” that I’d honestly have no problem cutting:
“Revolution 9”- I’ve spoken about this song before and I’ll say it again, there’s a reason that I’ve only ever listened to this once. It’s scary and very confusing.
“Revolution 1”- A slower version of the “Revolution” made famous on the “Hey Jude” single, but I think this version loses a lot of its bite slowed down. It’s a little too lazy-sounding to make a statement this way, I think.
“Wild Honey Pie”- I still can’t figure out how this made it on the album, honestly. It baffles me even more than “Revolution 9.”
“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”- Not one of Paul’s more insightful lyrics, and while this song comes off as a bit of a joke to me, I’ve never found it that charming.
“Don’t Pass Me By”- Of the two Beatles songs that Ringo actually wrote, this is the worse one.
“Yer Blues”- It’s certainly bluesy, but I don’t think this is one of John’s more inspired Beatles songs.
“Honey Pie”- When you see quotes from other Beatles talking about Paul’s “granny music,” this is what they’re talking about. Sorry Paul, I do think it’s a cute song!
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”- I actually like this song, but I also am not that attached to it and could live with a “White Album” that didn’t have it.
Okay, that’s eight songs off the “White Album” that I’d be okay with cutting. That still leaves an album containing 22 songs, which for the vinyl constraints at the time is still way too many to have on one physical record. Let’s see if I can do any more trimming down to 17 songs.
Songs from “White Album” that I like, but don’t think are among its best:
“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”- The only hesitation I have about cutting this is that it leads directly into “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and I do think it’s generally a good song. Still, the chorus here isn’t one of my favorites, and Yoko’s backing vocals don’t really do it for me.
“Piggies”- This one is hard for me because it’s a George song. It really doesn’t hold a candle to the other George songs on this album, but as I’m listening to it now I realize that I actually do like it a lot. Cutting this one would make me sad.
“Good Night”- As I’m writing this, it’s getting harder and harder to choose more songs off of “White Album” that I would cut. This song has a lush orchestration that is the real star here, along with Ringo’s friendly vocals. It’s actually a soothing, beautiful, almost Disney-esque song. I could cut this, but it’s so gorgeous to listen to that I’d miss it.
“Rocky Racoon”- Again, I like this song a lot, but it’s never become one of my true favorites off the “White Album,” so I’m putting it tentatively on the chopping block for now. Though I feel bad about it, because it tells a fun story.
“I Will”- A very pretty song, but of the several “Paul’s acoustic ballads” that made it on the album, this one is the least memorable for me.
Okay, so I’ve made it down to 17 songs on the “White Album.” Below, I’ll list the tracking that I’d do with these 17 songs, if I were creating the album order.
- Back in the USSR
- Dear Prudence (can’t mess with that one-two punch, it really works)
- Glass Onion
- Martha My Dear
- I’m So Tired
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Happiness Is A Warm Gun
- Blackbird (this would be the end of side one of the album if it were on vinyl)
- Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
- Mother Nature’s Son
- Sexy Sadie
- Savoy Truffle
- Cry Baby Cry
- Long, Long, Long
- Helter Skelter (I’ve always thought that this would be a badass album closer)
After listening to this new “White Album” I came up with, it definitely works, though I think it has a bit less personality than the original album without all of the songs I left out. I like the idea of bookending this new one-disc “White Album” with Paul rockers, and honestly I wish that “Helter Skelter” had been the original album closer because it really works so well! Obviously though, the Beatles knew what they were doing when it came to ordering songs on their albums, which is why I didn’t change that many of the original album’s track orders. When all is said and done, though, I still love the double album the way it is, and even those songs that I’d cut add a lot of character to the album that I’m ultimately glad is there.
If this post interested you, share with me how you’d theoretically trim down the double album into a single LP, or listen to these 17 songs in this order and let me know how you think it flows! Until next time then, fellow Beatlemaniacs. As John once sang, “We all shine on.” 🙂