Almost 50 Years Later, Could “White Album” Work As A Single Album?

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.ย  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.

  1. Back in the USSR
  2. Dear Prudence (can’t mess with that one-two punch, it really works)
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Martha My Dear
  5. I’m So Tired
  6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  7. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  8. Blackbird (this would be the end of side one of the album if it were on vinyl)
  9. Birthday
  10. Julia
  11. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
  12. Mother Nature’s Son
  13. Sexy Sadie
  14. Savoy Truffle
  15. Cry Baby Cry
  16. Long, Long, Long
  17. 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.” ๐Ÿ™‚

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Almost 50 Years Later, Could “White Album” Work As A Single Album?

  1. Three you’d cut but I”d keep Revolution I, Yer Blues and I Will… I’d cut Long Long Long, Mother Nature’s Son and Glass Onion. Other than that.. and I like the three songs I cut but to get it to a single album something has to go!

    • Yeah I was definitely on the fence about Glass Onion, and it’s close for me between I Will and Mother Nature’s Son, but good choices! I really like Long Long Long personally, and I agree that it’s really hard even on the White Album to cut enough songs to make a single album!

      • I think if 20 Beatles fanatics made their list on this topic- there would be 20 different lists- of course we’d probably agree on a lot of them but there would be a few different choices on each list. No right or wrong answers but fun to think about.

  2. This awesome post has inspired me to create my own single White Album!

    Back In The USSR: I would absolutely keep this song. I love it and it’s fantastic. End of story.

    Dear Prudence: This is a pretty good song. The lyrics are a bit simple, but it’s got a nice tune. I would keep this song.

    Glass Onion: While I appreciate the many references to other Beatles songs, I feel that Glass Onion is kind of crude and seems almost like it’s making fun of the other songs? Which makes me sad. Also, I’m not a huge fan of the tune– it’s kind of an earworm. I would cut this.

    Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da: I know people hate this one (like John) but I think it’s nice. It’s very optimistic and very Paul. I would keep this one.
    Wild Honey Pie: I would definitely cut this. It’s very strange and twangy, and the only lyrics are “Honey Pie” belted out roughly again and again.

    The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill: I agree, Yoko Ono’s backing vocals aren’t very desirable. I personally am not a fan of Yoko’s voice (sorry, Yoko! Sorry, John!), but even if she didn’t sing on this, I would still cut it. The song seems to switch suddenly back and forth from the loud earworm of a chorus to John’s quiet, creepy lyrics. It’s disorienting, and I feel that the White Album would be better without this song.

    While My Guitar Gently Weeps: I love love love this song and there’s no way I would ever even consider cutting it. This is my fourth-favorite Beatles song of all time (one of the higher ones coming later on this list). Eric Clapton’s guitar is pure magic, George’s vocals are fantastic… I love everything about this song.

    Happiness is a Warm Gun: Eh, I don’t really know about this song. It feels like a lot of random things are just kind of cobbled together, and I really don’t get the lyrics. I would probably cut this one.

    Martha My Dear: I would keep this song. Paul’s piano is delightful, and apparently the song is about his sheepdog Martha, which makes me love it so much more. All in all a great song that absolutely belongs on the album.

    I’m So Tired: I don’t really like this song. John really does sound tired as he sings this, and it’s just a meh song for me. I would cut it.

    Blackbird: This is a fantastic song. I love the lyrics, Paul’s voice is great, and the guitar is beautiful. I would keep this song.

    Piggies: I think this song is hilarious, but musically it’s a little slow and feels like something a jack-in-the-box would play before it bursts open. Please don’t be offended, George, it’s a great song– but not great enough. I think I’d have to cut this one– but it hurts.

    Rocky Raccoon: I think this song tells a great story, but it seems to go on for a long time, and musically there’s not very much happening. However, I listened to this song a lot when I was a little kid, so it holds a very special place in my heart and I just have to keep it.

    Don’t Pass Me By: Sorry, Ringo. A+ for effort on your first song, but this twangy country-like song just doesn’t cut it for me. Musically, I don’t like it. Lyrically, it’s very simple and kind of forced. I would cut this.

    Why Don’t We Do It In The Road: Great drums. Great vocals. Not a very great song. Apparently Paul wrote it about two monkeys he saw “doing it” in the road in India. I don’t really like this song, and I’d cut it.

    I Will: This is a part of the three-way tie that I have for Favorite Beatles Song. The lyrics and simple and beautiful, and so is the music. Also, my dad sang this to my mom a capella at their wedding, so it would be a crime to leave this beautiful, beautiful song off this album. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Julia: This song is kind of quiet and understated, and it doesn’t really stand out to me, but it’s quite a beautiful song. Well done John. I’d keep it.

    Birthday: This rocker seems kind of trivial, as it’s about a birthday party, but it has great guitar and awesome Paul vocals. I would keep it.

    Yer Blues: This song is kind of depressing, but it has a great sound. I would keep it.

    Mother Nature’s Son: This is a gorgeous song. I don’t really have any specific reasons for loving it, but it just sounds fantastic. I would absolutely keep this song.

    Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey: This song isn’t really memorable enough for me to warrant keeping it on the album. I would cut it.

    Sexy Sadie: This song is kind of similar to Cry Baby Cry in a way, but the lyrics make more sense, and it sounds better. I would keep it.

    Helter Skelter: This is Paul’s attempt at heavy metal, and I love love love it. It’s a great, rocking song, even if it did give poor Ringo blisters on his fingers! I would keep it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Long, Long, Long: I haven’t heard this song in a while, so I don’t really remember what it’s like. However, I remember liking it, so I’ll keep it based on that and also because it’s a George song, so it has to be good, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Revolution 1: I think this song is awesome, but I like the single version a smidge better, and if it’s out as a single and the world already has access to its glory, I’m going to cut it to make room for other songs.

    Honey Pie: This song doesn’t do much for me except bring back childhood memories– which is enough to make me want to kep it out of sentimentality, but I’ll restrain myself and cut it. Sorry.

    Savoy Truffle: This song has a great sound, and it’s a George song, even if it is about a box of chocolates. I’ve got to keep it.

    Cry Baby Cry: This is an okay song. I don’t really get the lyrics, but the drum part is good, and it does get a little more exciting towards the middle. I’d probably keep this song.

    Revolution 9: I would cut this. It doesn’t qualify as a song for me– it’s just a bunch of random noises that is downright scary at some points.

    Good Night: This is one of Ringo’s best vocal performances in my opinion, but seeing as a. there’s not much Beatle musical talent as there’s mostly just an orchestra playing and b. it’s a lullaby, I feel that this album doesn’t need it. Sorry– it really is a sweet song!

    Wow, that was long. So I guess my final list ( in the order that I would put the album in) would be:

    Helter Skelter: I agree, it would make a great album closer, but I kind of like it better as an opener.
    Back in the USSR: I think putting this after Helter Skelter to open the album makes a pretty good start.
    Dear Prudence: A nice transition into calmer songs.
    While My Guitar Gently Weeps
    Martha My Dear
    Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
    Sexy Sadie: I’ve always kind of thought Ob-La-Di and Ob-La-Da would go nicely next to each other.
    Cry Baby Cry
    Rocky Raccoon
    Blackbird
    Julia
    Long, Long, Long
    Savoy Truffle: I like the idea of a nice one-two punch from George, reminding you of his brilliance, towards the end of the album.
    Birthday
    Yer Blues
    Mother Nature’s Son
    I Will: I feel like this is a nice, happy note to end the album on.

    • Correction: When I said “Iโ€™ve always kind of thought Ob-La-Di and Ob-La-Da would go nicely next to each other” I meant “I’ve always kind of thought Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and Sexy Sadie would go nicely next to each other.” Sorry!

    • I’m so happy my post inspired you to create your own “single White Album”! That’s one of the most rewarding things for me, is to hear that something I posted actually impacted someone’s life and made them think differently about the Beatles, so thank you for sharing. I also like your new album order, I think it’s super interesting! You made some very inspired choices that would make any Beatles fan proud!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s