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.  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.” 🙂

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It was 50 years ago today/a month ago…

I write today about the 50th anniversary of the release of what has become arguably the most hallowed rock and roll album of all time: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This post comes in full awareness that I’ve missed the official anniversary of June 1st by over a month, but as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I suppose I’ve just been too busy living for the past month to acknowledge this momentous occasion, but I have plenty to say, and so here goes.

For the entire duration of my Beatles fandom, which officially stretches back over five years, Sgt. Pepper has never been among my favorite Beatles albums. I gave it a shot, doing the classic “listen to a full album at night in the dark with headphones in,” and while tuning out the world, I managed to gain at best a casual appreciation for what I had heard for years was the album to end all albums. I can’t quite quantify why I never felt that connected with Sgt Pepper. The best explanation I can come up with is that I’ve always felt that the songs overall just are not as good as the songs on Revolver and, especially, Rubber Soul. Sure, the production value of Sgt. Pepper is spectacularly high, but I bet some would agree that the actual songwriting of “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Fixing a Hole” does not compare to anything on either of those albums. I do believe that “Within You Without You” is among the most beautiful songs in the Beatles’ catalog, but I have long felt that the songs on this album overall are, frankly, overrated by the Beatles’ own standards.

Before I completely slander what is, I acknowledge, an extremely cherished album, I now delve into an event that has dramatically reshaped how I view Sgt. Pepper in the context of the Beatles’ music and rock music in general. I was lucky enough to attend a multimedia lecture about Sgt. Pepper with my dad last month. This took place at my local library, and was so jam-packed with fascinating information that I felt seriously compelled to take copious notes the entire time. The lecturer, a Beatles expert who happens to work at this library, spoke about everything from the planning behind the famous album cover, to the initial takes of songs like “A Day In The Life,” to other artists who the Beatles were influencing at the time, to so many other cool tidbits I don’t even remember them all.

It was absolutely fascinating, and even I, who foolishly believes I know everything about the Beatles, learned many new things. For example, I had no idea of the scope of album covers that have parodied Sgt. Pepper since its release, and I also did not know that the Beatles had a connection to a little known band who, a few years earlier, released an album with a cover very much like that of Sgt. Pepper. I was also unaware that this album is the most “British” out of all the Beatles’ albums, featuring many references to aspects of British culture like “Meet the Wife,” meter maids, and the Royal Albert Hall. This lecture also put Sgt. Pepper in a new context in my mind, for I had never really thought about it as a tribute to Britain within the confines of a psychedelic rock album. It got me thinking more about the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper than I ever have before, and also made me consider how the album would have been different if it had included, as originally planned, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Personally, I am of the camp that believes these two songs would have made this album truly perfect, thematically and musically, but of course I can’t rewrite history. When looking more closely at the album as it was released, it is pretty perfect just the way it is.

I struggle with calling Sgt. Pepper a “concept album” in the traditional sense, because its songs do not tell a continuous story like those of, say, “Tommy.” But the more I think about it, the more I realize that Sgt. Pepper is absolutely a concept album, though of a different nature. It is a concept album in its artistry, not in its narrative. Songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which features possibly my favorite opening to any song ever, are an entirely new concept for songs in the rock genre. This redefinition of what the boundaries of rock encompass, or don’t encompass, also applies to “She’s Leaving Home,” “Within You Without You,” and basically every single song on the album. Sgt. Pepper is an artistic departure even from the psychedelia of Revolver, which was largely contained in songs with a familiar structure. It is the first Beatles album that is truly a spectacle much like its artistic predecessor, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, an album which I actually have never loved either but which is probably worth another shot.

This lecture also introduced me to the new remixed version of Sgt Pepper, produced by Giles Martin, the son of George Martin who was, as I’ve said before on this blog, the real 5th Beatle. When you hear the term “remix,” don’t be alarmed; here there are no trap beats added to this album’s beloved tracks. Instead, Sgt. Pepper was literally remixed in that the sound levels of instruments and vocals in each song were re-mixed together to create a more balanced sound. If you’re interested in hearing more about the album’s construction, here’s a lovely interview with Giles Martin when he was on The Tonight Show recently:

Knowing that Giles is the man behind the “Love” album for the Cirque de Soleil show of the same name, among many other acclaimed projects, gives me immense respect for how carefully he treats Beatles-related material. I don’t know how many other Beatles remixing or remastering projects there are in the works at the moment, but it would be a definite shame if he were not at least partially involved with them.

I still have one Sgt. Pepper-related project to finish this summer, and that is watching the new PBS documentary that aired in early June about the album, entitled “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution.” However, from what I’ve heard it offers a lot of insight into the album’s lyrics, which I definitely feel I have neglected to examine over the years. Even without having seen this documentary, I feel that I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for the genius of Sgt. Pepper this summer. It dared to be loud, over-the-top, and unconventional even for the ever-changing Beatles. Though not universally admired by critics of the time, it was adored by millions of Beatles fans in the 60s and is still adored and respected today. I haven’t actually listened to the album straight through in a long time, but these recent Sgt. Pepper-related projects make me more interested than ever in indulging in all of the goodness that Sgt. Pepper has to offer. I suggest you do the same, and I hope you will enjoy the show. So, sit back, and let the evening go.

 

A Hard Day’s Poll

As many of you may know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America. It also marks 50 years since the release of their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night. To commemorate this, about 500 theaters across the US are re-releasing A Hard Day’s Night this July! Although I own the movie on DVD, I still sort of want to experience it in a actual theater. If only the movies would charge 1964 prices for this special event… 🙂

After reading an article about this in the newspaper today, which included an original review of the movie from 1964 (the reviewer back then apparently did not know George’s name…), I was inspired to break out my DVD and watch this movie, yet again. I’ve probably seen it about six times in its entirety by now, and I found myself reciting a lot of the lines under my breath, in attempted Scouse accents. I love how fast paced this movie is, which shows how crazy and hectic the Beatles’ actual life was back then. In fact, this movie plays more like a documentary than a traditional movie.

Just as a side note, a couple of famous teenage extras in this movie include Phil Collins and Meryl Streep. How awesome it would have been to be an extra in this film! That would surely be a story to tell the grandkids. Also, considering that this movie was made to capitalize on the Beatles’ fame at the height of Beatlemania, I don’t think the screaming girls throughout the movie were really acting… 🙂

Anyway, with this movie in mind, I’ve created a poll devoted to the Beatle movies. Personally, I would probably vote for both Help! and A Hard Day’s Night as my favorites, but I’d love to see how others vote. Enjoy!

Song of the Week: “Come As You Are” (Nirvana)

With the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death this week, I’ve been listening to this song a lot recently. I wouldn’t consider myself a huge Nirvana fan, but I do like their music a lot, especially this song. I was inspired to do this post after my dad showed me the Beatles take off-video that Nirvana did for their song “In Bloom” in 1992. What he also said that I didn’t realize was that Nirvana’s immediate impact on radio and music in general was basically equivalent to the Beatles’ musical impact in America in 1964. I do know that Kurt Cobain idolized the Beatles, John Lennon in particular, and his melodies definitely reflect that Beatley influence.
There we are for this week. I’ll definitely do a longer post next week, since it will be spring break and all. (!!!) My, how this year has flown by. It’s hard to believe that my junior year is already almost over. But I digress… 🙂
Have a great week!

Happy (belated) Birthday George Harrison!!!

I just found this picture, and it's so adorable!!!

I just found this picture, and it’s so adorable!!!

I know I haven’t blogged in quite a while. Don’t worry, I did not fall off the face of the earth; I was in a show last week that took up most of my time, and so unfortunately I have not had time to do a George birthday post until now. But that’s all about to change!

My love for George has grown exponentially in the last year, but I do feel like he serves a different purpose in my life now than he did a year ago. As I’ve ended sophomore year and dived headfirst into junior year, I’ve realized that there are a lot of important life decisions that have to happen this year, and of course, the nature of high school in the 21st century is that it is supposed to be stressful, competitive, challenging, and hard to get through without some guidance. I don’t have as much time to just be obsessed with the Beatles and George Harrison as I did freshman year, but that does not mean that I love them any less. In fact, during the often stressful and occasionally frustrating days, I find that I need George’s music more now than ever. His lyrics are words of wisdom to me, and I have yet to find a song of his that is not inspiring in some way.

George is more of an imaginary life coach than an imaginary husband at this point in my life, but that’s okay with me. As George frequently said, the point of life is to change, and it would be boring if everything and everyone stayed exactly the same all the time. On his birthday this year, as I proudly wore my George shirt to school and had a 5-hour dress rehearsal, I kept thinking about how much I enjoyed what I was doing and how much George loved everything he did in life. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from George, it’s that if you truly feel love and passion for something, you should stick with it.

Here are some songs that I may or may not have previously posted on this blog, but I feel that they embody George’s spirit and attitude about life. They’re not necessarily my favorite songs of his, although I love them all, but they are the ones that remind me of him the most.

I Need You

I Live For You

Stuck Inside A Cloud

Pisces Fish

Here Comes The Sun

So, on this (approximately) 71st anniversary of George’s birth, I am reminded yet again why he is and will always be my favorite Beatle. He was thoughtful, loving, insightful, patient, and a beautiful human being inside and out. I love him with all of my heart! Happy birthday Georgie!!! 🙂

I promise it will not be another 2 weeks before I blog again. Be on the lookout for a post of my favorite covers of Beatles songs in the near future! Have a great week!