If you could pick your top 5 favorite albums of all time, what would they be? Many of us in Grawlix have favorite bands and favorite albums that have helped define us as songwriters. Now, as for picking the TOP influential album from that list... that might be a bit tricky. It's a question I've constantly changed the answer to over the years. But on November 9th of this year, I realized the answer was 'white' in front of me the whole time!
“The Beatles”, (better known as 'The White Album' due to its stark and plain white cover art), was the 9th studio album in the band's repitoire. Released originally on November 22, 1968, it was a complete contrast to the very lavish and richly produced 'Sgt. Pepper', from a year and half prior. Instead, The White Album is far more acoustic, stripped down, and raw.
Part of what has always appealed to me about the original album is its sprawling diversity: 30 songs, almost none of which sound identical. One minute you are listening to a British Blues-style track featuring edgy guitars and macabre lyrics, (Lennon's “Yer Blues”). Next you are whisked away to the Scottish countryside accompanied by the gentle acoustics of McCartney's “Mother Nature's Son”. Then the listener is woken up with a friendly suckerpunch to the senses with the percussion-heavy “Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”. And that's only three songs!
For many listeners both then and now, the length of the original album might be a detractment. Some have even made their own single-album version of the collection, ommitting many of the songs that some have deemed 'Filler'. But I've listenened to these songs enough over the years to learn to love those more quirky and offbeat tunes. McCartney's “Why Don't We Do It In The Road”, for example, has frequently been singled out due to its extreme lyrical simplicity. However, I've always looked past that and instead concentrated on the impressive bassline and McCartney's uncharactaristcally strident vocal performance. It's also quite a contrast, vocally, compared to his much more gently sung songs such as "Martha My Dear" or "I Will"
Thanks to the impressive efforts of producers Giles Martin and Sam Okell, (The former being Beatle producer George Martin's son), we now have a fully remixed/remastered version of the album contained in a lavish 7 disc 'book'....Yes, a literal book!!
Despite being well-familiar with the original mix of 'The White Album', my expectations of the new mix were far-exceded. I won't go into all 30 of the main songs but two that stuck out to me the most as major improvements were “Dear Prudence”, which has its bass track brought to new life, and “Long Long Long”, which went from an extremely quiet and laid back piece, to truly showing off Ringo's drumming and George's vocal performance.
Besides the two discs of the original album, another disc is devoted to a series of acoustic demos made at George Harrison's bungalow just before the album sessions commenced. Then there are 50 outtakes, alternate mixes, and jams, spread out over another 3 discs. Most of these are quite interesting to hear, such as a version of “Goodnight” sung by all 4 Beatles accompanied by a trio of Byrds-y John Lennon-performed guitar tracks. There is also a 12 minute jam of "Helter Skelter", a run-through of an early version of "Let It Be" that nobody knew existed, and a version of "I"m So Tired" with extra harmony vocals.
It's easy to hear the influence of “The White Album” in many other bodies of music work over the decades. Two of my favorite examples would be “Sandinista!” by The Clash, and “Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness” by The Smashing Pumpkins. Both albums are a similar length, track-wise, both feature a diverse set of songs, and both contain tracks that otherwise would never have made it onto a single album. But because of the length of these collections, the listening experience can easily turn into a journey.
And that is what The White Album means to me overall as a music fan: It is a journey. Life isn't always a linear path, and if it was, it would be quite boring. For me personally, I've always found myself wanting more when listening to, say, a 5-song EP. Even if every song is killer, it feels like the journey of the songs has come to an end too soon.
But for albums like 'The White Album', the listener is taken on a path that ranges from comfortable ('Rocky Raccoon') to tense ('Glass Onion'), gentle ('Julia') to rocky ('Helter Skelter'), and easy-listening ('I Will') to complex ('Revolution 9'). Sometimes, these changes occur during the song itself ('Martha My Dear'). By the time the album winds up with the Ringo Starr-sung “Goodnight”, I've always felt like I've just reached the satisfying conclusion to the journey created by this band. Listening to this album, both then and now, is always a very moving experience.
If you are familiar with The White Album, I highly recommend listening to the new mixes. It'll be like you are listening to the first time. For those that have yet to hear the album all the way through, give it a listen, with good headphones, you won't be dissapointed!
- The brilliant source I used for most of the photos on this blogpost. I'd HIGHLY recommend following this page if you are a Beatles fan: https://www.facebook.com/BeatlesRecording/?eid=ARDoUpR18r9Gj7DbMFLl7lkEfriqV5RPUBdRhxRVYKuoKmJVnOLz5u3c6lBHvGHEV6yW6-Jiqy9WzNg0&fref=tag