My Cut of the White Album
I have always loved The Beatles, even when I was little. I'm too young to have known about The Beatles in a cultural sense. I was 5 when John Lennon was murdered, far too young to remember, so to me The Beatles were always just music that existed. While I love their entire catalog I've always felt the White Album was their weakest effort due to lack of editing. Today we're going to fix that.
While I was confused about their exact albums because the US releases my father owned were different from the original UK versions. Things got better with later releases as the Beatles exerted more control over their music. That control also gave them freedom to experiment; for good and for bad.
I don't want to say that the White Album is bad. It has great stuff in it. I just feel that it was a bunch of songs by different groups. The individuals don't form a band on this record. In fact, they weren't spending much time together when they recorded it. One of my favorite albums is Abbey Road, also recorded in a fractured manner. However, their genius producer George Martin managed to stitch it into a cohesive whole that is better than the sum of it's parts. Apparently George was on a holiday for much of the time The White Album was being recored, which explains the severe lack of editing.
My favorite albums are Rubber Soul and Revolver, created when The Beatles were confident enough to make subversive lyrics, but before they left their pop sensibility behind. While I do still like Sgt Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour, I always felt like the White Album was a bit too far. They not only experimented musically (and chemically), they also resisted editing. The White Album has some great moments, but there's far too much filler in their double album. I've never felt it to be the work of genius that some said, a controversy that continues to this day. If it had been cut down to a single album it would have been far better musically, if not as much of a break through culturally.
So, if we were to cut the White Album down to a single disc, what would we cut? There's so much to choose from. Let's take a listen, shall we?
Back in the USSR: basically a Beach Boys song with satirical lyrics. Great beat. Keep it.
Dear Prudence: great lyrics, great music. Keep it.
Glass Onion: while I like the beat the lyrics are pretty nonsensical. I'm sure there was a deeper meaning. It does have the classic line about the Walrus being Paul. I'm on the fence.
Ob La Di, Ob La Da: one of the silliest but fun songs. Great music? I'm not sure.
Wild Honey Pie: an unfinished piece of studio noodling. Cut it.
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill: this song always felt like it was going somewhere but never quite gets there. Fun and silly, but not as finished as Yellow Submarine. Cut it.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps: One of the best songs they ever wrote. Keep it.
Happiness Is a Warm Gun: not one of their best musically but I just love the lyrics.
Martha My Dear: a sweet meaningless tune, classic Paul.
I'm So Tired: great rocker with some good Ringo Drums
Blackbird: classic ballad. Gotta keep it.
Piggies: political satire with an interesting musical feel. I'm mixed.
Rocky Racoon: I've always liked this one, but again it feels unfinished. I think it needs to be cut.
Don't Pass Me By: this one always felt like them reaching into their past. It's not bad, but nothing distinguishes it. Cut.
Why Don't We Do It In The Road: Session noodling. It's like an excercise in blues beats on the way to Get Back. Cut.
I Will: Another short and sweet McCartney ballad, but better done. Keep.
Julia: a soft dirge. Not needed. I know it was for his mom.
Birthday: a great rocker. This should have led off the album.
Yer Blues: another blues experiment. Cut.
Mother Nature's Son: I'm really torn on this one. While I love it's softness, it doesn't really feel like a Beatles song. Perhaps I'm biased because I first heard it sung by John Denver.
Everybody's Got... My Monkey: Seriously? Do we even need to consider it?
Sexy Sadie: It feels like something from Sgt Peppers. A keeper.
Helter Skelter: if it wasn't for the Manson connection I don't think we'd remember this one.
Long, Long, Long: This feels like a decent song on the way to a better song. Cut it.
Revolution 1. I'd argue that this should be replaced by the faster single version.
Honey Pie: Sweet McCartney nonsense. A cute 1920s number, but disposable.
Savoy Truffle: even though it's just about a box of chocolates, I still like it.
Cry Baby Cry: It's got that classic Beatles piano but it's a good song, not a great one. I'm undecided.
Revolution 9: obviously in the bin.
Good Night: Sounds like the lullaby of a Disney soundtrack. Cut it.
By my count that gives us 11 keepers, 10 on the fence, and 9 to definitely cut. The Beatles early albums usually had 14 songs, so let's add three back. I'm gonna say: Cry Baby Cry, Ob La Di, and Piggies (I do love me some good harpsichord).
While I was reading up on the background of songs in The White Album I learned they did have further unreleased material (much of which came out on Anthology 3, which I never bought), so clearly they did do some editing. I suppose, being the greatest rock band in history, they are entitled to some self indulgence, so we can let it slide, but in my alternate universe, with these 14 tracks we would have had a solid Beatles album up there with the best of them, rather than the mixed results that is the real version.