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The White Album hits middle age.
November 21, 2008 5:16 AM   Subscribe

The White album turns 40.
posted by sleepy pete (112 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
number 9...number 9...number 9...number 9...number 9...number 9...number 9...number 9
posted by horsemuth at 5:26 AM on November 21, 2008


The answer is none. None more white.
posted by DU at 5:33 AM on November 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


You say it's your birthday...
posted by TedW at 5:42 AM on November 21, 2008


Time progresses. News at Eleven (Ten Central).

Hey, it's also Voltaire's birthday and tomorrow Scarlett Johansen turns 24!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:43 AM on November 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Tomorrow is also 45 years since Dallas... (man, I *hated* JFK as a little kid because everyone complained about how bad Nov 22 is - dammit, it's my birthday!)
posted by notsnot at 5:49 AM on November 21, 2008


Needless to say, it has a lot of great songs on it. Unfortunately it's marred by things like Don't Pass Me By (easily the worst Beatles original on any album) and Wild Honey Pie.

Although Let It Be is known as their "back to basics" album, I've always though of the White Album as doing a better job at the same concept -- if only you trimmed it down to a single album, focusing on the more straightforward songs (which is obviously possible nowadays).

I'm So Tired may be the Beatles song that has the most in common with "alternative"/"indie"/etc rock of the past 20 or so years.

Helter Skelter is the heaviest Beatles song, undermining the stereotype of John as the edgy one / Paul as the sweet one.

Dear Prudence has a brilliant drum solo -- not by Ringo but by Paul, who secretly overdubbed his own drum performances after Ringo had already laid down his tracks. Ringo briefly quit the band over this during the record of the White Album; when he returned to the studio to reconcile, he found his drum set covered in flowers.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:51 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


though --> thought
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:52 AM on November 21, 2008


Take a look outside
Those lively arts are on the slide
And culture's just a bore
When you're angry, young and poor...

...But if I got my way,
Those idle rich would pay
When the discussion starts-


Whoops. Wrong thread.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:53 AM on November 21, 2008


I feel your pain, notsnot. The president of the United States himself said that my birthday was "A date that will live in infamy". I think he was talking about something else, though.
posted by TedW at 5:54 AM on November 21, 2008


I'm always surprised to see Sgt. Pepper rated the number one album of all time, when it's not even the best album by the Beatles.
posted by mhoye at 5:55 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, I even like the hokey junk on this album. Harrison is the clear star, though, in my mind. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is one of my favorite things ever. Ever.

it's marred by things like [...] Wild Honey Pie.

I love Wild Honey Pie. Seriously, what's not to like about that?
posted by uncleozzy at 5:55 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Helter Skelter is the heaviest Beatles song, undermining the stereotype of John as the edgy one / Paul as the sweet one.

It's only the heaviest song if you completely ignore the lyrics.

Paul: Right, I just wrote the darkest, heaviest song that we as a band will ever record.

John: That's great! What's it about?

Paul: [mumbling] Going down a slide.
posted by piratebowling at 6:05 AM on November 21, 2008 [19 favorites]


Also, my favorite story about the White Album is about how "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was supposed to be half the speed they recorded it at, changed only by the fact that John came in stoned out of his mind one day, and started pounding the song out on the piano at twice the normal speed. I cant imagine the song being that enjoyable at the originally intended speed.
posted by piratebowling at 6:07 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Although Let It Be is known as their "back to basics" album...

They basically weren't speaking at that time and, rather than abandon the tracks they'd recorded, let Phil Spector add all the strings and singing children he could dream up. Long and Winding Road was a simple solo acoustic song. Of course McCartney's outrage at having his song ruined didn't stop him from accepting the Grammy for it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:08 AM on November 21, 2008


I know it's fashionable for people my age-ish and younger to snark on The Beatles, but I can't. I love their work too much. They're my favorite band, and I'm always bugging an older friend of mine to tell me again! about how he got to see them on Sullivan in 1964. His dad knew somebody who knew somebody...

The Beatles is not my favorite album of theirs. Abbey Road is. But two of the White Album tracks are among my absolute must-have-in-my-iPod-at-all-times Beatles tracks: Glass Onion and Everybody's Got Something to Hide, Except for Me and My Monkey. Those songs just rock me.
posted by droplet at 6:09 AM on November 21, 2008


StickyCarpet: Yes, I should have said Let It Be is known as their not-entirely-successful attempt at a back to basics album. You can hear a more stripped-down version by getting the recently released Let It Be ... Naked.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:14 AM on November 21, 2008


Most racist LP evar!

(Joke!)
posted by i_cola at 6:15 AM on November 21, 2008


I saved a lot of money by buying a generic version of this album. The cover had no graphics whatsoever!
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:16 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


marred by things like...

I see the White Album as a concept album. John and Paul were trying to cover every style they could. So yeah, with Paul doing a country western song and John doing an art project, the album will not be cohesive.

My point is that the question "what doesn't belong on the White Album" is the wrong question. I think the better question is what isn't there, and one of the things that isn't there is a George religious song like My Sweet Lord, so I believe they didn't tell George what the concept was.
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 6:16 AM on November 21, 2008


I wish I had my old vinyl copy, purchased right after original release, with the raised lettering "THE BEATLES" on it. It slipped away, though... sort of like the last 40 years, I guess.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:22 AM on November 21, 2008


Good a place as any to note that, as a serious Beatles fan, I have reserved one Beatles song which I have intentionally, for the past thirty years, gone to great pains to never knowingly listen to, saving it for the nursing home. Long after the Fab Estates have finished dribbling out half cocked rejects as "New Beatle Tunes!!!" I will have my very own unreleased Beatles track to enjoy, as I sit in my wheelchair alone and fading. Unless my hearing is gone, then I will be blasting it at bone rattling volume so I can feel it.

This song is---Oh, but I can't reveal that.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:22 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, because we're all going to be on the edge of our seats wondering what some random nerd's 'special' Beatles track is ;-)
posted by i_cola at 6:32 AM on November 21, 2008


All right, here we go:

ExcellentVery GoodGoodUm... InterestingOK Yeah, um, I'm sorry, but that's crapIMPORTANT NOTE
This was all determined in a completely scientific, unbiased and objective manner, and is accurate down to the picogram. If you disagree, you're wrong.
posted by Flunkie at 6:32 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I never realized this until a 40th birthday revisit, but if you listen really closely you'll notice that McCartney is actually humming the bass line on I Will. An uncanny impression of his Rick.

Why people would call it a regression or lowfi or stripped down escapes me. There is a ridiculous amount of careful, rich sonic detailing on this record, it's built for headphone listening.
posted by quarterframer at 6:37 AM on November 21, 2008


I wish I had my old vinyl copy, purchased right after original release, with the raised lettering "THE BEATLES" on it. It slipped away, though... sort of like the last 40 years, I guess.

Well you can't have mine! Though to be honest,

sYsOsUsssPsRsOsBsAsBsLsYsssWPOP!OsUsLsDsNs'sTsssEsNsJsOsYsss
LsIsTsEsNsIsNsGsssTsOsssIsTPOP!
LsIsTsEsNsIsNsGsssTsOsssIsTPOP!
LsIsTsEsNsIsNsGsssTsOsssIsTPOP!
LsIsTsEsNsIsNsGsssTsOsssIsTPOP!
RRRRRRRRRRIP
posted by Herodios at 6:37 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Flunkie, but don't pass me by deserves to be in that last category of total crap.

Small sample:
I'm sorry that I doubted you/I was so unfair/You were in a car crash/And you lost your hair

I'm convinced they put that on their because they really just wanted to burn through their contract by forcing it to be a double album. Also, you know, appease Ringo for being mean to him.

Ringo, I know I rag on your first solo song attempt, but I still love you, even though you won't respond to fan mail anymore.
posted by piratebowling at 6:38 AM on November 21, 2008


John and Paul were trying to cover every style they could. So yeah, with Paul doing a country western song and John doing an art project, the album will not be cohesive. My point is that the question "what doesn't belong on the White Album" is the wrong question.

You're misinterpreting me. I was simply pointing out that some of the songs are just plain not good enough. I have no problem with Rocky Raccoon or their genre pastiches in general. I think one of the great things about the Beatles is that they had multiple genres on a given album, and I have no problem with this not being "cohesive." I love the fact that they go from a folky song like Cry Baby Cry to the non-song Revolution 9 to the Disney-esque Goodnight.

I think the better question is what isn't there, and one of the things that isn't there is a George religious song like My Sweet Lord, so I believe they didn't tell George what the concept was.

Oh, but there is a George religious song. George said: the "you" in Long Long Long is God.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:47 AM on November 21, 2008


My parents had all of the Beatles records when I was growing up, and I spent an inordinate amount of my childhood listening to the albums over and over, recreating the cover art (somewhere I have a version of Revolver that I drew at 10 or 11), making my parents tell me their stories about hearing the Beatles for the first time or seeing them on TV, and reading everything I could about the them. I was a total geek about it -- obsessive, passionate, everything. I faked being sick one day when I was 10 so I could stay home from school and transcribe "You Won't See Me" on the piano. I spent the entire day (alone) listening to snippets on the record player upstairs, then running downstairs to figure out the chords on the piano and writing it down, then running back upstairs to get the next part. I remember my mom being equally irritated and bemused when she came home at the end of the day to find me not feverish but exuberant. As a kid, the White Album was a pleasing, funny, compelling, frightening, grown-up mystery, and I loved being able to listen in on sounds from a grown-up world.
posted by mothershock at 6:52 AM on November 21, 2008 [12 favorites]


I have reserved one Beatles song which I have intentionally, for the past thirty years, gone to great pains to never knowingly listen to, saving it for the nursing home...This song is---Oh, but I can't reveal that.

You're going to be disappointed when you realize you've spent your whole life waiting to hear "Why don't we do it in the road?"
posted by ALongDecember at 7:24 AM on November 21, 2008


I discovered the Beatles (and thus The White Album) on vinyl as a teenager, back when the Walkman was the state-of-the-art way to achieve portable music. As I recall, the entire album was just slightly longer than a ninety-minute cassette. Consequently the version of the album I heard for most of my life had to be lightened by a single track, so fare-thee-well, Revolution 9. I think I have only heard the entire track twice in my entire life, actually. (And note to stupidsexyflanders: if that is the track you are saving for your dotage, you might be a bitter old man).

I like to think I am a marginally happier man for the omission.

Anyway, as I mentioned in another thread a month or three ago, The White Album is only a Beatles album through happenstance. It is really four solo albums (well, two solo albums and a couple of solo singles). Notwithstanding their occasional stellar work as supporting players -- Paul's drumming on Dear Prudence makes the song, in my view; John's honky-tonk harmonica boosts Rocky Raccoon by a whole letter grade -- their identity as a group at this point has hit its most tenuous here. They are barely The Beatles here; they are John Lennon and His Beatles Band, Paul McCartney and His Beatles Band and so on.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2008


I didn't get seriously into the Beatles until my early twenties, about 25 years after they broke up, but when I did I went in deep and listened and studied and read so much about each alblum.

For whatever reason, I put off the White Album until last, and when I finally did sit down to listen, I found it to be the saddest of all.

For me, it has always been the break up album. There's little joy in the songs or performances, it was mostly recorded as four individuals rather than as a group, everybody had a shitty time at some point (Ringo quits, Geoff Emerick refuses to work with them, George Martin takes a vacation during the recording; unheard of in previous projects), and frankly some of the worst songs of their career are on this album.

It still bums me out listening to it.
posted by Paid In Full at 7:34 AM on November 21, 2008


It's about 9:45 on a Thursday night in 1984 and I'm lying in bed listening to the weekly Grape Street Power Hour on WHMP. This week their special feature is on the "Paul Is Dead" mystery, and the DJ is explaining the "clues" hidden in Beatles song lyrics and pictures: the funereal Abbey Road cover (barefoot Paul the corpse, John the Preacher, Ringo the Pallbearer, George the Gravedigger) and the "LMW 28IF" license plate on the Beetle in the shot ("Linda McCartney Weeps," and Paul would've been 28 if...); Paul's backwards shot in Sgt. Pepper's (and the "OPD" patch on his uniform which stands for "Officially Pronounced Dead"); the "I buried Paul" at the end of Strawberry Fields, the meaning behind A Day In The Life, "Billy Shears" being Paul's lookalike replacement...

This was the first my young mind has ever heard of such a "conspiracy" so I'm eating it up completely. The notion of hidden messages in songs was pretty damn awesome when you think about it, and since the DJ is presenting this without any corroborative facts or opposing viewpoints (except for a mischievious "this is still a mystery...") I've got no reason to disbelieve it. Besides, I 'm 10 years old, I'm up past my bedtime, and I'm in the dark listening to my clock radio. In that environment, your imagination says "This is where I'll take over" and really plays around.

Now the DJ gets to Revolution 9. He lays the story on us as if it were the perfect ghost story. Nobody knows exactly why or how this bizarre track made it onto the White Album, he sais. It most certainly wasn't a rock song, and putting a long experimental sound collage on the album didn't jibe with everything else.

"This is how part of the song sounds," the DJ says, and plays a snippet. I've never heard it before. It is just a mishmosh of sounds, clashes, conflicts. I guess I'm not supposed to make heads or tails of it.

"But then," the DJ continues, his voice now low and hushed, "Someone played part of it backwards. And what they heard was one of the most disturbing messages ever recorded. They heard a message which sounded like 'Turn me on, dead man'. I'm going to play the very same clip you just heard, only now I'll play it backwards. Listen for yourself."

Of course, out of that mishmash, we're going to hear what the DJ just suggested, right? If he'd said "You'll hear 'Monkees Rule OK'", our brains, now tuned to that phrase, would believe they'd picked it out of the nonsense sounds. The power of suggestion is strong.

So the DJ plays the clip backwards. And I hear it. Oh god I hear it. Only I don't hear "turn me on"... instead, I hear a scream, and then "Get out of the car." Get out of the car, dead man. Get out of the car, dead man. Get out of the car, dead man.

I'm listening in on the scene of the accident. Paul's smashed up in that car. He's got one arm dangling out of the door. Blood is streaming down his head. There's no way he survived that. And still, someone with a ghostly voice is urging him to get out. Get out of the car, dead man. That's all I can hear. In the darkness, all I can see is my clock radio glowing 9:49 in an angry, scary red.

I don't get much sleep that night.

And for many years afterwards, I always had to skip past Revolution 9 when I listened to the White Album. It had deeply scarred me so. Even when I knew the "Paul Is Dead" thing was a hoax and there was no backmasking of the DEAD GUY in Revolution 9, the track still stirred some primal fear inside me that kept me from listening to it all the way through. When I'd hear the first gentle piano notes of the track, all I could think of was dead men speaking backwards while a big red 9:49 burned itself into my mind's eye.

That said, I think "Dear Prudence" is a freakin' awesome song.
posted by Spatch at 7:38 AM on November 21, 2008 [17 favorites]


Love me some Revolution 9. But I actually listen to stuff like John Cage, Steve Reich's tape loops, and Stockhausen, rather than Coldplay and Oasis all day, so I know where the Beatles were coming from on that one.
posted by digaman at 7:39 AM on November 21, 2008


Happy Birthday White album!
posted by a3matrix at 7:41 AM on November 21, 2008


I know it's fashionable for people my age-ish and younger to snark on The Beatles

I don't know about your cohort, but nobody I know thinks it's fashionable to snark on The Beatles.

Revolution #9 kicks ass, and it totally paved the way for a lot of sonic experimentation. Granted, there are some seriously shitty sound collages out there, but number nine is not one of them.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:42 AM on November 21, 2008


Am I the only one who likes Don't Pass Me By? There's an interview with the band circa 1964 where they're joking with Ringo about the song he'd been writing (yes, it took him over 4 years to write that song, while John wrote "All You Need is Love" in about 3 days. But that's part of the charm!)

Ps: the worst song is Honey Pie (not Wild Honey Pie, and NOT Revolution 9.) I like Paul's "music hall" songs - esp. "Your Mother Should Know" - but "Honey Pie" - Paul, you're really pushing there...
posted by pellucid at 7:58 AM on November 21, 2008


I agree with Paid In Full--the album's a bummer. There are flashes of brilliance, like the guttering flame of a spent candle, but it will forever serve as a reminder of failed hopes and broken dreams, and I wish it had never been released. If the four Beatles had vanished after the last notes of Abbey Road's "The End" were played, we could still dream of the day when, like King Arthur, they would return.
posted by Restless Day at 7:59 AM on November 21, 2008


But I actually listen to stuff like John Cage, Steve Reich's tape loops, and Stockhausen, rather than Coldplay and Oasis all day, so I know where the Beatles were coming from on that one.

You know nothing of my work. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

-- john, from the grave
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:07 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Re: Revolution 9: It's ok to think that something is arty and conceptually interesting while fully recognizing that it is not at all anything that you need to hear more than once.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:20 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anyone out there care to share any recollections of their first hearing of the White Album on (or near) 11/21/68?

I can't remember my first listen, although I remember my first copy - recorded by my older brother onto two cassettes. It's also the first CD(s) that my parents bought be along with my first cd player, for my high school graduation in '88. The beginning of "Happiness is a Warm Gun" never sounded so good as that first listen, that night, with headphones.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:28 AM on November 21, 2008


Well, at least now it has an excuse for being boring.

/ducks
posted by mandal at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2008


Hilarious, SSF.

Re: Revolution 9 -- I listen to it about once a year and it always hits the spot. Yes: that spot is vertiginous, bilious, creepy, overwhelming, strangely urgent, terrifying, banal.

Revolution 9 is precisely not for the people who say, "I hate smoking pot -- it gives me panic attacks!"

But at the time it was released, it was like the whole '60s supernova collapsing in on itself before exploding out of Charles Manson's asshole. It was perfect, as much a summation of its moment as "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

And it's still audacious, even after 40 years of pop "experimentation."
posted by digaman at 8:36 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fingers of Fire, yes, I remember. I was about 10 I guess. See my previous post for some of the feelings.

As someone who grew up walking wide-eyed into hippie head-shops (black lights and Day-Glo, anyone?), being taken to antiwar demonstrations by my parents, hearing their talk about the coming socialist revolution and then watching them get beaten by cops with billy clubs and get hauled off to jail, the whole Dark Vibe of the White Album seemed like right where the world was at.
posted by digaman at 8:41 AM on November 21, 2008


Am I the only one who likes Don't Pass Me By?

pellucid, you're not. My least favorite track on the album by far. It sounds like loud music sounds when you have a hangover, to me.
posted by digaman at 8:45 AM on November 21, 2008


I like the White Album, mostly, but I also really like Lennon's take on it in an interview later, as it strikes me as absolutely spot-on.

"All you experts listen. None of you can hear. Every track is an individual track; there isn't any Beatle music on it. [It's] John and the band, Paul and the band, George and the band, like that."
posted by Skot at 8:45 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd categorize "Bungalow Bill" as one of the better tunes on the album, but it would be one of the GREAT tunes on the album if it wasn't for Yoko Ono.

God, she sounds like a dying cat.
posted by spirit72 at 8:46 AM on November 21, 2008


I just realized what the feeling of the White Album reminds me of -- Yeats' infamous poem The Second Coming.*

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


*which Joni Mitchell turned into an excellent song on Night Ride Home, "Slouching Toward Bethlehem."

posted by digaman at 8:52 AM on November 21, 2008


Ps: the worst song is Honey Pie (not Wild Honey Pie, and NOT Revolution 9.) I like Paul's "music hall" songs - esp. "Your Mother Should Know" - but "Honey Pie" - Paul, you're really pushing there...

I love Honey Pie. Perfect, understated 1920s take-off with a nice guitar solo by John.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:57 AM on November 21, 2008


I love the White Album. Probably my favourite album of all time, warts and all.

As everyone knows, the original album pressing was a double gatefold with each copy numbered. The Beatles got numbers one through four (or numbers 1-100 depending on who you ask). Number 5 is now on eBay.
posted by gfrobe at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The album has an absolutely distinctive personality -- that's for sure. Not my favorite Beatles album but it still stands out even when you've heard the songs a million times (and if you grew up anywhere in the broadcasting range of an FM radio station at a certain point in time, you probably did hear them a million times). There's something fascinating about it, the sound of things falling apart amidst the melodicism and the mess.

That Lennon quote from Skot is exactly it: even when the band is supposedly together, you can hear the sound of the four not wanting to be in the same room together, let alone the same band.
posted by blucevalo at 9:05 AM on November 21, 2008


It doesn't seem to mention in either of those links that much of the White Album was conceived and partially written at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh, India.

Here's a pretty decent photo essay shot by a fellow student in Rishikesh (with apologies for the somewhat obnoxious interface).

It was, as they said at the time, a crazy scene, man. Mia Farrow, recently divorced from Frank Sinatra, was there with her little sister, Prudence. Prudence was either a bit bummed out or really really into the Maharishi's teaching - I've heard both, I suspect the former - and "Dear Prudence" was originally a kind of nursery rhyme to coax her out of her bungalow once in awhile.

Donovan was also there, as was a young freelance writer named Lewis Lapham (who later became long-serving editor-in-chief of Harper's and wrote a sort of memoir not long ago about his time in Rishikesh.)

To cite one of the best known Rishikesh connections on the album: "Sexy Sadie" was originally titled "Maharishi," and detailed Lennon's disillusionment with his guru ("you've made a fool of everyone"). I seem to recall - probably from Ian MacDonald's simply awesome Revolution in the Head, which would be my recommendation if you only ever read one obsessive Beatles-geek tome - that at one point a few of the lads took a helicopter ride with the Maharishi, and when they got back someone asked Lennon what he thought of it. He was disappointed; he'd hoped maybe the Maharishi would slip him the key to enlightenment and the answer to the meaning of life along the way. (It probably speaks to the mindset of many at the time that it was plausible to at least half-believe that the Maharishi was sitting on a single phrase or intonation that would bring on instant escape from samsara.)

Yeah, so my mid-twenties Beatles obsession eventually spiralled into a singular fascination with the White Album. What of it?
posted by gompa at 9:05 AM on November 21, 2008


(Sorry pellucid, I misread your post.)
posted by digaman at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2008


There's something fascinating about it, the sound of things falling apart amidst the melodicism and the mess.

My pet theory is that the melodic optimism running through the album is the sort of vestigial mark of the initial promise of the Rishikesh sojourn, and the sort of clatter and chaos - the centre failing to hold, as Mr Eliot would have it - is the hard crash from that high. It's the sound of a few young men who thought they really could do anything they want, even change the world and find nirvana, realizing life's a lot harder than that. It's the sound of easy answers shattering against rock (& roll).

Wait, I've got a copy of my monograph here in my bag. No, come back - it's really quite engaging . . .
posted by gompa at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


centre failing to hold, as Mr Eliot would have it

That would be Mr. Yeats, as indicated above.
posted by digaman at 9:29 AM on November 21, 2008


Count me as another fan of "Revolution 9". You put a drum machine behind it and it could be released today. Not that I would want to, but still.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:36 AM on November 21, 2008


Take this brother, may it serve you well.
posted by mattholomew at 9:37 AM on November 21, 2008


gfrobe - I didn't know that! And I'm a huge Beatles fan. (And with my name and all...)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2008


Anyone out there care to share any recollections of their first hearing of the White Album on (or near) 11/21/68?

Not exactly what you asked for but here's a memory:

Halloween 1969: My sister and I make a scary audio tape on the Wollensak reel-to-reel (stereo! woo-woo!) to jazz up our haunted garage for trick-or-treat.

In addition to our own home-made sound effects, our source material included:
o Iron Butterfly -- Inna-gadda-da-vida (the reverb drenched instrumental section)
o The Doors -- Strange Days ("Tiny Monsters!!!")
o Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (other-worldly sounds)
o Soundtrack: Zeffirelli's Romiet and Juleo and (fantastic heavy breathing and screaming)
o The Beatles -- White Album, in particular "Revolution 9"

Scary stuff, all. At full volume, in stereo with the 'black lights' on, this stuff frightened and/or disoriented anyone under 12 or over 30 -- in other words, 100% successful.

My family used the tape at trick-or-treat for decades.
posted by Herodios at 9:40 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


put a drum machine behind [Revolution 9] and it could be released today.

Lord, give me strength. . .
posted by Herodios at 9:42 AM on November 21, 2008


That would be Mr. Yeats, as indicated above.

D'oh!

Actually, I'm pretty sure Eliot also said the centre wouldn't hold . . . maybe in The Waste Land? . . . uh, somewhere in the back? . . .
posted by gompa at 9:44 AM on November 21, 2008


As everyone knows, the original album pressing was a double gatefold with each copy numbered. The Beatles got numbers one through four (or numbers 1-100 depending on who you ask). Number 5 is now on eBay.

I didn't know that. But now that I do, I have to wonder . . . who ended up with Number 9? Number 9? Number 9?
posted by Skot at 10:00 AM on November 21, 2008


I wish I had my old vinyl copy, purchased right after original release, with the raised lettering "THE BEATLES" on it. It slipped away, though... sort of like the last 40 years, I guess.

That copy is still at my parents' house, along with originals of most of the Beatles albums. My mother was a big fan. It still traumatizes me to look at the lyrics sheet which came with the album. Right after the title, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" you can very clearly read someone's (my mother's?) handwritten-in-pencil addition, "Because we will get run over."

I like to think that there are only three pieces of evidence that my parents ever had sex: me, my brother, and my sister. The White Album presents a disturbing fourth piece of evidence.
posted by flarbuse at 10:06 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know who else thought The White Album was The Beatles' best?
posted by vibrotronica at 10:13 AM on November 21, 2008


I know it's fashionable for people my age-ish and younger to snark on The Beatles.

I don't know about your cohort, but nobody I know thinks it's fashionable to snark on The Beatles.


FWIW, I've read a number of threads on Fark where people write off The Beatles as "the boy band of their day and that's it," or variations thereupon. How anyone could equate The Beatles with The Backstreet Boys is beyond me, but there you go.

(and yes, I know I should stop reading Fark threads. Bad Spoobnooble, no donut.)
posted by spoobnooble at 10:16 AM on November 21, 2008


put a drum machine behind [Revolution 9] and it could be released today

*Cringes, coughs, cringes again*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:19 AM on November 21, 2008


I got into the Beatles my freshman year in college in 1980 after going to see Let It Be at the student union's midnight movie. I loved them. Spent many stoned and sober hours listening and reading every book in the library I scrounged up. What I loved most (still do) about them was that they just followed their instinct, for better or worse, and made what was in their hearts & heads. As long as that's there it doesn't matter how shittily produced it is.

As for the White Album, I remember sitting in the attic room in some frat house, passing a joint around with people I don't remember, while Rocky Raccoon blared away on the turntable. Later in the dorm a guy was totally dissing the Fab Four and his roomie threw the White Album at him and said, "You're not going out with us until you've listened to the WHOLE THING. And if you can still say they suck after doing so, you'll have the right." I don't think he became a huge fan, but he never shat upon them again.
posted by yoga at 10:20 AM on November 21, 2008


Flunkie: All right, here we go:

Excellent


I pretty much agree with your rankings, but your rating system is, of course, confined to the Beatles Universe and not intended for comparison to songs by such artists as The Archies, Jessica Simpson, or The Cyrkle. That is, the bottom of this rating system is somewhere near the top of the system for all artists, right? I mean, Happiness is a Warm Gun as merely "Good"? Honey Pie is "OK"? Yes, compared to some of the other songs on the list, which are songs for the ages. But compared to the routine crap that's handed out these days, not so much.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2008


Oh, and I always wanted the album in actual white vinyl. I only saw one in person once.
posted by yoga at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2008


Oh, and by the way, my guitar gently weeps for the half of this group who are no longer with us.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2008


I once heard a bootleg outtake in which John sings a snatch of "Why Don't We Do It in the Road", only he changes the lyrics to:

"No one will be watching us, why don't we put it on the toast?"

I love this.
posted by squalor at 10:41 AM on November 21, 2008


Oh, and I always wanted the album in actual white vinyl. I only saw one in person once.

I recall that this came out in '78. I went out & bought one- it was a crappy pressing, thin vinyl, sounded terrible. I returned it and got my $16 back.
posted by squalor at 10:45 AM on November 21, 2008


The watusi. The twist.

El Dorado.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2008


Do you know what other album is 40 years old?
posted by mazola at 10:59 AM on November 21, 2008


"Sexy Sadie" alone is worth the price of admission. Goddamn, I love that song.

Also: "I'm So Tired."
posted by grubi at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2008


Ironically, Beggar's Banquet was released on the same day.
posted by Danf at 11:26 AM on November 21, 2008


If the four Beatles had vanished after the last notes of Abbey Road's "The End" were played, we could still dream of the day when, like King Arthur, they would return.

Except that the White Album was recorded and released long before Abbey Road. . .
posted by Danf at 11:33 AM on November 21, 2008


"Helter Skelter" turns out to be Paul's attempt to one-up the Who for getting down and dirty. More track info behind the link.
posted by digaman at 11:35 AM on November 21, 2008


I just have to jump in here and say that I absolutely love "Wild Honey Pie". Brings a smile to my face every single time.

And an ex-girlfriend once pointed out to me that listening to "Julia" back to back with "Martha My Dear" will tell you just about everything you need to know about the John vs. Paul debate.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 12:01 PM on November 21, 2008


If the four Beatles had vanished after the last notes of Abbey Road's "The End" were played, we could still dream of the day when, like King Arthur, they would return.

Actually, if I recall correctly, Abbey Road was recorded after Let It Be, but released first. So, in a way, you get your wish.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:16 PM on November 21, 2008


Let It Be was mostly recorded in January 1969 (there were some re-recordings in early 1970, after John had left the band) and it was released in May 1970. Abbey Road was recorded during February-August 1969 and released in September 1969.

it's also Voltaire's birthday

Mine too, along with Stan Musial, Marlo Thomas, Dr. John, Harold Ramis, Goldie Hawn, Björk, Ken Griffey, Jr., and others. (I'm the same age as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.) The White Album came out on my fourth birthday, so I had other priorities at the time (my parents, regrettably, weren't into The Beatles). I got into them big during the same 1984 Paul Is Dead hullaballoo that Spatch wrote about, and as a result I think "Cry Baby Cry" is very spooky.

Today is also World Television Day.

You can hear a more stripped-down version by getting the recently released Let It Be ... Naked.

Which was totally stupid. They should've used the original Get Back title and cover.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:22 PM on November 21, 2008


As everyone knows, the original album pressing was a double gatefold with each copy numbered. The Beatles got numbers one through four (or numbers 1-100 depending on who you ask). Number 5 is now on eBay.

There's been unconfirmed reports over the years that there were multiple copies with the same numbers - a recent letter to Record Collector magazine talked about 4 known copies of number 60-something...
posted by anagrama at 12:23 PM on November 21, 2008


If you had been walking to your car after seeing a movie at the Colony movie theater on 2nd Ave. in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1981 and you happened to look up, you would have seen the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo looking down on you from the bedroom of my 2nd floor apartment. The pictures from the White Album were Scotched-taped up to my wall, and if the light was on, chances are I was in my room listening to this album. My parents had just divorced and I was in the throes of making a not-so-smooth transition from childhood to young adulthood. In retrospect, maybe the White Album is all about loss and transition and moving away from something you once loved and maybe that's why it resonated with me so much at the time.

Sorry to get all "Wonder Years" on you folks, but I did name my first born after a song on the album.
posted by Otis at 12:58 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Danf Except that the White Album was recorded and released long before Abbey Road. . .

Wow--I can't believe I made that mistake. In my defense, I'm old, and I did a lot of drugs.
posted by Restless Day at 1:30 PM on November 21, 2008


I did name my first born after a song on the album.

Bill? Sadie? Nine!!
posted by grubi at 1:38 PM on November 21, 2008


I did name my first born after a song on the album.

Bill? Sadie? Nine!!


'Monkey'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:59 PM on November 21, 2008


Danf again Ironically, Beggar's Banquet was released on the same day.


Really?? Clearly my memories are not stored in strict chronological order.


Oooh, flashbacks
posted by Restless Day at 2:02 PM on November 21, 2008


My memories of the White Album are like this: I was a junior in high school, in Spokane, Washington, when it was released. A bunch of girls hung out at someone's house and we listened to it for hours, debating the merits and demerits of each song, much as folks are doing in this thread 40 years later. I wonder what all those grown-up ladies are doing now. Thanks for the memories, sleepy pete!

I like Don't Pass Me By, also, especially as it is the only Beatles song I ever taught myself how to play on the organ!
posted by Lynsey at 2:10 PM on November 21, 2008


And an ex-girlfriend once pointed out to me that listening to "Julia" back to back with "Martha My Dear" will tell you just about everything you need to know about the John vs. Paul debate.

Not exactly fair since Julia is John at his best; Martha My Dear isn't Paul at his best.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2008


Not exactly fair since Julia is John at his best; Martha My Dear isn't Paul at his best.

Yeah, granted. And having just finished up a listen to the whole album (thanks to this post), I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the Paul content. Even "Ob-la-di Ob-la-da" sounded kind of great, especially the vocal harmonies on the chorus.

My favorite song this time around? Savoy Motherfreakin Truffle.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:24 PM on November 21, 2008


Also: I just noticed that it is Rene Magritte's 110th birthday today, and I believe one of his painted apples was the inspiration for the Apple Records logo.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:32 PM on November 21, 2008



Danf again Ironically, Beggar's Banquet was released on the same day.

Restless Day Really??

No, not really. The Stones album was released a few weeks later.

Also, it wasn't ironic. It was similar and (nearly) a coincidence.
posted by Herodios at 3:11 PM on November 21, 2008


Paul: [mumbling] Going down a slide.

Helter Skelter is not about going down a slide

It is about going down

Dirtiest Beatles tune evar
posted by Anders Levant at 4:00 PM on November 21, 2008


Granted, there are some seriously shitty sound collages out there, but number nine is not one of them.
So you're saying that Revolution 9 is not a sound collage?
posted by Flunkie at 4:03 PM on November 21, 2008


I posted this this morning before running for the bus because I knew there would be some good things to read when I got home. Thanks for not disappointing me.

One of the things I think is interesting about the album, and something that's brought up in the podcast and probably the essays (I haven't made it very far into those yet) is the fact that it's one of the first post-modern rock/pop albums. So, it was interesting to me that digaman brought up "The Second Coming" by Yeats because it tends to be looked at (from a distance by lit majors, of course, me being one of those people) as one of the first sort of comments on modernism within an English-language poem during the modernist era. Also, FWIW gompa, Elliot tends to use a train in "The Four Quartets" to talk about time and tracks coming together as a symbol for modernism/his poetry, but he was way more of a modernist. That has nothing to do with the album, really, but I thought you might be thinking of that.

Also interesting, at least to me, is that The Flaming Lips started their 1987 album Oh My Gawd!!! with the "Take this brother..." line and end it with a loop of "Turn off your mind and relax" (yeah, not the white album, but still) playing quietly while they destroy a piano (at least that's what it sounds like) in the studio. This could be because I'm a pretty big Lips fan, though.

As for the album itself, I've felt pretty much the way everyone else does above at different times in my life. It can be one of my favorite albums and I can dislike it for years before going back (I was a big Beatles fan as a little kid, so I've actually listened to them a lot over the years--strangely, along with a handful of other bands/musicians, they're something I can still listen to even if I know the songs completely). The album stands out to me as something that seems more like a parody of music styles rather than actual "Beatles" music half the time. Maybe they were just parodying each other. I'm not really sure.
posted by sleepy pete at 4:04 PM on November 21, 2008


Savoy Motherfreakin Truffle.

Herodios, not helping--I put Beggars Banquet before the white album, in my mind--and I'd be wrong, I guess, but I wouldn't trade my memories with any young man today--

We all know Obladi Bla Dah--but can you show me where you are
posted by Restless Day at 4:04 PM on November 21, 2008


Lennon's waaaaaay off-mic voice on the last verse of "Yer Blues" was a nice touch. And he sings his ass off on it throughout. Plus , it contains this brilliant lyric:

My mother was of the sky
my father was of the earth
and I am of the universe
and you know what it's worth!


Badass. And Lennon's other raw, garage-bandy-sounding tune on the record, "I'm So Tired": those two constitute some damn good primal rock and roll, y'know?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:15 PM on November 21, 2008


If the four Beatles had vanished after the last notes of Abbey Road's "The End" were played, we could still dream of the day when, like King Arthur, they would return.
As noted by another poster, Abbey Road came after the White Album. But anyway, ignoring that:

The Abbey Road side 2 montage, though terrific, is made all the better by the perfect counterpoint to its sprawling, epic, conclusive, and somewhat self-important nature: The bright, perky, playful, concise, and thoroughly excellent "Her Majesty", immediately following.

If "The End" really was the end, one might think the montage perhaps too self-important. "Her Majesty" comes off as a wink to the listener - "Nah, we're just playing around". It's perfect in its placement and effect.

I am aware that they didn't originally intend for the album to end with "Her Majesty", nor even to have the song on the album in the first place, and the fact that it's there is due to a happy accident. They lucked out; the album would not be the same without it.
posted by Flunkie at 4:33 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is about going down

Wasn't that "I'm Down"?
posted by kirkaracha at 5:19 PM on November 21, 2008


sprawling, epic, conclusive, and somewhat self-important

Yes. That is how I remember it, how I will remember it, including and in spite of "Her Majesty."
posted by Restless Day at 6:04 PM on November 21, 2008


arcanecrowbar beat me to it, but

I also loved "Wild Honey Pie" as a kid. I thought it sounded so cool.
posted by wittgenstein at 6:53 PM on November 21, 2008


The watusi...

The twist...

El Dorado.
posted by thrakintosh at 6:57 PM on November 21, 2008


We are standing still.

I'm so old that I can remember when this was The Beatles' new album. Damn.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:04 PM on November 21, 2008


Take this brother, may it serve you well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:36 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


if only you trimmed it down to a single album...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned yet that some of us took a shot at that very thing here in the blue some time back, with this nice post from jonp72. Looks like the applet for playing around is still online, too.

Anyone out there care to share any recollections of their first hearing of the White Album on (or near) 11/21/68?

The idea that anyone alive in 1968 could today remember anything for more than two or three minutes made me laugh. I remember just where The White Album can currently be found on my shelves, but that's about it. Well, I also remember that my copy has a # on it — I'm not home this week so I can't say what it is — and I think we never actually called it The White Album back then. I seem to remember its name was The Beatles.

Which actually makes more sense — the album isn't white, the cover is white — and it is The Beatles. Although, as people have pointed out above, it's really The Beatles one at a time.

I'm sorry that I doubted you/I was so unfair/You were in a car crash/And you lost your hair

Yes, Paul is dead.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:46 PM on November 21, 2008


I just like it.
posted by wv kay in ga at 11:11 PM on November 21, 2008




No, not really. The Stones album was released a few weeks later.


I based that assertion on my memories of college. The local record store, Licorice Pizza, got both of those LP's in on the same day. I reluctantly chose the Stones, although friends chose the White Album so we listened to them both a bunch.
posted by Danf at 6:33 AM on November 22, 2008


Paul: [mumbling] Going down a slide.

In my imagination, Paul says: "Going down a slide, motherfucker! That's right, soppy old Pauly wrote a song about funfair equipment that's heavier and rocks harder than any of your 'edgy' wank! You just keep on epatering the bourgeoisie from the comfort of your country estate John, because you and I both know: You're the hard one, and I'm the cute one, but the cute one can crush you at your own game anytime he wants to."

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have an idea for a melody that I may use in a Christmas song ten years from now."

Also, in my imagination, Paul sounds like Samuel L. Jackson.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:43 AM on November 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm definately a Paul-ist, so I luuurve this album. Also, trim it down to a single album? Methinks y'all don't like music so much.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2008


In the summer of '86 I was 15 and sitting on the couch doing nothing. My mom handed me the White Album and said "Here. Listen to this today". I listened to it all summer long; it started my obsession with the band.

One of my bands is playing a White Album Anniversary show in Sacramento tomorrow. 15 or so bands playing one or two songs off the album, all in order.

I hadn't played the White Album front to back in years, but in preparation for the show, pulled it out again. I love every part of it. Rev #9 maybe not so much, or even Wild Honey Pie, but I'll take Don't Pass Me By anytime.
posted by Biff!Bang!Pow! at 11:47 AM on November 22, 2008


Just want to put in another vote for "Don't Pass Me By" being great. That honky tonk piano coming out of "Rocky Raccoon?" C'mon!
posted by HeroZero at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2008


Everybody compares the WA to the music they know now, but please remember the environment the WA was first released into in 19 fucking 68. Far into the 70's it contained the most radical sounds ever released into the radiosphere and only started to get caught up to in the early 90's, IMHO.
posted by telstar at 10:18 PM on November 22, 2008


About a decade and a half ago a friend of a friend was doing some restoration work on a house that had been built sometime around the late 60s / early 70s. After knocking down one particular wall he noticed that someone had left a little 1969 time capsule inside it - a plastic bag containing an original, numbered, embossed-lettering copy of the White Album, seemingly unplayed, complete with the four portrait photos and the lyric sheet/poster. And a lump of hash.
posted by El Brendano at 5:23 AM on November 24, 2008


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