Monday, May 20, 2013

The Beatles - The Beatles aka The White Album



 I remember around high school there was a sudden thing where musicians couldn't seem to resist name dropping this album as being really influential on them. I'm sure that's true, but for me, this album is a mess.  It's a double album solely because they were reaching a point where they all wanted to do something different and no one wanted to yield and the record company wasn't going to tell them no because this is The Beatles we're talking about.  There's good and there's bad and there's horrid on here.  Let's get to it.

  1. "Back in the U.S.S.R." - We start off strong, with Paul writing a song that was a direct response to the Beach Boys, both with their multi-part harmonies and their All-American lyrics.  It's a fun song.
  2. "Dear Prudence" - A fairly simple song by John, written in India because the lady in question refused to leave her room.  It's very sweet.
  3. "Glass Onion" - It's followed by another from John that's a bit more blues inspired and contains some interesting sound clips as well, along with a lot of nonsense lyrics and references to their past songs.  The "here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul" line feels like he's talking about the "Paul is dead" conspiracy until you realize that didn't materialize until after they had broken up.  I'm pretty sure what he's really doing is calling Paul a charlatan, like the walrus from "The Walrus and the Carpenter."  These were not happy times for them.
  4. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" - The second song I knew of because of a TV show appropriating it for its theme song. (Anyone even remember Life Goes On at this point?) It's fun and bouncy and great to sing along to.  Reportedly, Paul drove them all nuts while recording this song.  That's also how the "Desmond stays at home and does her pretty face" line came about, because they had been doing it so many times that he accidentally sang the wrong thing and liked it enough to keep it.
  5. "Wild Honey Pie" - It's so strange that this one appears before "Honey Pie."  This is just a jumbled mess of an experiment and should definitely have been left off the album.
  6. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" - I don't like a thing about this one at all.  The chorus of vocals, the lyrics, the music.  It's just bland to me.  Yoko's slightly off key vocals don't help at all.
  7. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - Probably one of George's best Beatles songs, with that wonderful slide guitar sound.  The lyrics aren't great, but I think the simplicity of the song really makes it work. And yes, Clapton plays on the track, but he doesn't do anything here that George himself couldn't pull off just as well, so I refuse to give him any credit for it.
  8. "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" - A great one for John that sounds more modern today than it is, and is probably one of those that the 90s musicians found so influential.  I love the way the song takes so many twists and turns, and the lyrics evoke great imagery even if they don't always make sense.
  9. "Martha My Dear" - This song was written for Paul's sheepdog.  I worry for anyone who thinks it's a romantic song.  But it is very sweet and fun to sing along with.
  10. "I'm So Tired" - Another great one by John.  I love the building nature with that "I'll give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind" before grinding to a stop and then starting over again.
  11. "Blackbird" - Simple, sweet, and lovely, a song about the civil rights turmoil going on in the states around this time period.
  12. "Piggies" - I like that this is one of those songs that sounds like a children's song on the service but has some of those more sinister meanings hidden in there.  It's a shame that it was later used by a madman to create something horrible.
  13. "Rocky Raccoon" - This one is silly, but I really like it.  There's also a great early take on the Anthology discs where Paul flubs his line that's pretty funny. (Also, check out the adorable cartoon someone made of the song that I linked.  It's cute!)
  14. "Don't Pass Me By" - Ringo has finally written a song!  And it sounds like a lot of the others ones they used to give him to cover really.  It's not bad for what it is, but not really my style.
  15. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" - It's Paul's turn to get a little bluesy.  I like the style of it, but it seems pretty clear that he really only had a couple lines of a song that he then jammed on while they hit record.
  16. "I Will" - A sickeningly sweet Paul love song.  I don't like it. 
  17. "Julia" - Julia was John's mother.  She died when he was 17 and it had a profound effect on him.  So why does this song suddenly become all about Yoko by the second line?
  18. "Birthday" - I had taped this song off the radio once before I even realized it was by the Beatles.  To me it sounded like some sort of rock number from the 70s.  It also has Linda McCartney and Yoko singing on it, badly.  Unfortunately neither of their beaus would realize how bad an idea that was and continued to record them singing for years later.
  19. "Yer Blues" -  More straight up blues than some of the songs John did early.  I think his vocals are well suited for the genre and so I really like this one.  If you are curious who "Dylan's Mr. Jones" is, click the link.
  20. "Mother Nature's Son" -Way too slow and sleepy for me to get any kind of enjoyment out of this one.
  21. "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" - His monkey is referring to Yoko.  And it's not exactly sung in a way to suggest a loving pet name.  It's weird.  Beyond that I really do like the song's beat and that bell clanging away through the verses.
  22. "Sexy Sadie" -This is one of those songs where I start off liking it, but it just keeps going on and doesn't change up all that much and I'm just ready for it to be over.
  23. "Helter Skelter" - Growing up I remember always thinking this was a bad song that I shouldn't listen to.  I didn't really know why, beyond that it was somehow related to a serial killer.  Of course as I got older I realized there was really nothing wrong with the song itself.  It's about a playground ride for crying out loud!  It's also interesting to note that this was Paul attempting to beat The Who at making the "loudest, rawest, dirtiest"  song based on a quote from Pete Townshend.  Measure it up against "I Can See for Miles" (for which Townshend made the claim) and see which one you think wins.  It's kind of a shame that Paul largely dropped this style in his solo career, because I can only imagine how fun a Paul McCartney heavy metal album could have been.
  24. "Long, Long, Long" -I had no memory of this song at all, and I can see why.  It's too slow and dreamy, with not much happening at all.  The ending is also pretty weird.
  25. "Revolution 1" - Not the version you're thinking of, because this one was deemed too slow to be a single and they made the hit we all know and love today. I have to agree, I can't see this one possibly being released as a single.  Which is not to say that it's bad in and of itself.
  26. "Honey Pie" - Unlike its strange sibling, I really like this song.  It's similar to "When I'm Sixty Four" with its old fashioned sound.  Easy to sing along to and easy to get stuck in your head.  I also like the lyrics a lot.
  27. "Savoy Truffle" -George was having a bit of trouble finishing song lyrics around this time, and it's probably nowhere more obvious than on this one, where he was literally reading varieties off a box of chocolates.   It's not a bad song but it's not one I listen to very often.
  28. "Cry Baby Cry" -I love the way the lyrics resemble the words to "four and twenty blackbirds" and then slowly develop into something else.  I find myself singing the chorus of this one a lot to my cats when they start whining.
  29. "Revolution 9" - Junk.  (Did you imagine you'd ever hear me say that about ANY Beatles song? Especially a John song?) It's not music by any definition of the word.  It's just assembled noise and dreadful to listen to.  I appreciate his willingness to experiment but that doesn't mean I have to like the results.  If you do happen to like this one and are not familiar with noise art, I recommend you look it up.
  30. "Good Night" - Written by John for Julian, so why is Ringo singing it?  His voice simply isn't strong enough for this.  It is a nice lullaby, but it's not really a Beatles song at all.
So I know I'm being pretty harsh here, but I can't help but be bothered by the way Yoko largely took over John's focus for a good portion of the album.  I'm not saying she forced him into it, mind you.  Infatuation  that becomes love can hit a person hard and make them want to do things.  It's just that John was clearly so adamant about it that no one else (particularly his former writing partner) could make it through to him that maybe some of these things weren't such a great idea.  Granted no one had the guts to tell Paul either that some of these songs didn't really belong here either, so I guess it doesn't matter what the circumstances where, you just had two guys who were a bit out of control in knowing the good from the bad at this point.

It's also worth noting that all of the missteps here are songs you could easily point to as being wildly influential in creating new styles of music.  So even if the guys themselves couldn't perfect what they were trying for, someone further down the line did.

3 comments:

  1. +JMJ+

    Would you believe I've never listened to this album before? And there are some songs here I'll be listening to for the first time!

    Back in the U.S.S.R. definitely sounds inspired by the Beach Boys. Or perhaps more generally inspired by American music, as the hat tip to Georgia on My Mind suggests?

    On the other hand, I can hear The Beatles' influence on other bands in Dear Prudence. It sounds like a lot of the Brit Pop I used to listen to in the 90s. But it seems like a weird follow up to the first track. It's early, but I see your point about this not feeling like a cohesive album.

    Glass Onion is so meta--and just the kind of inside joke John would write. It ends strangely, though. And then we go to . . . Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da??? It's a fun one I learned in childhood, but I can totally hear everyone being driven crazy by it. LOL!

    Wild Honey Pie is the weirdest interlude. You're right that they should have left it out. And then left Yoko out of The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill. =/ It's easy to see (to hear?) why a lot of people thought it plausible to blame her for the Beatles' breakup.

    While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a great George song! It's also probably the first since Taxman which I wouldn't skip. =P Will it also prove to be the most artistic track on the whole album?

    Happiness is a Warm Gun is moody in a way that fits the previous track. And Martha My Dear isn't a jarring contrast to either one.

    Blackbird is lovely. It's not a personal favourite, but one of my best friends thinks it's the best song The Beatles ever did. I don't think she knows about the context of the civil rights movement, though--which highlights what a great song it is on its own, I think. =)

    But are Piggies and Rocky Racoon up next because they're also "about" animals? =P The former is a really cynical follow up to Blackbird, though, and the latter is one I'm not too sure about. There's something about the melody that seems so sinister to me, but the lyrics aren't dark. I guess you could say it reminds me of Roald Dahl.

    Now that I'm no longer skipping George, Don't Pass Me By makes me think I'll be skipping Ringo. ;-)

    Finally, I can't decide whether Why Don't We Do It in the Road? is meant to be taken seriously or is a parody of the Blues. Which shows how much I know about the Blues, I guess! LOL! I don't mind getting a few lyrics over and over, and getting to hear the rest of the song (mostly the arrangement and the delivery of the vocals) develop around it--but I think The Beatles would do it much better in Abbey Road with I Want You.

    I'll have to stop now and listen to the rest of the album later. =)

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  2. +JMJ+

    Okay, I'm back. But not really. I made it through I Will, which is sweet and pretty and uncomplicated enough . . . but there was something about Julia that really tried my patience.

    This album is really not for me. =( Maybe my least favourite Beatles' album ever, and I'm saying that without listening to the whole thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can understand that. It's just so all over the place, there's bound to be songs you just can't get through.

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