The Beatles White Album
Each song on the sprawling double album The Beatles is an entity to itself, as the band touches on anything and everything it can. This makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view, but what makes the so-called White Album interesting is its mess. Never before had a rock record been so self-reflective, or so ironic; the Beach Boys send-up “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and the British blooze parody “Yer Blues” are delivered straight-faced, so it’s never clear if these are affectionate tributes or wicked satires. Lennon turns in two of his best ballads with “Dear Prudence” and “Julia”; scours the Abbey Road vaults for the musique concrète collage “Revolution 9”; pours on the schmaltz for Ringo’s closing number, “Good Night”; celebrates the Beatles cult with “Glass Onion”; and, with “Cry Baby Cry,” rivals Syd Barrett. McCartney doesn’t reach quite as far, yet his songs are stunning — the music hall romp “Honey Pie,” the mock country of “Rocky Raccoon,” the ska-inflected “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and the proto-metal roar of “Helter Skelter.”
Clearly, the Beatles’ two main songwriting forces were no longer on the same page, but neither were George and Ringo. Harrison still had just two songs per LP, but it’s clear from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the canned soul of “Savoy Truffle,” the haunting “Long, Long, Long,” and even the silly “Piggies” that he had developed into a songwriter who deserved wider exposure. And Ringo turns in a delight with his first original, the lumbering country-carnival stomp “Don’t Pass Me By.” None of it sounds like it was meant to share album space together, but somehow The Beatles creates its own style and sound through its mess.