Their Most Diverse Album to Date
With arguments and almost knock out fights occuring in the studio, The Beatles released this sprawling, 2 LP set. This has to be their most diverse album to date, covering such genres as blues, rock, folk, soul, novelty, swinger-jazz, heavy metal, 50s doo-wop, country, children sing-a-longs, reggae, and early electronica. The album drew alot of criticism for containing so much new material for listeners to take in. George Martin thought that the album would have been a smashing one LP set. But due to the fights and the diversity of the members of the band, they had to settle with the songs the individual band members wanted on their next studio release. Although they took alot of slack from fans and some critics, over the years the album has been praised as one of the ultimate rock recordings in history.
The album’s title is a little misleading as well. It does say The Beatles, but really the recordings were done, alot of the time, by themselves in the studio. There would be times though that a couple of the members would get together and record a track. But, gone were the days when John and Paul would sit together, thinking up of ideas to use in the studio. There was alot of hatred within the group for some reason or another. George had written so much material, and he was getting shunned by the rest of the group and even the workers at Abbey Road. No one would want to work on any songs that Harrison had written. Its not that they were all that bad really, its just that Lennon and McCartney were always looked upon as the main songwriters. In order for George to get his material noticed and for the constant bickering to stop, he decided to bring a friend into the studio. That friend was none other than Eric Clapton. George finally got to record While My Guitar Gently Weeps which is arguably the best track on the “White Album”. John would often bring his new love interest, Yoko, into the studio which made it awkward for the rest of the group. Ringo even left the band during this time, because he to was upset with the bickering. He also felt that he wasnt really wanted as a drummer, not like he used to feel. Paul finally talked some sense into him, and the rest of the White Album sessions for Ringo were memorable. Most of the anger and hatred probably drew from the fact that Paul seemed to take over in the studio. Whatever he said went for the most time. He and the producer, George Martin, were very close friends. The rest of the group resented the fact that Paul got to spend so much time on his material with constant reworkings and takes to make the song sound right to McCartneys specifications. Paul was a perfectionist, and that made the rest of the band rather disturbed and weary by the end of the sessions.
Out of the four members, it was Lennon’s compositions were of the best quality. My favourite songs by John are featured on this album which include: Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Im So Tired, Sexy Sadie, Cry Baby Cry, and Everybody’s Got Something to Hide, Except for Me and My Monkey. Dear Prudence was written during the Beatles excursion to India in early 1968. He wrote this song about Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence. She would spend most of her time in a tent, meditating. This was one of John’s most beautiful melodies he came up with. Interestingly enough, Ringo didnt drum on this track. Paul did. Glass Onion was John’s attempt at writing lyrics that made fun of all the people who read too much into Beatles lyrics. George Harrison was particularly fond of this track. Happiness is a Warm Gun is based upon 3 different tunes that were spliced together. John got the title of the song from a Rifle magazine he saw on someone’s coffee table, but he thought more of using the phrase as sexual innuendo than violence. Im So Tired goes back to the Beatles roots in 50s doo-wop. Sexy Sadie was based upon the Maharishi who basically made fools out of everyone there at the camp. He ran off with their money. Sexy Sadie also brings back those 50s roots. Cry Baby Cry is a favourite of mine, even though Lennon considered it absolute rubbish. There is a hidden song within Cry Baby Cry that is written by Paul McCartney. The song is called, Can You Take Me Back, and it doesnt have any recognition within the liner notes. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide… is about John and Yoko who felt as if everything they do together is broadcast althroughout the media. The Beatles jam best on this song, no denying that.
Other Lennon compositions which are of less importance are: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Julia, Happy Birthday (written with McCartney), Yer Blues, Revolution, Revolution 9, and Good Night. Im not saying there is anything bad about these songs, they are just his more mediocre outputs. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill is a child singalong where Yoko makes her first vocal appearance within a Beatles tune. Lets say this isnt particularly one of my favourite tunes on this album. Julia is a beautiful ballad written partly about Lennons mother and Yoko. Happy Birthday is filler, but fun, nonetheless. I kinda like that guitar riff. Revolution is of slower tempo than what most people are used to. The Revolution single is a very fast paced track, heavy on guitar riffs which was the precursor to heavy metal. The album version is a slow, bluesy version that Im particularly fond of. The lyrics are some of Lennons best as well. Revolution 9 is the most bizarre track on the album, and probably the most bizarre track of the Beatles catalogue, no doubt. John recorded most of this during an acid trip he had with assistant, Mal Evans. This is indeed early electronica which John thought would be very popular in the future. Good Night is my least favourite track. Too overlush for my taste. And Im not particularly fond of Starr’s vocals as well.
As far as quantity goes, McCartney gets the award for the most tracks to make it on this output. Paul did write some nice songs such as Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon, Why Dont We Do It In the Road?, Helter Skelter, and Mother Natures Son. Blackbird was written about the black uprising in America. CSNY liked to cover this song in concert. Rocky Raccoon is a humourous country song. Why Dont We Do it in the Road features some amazing vocals by Paul. That cat sure can sing! Lennon was rather upset because it was basically done in his songwriting style. He wished that he could have sang the vocals on that tune. Pauls vocals didnt slag in any which way though. Helter Skelter was Paul’s answer to the supposed “heaviest” tune up until that time, I Can See For Miles. Paul remembered reading something in the musical papers about Townshend being quoted for recording one of the heaviest tracks in rock. Well Paul thought he would take it a step further, and yes he did very well with this formerly recorded rhythm and blues track.
Other songs of his which are of less importance are: Back in the USSR, Ob La Di Ob La Da, Wild Honey Pie, Martha My Dear, I Will, and Honey Pie. Back in the USSR is a parody of both Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys. Ob La Di Ob La Da was the Beatles doing white reggae, or ska as we now know it. The rest of the members hated performing this song, because Paul kept wanting to do more and more takes to make it perfect. Perfect enough to be released as a single that would never happen. Wild Honey Pie was written while in India. Rather strange track, but interesting flamenco guitar passage by Harrison. Martha My Dear was written about Paul’s old english sheepdog. I Will and Honey Pie are rather forgettable.
Harrison finally got more than his regular quota, as far as song output goes for this release. Every one of his tracks shines as well. You get the rather beautiful “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, the symphonic rock of “Piggies”, the majestic ballad of “Long Long Long”, and the brass-tinged “Savoy Truffle”. While My Guitar Gently Weeps has a guitar solo provided by Eric Clapton. Clapton did not get any credit on this album due to the fact that he was on a different label than the Beatles were on. Piggies is George’s attempt at writing social commentary. I just love that line, “What they need is a damn good whacking”. Long Long Long is a rather unappreciated track on the White Album. It was also mixed very low, and it seems as if you have to turn the volume up fairly high just to hear the vocals. George based the chord structure on Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Savoy Truffle is about Eric Clapton. Supposedly, he had a sweet tooth, and never could stop eating chocolate.
Ringo Starr’s one and only composition is “Dont Pass Me By”. It was also his first lone songwriting credit within a Beatles album. He previously had credit for helping write the instrumental, Flying, which is on the Magical Mystery Tour. Dont Pass Me By is a country tinged tune with a nice fiddle passage.
Again, this was a very diverse album. Only the Beatles could pull something like this off. It was very groundbreaking for the time. Not many double albums that contain all new material are very successful, especially for that time. Yet they pulled it off. They were the Beatles, they could pull anything off. Well anything but telling the world that they were bigger than Jesus Christ. But that is a whole other story…….
Additional info: the working title for this ablum was “A Doll’s House”. This was also the Beatles first album to be released on the Apple Records label. It wasnt the first, however. George released Wonderwall Music, and John and Yoko released Two Virgins beforehand.