The name “White Album” shouldn’t be used…
Beginning a review is tough. You have to catch the reader’s eye and also manage to present something about the album, all while avoiding making a wall of text. I guess I’ll start this one off with a confession: I think that the name “The White Album” is stupid and shouldn’t be used. Yes, calling this The Beatles might get confusing, but for your sake I’ll use italics just this once. If you’re not calling this The Beatles, you’re ignoring and denying the character and essence of the album. It isn’t named that in the singular, united sense, it’s plural, as in “this is stuff that all the Beatles made”. It’s four solo albums, each tugging at the rope as hard as they can.
It’s widely known that the band was on the edge during recording. Brian Epstein was gone and management was getting the boys down. Yoko Ono’s increased presence was welcome by John Lennon but caused tension with the other three. Musical differences also led to problems. John was getting more experimental and avant-garde; Paul McCartney was going back a decade or two and reliving their pop. The songwriting pair, while still in the Lennon/McCartney name, was reduced to a rivalry. Paul was famously embarassed to even think about asking to sing on one of John’s songs on another album.
Even if this wasn’t a traditional record by The Beatles, this 30 song double album contains a lot of their best work. John has quite a few of his best efforts here “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” are tremendously powerful ballads. “Glass Onion” is a gently rocking “tribute” to over-analyzing fans. “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” and “Cry Baby Cry” are nice little fairytales, the latter is especially underrated. “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is one of the best they’ve recorded, and if memory serves, was one the whole band could actually agree on. The many changes in it make it what it is. Honorable mentions go to “I’m So Tired”, “Yer Blues”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey“, and “Sexy Sadie”. But no honorable mention to “Revolution 9”, I don’t care, it’s crappy filler.
Paul does more than prove his worth. “Back in the USSR”, a rocking Beach Boys parody, never ceases to get a smile, nor does “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, a ska…y song that’s impossible not to sing along to. “Martha My Dear” is overwhelmingly underrated, one of the best here. It changes itself up halfway through and turns into something great. “Blackbird” is stunningly beautiful, I can see why it’s one of my Mom’s favorite songs. “Rocky Raccoon” is a Western number with an authentic saloon piano that is more impossible to sing along to than pretty much anything. “I Will” is a lovey ballad. “Helter Skelter” is pretty much the opposite, I love how dirty it sounds. I wish the 27 minute version was left in…
George is phenomenal on this release. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” might be the best on the album, it towers over everything with its “oh look at me, I have Eric Clapton and a really cool piano part and I am just awesome so look at me”. It embodies classic rock, is what it does. “Piggies” is underrated, yes it’s silly, yes it’s pretentious, but it still sounds good. “Long, Long, Long” shows that he also had skill in writing catchy ballads, he could teach Paul a thing or two. “Savoy Truffle” is about candy but it still sounds really cool and leaves ol’ Georgie four for four.
Ringo, that lovable dog, didn’t contribute much of anything. He didn’t even drum on the first two songs, walking out in anger at how the band was going. His masterpiece didn’t come until the next release, but his only song here, “Don’t Pass Me By”, is still pretty good. I don’t know why he’s so country influenced but he is, and it’s really noticeable here. It might have been his try at writing songs Lennon/McCartney were in Rubber Soul, or it might have been his plea to branch out on his own. Whatever it is, it’s a solid song.
The sequencing is very well done. They bounce rockers off of ballads, never leaving a stretch of filler. There are a few stretches of amazing though, namely “While My Guitar…” – “Happiness…” – “Martha My Dear” and the animal section. The first disc/17 songs are superior to the second, but nothing ever drags or has a noticeable drop in quality. From Paul’s satire to John’s song to Julian, it’s very, very good throughout. It’s a shame that it took the band basically breaking up for them to release songs of this caliber.