The White Album Is 40
My all time favorite album turned 40 this week. The Beatles self titled double album was released on November 22, 1968. It’s better known as The White Album due to it’s white cover. It was The Beatles only double album and their only self titled album. I also believe it was their best album (and considering the competition that is saying a lot.)
Sure not every one of the album’s 30 tracks is up to The Beatles usual incredibly high standards. Songs like “Goodnight” and “Don’t Pass Me By” (sorry Ringo) won’t ever rank among The Beatles best and in fact they do rank among their worst. But even the not so great songs seem to add to the album’s character. And these few weak tracks are definitely exceptions and not the rule.
Some would say that these weak tracks are an indication that the album should have been a single album instead. I strongly disagree. 13 or so tracks probably would have had to have been cut to make it into a single album and there’s no way there are 13 tracks that could be cut from The White Album.
To me it’s the great variety of The White Album that helps to make it so timeless and so endlessly listenable. It’s the one album I seem to never get bored of. It’s amazing how I still hear new things in the songs all of these years later. I first heard The White Album about 12 years ago and I am still blown away by the nuances and musical layers of these songs. I wouldn’t call the album a “grower” as that term is usually reserved for an album one doesn’t initially enjoy and then grows to like. This is an album I initially loved and then grew to love even more and more over the years.
Songs such as “Martha My Dear” and “Honey Pie” may have seemed like “throwaways” when I first heard it but now they seem essential. These are brilliant songs that show The Beatles at a creative peak. They weren’t merely trying to repeat what they had already done, they were always looking for new song styles to try, new ways to create. If you’re the type that enjoys hearing the same song over and over again (hello Nickelback fans!) then sure this may not work for you but if you’re the type that actually likes to hear imagination at play then it certainly is.
“Revolution #9” is often brought up as the biggest example of The Beatles “going too far.” Once again I strongly disagree. To me “Revolution #9” is a vital part of The White Album and I love that it was included. I think, still to this day, it’s the most unusual track ever to be included on a #1 album. That alone would make it an interesting listen. But it’s more than just unusual. It’s an extremely effective track for what it is. It’s aim is to be unsettling. To take the listener on a sort of stream of consciousness journey and to that end it works extremely well. While I do not listen to this track every single time I put on the album (I admit to often stopping the album at “Cry Baby Cry” and thus skipping “Revolution #9” and “Goodnight.”) when I do listen to it, I enjoy it.
I far prefer that experiments such as that are included rather than hearing an album chock full of average tracks that all sound the same.
The contrasts of The White Album are brilliant. From “Helter Skelter” the album moves to “Long Long Long.” That has to be among the most intense contrasts in rock history. “Helter Skelter” is the heaviest song The Beatles ever recorded and “Long Long Long” is the quietest. These songs are the perfect representation of what The White Album is. Variety, contrast, imagination, and excellence.