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A Comprehensive Look At The Beatles Self-Titled Double Album Masterpiece

On the White Album

madmanmunt | 19 March 2005 |

Following the masterpiece Revolver, the Beatles began to work on ambitious, concept based projects.  Despite universal acclaim, the Sgt. Pepper album felt bloated in comparison to its predecessor and for the most part struggled to match its astonishingly high quality .  The Magical Mystery Tour EP which followed again leant heavily on a concept and the music was predictably affected.  The result was a set of superficial, psychedelic disasters.  The trend continued with the barrel scraping “Hello Goodbye” single and while Lennon’s “All You Need is Love” single was a marked improvement, it still continued to rely on the big band sound and over-simplified lyrics that had been dragging down the quality of the Beatles’ output for some time. 

Tensions were building between the band and the lukewarm reception the Magical Mystery Tour EP and its accompanying film received did not help.  However, the band harnessed these tensions and channelled their anger, frustration and disillusionment into the music.  Things were already starting to turn around.  The rocking “Lady Madonna” and the indulgently lengthy but infinitely sing-a-long-able “Hey Jude” singles dropped all the pomposity and got back down to the basics of being in a rock ’n’ roll band.  The Beatles continued to strip back their sound, leading to the creation of the raw, sprawling masterpiece, The Beatles.  The simple, eponymous title indicates a rebirth for the band, finally dropping the masks they had been wearing (literally, in the case of Magical Mystery Tour) to reveal themselves candidly to the public.  This was not the fictional Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, neither was it a group of psychedelic wizards on an LSD fuelled road trip.  For the first time since Revolver, this was The Beatles. 

The simple title is so loaded with meaning that it is almost a shame that The Beatles has become more widely referred to as The White Album.  This, however, nicely draws attention to the simplicity of the cover art.  Gone were the bright colours, the bizarre animals, the idyllic flowerbeds and elaborate costumes. The Beatles was represented by a blank canvas, a fresh start.  This canvas would be filled with the enormous 30 song double album, but although its title referred to a single entity, a band, the sound was that of four individuals pulling in different directions. The Beatles is often referred to as a series of solo projects and not without good reason.  A good deal of the songs on The White Album do not feature all four band members and several feature only the specific songwriter alone in the studio.  The band were creating their own visions, ducking into vacant studios to knock out tracks without the others’ approval.  The under-appreciated Ringo was growing tired of his role and the splintering into sections of the band caused him to walk out for a week, announcing that he was no longer a Beatle.  Although he was later welcomed back when he realised the album would go ahead without him, warning bells must have been ringing and it was perhaps a good thing that the band members were working individually so often. 

It has often been commented that The Beatles would have been better had it been cut down to a single album.  This, however, misses the point.  Although it could perhaps do with a little pruning, The Beatles brilliance is in its randomness, its bringing together of so many different ideas.  Seemingly inconsequential mini-songs give revealing glimpses into the minds of their writers and brilliantly bridge the gaps between more substantial works.  The genius of The White Album is how well sequenced it is, so that the co-habitation of such diverse materiel never seems awkward and, in fact, flows brilliantly almost without exception.  There are straight forward rock ‘n’ roll songs, sketchy acoustic ballads, jokey parodies and pastiches, barely formed bursts of insanity and even an avant-garde sound collage.  The sound may be stripped back and the embarrassing theatrics finally dropped but The White Album is anything but the “back to basics” album it is sometimes labelled as. 

The album opens brilliantly with McCartney’s Beach Boys pastiche “Back in the USSR”.  Expressing similar sentiments to songs like “California Girls” but replacing the romantic, sunny imagery of California with the chilly prospect of Russia, “Back in the USSR” is both hilariously witty (“Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out, Come and keep your comrade warm”) and upliftingly energetic, making it one of the band’s best opening tracks ever.  McCartney’s muscular vocal delivery is appealingly playful while remaining straight-faced enough to add sincerity to the sexual element of the song’s lyrics.  The harmonies from the rest of the band perfectly highlight the Beach Boys comparison and the music is played with fantastic energy.  Recorded in Ringo’s week long absence from the band, “Back in the USSR” captures the sound of the three other members pulling together in the face of adversity and producing one of their most successfully smooth rockers since Revolver. 

The sound of the plane that opened the album returns to expertly bridge the gap between McCartney’s rock ‘n’ roll song and Lennon’s beautiful “Dear Prudence”.  Addressed to Mia Farrow’s sister, whose meditation made her so sensitive to her surroundings that she had to be coaxed outside by Lennon, “Dear Prudence” finds Lennon in a refreshingly optimistic mood, singing the praises of the beauty of his natural surroundings.  The music is gently uplifting also, enhancing the generally upbeat mood of the song.  Another track recorded in Ringo’s absence, “Dear Prudence” suggests that by this point the band could have easily continued to churn out high quality work without Starr’s input. 

The first track to feature a full complement of Beatles, “Glass Onion” is an edgy little number which references a number of past Beatles songs in order to mock those who claimed to have found profound meaning in some of the band’s more nonsensical ramblings.  Most famously, Lennon references his masterpiece “I Am the Walrus”, claiming “the walrus was Paul”.  What may seem like a rather limp line in fact worked better than perhaps Lennon could have predicted, sending listeners into an analytical frenzy.  Lennon punctuates his lyrical trickery each time with the willingly meaningless line “Looking through a glass onion”, a clue that this all means very little at all.  An amusing game with the listener, “Glass Onion” works so well because of its excellent, rocking tune which keeps the whole thing afloat.   

A mournful string section bridges the gap between “Glass Onion” and McCartney’s perky “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”.  As if in response to Lennon’s examination of the meaningless of past lyrics, McCartney’s vaguely ska-ish pop song hinges on its sing-a-long, nonsensical refrain.  Its happy tale of marital bliss, complete with a vocal mistake in which McCartney accidentally switches the protagonists’ sexes, makes for a pleasingly light avenue after Lennon’s snide mockery and the celebratory tune is a delight.  The whooping and laughter of the rest of the band never seems insincere, despite the fact that the perfectionist McCartney insisted on spending far more time on this light number than it warrants.  In fact, this final version would not have been the final version had McCartney had his way.  Still, while the song is not a masterpiece it adds to the diversity of moods on the album and as a fun pop song it is timeless(as The Offspring proved when the ripped off the tune completely for their hit single “Why Don’t You Get a Job”). 

“Wild Honey Pie” is the first entirely solo effort, a 52 second ditty featuring only McCartney in which he shrieks the title over an off-kilter musical bounce.  It is these mini-experiments that many claim should be chopped from the album but these little sketches not only give the album great character, they serve to flesh out the personalities of their individual songwriters and offer a glimpse of their mental states at the time.  Besides which, “Wild Honey Pie” is a rather likable little oddity, later covered brilliantly by Pixies who realised the song more fully by allowing Frank Black to scream its refrain at a throat-shredding volume and thus adding to its tribal carnality.   

Lennon’s “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” is the album’s first disaster.  An amusing tale of a hunter who takes time off peaceful meditation to go and kill things, the song shifts awkwardly between a creeping, sinister verse and a rudimentary, free for all sing-a-long chorus, neither of which offer any serious appeal.  Of some note is a daft vocal cameo for Yoko Ono and the inclusion of Ringo’s wife Maureen in the group assembled to help sing the chorus, but these are just interesting footnotes for an irredeemably awful track which aims to make its satirical point through tongue in cheek musical methods but fails to produce anything for the listener to enjoy as a result.  Lennon’s final, in your face cry of “’Ey Up!” is especially embarrassing. 

Wisely, Lennon’s lame composition is immediately followed (and I mean immediately! The words “’Ey Up” have barely left his lips when the opening of the next song crashes in) by George Harrison’s first contribution, the celebrated “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.  A cold, clinical song with a wailing solo played by Eric Clapton, a friend of Harrison’s at the time, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is fragile but authoritative.  Harrison has crafted a deeply impressive, mournful ballad which is still considered one of his best tracks.  Certainly one of the most serious tracks on the album’s first disc, Harrison’s song brings some much needed professionalism to the proceeding at just the right time, following the wild abandon of the preceding three tracks. 

Lennon’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is an indisputable highlight.  While his tongue in cheek musings in “Bungalow Bill” were a step too far, Lennon uses a similar sarcastic tone in this song but is far less heavy handed in his approach.  The title, which forms a wonderful refrain for the song’s latter half, refers to the ludicrous motto of the NRA.  These gun obsessives are always a worthy target (they were perhaps best sent up by Woody Allen, whose film Bananas features a news report in which “the NRA declares death a good thing”) and Lennon cleverly subverts the violent slogan, turning it into a metaphor for love making (Ironically, robbing the vicious slogan of its violence made the song more controversial.  It’s sexual imagery lead to a ban from the BBC).  While gun based sexual imagery is hardly a new idea, Lennon’s uses it to brilliantly diffuse a crazy organisations pro-gun sloganeering and turn it into quite the opposite.  His fantastic, tongue in cheek spoken word section finds him bellowing “When I hold you in my arms and I feel my finger on your trigger, I know nobody can do me no harm”, a sentiment that could easily be spoken by a gun enthusiast and mean something completely different from what Lennon is saying.  This brilliant lyric, however, only forms part of the song which actually moves incredibly smoothly through several different parts in only 2:43.  The initially gentle opening section is invaded by a visceral guitar which eventually carries it smoothly into part two.  The lyrics for the opening section are made up of free associated phrases that Lennon created with Apple press officer Derek Taylor, culminating in the memorable “A soap impression of his wife which he ate and donated to the National Trust”.  The second section is a short, deep, ominous rumble which quickly gives way to the third part, a rocking repetition of the phrase “Mother Superior jumped the gun”.  Finally we get the brilliant final section, a doo-wop style piece with great “bang bang, shoot shoot” harmonies and Lennon’s sensational spoken word part.  Apparently all the Beatles loved this song and it is apparent from the gusto with which it is performed by all.  No-one lets up right up until Starr’s brilliant, final thud which brings the song to a decisive close. 

Lennon’s brilliance gives way to one of McCartney’s light hearted, old fashioned tracks, “Martha, my Dear”.  Although his music hall style tracks from the last few albums had been invariably twee, “Martha, my Dear” is really lovely.  Concerning McCartney’s sheepdog (although some lines suggest he has merely borrowed the name from his pooch and is really singing about a lover), “Martha, my Dear” features only McCartney and an orchestra and free from the influence of the others, he creates a deeply personal little piano based ditty which melds the innocence of his old-time numbers with a modern day pop nouse to produce an extremely lovable track and the perfect simplistic foil for Lennon’s complex predecessor. 

Continuing the excellent sequencing of the album, Lennon’s “I’m So Tired” is conceived as a frazzled, cynical reply to McCartney’s sweet pop song.  Written in India while suffering from insomnia, Lennon’s song is the flipside of his earlier “I’m Only Sleeping”, which took comfort in his then current LSD fuelled state of waking sleep.  In “I’m So Tired”, Lennon longs for real sleep and offers “everything I got for little piece of mind”.  The hangdog, downbeat verses are perfectly punctured by the desperation of Lennon’s chorus in which he feels himself going insane due to lack of sleep.  This song is also notable for an amusing condemnation of Sir Walter Raleigh for discovering tobacco and therefore making it possible for the sleepless Lennon to chain smoke. 

The perfect track ordering continues with another McCartney solo effort, the gorgeous “Blackbird”.  A simple acoustic ballad which features only its author and an acoustic guitar, the song achieves its considerable effect through its simplicity.  To add anything to the song would be to rob it of its vulnerable beauty.  “Blackbird” is perhaps one of the most famous songs on the White Album, which shows how much you can do with so little. 

Unfortunately, after so much overwhelming quality, The Beatles takes a dip towards the end of its first half.  The sequencing which had been so perfect up till now permits three weak songs to appear in a row.  The first is Harrison’s plain ridiculous satire on straight society, “Piggies”.  Often taken to be an insult towards the police, “Piggies” feels like a particularly self-satisfied composition.  The popular spiritualism of the time often lead to misanthropic sneering at the “unenlightened” and “Piggies” is a nasty example of this.  All of which would be irrelevant if the song was any good.  Unfortunately it is utterly stupid.  Based around a majestic, medieval sounding harpsichord, “Piggies” is little more than a comedy song which, in its third verse, sounds almost like a forerunner for McCartney’s awful Frog Chorus song “We All Stand Together”.  The song is made even more foolish by the inclusion of grunting sounds.  While the pretty chirping sound of birds enhanced the otherwise untouched “Blackbird”, “Piggies”, or any other song for that matter, could never be made better by dubbing on the sound of real pigs.  Apparently these sound effects were Lennon’s idea, although he probably suggested it knowing that the song could hardly be made much worse. 

McCartney’s comedy Western “Rocky Racoon” is more bearable than “Piggies” but at a minute and a half longer it ends up being even more wearing.  A slow paced cowboy song which occasionally gives way to authentic sounding saloon piano from George Martin, “Rocky Racoon” features some of the album’s worst lyrics (“His rival it seems had broken his dreams by stealing the girl of his fancy, Her name was McGill and she called herself Lil but everyone knew her as Nancy”) and the predictable, dragging pace of every line makes it seem even longer than it is.  On top of that, the story itself is completely anti-climactic and yields to McCartney’s good-natured desire for a happy ending, thus disappointing the audience.  All in all, “Rocky Racoon” is one of The Beatles major disasters and, according to those close to the band, would most likely have remained a private joke between the band had they not wanted to fulfil their contractual obligations to EMI more quickly. 

Next we have Ringo’s own composition, “Don’t Pass Me By”.  Perhaps a plea for more recognition (he had been toying with the idea of the song for some time), Ringo’s composition was not taken entirely seriously and the only other Beatle to appear was McCartney, who later ran sound experiments on the track with Lennon, probably because it was considered the most disposable song on the album.  While Starr’s country tinged song is rather drab, it is considerably better than the two tracks that precede it but puts a little too much stock in its weak, bouncy chorus.  As such, “Don’t Pass Me By” does little to restore quality to proceedings but it does at least feel like a serious attempt to write a song, unlike the jokey Harrison and McCartney disasters. 

Another track featuring only McCartney and Starr follows.  “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” is a vaguely risqué, rather attention seeking little track which nevertheless feels like an improvement on the last three tracks.  A raw, primal howl accompanied by bluesy piano, the lyrics of McCartney’s odd little track consist only of the title refrain and the promise “No one will be watching us”.  A fun burst of energy before the two ballads that close the first disc, “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” was apparently admired by Lennon, who resented not being invited to play on it.  It’s easy to see why this showy track appealed to Lennon and for a long time I mistook it for a track of his making.  While Lennon’s claim that it was one of McCartney’s best songs is a gross overstatement, “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” is an amusing distraction. 

The short McCartney ballad “I Will” is a welcome oasis of calm after the wild abandon of the last few tracks.  Omitting Harrison from the line up, the other three Beatles create a suitably understated musical backing for McCartney’s sentimental little tune.  Although it isn’t a patch on the even more subdued “Blackbird”, “I Will” is the first song of real quality since that aforementioned song.  Although “I Will” is only seconds longer than “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” it manages to fit a proper song into the time rather than simply an amusing filler piece. 

The first disc draws to a close with Lennon’s ode to his dead mother, “Julia”.  Featuring only Lennon and an acoustic guitar, “Julia” is one of the most sparse and revealing songs on the record.  Lennon’s mother had been more like a friend to him.  He once described her as like a “big sister”.  Unlike other adults in his life, Julia would encourage Lennon’s rebelliousness and followed his progress as a musician in early Beatles proto-type The Quarry Men.  When Lennon was 18, Julia was killed in a road accident and Lennon was left shattered.  His life picked up when he met a young man called Paul McCartney who had also lost his mother and a bond developed.  This bond would lead to worldwide fame and eventually to the recording of this song.  Lennon’s semi-Oedipal obsession with his mother (“so I sing the song of love for Julia”) is supposedly being relinquished in this song, as John turns to his “Ocean Child” (the translation of Yoko Ono’s name) as his new figure of obsession.  Lennon’s vocals are mournful but the lyrics are positive.  Rather than replacing Julia, Lennon has found a way to move on with his life and be happy without her physical presence.  The incredibly fragile music is appropriate, however, as the song is technically a melancholy goodbye to Julia as Lennon finally lays her memory to rest.  “Julia” is a nice ending to the first disc, although it would certainly not mark the final time Julia had an influence on Lennon’s music. 

After the two delicate ballads that end the first disc, the second part of The White Album appropriately returns to celebratory rock ‘n’ roll.  McCartney’s “Birthday” this time looks to Little Richard for inspiration.  Though not as witty as “Back in the USSR”, “Birthday” finds all four Beatles throwing themselves behind the music.  Lennon and McCartney both bellow at the top of their lungs but the real star of the song is the famous riff which recurs throughout.  The lyrics tackle nothing more deep than having a great time on your birthday, which makes the song a well chosen, light hearted opener after the heavy baggage Lennon dealt with on “Julia”. 

While there was never any doubt that the Beatles could pull off a great rock ‘n’ roll song, Lennon’s “Yer Blues” was more controversial.  Amongst music press speculation over whether white men could sing the blues, Lennon came up with this half parody, half sincere take on the genre.  Fantastic, heavy guitar howls alongside Lennon’s convincing but deliberately over-tortured performance as Lennon continually tells us “I’m lonely, Wanna die”.  “Yer Blues”, like “Back in the USSR” before it, imitates a musical style brilliantly and zooms in on all its little quirks without mocking it.  Lennon’s affection for the blues is obvious in his passionate performance and the troubled man was certainly not unfamiliar with the suicidal thoughts his lyrics dwell on.  Lennon merely plays up his emotional agony to match the recognised style of the blues.  The result is magnificent.  One of the heaviest tracks on the album, “Yer Blues” perfectly combines black humour with genuine emotional rawness and fantastically cutting, basic music.  Could white men sing the blues?  They could certainly have a good go at it. 

McCartney offers some relief in his brilliant, solo acoustic “Mother Nature’s Son”.  A blissed-out ode to the beauty of nature, “Mother Nature’s Son” finds McCartney again harnessing simplicity to wonderful effect.  Though not as sparsely affecting as “Blackbird”, “Mother Nature’s Son” is still beautiful in its imagery and sound.  Subtle trumpets accompany McCartney’s upbeat, mellow tune and it is easy to imagine the song having been recorded beneath a tree by a lake on a hot summer’s day.  Of the several McCartney solo efforts on The Beatles, only “Blackbird” tops this gorgeous track. 

Maintaining the balance of styles, we are then hit with one of the album’s most underrated tracks, Lennon’s rock ’n’ roll gem “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.  Lennon plays with lyrical meaning a lot onThe Beatles.  When he sings “Half of what I say is meaningless” at the beginning of “Julia”, he is presumably referring to stuff like this.  The lyrics in “…Me and My Monkey” are as obtuse as the title would suggest but they are secondary to the blistering music.  The fact that this track is meant simply to be enjoyed is highlighted by Lennon’s celebratory cries of “Come on it’s such a joy, Come on let’s take it easy” and it is nigh on impossible not to be caught up in the feel good atmosphere which is the polar opposite of the magnified misery of “Yer Blues”. 

Following the scorching, meaningless “…Me and My Monkey”, Lennon offers us another underrated gem in the shape of “Sexy Sadie”.  This time the song has a bitter hidden meaning, as the eponymous female was originally none other than the Maharishi (“Maharishi, you broke the rules”) and in its original form it referred explicitly to the alleged attempted rape of Mia Farrow at the hands of the Beatles then adopted spiritual leader.  This obviously caused the band to lose some face but the threat of legal action prevented Lennon from being allowed to even the score with his denunciation of the Maharishi and he instead changed the lyrics, hiding the man’s identity behind a female pseudonym.  Knowing the real target of the song makes the lyrics far more meaningful.  “Sexy Sadie, what have you done?  You made a fool of everyone”, “Sexy Sadie, you’ll get yours yet, how ever big you think you are”.  This is indeed a bitter, angry song and it is a shame Lennon had to conceal his intentions, although the true recipient of Lennon’s message is more well known these days.  Those lyrics aside, the song itself is brilliant with Lennon in fine voice and a wonderful chorus.  This is a tight composition, with piano and guitars working wonderfully together to produce a full, sumptuous sound, the perfect ally to Lennon’s head-shaking disapproval as he scolds the Maharishi as if he were a naughty child.  I always loved “Sexy Sadie” but knowing the true meaning of the song makes it even more appealing as Lennon satisfyingly turns the tables of humiliation on the Maharishi, exorcising the whole farcical incident in one perfectly realised composition. 

The totally wild abandon of “Helter Skelter” finds the Beatles at their heaviest, freaking out on what was initially a 27 minute meltdown.  Knowing it needed to be cut, the band finally got the song down to under five minutes although the final cry of “I’ve got blisters on my fingers” (attributed by different sources to both Lennon and Starr) indicates how lengthy the original take was.  Dismissed by many as a messy mistake, “Helter Skelter” is McCartney’s attempt to write a song heavier than the ones they heard the Who were about to bring out.  While it is not the sound of the band at their best, “Helter Skelter” is nevertheless an engagingly frenzied attempt to work in another genre and its juxtaposition on the album with the tight “Sexy Sadie” works well in keeping things diverse.  The one complaint I have about the otherwise entertainingly intense “Helter Skelter” is the ridiculous fades in and out at the songs end.  The track would have benefited from ending after its initial fade out at the 3 and a half minute mark. 

At times almost inaudible, Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” is a glacial, sleepy delight.  With its dreamy riff emerging as the highlight of the song.  Omitting Lennon from the line up, the other three members pull together to create a subtle, understated beauty which is extremely enigmatic in its rising and falling sound levels.  Very much a song to be felt rather than just heard, “Long, Long, Long” cannot help but relax the listener until they are horizontal and is therefore the perfect foil for the blast of energy in “Helter Skelter”.  Although it is often overlooked in favour of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Long, Long, Long” is at least the equal of that song but its lack of commerciality means fans generally favour the more immediate soft rock of  the former song.  “Long, Long, Long” begins the wind-down of The Beatles and is certainly one of the better tracks of the second disc’s weak latter half. 

“Revolution 1” is a slower paced version of the more famous version which appeared on the B-Side of “Hey Jude”.  The heavier blast of the B-Side version is infinitely better and “Revolution 1” suffers in comparison, sounding like a demo and relying on some awful “shoo be doo wah” backing vocals.  The album would have benefited greatly from including the superior version of this song instead of this passable but ponderous take. 

McCartney’s second music hall style composition, “Honey Pie”, again shows that his continued obsession with the period had lead to a maturing of his period songs.  A catchy toe-tapper with a spot on “Goodnight Sweetheart” style backing band and a wonderful vocal from McCartney, this was never going to be an album highlight but it certainly shows a huge improvement in McCartney’s novelty music hall numbers, in that it is actually enjoyable rather than merely a listenable piece of fluff in the vein of his earlier, parent pleasing numbers like “When I’m 64”. 

Another Harrison number that Lennon did not get involved in, “Savoy Truffle” is a bizarre tribute to Eric Clapton’s sweet tooth, consisting mainly of a list of sweet foods set against oddly downbeat, grotty music full of dingy organs and low, parping saxes.  The song is an interesting distraction but sadly constitutes another below par composition for Harrison.  Following so soon after the masterful “Long, Long, Long” only highlights the throwaway nature of this so-so effort.  Not half as bad as “Piggies”, “Savoy Truffle” still fails to bring anything worthwhile to the album. 

Lennon’s wonderful “Cry, Baby Cry” was later dismissed by its author as rubbish, probably because of its throwaway, nursery rhyme lyrics but, like earlier meaningless lyrics, they do not weigh heavily enough on the excellent tune to destroy the song.  In fact, the nursery rhyme atmosphere is wholly appropriate to the slightly sinister, child-like feel of the song and “Cry, Baby Cry” emerges as a very likable track which sadly constitutes the last composition of any quality on The Beatles. 

After a short, inconsequential interlude by McCartney, we are hit by the album’s most controversial track, a foolishly pretentious sound collage by Lennon entitled “Revolution 9”.  Apparently intended to sound like a revolution in progress, “Revolution 9” is in fact an unlistenable 8 and a half minute mess.  Even those who claim to find meaning in its random, free association surely can’t enjoy listening to it.  In the spirit of the randomness of The Beatles,“Revolution 9” was allowed to appear on the record but only under slight protest from McCartney and even stronger protest from George Martin.  This opposition probably made Lennon even more determined to get his messy avant-garde piece released and it did indeed make the final cut and went on to cause much discussion and very little enjoyment. 

After the extreme experimentation of “Revolution 9”, The Beatles goes in completely the opposite direction and ends with Lennon’s incredibly rudimentary, hideously slushy lullaby “Good Night”.  Intended for Lennon’s son, this sentimental piece sounds like it was taken from an especially lacklustre Disney film and features such clichéd images as “Now the sun turns out his light”.  It’s all made worse by Ringo’s vocal delivery, his worst ever for the band.  Ringo is the only Beatle present on the song, the music consisting of George Martin’s mawkish string arrangement.  As an ending to an extremely important album “Good Night” could hardly have been less appropriate, especially considering its apparent lack of irony. 

There is no doubt that The Beatles is a masterpiece but it is impossible for me to award it the full five stars.  Although its inclusion of experiments and jokes that would normally have been left off are part of what gives the album its character, there are several awful songs that just cannot be overlooked.  The incredible sequencing of the album, however, mostly creates a superb energy, playing ballads off against heavier songs.  Lennon and McCartney are largely on top form.  
McCartney knocks out some brilliantly crafted rock ‘n’ roll and also shows a flair for the raw, simplistic acoustic ballad while Lennon runs the gamut, dropping the empty mysticism of his recent output in favour of openly meaningless rock outs, deeply personal confessions of pain and torment and some untouchable pop songs.  It is incredible that these 30 diverse tracks work so well together and that only 7 of the 30 tracks are truly weak.  The only real shame is that the album tails off so much with the second discs weaker second half and it is mainly down to this crumbling that The Beatles sacrifices half a star.  Still, The White Album remains an important, intriguing, and, crucially, massively enjoyable work to this day and was an astonishing return to form for a band who had previously lost their way.

madmanmunt |

5 March 2005