[Today: Birthday wishes to my mom, the ultimate Beatles fan…]
Coming on the heels of Sgt Pepper’s’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, the so-called White Album faced the unenviable task of following perhaps the most influential sound recording of the 20th century. But rather than trying to recreate their past work, The Beatles made a completely different kind of album – one that acted as a deconstruction of their entire sound and revealed the deepening creative fissures within the group. Every angle of their brilliance is covered here, and for the first time it was obvious which were “John” songs, which were “Paul” songs and which were “George” songs (meanwhile, album closer ‘Good Night’ was Ringo Starr’s first songwriting contribution to a Beatles’ record).
As John Lennon explained in The Beatles Anthology, “[The White Album] was just saying: ‘This is my song, we’ll do it my way. That’s your song, you do it that way.’ It’s pretty hard trying to fit three guys’ music onto one album – that’s why we did a double.” Every one of the album’s 30 songs were written while the group was in India for meditation with the Maharishi, and from the first sound on the record – the wooshing jet roar that leads off ‘Back In The USSR’ – this is a visit to farflung musical outposts.
Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is a lovely ballad of his frustratingly limited role within the band. It sits next to Lennon’s ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ – a seductive start/stop tale of heroin addiction. The proto-punk of ‘Helter Skelter’ inspired a demented Charles Manson to murder, and the song’s coda, the shouted “I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS!” might be the most thrilling moment on any Beatles album. Lennon’s noise freak-out ‘Revolution #9’ both confused and inspired its audience.
And so it goes with this entire record – a mad hodge-podge of brilliance that in lesser hands would be ‘sprawling’ or ‘excessive’. But The White Album is an artistic treasure trove, a wealth of disparate song stylings, and a musical gift that keeps on giving.
Listen: Dear Prudence
Listen: Helter Skelter
Listen: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
and, with feeling: Birthday