The White Album turns 40

November 22, 2008

I really don’t know what to write about this album; it’s so diverse, it’s so unique and so strong.

The album has some of the most unique Beatles songs ever recorded. It starts off with a Beach Boys mock, and ends with an over the top, near TV orchestrated tune. It has a sound collage, it has a suicidal tune following a birthday song, and it has some of the best love songs ever.

It was started over in India, where the band was off learning meditation. The only instrument they had with them was an acoustic guitar, and so most of the songs are acoustic/folk based. However, some of them are fully orchestrated, or full on rock songs, while others stay in their most simple orchestration – guitar and vocals. Maybe a foot tapping.

Picking out highlights is a chore, and of course based on individual tastes, but at the same time is every song, depending on mood and time of your life. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” is an amazing opener, bringing you in but not forcing you in. “Dear Prudence” follows, and is my ideal tune of spring fling music. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is a fun track everyone knows. “Wild Honey Pie” is a short and sweet tune, based on the fully developed “Honey Pie” (the two songs almost bookend the album, Wild… is track #5, while Honey… is fifth from last). “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is both chaotic and poppy, having somewhere between 3 and 5 movements (depending on how well your rhythm is). And of course, one of the strongest songs on the album, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. And that’s just the first side of the first record.

But, I didn’t flip records or change CDs. In these days, you can have it all on your computer, and make a playlist of the 30 songs. You can use an hour and a half of your time to listen to the whole thing, as I just did. You can listen to it as one continuous piece of music, as it probably was meant to. Many of the songs lead into one another (the aforementioned “Happiness is a Warm Gun” fades into “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” rather humorously – it sounds like Lennon yelling “Here ya go”). Many of the songs include odd outros and half songs, as if each song is meant to some how blend together – even if poorly.

But, that was partially the point of the record. A lot of it is reflexive (do I even have to mention “Glass Onion”?), and a lot of it is just making songs out of half-forgotten melodies composed over the years. Oddly enough though, the entire album does work strongly together, despite its chaos and mess. How many albums do you know of have this many genres, and this much fun (and this many peculiarities), have had such a lasting appeal as The White Album. It was exactly what The Beatles needed at this time in their career – everyone had “quit” the band at least once during the recording sessions, and when they hadn’t were at wits end with each other. But this album shows just how well the fab four got along, even if at times they couldn’t even stand the site of each other in the same studio.

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