Speaking of those Beatles CDs, I’ve been assiduously working my way through the remastered stereo set and enjoying the heck out of it. The music is much clearer, as if you had been listening through some kind of murky haze all of these years. You can make out small touches in the playing and singing that you couldn’t before, perhaps not even on the original vinyl, though I confess it has been years since I listened to those.
Coincidentally, yesterday I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut in my notes:
The function of the artist is to make people like life better than they did before. When I’ve been asked if I’ve seen that done, I say, ‘Yes, the Beatles did it.’
… I wonder if John Lennon knew he had won the battle of the White Album. The Beatles were writing and basically recording separately by this point, with each composer using the other three as backing musicians (and in Paul McCartney’s case, sometimes leaving them out altogether), so you can attribute each track individually and sort the sprawling mess that is the “The Beatles” (IE “The White Album”). George Harrison and Ringo Starr got a combined total of five tracks; as good as George’s are (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Piggies” and “Savoy Truffle”) you can’t call that more than an EP’s worth of material, whereas John and Paul each contributed a standard album of material. John’s White Album looks like this:
1. Dear Prudence
2. Glass Onion
3. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
4. Happiness is a Warm Gun
5. I’m So Tired
7. Yer Blues
8. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9. Sexy Sadie
10. Revolution I
11. Cry Baby Cry
12. Revolution 9
13. Good Night (sung by Ringo, but written by John)
I haven’t yet listened to the remastered “Revolution 9,” but in a perverse way I’m looking forward to it. If you look at this track listing, it anticipates John’s early solo albums. He wasn’t trying to write pop singles anymore (though “Dear Prudence” could have been one) and instead concentrated on emotional work that tried to express a deeper mood or feeling than good time rock and roll. Given that this is the same man who was primarily responsible for “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket to Ride,” both No. 1 singles, Lennon’s turn towards introspection is, retrospectively, shocking and a harbinger of the group’s dissolution.
Here’s Paul’s White Album:
1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
2. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
3. Wild Honey Pie
4. Martha My Dear
6. Rocky Raccoon
7. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
8. I Will
10. Mother Nature’s Son
11. Helter Skelter
12. Honey Pie
Here you have three tracks that could have been singles but weren’t — the Beatles’ 1968 singles releases were non-album tracks like “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude” — “Back in the U.S.S.R,” the Beach Boys parody, “Ob-La-Di,” which did get a belated single release in the US eight years later, and perhaps the irritating and ubiquitous “Birthday.” A souped-up version of “Revolution” was the B-Side to “Hey Jude,” but that’s the closest the group came to taking a single off the album. McCartney was still working the pop song-craft part of the street, with one song even inspired by his sheepdog. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Blackbird” were initially attempts at political relevance, though one’s enjoyment of those songs is greatly enhanced by being unaware of the discarded subtext. Or the sheepdog.
John’s would have been the better album. Take this, brother. May it serve you well.
Not a bad little take on the most vexing of Beatles albums. It’s no secret that it’s probably my fave Beatles album and has been for some time. There are songs on other albums that I still like but the rest of the catalog is really hard to listen to in units of albums today.
For instance, I really only like ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ off Magical Mystery Tour and I don’t know if I can stand listening to ‘Shes Leaving Home’ on Sgt Peppers even though it’s integral to that album. Revolver’s the other album I can still enjoy, but Abbey Road gets boring, Let It Be is up and down, and the earlier albums seem more and more like curios today.
So I keep come back to the sprawling double album, warts and all. And it’s true, I can’t stand ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’ or ‘Bungalow Bill’, there’s enough there to think about.
Had the Beatles not split up, they would have made some pretty cool records in the 1970s. It’s a game worth playing up until 1975 when John Lennon stops, and even with Double Fantasy in 1980, there’s something to be said about this parlour game.
Anyway, it’s nice to see other people are tangling with the White Album.