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The White Album by The Beatles

A 1968 album by The Beatles

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Treasure Hunt/ Premium Assortment

  • Aug 9, 2006
In 'Forrest Gump,' Forrest's dying mother famously tells her dying son, "Life is like a box of chocolates--You never know what you'll get." Actually, if life were like a box of chocolates, you'd have a pretty sweet life. And, while listening to 'The Beatles' ('White Album') you have an adequate fulfillment to that extended metaphor. There are plenty of flavors--not just "Savoy Truffle"--and just enjoying the assortment is always an adventure--even if there are selected favorites.

The 'White Album' is the most widely (and wildly) varied of all the Beatles' albums, but, while 'Revolver' is better integrated, the 'White Album' is a worthy treasure hunt worth repeating without getting tiresome. Unlike any other Beatles' album, the 'White Album' showcases fine songs to get lost in; it remains a fresh experience that doesn't get familiar like most of their work. The wildest and quietest songs of their repertoire are presented here. It is in some ways their riskiest effort. After the slickness of '67, the Beatles go back to rock n' roll without compromise this time around. "Back in the USSR," "Helter Skelter," and "Birthday" are great propulsive songs, pay dirt. They are wild in an innovative way that leaves their early years in the dust once again. Then, "I Will," showcases Paul at his tender best. "Julia," in the same vein, is John's haunting, yet quiet magnus opus.

There is also uncompromising social commentary. Musically and lyrically, John is seldom in finer form than on "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," a brilliant barb against the NRA, with stunning commentary, no matter what side you take with the U.S.'s Second Amendment. Then, if the music doesn't pierce the lush mood of 'Sgt. Pepper,' and 1967, et al., "Yer Blues" and "Glass Onion" will. Both show John at his most fearless. (The former mocks the blues craze, especially in England, and the latter faithlessly mocks fans giving too close readings of Beatles' songs.) George Harrison is usually left out of the social commentary praises, but he is most direct with "Piggies," a diatribe against the aristocracy, oddly never presented elsewhere. While spare musically and a bit too simplistic, it is an unflinching piece of criticism. Paul, too, delivers an unusually eloquent ballad with "Blackbird," a timely gesture to the Black community, the alienated--or both.

Musically, the scope is grand with mesmerizing pieces throughout the mix. John's "Dear Prudence" is fascinating how lyrically and musically it wooes its subject matter. Then, "Sexy Sadie" is as hypnotic as it is scathing. "Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)" also proves that he had a hard time getting the Maharishi off his back. It provides a catchy, multi-layered fast-forward presence, even if the bitter gall continues throughout. Paul's "Mother Nature's Son," and "Martha My Dear" are beautifully engaging. Perhaps the most hypnotic song of all is George's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Containing great guitar, people either find it mesmerizing or monotonous, but this reviewer considers it a classic.

When there aren't diatribes or love songs, then stories are perennially present. Paul ably gives us a fine Western with "Rocky Racoon," featuring one of the best endings of any Beatles' song. This spirited and fun song is at least musically bettered with "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da," a spunky tune that skillfully gathers the music and spirit of the Spanish community together. (All done for the best subject matter they ever mastered, love.) Paul gives us another playful story-song with "Honey Pie," arguably his best rendering of the Vaudeville era. It is cutesy, but substantial. In similar fashion, John hasn't lost all his fun-spiritedness as illustrated with "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," even if it is a barbed assault on another gun-toting character. Also, his "Cry, Baby, Cry" seems like an original piece of Lewis Carroll, meant to chide someone off her pedestal. If playfulness is what you wish from this assortment, then George's "Savoy Truffle" may be your just dessert. With a hip jazz accompaniment, this dancey number provides a spoon full of sugar, even as it metaphorically relates warnings of bad karma.

The variety is stunning, and the production is classic. The sounds are the most modern and least dated of any Beatles' album. It goes back to basics without returning to former destinations. Subjectively, the alleged weaknesses reinforce the album. "Revolution 9" may be dated topically in some ways, but you seldom hear anything like it before or since. This fearless montage is innovative and interesting. Some of the tiny songs are fun, too. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," "Wild Honey Pie," and "Revolution 1" broaden the already wide scope of the album. They are also irreverent. As if not to take themselves too seriously or the remarkable achievements of this classic album, they close with an overtly sentimental standard: their own original "Good Night," cleverly given to Ringo. (Even he scores his first full-length original composition, "Don't Pass Me By," a likable ditty that reminds us he was a prize acquisition from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a country rock group.) Some of the strongest singing performances are also presented on the 'White Album'. Paul delivers some of his strongest singing on "Birthday" and "Helter Skelter". John is seldom better than on "Yer Blues" and "I'm So Tired". George raises hair on the neck on "Long, Long, Long".

Ironically, initial criticism (from even the producer, George Martin, no less) stated the double album was good, but uneven, and could have been condensed into a one-disc masterpiece. (That would have ruined the fun, but produced a lot of mystery and bootlegs.) Oddly, the self-titled Beatles' album has more songs without all four present. Yet, the album is aptly named. Each composer is the maestro with a plethera of support from (willing) and able members of the band or special guest stars as desired or needed. It is a testament to the breakdown of the group: Paul is pop perfect with an encyclopedic splendour; John is ingeniously powerful for not suffering foolishness gladly. The sand of controversy provided this great pearl. Each copy has a new number to accentuate that it is a work of art. This confidence is understandable. Like 'Let It Be,' this album gets back to basics, but instead of being put on the back burner, it is put to the forefront with the Beatles' name prominent like no place else. Even if you don't like all the flavors presented, the experience is always worth repeating.

(Perhaps it is unnecessary, but it seems odd that Charles Manson would grasp subliminal messages of violent overthrow from this album. Certain drugs are particularly dangerous for some, and his rendering of "Helter Skelter," which in context is really about a wild and sexy party, is symptomatic of the occasionally regrettable universality of the Beatles' music. He should have interpreted that John was being literal about guns, and his disdain for knives couldn't be extrapolated differently. No where did George come close to suggesting the French Revolution in "Piggies," but that is the closest Manson gets to hitting the songs right. Well, enough about him.)

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review by . December 21, 2008
When talking about The White Album, it's hard to dismiss how influential that particular album was to music.  You could argue that the birth of "sampling," -- much used as a staple in Hip-Hop -- was found here.   Take "Revolution 9," for example.  It's employment of backward loops, overdubs, and sampling was rampantly used throughout the song.  As you might know, there's a steady diet of this in Hip-Hop songs.      While we're still in discussion …
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I am a substitute teacher who enjoysonline reviewing. Skiing is my favorite pastime; weight training and health are my obsessions;and music and movies feed my psyche. Books are a treasure and a pleasure … more
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The Beatles: George Harrison (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, violin, organ, bass, tambourine, firebell); John Lennon (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, harmonica, saxophone, piano, organ, harmonium, bass, 6-string bass, maracas, tambourine, tape loops); Paul McCartney (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, flute, flugelhorn, piano, Hammond organ, bass, drums, bongos, timpani, percussion); Ringo Starr (vocals, piano, drums, bongos, maracas, castanets, tambourine). Additional personnel includes: Yoko Ono (vocals); Eric Clapton (electric guitar); Mal Evans (trumpet, tambourine); George Martin (piano, harmonium); Chris Thomas (harpsichord, Mellotron); Maureen Starkey, Patti Harrison (background vocals). Recorded at Abbey Road Studios and Trident Studios, London, England between May and October 1968. THE BEATLES (generally known as "The White Album" because of its cover) was a sprawling two-record set, highlighting the distinct personalities in the group as they matured and moved further away from eac...
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