Still catching up on classic albums. Here are my thoughts on The Beatles by The Beatles (that’s the album we all know better as The White Album).
Some Historical Context
I was six when this came out. I don’t remember it being released, but I have vague memories of singing Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da when I was young. I probably got it from the Marmalade version that was in the charts.
The first I can remember really being interested in The Beatles was when all of their singles were re-released in 1976. I remember deciding that I preferred The Stones to The Beatles. I still think that The Beatles are overrated. But this is definitely amongst my favourite Beatles albums.
The rest of this post will be written as I listen to the album. Oh, and for the first time in this series, it’s a double album.
1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
One of the all-time great album openers. It’s all pretty basic stuff, but something about it makes this a great song. It’s short too – less than three minutes. Of course, the basic idea of the lyrics is ripped off from the Beach Boys.
2. Dear Prudence
Another great song. One of Lennon’s best, in my opinion.
3. Glass Onion
Another good one from Lennon. Pretty strange lyrics; talking about a number of older Beatles songs.
4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
As far as I’m concerned, this is the album’s first mis-step. We’ve established previously that I’m not a big fan of reggae and this childish white man’s reggae is even worse. I mentioned above that I remember singing this when I was a child. The “when I was a child” is key there.
5. Wild Honey Pie
This is really dreadful, isn’t it? I really don’t know what McCartney was thinking. Mercifully short though.
6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
I should hate this too. It’s really childish. But something about it makes me smile. Not Lennon’s finest hour though – by some considerable distance.
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
The best thing that George Harrison ever wrote. This is fantastic.
8. Happiness Is a Warm Gun
This is ok. It’s not great, but I certainly wouldn’t skip it. End of side one.
9. Martha My Dear
Side two starts with McCartney trying to write a music hall style song. It really doesn’t work.
10. I’m So Tired
This is more like it. Lennon sings the blues. Brilliantly. I think my Lennon/McCartney bias is showing in this review.
The guitar on this is quite pretty. Still not a particularly interesting song though.
When I was 14 I loved this. Now I think it’s embarrassing. Hard to believe it was written by the same person as While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
13. Rocky Raccoon
14. Don’t Pass Me By
Ah… Ringo. This is pretty simplistic stuff. but I really like it.
15. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
Another one that I enjoyed a lot when I was about 14. Hate it now.
16. I Will
And finally McCartney proves that he can write something simple and effective. It’s not outstanding, but it works.
This is one of my favourite Lennon songs. I don’t understand why it’s so obscure. Hardly anyone seems to know it. End of side two.
A rock birthday song really shouldn’t work. And, yet, somehow it does.
19. Yer Blues
Love this too.
20. Mother Nature’s Son
Hate this one.
21. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
Ambivalent about this one. It’s ok. Nothing special. Ridiculous lyrics.
22. Sexy Sadie
Originally entitled “Maharisha”, this is about Lennon’s disenchantment with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I quite like this, but it’s not one of his best.
23. Helter Skelter
Another of the album’s classic tracks. Surely everyone loves this. From the initial guitar thrash to Ringo’s “I’ve got blisters on my fingers” it’s brilliant. And, bizarrely, it’s a McCartney song.
24. Long, Long, Long
When I’m listening to these albums, there’s always at least one track I don’t remember. And this is it. I don’t remember it because it’s just average. It’s written by George Harrison and could be an obscure album track on any of his solo albums. End of side three.
25. Revolution 1
This is controversial. It’s the same song as the rockier version that was released as the b-side to Hey Jude – that’s the version that everyone knows. This is a mellower acoustic version that isn’t to everyone’s taste. I like both versions though. In my more “Che Guevara” periods I’ve spent hours discussing how, in this version, Lennon changes the line to “if you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out… in”.
26. Honey Pie
Another horrible McCartney effort.
27. Savoy Truffle
And this is another distinctly average song from Harrison. Whoever wrote a good song about a recipe? Oh, MacArthur Park, I suppose.
28. Cry Baby Cry
This is ok. Nothing special. Side four really isn’t very good.
29. Revolution 9
Why did Lennon think it was a good idea to submit an eight minute sound collage for inclusion on the album? Why did the other members of the band approve it? Perhaps they were short of material. I didn’t listen to this all the way through.
30. Good Night
No. This doesn’t really do it for me at all. Not a great way to end the album.
Not as good as I remember it. There’s actually a lot of filler there. But it does have half a dozen or songs that are as good as anything The Beatles recorded. Perhaps it would have been better as a single album.