The Top 100 Album Review: #10 – The Beatles “The White Album”, The Beatles (1968)

Probably Should Have Been One LP.

But who cares — it’s still so good!

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #10/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

A favorite pastime of music critics, amateur and professional alike, is to pontificate how The Beatles could have done it better.  I mean, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band might be the best album of all-time, but didn’t you find the chord progression on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds a little lacking? Wasn’t Let it Be  a total let down with only 6 or 7  amazing songs?

The gripe with The White Album is its length. Clocking in at over a hour and half, there is so much material. I’ve had this album on rotation since October, and I finally feel comfortable writing about it. Yes, there is a lot to sift through, some of it meh, but much of it is amazing — so who cares.

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[OVERVIEW]

Taking a break from being The Beatles and the massive success of Sgt. Pepper, the gang went to a meditation course in India to get away from it all. In between sessions, song writing was the focus. The only instrument they had was an acoustic guitar which led to many of the final songs for the album retaining that format.

While India was a kumbaya session, the actual recording was a whole other story. Ringo Starr left in the middle of recording sessions because he was so pissed and had to be coaxed back. Lennon made everyone mad by allowing Yoko Ono to hang around during recording sessions. McCartney and Lennon hated what each other was trying to do musically.

The solution: every man for themselves. Listening to The White album is like listening to three different solo artists. Within seconds, it is easy to peg each song by the appropriate composer. This leads to a wide variety of styles that change track by track.

[TRACKLISTING]

  1. Back In The USSR
  2. Dear Prudence
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  5. Wild Honey Pie
  6. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
  7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps*
  8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  9. Martha My Dear
  10. I’m So Tired
  11. Blackbird
  12. Piggies*
  13. Rocky Raccoon
  14. Don’t Pass Me By
  15. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
  16. I Will
  17. Julia
  18. Birthday
  19. Yer Blues
  20. Mother Nature’s Son
  21. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
  22. Sexy Sadie
  23. Helter Skelter
  24. Long, Long, Long*
  25. Revolution 1
  26. Honey Pie
  27. Savoy Truffle*
  28. Cry Baby Cry
  29. Revolution 9
  30. Good Night

*George Harrison tracks. The rest are Lennon-McCartney.

[BEST TRACK BY MCCARTNEY: Blackbird]

There’s two versions of what the song is about: either a blackbird McCartney saw fly away in India or the plight of black women (blackbird) fighting for civil rights in America. Either way, killer song.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

[BEST TRACK BY LENNON: Dear Prudence]

About a meditation mate who wouldn’t come out of her room, this song features a new style of guitar playing for Lennon which Donovan taught him: clawhammer. Normally, you pick a guitar with an up motion by your fingers and a down motion by your thumb. Here, all motions are a down, hitting the string with the back of your fingernail. It creates the distinct sound heard here.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?

[BEST TRACK BY HARRISON: My Guitar Gently Weeps]

This is a continuation of Harrison’s growth as his own composer. The other Beatles did not want to participate in this song, so he had to recruit his friend Eric Clapton to do the guitar work.

I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps.

[SECOND BEST TRACK BY MCCARTNEY: Martha My Dear]

A little bit of everything, it opens with a Bach-esque scale, has some brass backing, uses clapping to good effect, and randomly rocks out at different points.

Martha, my dear
Though I spend my days in conversation, please
Remember me
Martha, my love
Don’t forget me
Martha, my dear

[BEST TRACK IN THE BACK-HALF: Birthday]

Lennon would call this song garbage in 1980, but I found it the main standout of all the material on the later half of the album. It’s a more classic Beatles song and refreshing break from all the pretentious ones.

You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you

[CONCLUSION]

It’s The Beatles. It’s thirty songs. It’s mostly (5/6ths) awesome.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Beatlely: “The Beatles ‘White Album’ has always been my favorite album, not only by The Beatles- but by anybody.”
  • 1960s Days of Rage:“Fifty years later, the White Album, the Beatles’ masterpiece, is still good, still indelible, still as clean and pure as its sleeve, requiring no explanation or description beyond the band’s name.”
  • Music 2 Commute 2: “In these circumstances the White Album seems to signpost the beginning of the end, easy as it is to be preconditioned that such a large collection of songs highlight each Beatles individuality rather than a cohesive band effort. “

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

11 thoughts on “The Top 100 Album Review: #10 – The Beatles “The White Album”, The Beatles (1968)”

  1. There is a lot to take in- and I’ve been listening to this for over 40 years and my favorites on the album change on a regular basis. At first I didn’t care much for Helter Skelter- now it’s on of my favorites. Would it have been a killer as a single album? No doubt- but I kind of enjoy it as it is- are some of these songs essential Beatles cuts? No- but I am glad they are out there. I’ve even grown to love Revolution #9.

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    1. This is so right. At first, I thought the back half of the album was really lame and stuck with all the hits in the front. But even today when I was working out, I started to really come around to songs like Helter Skelter. It is still one of the best albums of all time regardless.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 1- Revolver- 2- Rubber Soul 3- The White Album 4- Abbey Road 5- Sgt. Pepper 6-A Hard Day’s Night 7- Please Please Me 8-Magical Mystery Tour 9-Help! 10- With The Beatles 11-Beatles For Sale 12- Let It Be 13- Yellow Submarine … I know- that’s more than you ask for!

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      1. I agree that is why I favor it over Sgt Pepper… Revolver is probably my favorite over all but I’m a huge fan of the White Album.

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  2. I’m “Beatlely “quoted above and why it remains “My favorite album – by Anybody.” When it first came out it was not a favorite by many critics at the time, but I disagreed, right from the beginning.I remember hearing it the very first time and from the first song, ”Back in the U.S.S.R.”, coming from my stereo and moving from one speaker to the other, it felt like a jet plane was taking off in my university room. I knew then that it was the most incredible album I’d ever heard. 1968 was a time of revolution in the streets. But could it be that The Beatles were saying, that they as artists, preferred to change society through their music and art? After all, Lennon particularly, after their break-up, would carry on his “Give Peace a Chance “campaign and try to get the world to “Imagine” a world without wars and hate. This is my own personal interpretation of what the White Album could have been, perhaps, trying to express and as well as creating timeless music. After all these years and hundreds of listenings, in which I discover something new each time, this revolutionary and often misunderstood White Album, for all these reasons, still stands up and remains my favorite album of all time.” https://beatlely.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/the-beatles-white-album-revisited-ahead-of-its-time/

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for replying, Casual But Smart. Evidently, Beatles author Bruce Spizer liked my remembrance too, because he included part of it in his recent White Album book. It’s interesting the change in how the White Album is seen after all these years. As for Peppers, a classic certainly. What G. Martin said about it I think is revealing too. “Peppers is not their best album, but most important.”I write mainly about Beatle stuff on my site , but other music as well. I’ll check out your Top Ten and see if they match mine.

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