Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 11/22/08 w/ Additional Content.
1968 was a year of unbridled chaos that changed the world. The year before was about peace and love at the time of the Vietnam War. That changed as the Vietnam War peaked in its ugliness and despair. Around the world, that chaos was going around through protests all over the world including Mexico and France. It was around that same time, the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia as Communism was spreading around. In the U.S., it was an election year as the optimism and hope that was spread earlier in the decade was crashed by cynicism following the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. that April and Robert F. Kennedy two months later. Followed by riots all over the streets in major cities in the U.S., the look for the country looked bleak when Richard M. Nixon won the election though the year ended with a glimmer of hope by the Apollo 8 space flight to the moon.
Around that same time as the world was brewing into chaos, somewhere in Abbey Road studios, the Beatles were set to make a new album. A year after the release of their landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the death of their manager Brian Epstein. The Beatles seemed loss as they went into a spiritual retreat to India that left John Lennon extremely disillusioned as he became attracted to avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. Entering Abbey Road with longtime producer George Martin, the Beatles set out to create a record that veered away from the band's previous experimental and psychedelic recordings for something more basic and diverse in various genres. Yet, the making of the record proved to be as difficult as tension between the band was starting to rise.
During those sessions, the individual members would work separately with various engineers with a lot of discord and infighting prompting longtime engineer Geoff Emerick to stop working with the band once the record was complete. Things were getting worse as drummer Ringo Starr quit the band for two weeks following his frustration for his lack of input into the record. John Lennon and George Harrison would also have brief departures during the sessions with Paul McCartney becoming frustrated as well. Finally in October of that year, the band was finished recording as on November 22, 1968. The band released their self-titled album often referred to as The White Album.
Performed by the Beatles and produced by George Martin with many songs written by the duo of Lennon-McCartney with four tracks written by George Harrison and Ringo Starr writing his first solo composition for the band. The White Album is a double album that explores the chaos of 1968 as well as personal songs reflecting on loss, love, innocence, and anger. Featuring contributions by Eric Clapton, Jack Fallon, and the spouses of the Beatles in Yoko Ono, Pattie Boyd, and Maureen Starkey. The White Album is a brilliant yet chaotic masterpiece that would prove to be the beginning of the end for the Fab Four.
The album begins with Back In The U.S.S.R. with the sound of a flying airliner as it turns into this chugging, upbeat rocker with bass-thumping rhythms and warbling guitars as Paul McCartney sings dark, comical lyrics with a smooth, bluesy vocal style as he's accompanied by a piano, swift drums, and an old-school style of 50s rock with a George Harrison wailing solo. Dear Prudence opens an arpeggio guitar track by John Lennon as he sings in his cool, eerie vocals about a depressed woman in this smooth, mid-tempo song. With McCartney's thumping rhythm in drums and bass, Lennon sings lyrics filled with dark imagery with Harrison accompanying Lennon with a droning, ringing guitar riff as the tempo picks up a bit at the song's coda. Glass Onion is an upbeat, angry song with Lennon singing dark lyrics as if things aren't the way it seems with Ringo Starr's swift, crashing fills and McCartney's thumping bass line. With Harrison's striking guitar, the song revels in the songs that the band had done as they're stripped down to the core.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is an upbeat, reggae-inspired song of sorts with loopy bass line, striking piano, and McCartney singing whimsical, nonsensical lyrics filled with a memorable chorus as it brings a unique sense of humor. With its thumping rhythm, it's a strange but wonderful song that shows McCartney's weird sense of humor and upbeat personality. Wild Honey Pie is an upbeat, acoustic track with washy, boing-boing beats filled with detuned, scratchy acoustic guitar tracks filled with Lennon and McCartney's weird vocals. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill is a mid-tempo song featuring Yoko Ono, Patti Boyd, Maureen Starkey, and Beatles roadie Mal Evans singing the chorus about what Bungalow Bill killed as it goes into a slow, shimmering verse with Lennon's raspy vocals and lyrics about Bill's dark deeds. With shifting tempos, it's a standout cut that reveals Lennon's dark sense of humor and the tone of what was going on in that year.
Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps opens with McCartney's somber yet eerie piano accompaniment, Starr's hi-hat cymbal taps, and Lennon's accompanying guitar as Harrison sings softly about the despair of the world as he's accompanied the wailing guitar solos of Eric Clapton. Harrison's vocals are the song's highlight along with Clapton's wailing blues-driven solos along with Starr's striking drum fills along with Lennon and McCartney's backing vocals in the chorus. The eerie ballad Happiness Is A Warm Gun opens with Lennon singing with his arpeggio-laden guitar with strange, eccentric lyrics as he's followed by Starr's smooth, thumping drums, Harrison's droning guitar, and McCartney's smooth, low bass. With Lennon getting into lyrics about addiction and then going into a dream-like tone, the song goes into a memorable chorus he sings lyrics filled with comfort but in a dark complexity. Martha My Dear is another ragtime-inspired track led by McCartney's melodic-laden piano as he sings lyrics about a naive woman leaving her old world as it turns into something more upbeat with its drums, horns, and guitars as McCartney continues to be whimsical.
I'm So Tired is a slow, haunting song with Lennon singing about weariness with his smooth, dark lyrics with slow, striking rhythms accompanying him along with Harrison's guitar. When the song goes into its rocking chorus, the tempo picks up a bit as he and the band just goes into a brief, angry mode as it returns to its somber, weary presentation. Blackbird is an acoustic ballad sung by McCartney reflecting on the dark times that is going on as it reflects on death and loss as McCartney sings in a calm vocal style with a foot-tap accompanying him and later, a bird chirping in the background. Harrison's Piggies is a whimsical, charming song led by a harpsichord being played by engineer Chris Thomas with sounds of grunting pigs in this baroque yet soothing song as Harrison creates a song that is innocent yet strange as he sings softly with distorted vocals that come in later on along with the band singing along as it gets darker. Rocky Raccoon is an acoustic ballad where McCartney sings in a country, bluesy drawl about a guy entering a world as he then sings a chorus where it's clear he's there to kill someone. With its soft, thumping rhythms, it's a song about a duel as it's in the style of Bob Dylan along with a flourishing, melodic piano by producer George Martin in the coda.
Ringo Starr's Don't Pass Me Buy is an upbeat, warbling, country-inspired song with Starr's array of percussive fills and country-style vocal drawl as he's accompanied by reverb keyboard sounds and thumping bass. Along with Jack Fallon's violin track, it's a truly brilliant country track as Ringo proves to be a talented songwriter who works in his own world. Why Don't We Do It On The Road? is a blues-inspired track that opens with Starr's rumbling bass drum fills as it becomes this thumping, upbeat blues track with McCartney's thumping pianos and growling vocals along with soft, ringing guitars from Lennon and Harrison. I Will is a McCartney love-ballad that is largely inspired by the Everly Brothers as he sings the song with his acoustic guitar along with a flourishing solo and warm lyrics that's directly to McCartney's then-girlfriend and love-of-his-life Linda Eastman. The ballad Julia is a haunting, somber ballad from John Lennon as he sings this haunting yet sad song about the mother he lost when he was only 17 with descriptive lyrics and eerie vocals.
The album's second half begins with the upbeat, rocking Birthday with Starr's rumbling, hard-hitting snares and Lennon's wailing guitar solo, Harrison's warbling bass lines, and McCartney's screeching vocals about a birthday. While the song seems something upbeat, it's really a dark, chaotic song with its warbling guitars, crashing rhythms, McCartney's striking pianos, and the backing vocals of Yoko Ono and Pattie Boyd as it plays in its rocking tone. Yer Blues is a slow but heavy blues-inspired song with Lennon singing in a growling vocal style as he delves into the blues with Starr's rumbling drums, thumping bass, and growling guitar riffs that follow Lennon. With a break that sounds like a wailing blues, it's Lennon at his angriest. Mother Nature's Son is a folk-inspired song about McCartney's experience in India as he brings a soft, horn playing along with a bass drum that he plays himself in this soothing, folk track. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey is a fast-charging rocker with Lennon singing in a growling vocal about his own private life and his refusal to be uncompromising. With Starr's rattling cymbals and hard-hitting snares, wailing guitars, rumbling bass, and Lennon's vocals, it's a true, uncompromising song from Lennon.
Sexy Sadie is another Lennon-sung song with him playing piano about a sexual being proving that it's not who it claims to be. With its slow, thumping rhythms and Harrison's distorted, warbling guitar, and Lennon's calm lyrics filled with lyrics about disillusionment and identity. The hard-rocking, loud, and abrasive Helter Skelter features a wailing guitar track from George Harrison as McCartney sings in a growling vocal about the chaos that surrounds the world. With Ringo Starr's crashing drums, Lennon's thumping bass and raging guitars, it's the Beatles at their most abrasive with McCartney playing a droning solo as if the world is going to hell. Long, Long, Long by Harrison is a love song in the style of Bob Dylan as Harrison sings in his soft, atmospheric vocal with Starr's bass-pounding rumble and McCartney's eerie organ track that is followed by McCartney playing a striking piano track. Revolution 1 is a slower, blues-inspired version of the single Revolution with a thumping rhythm and Lennon's wailing guitar. With lyrics about the world going into a revolution and its fallacies while Lennon says, "When you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out, in". That line reference Lennon's sense of being unsure in the participation of violent revolutions.
Honey Pie is a music hall-inspired track with McCartney's piano leading the track about a famous woman yearning to return to England to her old lover. With its thumping rhythm and clarinet track by Harry Klein through George Martin's arrangement, it's a whimsical song from McCartney that relies on McCartney's love for old, music-hall style music. Harrison's Savoy Truffle is an upbeat rocker with McCartney's melodic organ track and Harrison's snarling vocals with striking guitars and Starr's thumping drum fills. With lyrics about sweets, it features wailing guitar spurts from Harrison as it proves Harrison's growing strength as a songwriter. Cry, Cry, Cry is a folk-driven song that has Lennon singing about an old fairy tale as he's accompanied by McCartney on piano, Harrison on sliding guitar, and Starr's rumbling fills. The last portion of the song has McCartney singing in a bluesy, thumping track with his acoustic guitar.
Revolution 9 is an eight-minute experimental song with the words "number 9" repeatedly with breaks of conversations and such going back to those words with tape scratches, distortions, and loops Lennon, Harrison, Starr, and Yoko Ono along with samples of their own songs from the record. While it's a controversial track filled with backward messages and such but it's also groundbreaking for its time that harkens back to the Beatles' experimental days. The album closer Good Night is a symphonic, sweeping track filled with George Martin's wondrous arrangements and a soothing string orchestra as Ringo Starr sings the song as a lullaby-style in his somber vocal that gives the album a fitting close.
Released on November 22, 1968, the album was hailed as a masterpiece while being another big seller. Yet, it proved to a critical point for the band as tension and discord were rising as in retrospect. Many felt that this was where the band was starting to get tired of each other as a series of events would lead to the band's break-up in early 1970. Yet, The White Album proved to be influential in pop music as it started the era of double-albums as the Beatles were once again, ahead of their times in terms of creating big, double-pop albums. 40 years since its release, the album proves to be seminal in popular music while considered to be one of the greatest recordings of all-time.
The 2009 Remastered Edition shows a remarkable upgrade of what the record sounds like in comparison to previous reissues. Released as part of a new series of remasters in its stereo version along with the stereo box set and some tracks on the mono box set. The reissue goes into more detail of the production work as every sound and note is heard much clearer including stuff in the background. Notably Ringo's scream at the end of Helter Skelter. The work in the remastered version is truly a must-have for fans as it adds more of an atmosphere and chaos that is captured in this amazing album.
The White Album is a brilliant yet chaotic, sprawling, ambitious, and adventurous masterpiece from the Beatles. Thanks in large parts to George Martin's production that varies from stripped-down to layered and atmospheric, The White Album is a record that truly revealed what the Beatles can do when things get tense and out of control as it's also their most uncompromising record to date. Newcomers wanting to know what the band could do in terms of versatility should get this record to see the types of musical styles they can concoct. With many great songs and a lot of adventurous to complement those classics, it's a testament to an art form known as the double album that is starting to wane in today's pop music world. In the end, for anyone that wants to get an idea of what chaos sounds like in a pop record that is very long and challenging. The Beatles' The White Album is the record to get.
The Beatles Reviews: Please Please Me - With the Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles for Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Magical Mystery Tour - Yellow Submarine OST - Abbey Road - Let It Be - (1962-1966) - (1967-1970) - Past Masters - (Live at the BBC) - (Anthology 1) - (Anthology 2) - (Anthology 3) - (Let It Be... Naked) - (Love)
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