Arguably the most influential artist of all time, The Beatles released their first and only double studio album in December 1968, a masterpiece with a blank white cover simply titled The Beatles. Commonly referred to as The White Album, this record contains thirty tracks, a whopping 93 minutes of music. The album is unique in that The Beatles were essentially working as solo artists instead of creating together as they had previously done. Many of the songs were written by solo members of the band while they were studying at the Academy of Transcendental Meditation in India (Spitz 751). The spiritual vibe of India definitely contributed to many of the instrumental and lyrical compositions of many of the songs.
Listening to the album is quite an adventure, as various musical styles and effects are used throughout. Paul McCartney’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.” kicks off the album, parodying Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” The song is heavily inspired by the Beach Boys and definitely has that vibe to it (Turner). John Lennon’s first track of the album, “Dear Prudence” showcases a unique guitar style that Lennon learned from Scottish musician Donovan. “Glass Onion” encourages the conspiracy theorists surrounding The Beatles with lyrics such as “the walrus was Paul” – referring to the ‘Paul is dead’ rumor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_is_dead). “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is possibly the worst song on the album, as Lennon infamously called it “granny music shit.” “Wild Honey Pie” and “The continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” sound fine, but neither are classic Beatles tracks by any means. George Harrison’s first composition on the album, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” truly is a masterpiece. Featuring Eric Clapton, the song was not taken seriously by Lennon or McCartney. Harrison persisted and eventually recruiting the prodigal Clapton to help him out (Spitz 785). The song is one of the best on the album and one of Harrison’s best works overall. Rounding out side one is “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” The song has three distinct parts, something The Beatles explored with throughout their career as a band and their careers as solo artists (see McCartney’s “Band on the Run”).
Beginning side two is a McCartney composition titled “Martha My Dear.” Allegedly about his sheep dog, the song was created from daily piano practices (Turner). “I’m So Tired” is another fantastic track, showcasing Lennon’s struggles with sleep while in India. “Blackbird” is undeniably McCartney’s best track on the album. The song is very simple, but quite beautiful. Just the opposite, Harrison’s second track “Piggies” follows. Harrison is clearly not a fan of materialism, and the song includes some controversial lyrics “what they need’s a damn good whacking.” Following is another simple tune by McCartney titled “Rocky Raccoon.” The song is enjoyable, consisting of a fictional story. Following is Ringo Starr’s first solo composition on a Beatles’ album: “Don’t Pass Me By.” The song is okay, but pretty clearly shows Starr is not the songwriter the other three Beatles came to be. “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” is a hard rocking risky song about the overly private sex lives of human beings. “I Will” follows, another soft composition by McCartney. Side two closes with “Julia,” a very warming track by Lennon, dedicated to his mother. The song describes the love Lennon has for Yoko Ono.
Side three opens with the compression filled McCartney track “Birthday. The song was the first Paul wrote for his future wife-to-be Linda (Turner). Lennon truly highlights the third side of the album, particularly with “Yer Blues.” As the title suggests, the song is a bluesy tune. Later on, Lennon gathered Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell to perform the song at the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. “Mother Nature’s Son” is another McCartney track that sounds fine. Following is another interesting Lennon composition titled “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” The song is incredibly catchy, featuring some interesting lyrics. The song is supposedly about a Maharishi saying, with the ‘Except Me and My Monkey’ added. Following suit, “Sexy Sadie” was originally titled Maharishi and is another excellent composition from Lennon (Turner). “Helter Skelter” was written to simply be the loudest song in existence. Often credited as the first metal song, McCartney’s original plan was a constant jam of twenty plus minutes, even though the final version was cut off at 4:30 (Turner). The song ends with the famous shout from Starr “I’ve got blisters on my fingers.” Side three ends with Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long.” The song is soft and slow, but overall enjoyable.
Side four begins with “Revolution 1.” Not the faster, more popular version, “Revolution 1” still displays Lennon’s thoughts on war: violence is not the answer. “Honey Pie” is another decent McCartney track that sounds similar to early 1900’s music (Turner). The song is another McCartney composition that Lennon hated. “Savoy Truffle” comes next and sounds pretty good. Harrison wrote the song about Clapton’s chocolate addiction (Turner). “Cry Baby Cry” is the true hidden gem of the album, again displaying Lennon’s brilliance. The song has a great ending that really leaves one longing for more. Afterwards, “Revolution 9” comes. Another Lennon composition, this track is essentially effects played from tape over and over. The last song on the album is a song Lennon originally wrote for his son Julian (Turner). Sung by Starr, “Good Night” features a fantastic orchestral arrangement and is the perfect song to end the album.
As a whole, The Beatles is an incredible listen. The album goes beyond a simple piece of music however. During the songwriting and recording process, The Beatles were experiencing a massive amount of tension. Dealing with personal struggles, the three songwriting Beatles were essentially working by themselves and writing and producing their own songs, something completely new for this band (Spitz 760-763). Their producer, George Martin, played a much smaller role on this album (Spitz 765). The change in sound is evident between The Beatles and the previous Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The difference in sound is just as evident as the difference in cover artwork: the classic white background stating The Beatles compared to the incredibly lush, artistic collage of Sgt. Pepper’s. Overall, the album is one of a kind and deserves to be heard.
Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
Turner, Steve. The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Write. Carlton Books Limited, 1994.