Friday, June 8, 2007
No. 10: The Beatles
Band: The Beatles
Album: The Beatles (aka "The White Album")
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: While not at the level of "Revolver" (or, one could argue, "Sgt. Pepper's"), the self-titled album has an amazing collection of songs that spans genres and subjects. You could argue that each member has one of his three best songs on the White Album. Each writer was setting the stage for his solo career, with Paul switching between the light ("Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da") and the loving ("Martha My Dear"), Lennon's sarcasm coming to light ("Glass Onion" and "Sexy Sadie") and George Harrison finally stretching himself ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps"). Ringo even puts out "Don't Pass Me By," which is a wonderful little Ringo song.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Experimentation" doesn't mean it necessarily works. "Revolution 9" is total gargbage. "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" is silliness, as is "Wild Honey Pie" (Hell, even the regular "Honey Pie" is ridiculously silly). The production value on "Long, Long, Long" is fitting, but it is hard to hear. The album version of "Revolution 1" isn't as good as the harder single version.
Best song: I like "Savoy Truffle" a whole lot, but it's hardly the best song on the record. "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is awesome, with time changes and such. "I'm So Tired" is fantastic. "Long, Long, Long" -- even with the vocals low in the mix -- is awesome. The three animal songs on side two ("Blackbird," "Piggies" and "Rocky Raccoon") make for a fantastic little run.
Worst song: "Revolution 9" is hot sewage. It's total garbage.
Is it awesome?: Yes. Without question.
Let me preface this bit by saying that nothing I say is really very original. The White Album is one of the most written-about albums in the history of rock and roll. In fact, I've been reading a lot about the record and one of the things I've found to be fascinating in doing research (yes, I am doing research for this project) of both how much minutae there is to the Beatles songs. The White Album, especially, gave me plenty of pieces of trivia to digest.
I used to believe the White Album to be a bloated record (a view, incidentally, that has been transferred to Pink Floyd's "The Wall"), but I want to officially recant that view now. While the excess silliness/experimentation certainly drops it below the level of "Revolver" or "Abbey Road," the White Album is still a breathtaking group of songs.
As has been stated a million times before, "The Beatles" (the record's official name) is basically three songwriters (and Ringo, who contributed one track) doing his own thng, with the most clear delineations between John Lennon and Paul McCartney on a Beatles record. John's songs are those about suicide ("Yer Blues"), an ode to his dead mother ("Julia"), a flat-out diss song ("Sexy Sadie") and whatever the hell "Revolution 9" is. On the other hand, Paul sings about songbirds ("Blackbird"), carnival rides ("Helter Skelter") and monkeys having sex ("Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"). All the while, George continued his emergence as a songwriter with "Savoy Truffle," "Long, Long, Long," "Piggies" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
It's pretty clear from everything I've been reading that this was a time period in which the four Beatles just didn't want to be around one another. One of the things I was so struck by in listening to this record again and again is how easily Macca could write different styles of songs. As much as John experimented, Paul really hit several diferent styles of songs, sometimes even as homages to other pop acts. "Rocky Raccoon" is his attempt (a decent one) at a Dylan song, "Back In The U.S.S.R." is Chuck Berry and "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" is Little Richard-esque. He branched out into harder rock with "Helter Skelter." He constructed one of the better love songs with "I Will." Hell, he even did a old tyme-style honky tonk with "Honey Pie." Also, "Birthday," which is up there with "Silly Love Songs" and "Hello Goodbye" for the title of "stupidest lyrics by McCartney." The song rocks, but the lyrics are a little juvenile.
John also experimented, albeit in a weirder way. His messing with song structures gave us "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and his attempt at blues-rock gave us the ode to depression "Yer Blues." "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" is a prelude to "Ballad of John and Yoko." "Glass Onion" is mostly a "fuck you" to the people trying to find meaning in Beatle lyrics.
It's really quite phenomenal how awesome these songs are. These guys were at each others' throats the whole time, yet look at the track listing. Even the ones with silly lyrics (again, "Birthday" comes to mind, as does "I'm So Tired" and "Savoy Truffle") are awesome songs. Yes, there's filler. Lots of filler. But, you can't argue with "Blackbird," "Helter Skelter," "Yet Blues," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and the other stellar songs.