The color “white” is quite the enigma. It severely lacks any depth whatsoever, showing only a shallow field of itself. Somehow, though, it also manages to continue as far as your eyes will let it. It is continual, yet minimal. Bland as it may be, it is also profoundly intriguing in the fact that it is really nothing. Hell, it’s not even technically a color. In the 1960’s, the last “color” you’d expect to see on the cover of an album would be the one that is referred to as “white”. A rich blend of color schemes and textures began to symbolize much of the hippie ideology, making up the surface of the infamous “freak flag”. Yet, one of the most revered albums of the 1960’s, and indeed, the world was released in 1968 with little more on its’ cover than a droning palette of white, and the words, “The BEATLES” in small, fine print. Mysterious and effective, the message its’ creators was trying to convey was clear. The death of the counter-culture was soon to come, and the album, The Beatles
(from here on out referred to as The White Album
), was the writing on the wall.
Sprawling, disjointed, and utterly confusing, the sound and the songs that make up the body of The White Album
are as puzzling as the cover that represents them. One year prior in 1967, the counter-culture was at the height of its’ power and prominence, and the Beatles were at the forefront in many ways. Sonic trips such as I Am the Walrus
and Fixing A Hole
permeated countless college campuses and home fronts alike, announcing a radical departure from the socially acceptable norm. And yet, less than a full-year later, all of it ceased. Suddenly, its’ leaders were MIA, and while peace and love were still unifying themes, the driving forces behind all of the concord seemed stagnant and wilted. It might be because of this that the Beatles released an album such as this, or perhaps the album caused the disorganized fall from grace experienced by the majority of hippies, but whatever the case may be, The White Album
was something else.
Amidst all the experimentation and extravagance that resided on albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
and the subsequent Magical Mystery Tour
, the band seemed to forget what they were originally; a good, fun pop-rock band. While their new direction was obviously satisfying, the entity that stirred up Beatlemania appeared to have evolved, and left its’ youthful sound and feel behind. I’d imagine it was a rather large surprise for many when in the opening seconds of Back In the U.S.S.R.
a guitar was heard wailing away over the long-since abandoned drums-bass-guitars-vocals format. While parodying both the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry in a single blow, what was also managed was proof that the group would continue to evolve, all whilst still putting out fantastic songs.
Pin-pointing the sound of a double-album is no easy task. Pin-pointing the sound of a double album by the Beatles is identical to attempting hari kari with no arms. The entire time the album is playing, you really can’t pin down a specific established style, as the album takes you from quiet and cerebral to brassy and jaunty. Once you think you’ve got the gist of it all figured out, you find yourself with a unnerving filler like Wild honey Pie
, which in itself is as incoherent as the album itself. Perhaps the most prevalent of all the odd sounds you will hear from The White Album
though is finger-picked acoustic pieces. The abundance of these are the result of a trip to India the Fab Four took in early 1968 to visit the now-infamous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who would aid them in the ways of Transcendental Meditation. While under the Maharishi’s care, many other rock stars came to see what all of the fuss was about. One unidentified rock star (from Donovan) began teaching John Lennon and Paul McCartney how to finger-pick, and by extension, he helped birth a large portion of tunes found on the off-kilter album. Evidence for this can be found in masterpieces like Blackbird
, which was the first song to feature Paul and an acoustic alone since the famous Yesterday
(if you exclude the string arrangement, of course). Likewise, John Lennon was in no short supply of acoustic pieces, turning in the ethereal and thoroughly captivating Dear Prudence
, which before its’ end builds up into a diverse and eclectic masterpiece.
One major criticism among rock fans and music critics alike is the abundance of filler, which is commonly found on any double-album you care to name. Songs such as the aforementioned Wild Honey Pie
and the George Harrison composed, Charles Manson endorsed Piggies
have both been assaulted with the title of filler, as has the painfully notorious Revolution 9
, the latter of which features a prominent, British male voice repeating “number nine, number nine” over and over while the rest of the “song” gradually descends into chaos. While the first two are quite simply the result of experimentation and/or boredom, Revolution 9
has a more sinister back drop. John Lennon was a man who did not avoid infidelity. Indeed, while he was with his first wife Cynthia Powell, it is estimated that Lennon committed lewd acts with over two hundred women. One woman, who was quite peculiar in every conceivable way, was Yoko Ono. What began as a “woman stalking man” quickly and inexplicably developed into “man worshipping woman”. Such was Lennon’s devotion to his new found love that he changed his middle name to “Ono” as a symbol for her. Aside from downright creepy private escapades, the pair also began experimenting with ‘concrete musik’; avante garde sonic art. The most fruitful result was the nine-plus minute nuisance that would come to be known as Revolution 9
By this point in the Beatles career, each individual member was defining themselves, and cementing their future musical directions in concrete; directions which with each passing day began to have less and less to do with the others. Perhaps the most radical change in any of the Beatles members was the one that seized George Harrison. Often credited as an equal to the famous Lennon-McCartney duo by 1969’s Abbey Road
, evidence suggests that George was well on his way to superiority by the time The White Album
was ready to be recorded. Indeed, aside from crafting marvelous gems such as the haunting Long, Long, Long
and the vigilant, remorseful While My Guitar Gently Weeps
(the latter of which features a still Creamed-out Eric Clapton on lead guitar), it’s reported that Harrison had actually finished composing his only Beatles number one hit Something
by the time the group resided in the studio, only to have it turned down in favor for other, more tentative numbers. In what little time Georgey gets to shine, however, he proves himself most matured, especially in songs like the harmony drenched Savoy Truffle
While his band mates were crafting furious rock and roll numbers like the addictive rockerEverybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
as well as forlorn, proto blues-rock songs like Yer Blues
, Ringo Starr was busy attempting to craft his own song. All of the band loved country music, but of all of them, Starr was perhaps the most tranquilized by its’ dulcet sounds, and his first solo composition, Don’t Pass Me By
, would be heavily influenced by it’s sound. While generally regarded as a pretty unsuccessful attempt, it does possess some flair of its own, and is also noteworthy for containing some more tantalizing clues regarding the death of Paul McCartney. By contrast, McCartney was squeezing out little pieces of genius in the form of such tunes as Helter Skelter
. Ignoring the sinister background details, the song is a blitzkrieg of heaviness, and is the only Beatles song in existence capable of wearing the title of “heavy metal”, and fitting the mold.
The fact that the album is completely and totally dissimilar to the type of drugged-up music the group was making years before doesn’t mean that they had completely abandoned all traces of psychedelia, however. The driving verse beat in Dear Prudence
is vaguely hallucogenic in its’ own right, with Lennon’s finger-picked acoustic guitar providing an otherworldly tapestry to the tune, and the generic-sounding brass instruments that infest Savoy Truffle
definitely owe a lot to the ways of that wacky Sgt. Pepper
and his “one and only lonely hearts club band”, but the fact that these songs are hopelessly surrounded by jangling acoustic guitars, burlesque musical hall romps (Honey Pie
), and just plain abnormal tunes (Piggies
) tends to lend to the album a depth that not many others can claim to have. Indeed, songs like the jaw-dropping Happiness Is A Warm Gun
go from dark and brooding to rocking and hazy; and from there it just gets weird. While John proclaims just what true happiness is in a 50’s-esque rock n’ roll manner, George and Paul provide some backing vocals that really make you wonder, no matter how clever and tongue-in-cheek the “bang, bang, shoot, shoot” refrain is. Yes, the bands’ psychedelic ways are still more or less evident, and are possibly more ingenious than before. In fact, most of these songs simply could not be emulated. By anyone. Ever.
The legacy of the album is enormous. There is quite frankly too much information regarding it, and too much history surrounding it to possibly list everything you’d want and/or need to know about it. Perhaps the most prominent feature of the album is that it quite frankly is a rock and roll album. It is not Sgt. Pepper II
, and if anything, it’s the Sgt. Pepper
formula expanded upon in many ways, and defecated on in others. Yes the fate of the counter-culture was confirmed with this mammoth double-album, and the destiny of the band who birthed it was sealed. All of this, of course, is in the past, and the question of whether or not you should bother with the album is perhaps the most pivotal question now. Should you decide that indulging in it is worth your time, you’ll more than likely find that it is. Should you wish to remain distant with all that it has to offer, you probably made the right choice for yourself anyway. Whatever the course you set out upon, one thing is clear. The White Album
is a defining album in countless ways, and realizing it is rather simple. You can listen to the music and reach the conclusion, or you can stare at the cover of the album; the cover that has endless depth and non-existent continuity. Honestly, the color sums everything up quite well.
From Me To You
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me And My Monkey