Someone I know has asked me to compile and edit a book about the album The Beatles, generally called the white album. I haven’t said no, but I haven’t said yes yet because, to quote a white album title, “I’m So Tired.”
Still, it’s an interesting proposition. That album is, in its own way, as emblematic as its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper, and I think it ages better. It is the way people describe Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, e.g., an album with individual artists, rather than a band, with the others showing up as each other’s sidemen, or in this case, NOT showing up sometimes.
The first time I heard the white album was in the basement of the Unitarian church in Binghamton, NY in late November or early December of 1968. Our friend Steve was a member of a church group called LRY, Liberal Religious Youth, so he had access to the building.
We listened intently to the four sides. I remember or think I do, being struck by the Beach Boys effect of Back in the U.S.S.R.; the Beatles’ self-reference of Glass Onion; confusion over the meaning of Happiness Is A Warm Gun; the harpsichord on Piggies; the interesting segue between Birthday and Yer Blues; the sheer loudness of Helter Skelter, followed by the nearly inaudible Long Long Long; the familiarity of Revolution 1; and the utter confusion of Revolution 9.
I got the album for Christmas 1968. No doubt I read the lyric foldout sheet to try to figure out the meaning of it all. But when I got to side 3, the record skipped! It was just before the vocals on Birthday, and I later learned that there were thousands of copies with the same defect. I got it replaced a few days later.
Lots of people speculated what the album would have been like if it were a single LP, rather than a double, starting with producer George Martin. But it was The Beatles we’re talking about, who, that year, put out a seven-minute single, Hey Jude. (Now if YOU want to speculate what would be lost, besides Revolution 9, go ahead.)
If there were a book on the White album, what kind of items would you want to see? I know it’d have reference to cover versions of the songs, at least the ones that charted.
There are a bunch more…