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.
Back in the U.S.S.R. – Chubby Checker, #82 in 1969
Dear Prudence -5 Stairsteps, #66 in 1970
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – Arthur Conley, #51 in 1969
There are a bunch more…
One thought on “A book about the White Album?”
I’ve already posted what I think a single-disc White Album ought to have been:
What I’d look for in a book on the album would be how the squabbling among the members may have affected the songs themselves — whether any particular lyric was aimed specifically at another, or whether the arrangement might have been designed to snub someone. This is rather arcane stuff, but the fascination potential is huge.