Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Beatles - The Beatles ("The White Album") (1968)

The walrus was Paul....


Released November 1968

Recorded at EMI Studios and Trident Studios, London

Running time 93:33

Firstly, before proceeding to talk about this album, I will put forth my own opinions on the sound.

The latest 2009 stereo remaster is the best I have ever heard it* (see "2018 remix" below for an updated view). I know there are many out there who love their mono, but as someone who owns both, I listened to both versions one after the other and, to me, the stereo is so superior there is simply no comparison. It is rich, warm, bassy and has great true stereo separation. A true joy, even stuff like Honey Pie sounds immeasurably better. Savoy Truffle too, remarkably. Just listen to the bass on Dear Prudence and the full, stereo separation on Glass Onion and Back In The USSR.  Recordings techniques were moving forward at a considerable pace in 1968, and, for sure, there are many Beatles albums that sound better in mono. This is not one of them. The same applies to The Rolling Stones' 1968 Beggars' Banquet.


1. Back In The USSR

2. Dear Prudence
3. Glass Onion
4. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
5. Wild Honey Pie
6. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
9. Martha My Dear
10. I'm So Tired
11. Blackbird
12. Piggies
13. Rocky Raccoon
14. Don't Pass Me By
15. Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
16. I Will
17. Julia
18. Birthday
19. Yer Blues
20. Mother Nature's Son
21. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
22. Sexy Sadie
23. Helter Skelter
24. Long Long Long
25. Revolution 1
26. Honey Pie
27. Savoy Truffle
28. Cry Baby Cry
29. Revolution 9
30. Good Night

So, on to the music on this bloated offering. Sure, there is some serious tosh on here - the waste of time that is Wild Honey Pie; the awful cod-Country and Western (with McCartney's embarrassing "country" accent) of Rocky Racoon; the obvious candidate in the utterly indulgent "proving a point" of Revolution 9 and the ones that almost qualify - Harrison's at times puerile Piggies; McCartney's irritatingly jaunty Martha My Dear and possibly also McCartney's effort to be Lennon in Why Don't We Do It In The Road. It seemed that n 1967-68 any light-hearted relatively unfinished studio doodlings could find their way on to an album and be hailed as a work of genius. I am sure Lennon said as much, didn't he? The Beach Boys' execrable "Smiley Smile" is a perfect example. Had these bands become too big for their boots and taking their assured market for granted?

The rest of the album is of an exceptionally high standard and The Beatles actually become something approaching a rock band for once - McCartney's Beach Boys pastiche Back In The USSR; Lennon's witty Glass Onion; McCartney's "heavy" Cream/Hendrix-influenced Helter Skelter; Lennon's marvellously gritty and authentic Yer Blues; his magnificent, relevant, rebellious yet cynical Revolution 1 (although I prefer the version on the "Blue Album"); Harrison's classic melodic rock of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (a track I have always felt would have better suited Abbey Road than this one); McCartney's energetic, rocking Birthday; and Lennon's mysterious Dear Prudence are some of The Beatles’ most “rock” material. I guess Harrison's beguiling Long Long Long creeps into this category as well, with its powerful drum parts. (Harrison's contributions to this album were somewhat schizophrenic - the excellent While My Guitar..., the acceptable Long..., the questionable Piggies and the throwaway Savoy Truffle, a song about choosing chocolates from a box that has a bizarre appeal, but is no work of genius).

Then there are the credible and convincing slower-paced, less "rock" songs in Lennon's beautiful Julia and the precursor to his solo work in I'm So Tired and the very 70s Lennon feel of Sexy Sadie; Cry Cry Cry is slightly unnerving, though, as Lennon's childhood memory songs were; McCartney's lovely, haunting Blackbird and his gentle, tuneful, Buddy Holly-influenced I Will. All good tracks.

Now a mention must be given to two Lennon tracks that have always frustrated me - the half genius and half-seemingly unfinished nature of Happiness Is A Warm Gun. I have always found that just as I start enjoying this track, it either changes to another section or it ends. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill is just nonsense. I can't get into this, no matter how many times I listen to it.

The other tracks I have failed to mention so far are Ringo Starr's country violin and drum stomp of Don't Pass Me By, which is ok, I suppose, but it is still a "Ringo song", bless him.

McCartney's Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da reggae/calypso/ska is a bit dispensable but one can't help singing along to it and it provides some levity to the proceedings. His bucolic "back to the country" number in Mother Nature's Son is perfectly pleasant but there is nothing particularly memorable about it. Similarly, Lennon's Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey is an upbeat rock number with some nonsensical lyrics and some good guitar, but, again, it isn't a track that you remember this album for. Indeed, in writing this review I had forgotten about it.

McCartney's Honey Pie was treated with contempt by Lennon. It is typical McCartney "whimsy" and I, personally, don't have much time for that style of his songwriting, just as Lennon clearly didn't. It doesn't sit well on this album, coming, as it did, after "Revolution 1". Then there is "Good Night". Eminently dispensable.

In conclusion, like one of its worst tracks in Savoy Truffle, this album is like a box of chocolates. Some you prefer more than others. Some you avoid like the plague. For what it's worth, here are my strawberry creams (the review will have told you which are my coffee creams!):-

1. Back In The USSR
2. Dear Prudence
3. Glass Onion
4. Ob La Di Ob La Da
5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
6. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
7. Blackbird
8. Julia
9. I Will
10. Mother Nature's Son
11. Birthday
12. Yer Blues
13. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And Monkey
14. Sexy Sadie
15. Helter Skelter
16. Long, Long, Long
17. Revolution 1

That's not a bad album is it?

*2018 REMIX

We all know the songs, so I will just speak about the sound. It is truly superb and a most enjoyable listen. I can't stress that enough. Now, I love the 2009 stereo remaster as well, but listening to this (especially through headphones) I find all sorts of little nuances that seem new to my ears. Whether they are there or whether I just think they are there - either way it sounds wonderful. I am not one for studying waveforms and the like and I am certainly no audiophile, but to my ears it sounds revelatory. I am loving it. The stripped-down "Esher" demos are interesting, but they are not something I will return to very often, whereas the remixed album will be played a lot. That is what I am most interested in. Personal highlights are the sheer resounding thump of Birthday and USSR, the percussion on Dear Prudence, the bass, drums and searing guitar solo on Yer Blues and the brass on a song I usually hate, Martha My Dear.

The best thing I can say to back up my point is that it makes the "rubbish" on the album sound better! That can only be a good thing for this chocolate box of an album. No amount of remixing can change my mind about Rocky Racoon, however....

B- (original album)

B+ (my revised album)

Photo by Apple Corps Ltd

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