Monday, October 15, 2018

The White Album Track By Track - Part 2

Side Three

Birthday: On September 18, 1968, Paul Mccartney arrived early to Abbey Road and started working on the basic riff for "Birthday." When the others arrived, the song was almost finished. However, and with everyone throwing in ideas, the session was interrupted and the vocals were left unrecorded at 8:30 p.m. Together, The Beatles went to Paul's London home, near Abbey Road and watched on BBC2 The Girl Can't Help It, a film with music from Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Fats Domino. After the film, they headed back to the studio and laid down the vocals with Yoko and Pattie Harrison on backup vocals.

Yer Blues: Composed by Lennon as a parody of the British blues that had flourished in the late sixties, John's isolation while in India is apparent. With Brian dead, his marriage a sham and Yoko in England, he'd felt suicidal there, he later said, and searching for cosmic awareness in the Maharishi's camp made him feel "like the clueless Mr. Jones from Bob Dylan's 'Ballad of a Thin Man.'" Lennon channeled his misery into one of his most scalding performances.

Mother's Nature Son: A lecture by the Maharishi in India regarding the unity of man and nature touched both John and Paul, and each wrote beautiful songs about the experience. Paul's "Mother Nature's Son" ranks among his best acoustic ballads, while John's song, "Child of Nature" maybe even better than Paul's, though it never made it to a Beatles release. The track would subsequently be released on Imagine.

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey: This song reportedly originated in a drawing published by the press in which Yoko was shown as a monkey on John's shoulder. Lennon's reply was this rocker, which he described as "a nice line which I made into a song." The song was recorded slower than reproduced, and hence a 3'07'' take turned into 3'24''. This gives the distorted guitars even a more frantic feeling, conveniently accentuated by John's vocal.

Sexy Sadie

Maharishi, what have you done?
You made a fool of everyone,

Maharishi, you broke the rules,
you laid it down for all to see.

Maharishi, you little twat,
Who the fuck do you think you are?
Who the fuck do you think you are?
Oh you cunt

It all started when rumor suggested that the Maharishi had taken advantage of some of the girls in the course, against his own rules. John revealed the original lyrics to the others while rehearsing at Abbey Road on July 19, 1968. The lyrics were obviously changed to the more cryptic version that appears on the LP.

Helter Skelter: The Beatles heaviest track, "Helter Skelter" is the name of a giant spiral slide that can be found at British fairgrounds. Charles Manson, however, misinterpreted the lyrics and claimed that Helter Skelter was a sign of the coming apocalypse. Paul got the idea after reading a review on a song by the Who in which Pete Townshend called "I Can See For Miles" the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song the Who had ever recorded. Challenge accepted.

Long Long Long; One of the LP’s finest moments comes from George again with this surreal and ethereal tune. The Times called Harrison'  s composition equal to any Lennon/McCartney song on the album. The track has a tinge of psychedelia with a jazz undertone that was decidedly un-Beatle-like.

Side Four

Revolution 1: The LPs most popular song was one of two versions from the White Album sessions, the LP version the lease popular. The song's vocal was recorded by John laying on the floor, with the mic hanging above his mouth. Although originally over 10 minutes, it was edited to the 4 minutes version released in the album. John insisted on the song’s potential as a single, while the other Beatles felt the tempo was decidedly more AOR. The shoo-be-doos were omitted for the alternate track and an instrumental bridge was added. The alternate version was released as the B-Side to Hey Jude, and, although the A-Side made it to No. 1, this B-Side made it to No. 12.

Honey Pie: A 20's style song, clearly influenced by Paul’s father, stands alongside Your Mother Should Know. Totally delightful is the score by George Martin and the production, which really takes us back to those old records with wonderful orchestras playing great tunes.

Savoy Truffle: Eric Clapton played the guitar on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but he also was the inspiration for Savoy Truffle. Clapton was almost addicted to chocolate, and George decided to write him a song. The lyrics came out almost completely out of a Mackintosh's Good News box of chocolates. Savoy Truffle was one of the chocolates as well as Creme Tangerine, and Coffee Dessert.

Cry Baby Cry: John got the idea for this song out of a television commercial "Cry baby cry, make your mother buy." The song was completed in India with Donovan an influence. A pretty tune that somehow seems less polished than Lennon’s other tracks on the LP.

Revolution 9: This "song" is probably the most skipped track on any Beatles LP (usurpiing that distinction from “Within You, Without). Under Yoko's influence, John felt a need to embrace the avant-garde. The track was recorded in a similar way to the tapes loops in "Tomorrow Never Knows," with techs spooling loops all over Abbey Road's three studios with pencils. John mixed them live, and later added (with Harrison) bizarre lines like "the watusi", "economically viable," "financial imbalance," etc. While the least popular track on the LP, "Revolution 9" is arguably the most studied of Beatles tracks. While I have indeed spent my time deciphering the song, it is, to this writer the most unpleasant of all Beatles tracks.

Goodnight: Like something out of a Walt Disney movie, "Goodnight" is a lullaby written by John for Julian. While musically unremarkable, Martin's score creates one of the Beatles' most beautiful productions. 

If you are fascinated by a band falling apart, here you go. If you are interested in delicious eclecticism, try it, too. The Beatles came along almost inconspicuously with its blank cover, 180° from the psychedelic garden parties of the last records. The stylish minimalism quickly became the album's most famous trademark. Almost no one thinks of the eponymous title first, instead of it's nickname, The White Album.

The Beatles were exhausted, they had gone through a tragic loss (Brian Epstein), their first commercial failure (the Magical Mystery Tour film), the psychedelic dream-bubble had smashed in India where the Maharishi had revealed his very profane side, which negated the piece of mind the group was looking for, and the internal conflict was that of too close, too long, not to mention growing up and apart. The White Album is less the work of a band than a project conceived by the individuals who make up the biggest pop group in the world; a playground for individual ideas, a battle of egos, writing and recording side by side, but far from the well-structured LPs the foursome had created since Rubber Soul. The differing ideologies and styles equated to an anything goes approach that retrospectively bursts at its seams.

Many of the songs developed during their doomed trip to India, but what we get is not more weird Sgt.Pepper-pop; in their most distressed hour (pre-Let It Be, that is) the Fab Four let their creativity take precidence over quality control and managed to make something congenial out of an erratic, sometimes sketchy and non-cohesive pile of individual song ideas. The album gains its tremendous greatness exactly because it is so patchy and varied. The divine ("Dear Prudence," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Blackbird"), the daft ("Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da", "Don't pass me by") and the deranged ("Wild Honey Pie,", "Helter Skelter") co-exist on this record, and only in their combination make it what it is, a Beatles LP unlike anything they'd done or would yet do. What number is yours?

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