Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Favourite Albums: Number 4: The Beatles - The Beatles (White Album)

So we've covered my three favourite albums, and we haven't featured my favourite band yet.
I've said numerous times on this blog that The Beatles are my all-time favourite band, and have been since I was 16. They occupy an unassailable summit.
But I genuinely regard The Stone Roses, Nevermind and Radiator as better albums than any single LP released by the Fabs.
Having said that, I could almost fill my top ten with Beatles albums. If I only had my 10 favourite Beatles albums to listen to for the rest of my life, I could cope with that.
Even picking my favourite Beatles album isn't an easy task - it can often change from day to day.
For years it was Sgt Pepper. If Magical Mystery Tour was a genuine studio album rather than a movie soundtrack and a collection of singles, it would be the best album ever made. Abbey Road is a sonic delight from the start and its second side is possibly the most perfect studio creation ever.
But right now, I consider The Beatles (which I'll refer to as The White Album from now on) as the band's high water mark.
It's a Marmite album - people either love it or hate it.
Those in the latter camp frequently cite its sprawling length, its disjointed mix of styles, the ramshackle nature of some of the tracks and the inclusion of Wild Honey Pie, Don't Pass Me By, Piggies and Revolution 9 amongst its songs.
But it's the hotch-potch nature of the album that is the core of its appeal. The opening three shots are stomping barbershop-quartet rock with Macca on vocals and drums (Back In The USSR); initially downbeat psychedelia that turns into a glorious tribute to Mia Farrow's sister, again with Macca on drums (delivering a performance better than anything Ringo ever recorded) (Dear Prudence); and self-referencing humour (Glass Onion).
There are odd little snatches of other songs sitting between the album's 'real' tracks. There's John Lennon yelling "aye up" between The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles' third greatest song after Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day In The Life).
There's howling rock (Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey), bluesy stompers (Why Don't We Do It In The Road? and Yer Blues), ballads inspired by English parlour music (Martha My Dear), pro-civil rights anthems disguised as lullabies (Blackbird), cod-Reggae (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da) and Paul McCartney shredding his throat as he invents punk rock (Helter Skelter).
It has a cover bearing only two words (the name of the otherworldly songwriting behemoths who wrote and recorded it), in direct contrast to the kaleidoscopic mash-ups of Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. Forget the image - it's what's inside that matters.
This is an album that continues to reveal new secrets and hidden depths with every listen. It's 30 tracks long and contains some of The Beatles' finest moments (and a couple of songs that wouldn't have made it through quality control on a shorter record). 32 years after it was first released, it still sounds exciting, from the jet engines and McCartney's pounding drums as Back In The USSR kicks off to the final swoop of the strings on Good Night.
Perfect? Not even close. But for pushing boundaries, sheer inventiveness, the sense of fun it evokes despite being recorded practically as a series of solo singles by three creative geniuses (and Ringo) and for Dear Prudence, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Sexy Sadie, it thoroughly deserves its place at number four on my list of favourite albums.
For the best way to hear the album, buy the recent remastered version, get a good CD player, a great pair of headphones, turn out the lights and open your mind....

1 comment:

Mike Smith said...

I preferred some of the later work The Beatles did - some of the early songs were quite bland. The White Album was years ahead of its time - and I agree, far better than Sgt. Pepper.