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Also known as The White Album, this self-titled album by the Beatles isn't only famous as being the "Charles Manson went Batshit Crazy" album, but is also remembered as being one of the greatest albums ever recorded. The Beatles have many albums that you may see in this series over time, but seriously, I wanted to start with this one, purely because it's such an icon of who the Beatles are. They aren't a boy band, they aren't a set of manufactured rock stars, they cannot be defined or padlocked into a group, and they cannot be imprisoned in one type of music. They are everlasting and they are incredible—they transcend the term "music" itself.
The album was released in the November of 1968 and took some incredible turns, becoming the go-to album for the Manson family and even becoming one of the Beatles most loved and iconic albums. The White Album (as I will call it throughout) is a celebration of the composition of 60s rock music and a stylised middle finger to the establishment.
Let's go through some of the songs, since this album is huge in its content, I want to make this a good overview for some incredible music:
Side 1, Track 4: An important song if you want to get to know the Beatles when they're telling you a story. Copied later by the band "Noah and the Whale" with their song "Life Goes On," this song first made its appearance as the story of Desmond and Molly in the marketplace. The classic Beatles song opens with the iconic lines:
"Desmond has a barrow in the marketplace
Molly is the singer in a band
Desmond says to Molly 'girl I like your face'
And Molly says this as she takes him by the hand"
It's an incredible song that goes from when the couple meets to when they get their own house and have kids. The beat of the song is light, "pretty," and almost, funny.
The question is: Why is it funny?
The ending of the song is why it's funny. The ending to the song is weird and donned in typical Beatles style in which you have no idea what you've actually been listening to for the past few minutes. It goes from being nice and pretty to straight up Alfred Hitchcock level of strange. Many people have thought that this is for humorous effect but I think that they did it so that nobody would notice something crucial about the storyline.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Side 1, Track 7: Written by my personal favourite Beatle, George Harrison, the song is a melancholic look at the world through the eyes of a guitar player. It is a deep and foreboding song that (however indirectly) echoes Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" (and is probably perfect for a playlist you're creating of melancholic rock songs). The song is a gorgeous melody of minor keys, and the lyrics are mystical. It is something that George Harrison has seriously left his name on towards the end of the Beatles.
Possibly the most famous lines in the song are:
"I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps"
It gives the melancholy a sense of timelessness, something that the song itself has. The harmonies are incredible, getting slowly higher as the bridge of the song happens and then, going back to the lower harmony as we hit back on to the main section of the song.
It is a classic Beatles song that you need to hear if you want to listen to that time when the Beatles got introspective.
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun"
Side 1, Track 8: My favourite Beatles song of all time, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is a highly underrated song and requires to be heard more often as a song that made it on to the famed The White Album.
Starting off with the softer vocals and then moving on to a very Bob Dylan-esque description of a girl, it is definitely the way to go if you want it to be my favourite song by you. Check out these lines:
"She's well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane.
The man in the crowd with the multi-coloured mirrors on his hobnail boots.
Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy working overtime.
A soap impression of his wife which he ate and donated to the National Trust."
Now that, my friends, sounds like it could've been on Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde (1966) album.
The song goes through various changes throughout and this is probably why I like it. The "chorus" of the song doesn't really exist but it kind of comes in at the end. The harmonies that go "bang bang shoot shoot" seem to add a layer of humour to it as if it's supposed to be lighthearted after all those heavy lyrics.
I think the best part about this song is the singing, the vocals are incredible and the harmonies work brilliantly. "Happiness is a Warm Gun" is truly a work of pure art.
Side 3, Track 1 of the CD is awesome. "Yer Blues" is a sad, strong vocal blues rock song that seems to be about wanting to die. The lonesome rambling of:
"Yes, I'm lonely,
Want to die..."
But I think the best part of the song is the part where they state:
"I feel so suicidal just like Dylan's Mr. Jones!"
Not just because they mention Bob Dylan and the song "Ballad of a Thin Man," but also because the vocals are raw and raspy, it really fits in with the song. If you've heard this song, you'll know how good the vocals sound with that guitar.
The song is a great blend of the electric guitar and the craziness that is The White Album. It characterises the album brilliantly and gets you ready for that bluesy sound of:
"Feel so suicidal even hate my rock and roll!"
That scaling is brilliant, and the way the song changes is so awesome. It has its own character kind of like the changes we see in "Happiness is a Warm Gun." The Beatles show they can blend different sub-genres of music together and make it work.
This song is a near-perfect blend of rock and roll, hard rock and the blues.
Side 3, Track 6: You knew it would be here. The famous song that gave light to Charles Manson's crazy ass and the song that also started a generation of hard rockers. "Helter Skelter" is the ultimate hard rock song if you ever heard one and possibly one of the best written songs in the history of music.
"When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide,
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride,
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again!"
The opening lines are as memorable as they are completely crazy. The iconic guitar sound riffing whilst the vocals blast and Ringo's amazing drumming comes in at the end of the first lines—it is an incredible song with a brilliant design. There is no question as to why it's so iconic.
"Helter Skelter" has an incredible amount of reliance on the harmony between the crazed guitar, Ringo's drumming, and the hard rock-style vocals. The way it makes sense together is brilliant and should be heavily admired for being one of the world's greatest hard rock/rock and roll blend songs.
Now this song, this song is a difficult song to write about, so I'll try and keep it a bit short. There are only eight words spoken in the whole song and they are:
"Number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine..."
The rest of the song is strange, but makes its own sense. If you've listened to say the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever," or even the end of "Helter Skelter" where Ringo screams, "I've got blisters in my fingers," or even the slip up in "Hey Jude," you'll know about why the Beatles choose to go a bit insane sometimes. On a crazy album like The White Album, it works very well and has the potential to make itself quite a revered stand alone song.
The Beatles were never predictable and even though the writing for "Revolution 9" is a bit short—it is a perfect way of seeing how the Beatles composed their rawest and strongest music. It is an incredible lesson in rock music.
I know we haven't covered all of the great songs and left out the brilliant "Wild Honey Pie," "I'm So Tired," "Glass Onion," "Martha My Dear," and even the famed "Back in the USSR," I wanted to give a good overview to the album with a few songs that sound different to each other. It is a brilliant album that I find really helps you through any given situation having such a range of vocals, guitars and drums on the record. I hope you listen to the album and find the same iconic feeling when you do.