50th Anniversary: The Beatles’ White Album

Yesterday, a special 50th anniversary edition of The Beatles’ White Album was released. Even though the 50th anniversary isn’t until November 22nd I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts and love for this historic self-titled Beatles album but let’s be real. We all know it as The White Album.

The White Album is a strange beast. Recorded at Abbey Road studios over a 4.5 month period, it contains thirty tracks and clocks in at just over 90 minutes of listening time (which, not surprisingly, makes it the longest Beatles album). But that’s not what makes it strange.

The White Album was The Beatles’ follow up to Sgt. Pepper. I wasn’t even a thought in 1968 but I can only imagine the anticipation was high for the album that would follow Sgt. PepperSgt. Pepper was the first Beatles album where they called it quits on touring and spent some serious time in the studio to create. The album was not only unlike anything The Beatles put out before but was unlike really anything anyone put out before. It was this avant-garde, concept album masterpiece. The album art was a colorful masterpiece. And then came The White Album with it’s scattered track listing and plain album sleeve.

Some people might say it’s too long. Some people might call it “bloated”. But it’s The White Album. And, for better or for worse, it’s the first Beatles album where you can hear the band start to splinter. It’s the first time where you can say “Oh, that’s so a Paul track”. If you told the average person that “Mother Nature’s Son” was on McCartney  or “Julia” was on Plastic Ono Band there’s a good chance they would believe you.  It’s like each of The Beatles went into a studio in Abbey Road alone and did their own thing (which is true for some of the songs). Does the album have tracks I usually skip? Absolutely. But to quote Sir Paul McCartney himself: “It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles White Album. Shut up!”

And also to quote one out my favorite journalists and fellow Beatles fan Rob Sheffield who eloquently explained every fans’ relationship with the White Album:

“Girls are the White Album and they all have ‘Revolution 9’s. They have all that stuff you wish you could edit out”.

And ain’t that the truth.

Thinking about my favorite tracks off the album, they are mostly all John songs. As much as I would like to think of myself as an unproblematic, silly love song Paul girl, I’m really a John girl. I’ve learned to accept this.

My top 5 tracks:

  • “Dear Prudence”
    • This is one of the many tracks The Beatles wrote during their trip to India with the Maharishi in 1968. All that meditation could drive someone mad and that’s exactly what happened to someone on that trip – actress Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence. She got so into her meditation that Prudence secluded herself for days away from everyone else. To kind of coax her out, John wrote this song. I just want to send a shout-out to Prudence for taking her meditation so seriously that we got this beautiful track out of it. Thanks, Prudence!
  • “I’m So Tired”
    • Another track from John born from the Beatles’ trip to India. John was so tired (literally. Thanks meditation) that he wrote this song about it with inspiration from letters he received from Yoko Ono. John’s voice sounds great. It starts off sleepy and kicks into gear for the tempo change in the chorus. It ends with the untitled track “Can You Take Me Back?” by Paul. At just over two minutes it’s short and sweet. I will often listen to it in the morning when I am also so tired.
  • “Cry Baby Cry”
    • Besides meditation and Yoko, do you know what else inspired John Lennon to write? The newspaper. That’s the case for this song. He saw an advertisement that included the words “cry baby cry” and turned it into a song. Show off a little more John, jeez.
  • “Mother Nature’s Son”
    • My only Paul track on my short list (sorry, “Back in the USSR”). Again, shout out to India for the inspiration on this one. I actually found a new appreciation for this song when Jack White covered it in 2010 at the White House. It’s Paul with an acoustic guitar with the perfect “do-do-do-do’s” to sing along to. It’s simple Paul and I love it. Full disclosure – it was really hard to choose between this and “Blackbird” – I hold them both up pretty equally.
  • “Happiness is a Warm Gun”
    • Another John track that was inspired by printing material. Popular myth says it’s about heroine (the awful sequence in Across the Universe didn’t help) but according to John he wrote it after seeing the words on a gun magazine cover. The opening line is delivered perfectly by John and it only gets better from there.

So on this 50th anniversary, I hope you will revisit this historic album and revisit some old friends and feelings you haven’t visited in a while. Won’t you come out to play?

Disclaimer: I know “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” isn’t on my list. But it’s my list okay?

One comment

  1. Great blog Brittany. This album was also made in a time America was in a dark place. The assanations of MLK and Robert Kennedy plus the Vietnam War. Ringo even left for awhile during the making of The White Album. As Giles Martin said The Beatles may have been splintering but they always were happy when making music. To me this Album is like no other album before it or after it. It is truly a Masterpiece!!

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