Monday, December 17, 2007

Razor's Retro Reviews: The Beatles' White Album (Side 1)

The Beatles White Album, recorded in 1968, was the anti-Sergeant Pepper. While Sergeant Pepper is a unified concept album with each song running seemlessly into the next, the White Album is a clusterfuck of mis-matched songs that have no business following one another on any album.

Does it matter? No, the album still works; it shouldn’t work, but it really does. I guess that’s just a testament to how good the Beatles were. Each Beatle began to find his own niche at this point in their careers, which accounts for the dis-jointedness of the Album.

Liverpool is full of white supremacist bastards.

Here's Side ONE

1. Back in the USSR (McCartney)

McCartney wrote this as a tribute/jab at the Beach Boys’ California sound. Paul wanted to write a song that had a Soviet Union sound and this is what came of his intentions. It’s actually one of the catchiest tunes on the album and it’s very easy to get into.

2. Dear Prudence (Lennon)

This is my favorite song on the album and one of Lennon’s best ballads. It is just pretty, there’s no other word for it. It was written about a woman Lennon met in India, who was actually Mia Farrow’s sister. You know, Mia Farrow, the woman Woody Allen cheated on with one of their adopted children? I shouldn’t be mentioning this when reviewing such a great song.

In this video, you get to see awesome footage of the Beatles in India. I’m sure Prudence makes an appearance, but I couldn’t tell you who she is.

3. Glass Onion (Lennon)

Glass Onion was written as a bit of a ‘fuck you’ from Lennon to the obsessive Beatles fan who read too much into the Beatles music, the most famous line being ‘Here’s another clue/The Walrus is Paul’. Of course, the same obsessive fans took that as another sign that Paul was dead (note: there used to be a conspiracy theory that Paul was dead and that the remaining Beatles planted clues about his death in Beatles songs).The song itself is good, but nothing spectacular. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek song and Lennon called it a ‘throw-away’ song, but it was good enough to make the album.

4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (McCartney)

The ‘popiness' of this song leaves no doubt that this is McCartney's. What does ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ mean? Life goes on. Simple enough

It’s one of the bands most popular songs and one that pays tribute to reggae music, which started to be popular in England in the late 1960’s, largely due to the increased influx of Jamaican immigrants to the country. The song tells the story of two characters, Desmond and Molly, who meet, fall in love and spend the rest of their lives together. How about giving your characters a little obstacle to overcome there McCartney? Too much substance can be dangerous.

Trivia time: Paul actually fucked up during the recording of this song. During the second part of the song, Paul sings about how Desmond works in a market place, and Molly sings in a band. This section is repeated in the final act, but with the roles of Desmond and Molly accidentally reversed. According to Paul, they were so sick of recording this song that they just left it.

5. Wild Honey Pie (McCartney)

This is where shit starts to get weird. McCartney was in an ‘experimental’ mood, so he wrote this little one-minute number where he just yells ‘Honey Pie’ with a Native American-influenced sound in the background.

And when I say ‘wrote’, I mean…I don’t know what I mean. This wasn’t supposed to make the album, but Patti Boyd (Harrison’s wife) loved it so much, that it stayed. Patti Boyd, for all who don’t know, was the subject of Harrison’s song ‘Something’ and Clapton’s ‘Layla’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight’.

Was she really that hot? You decide:

Rare photo of Patti without her oat bag.

Pst...Eric. I think I see George, and he's got a gun.

Here’s the song:

6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (Lennon)

This is a fun and crazy song, and it’s also an historical song. This is the only song in the Beatles catalogue that has a female solo part, as sung by, you guessed it, Yoko Ono. This Lennon tune was influenced, once again, by his time in India, where one of his fellow followers of the Maharishi would leave the commune to go hunting, and once killed a tiger.

John, who obviously didn't approve of killing God's creatures, relates this incident through this very sarcastic and spiteful retelling, juxtaposed with a very upbeat tempo. Lennon did a good job, considering that storytelling in music was usually known as Paul’s strong point.

7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Harrison)

This is George’s first contribution to the album, and probably his finest ever for any album. The story goes that Harrison wanted to write a song about the first words he read by randomly opening a book, and those words were ‘gently weeps’. The other Beatles weren’t sold on the song until Harrison brought in one of his best friends, Eric Clapton, aka God, to play the lead guitar on the song and that just changed everything.

Check out this footage from the concert for Bangladesh in 1971:

8. Happiness is a Warm Gun (Lennon)

This is the last song on side one of the album, and it’s absolutely brilliant. I think that Lennon combined 5 songs in one for this number because it comes off as a medley, but it’s all one wonderful song. This is the type of song that probably heavily influenced bands like Radiohead. When I first heard it I thought it was a play on words, ‘A penis is a warm gun’, but I’ve never found anything that could substantiate that, so I’m basically full of shit. This song is often attributed the meaning of being about heroine addictions, but Lennon always denied this.

Taken as a whole, this is the strongest side of the album, despite the fact that none of the songs really seem to mesh. It produced the greatest Harrison song ever and two of Lennon’s strongest contributions to the Beatles. McCartney’s contributions were a bit weak here, with ‘Back in the USSR’ being his best on this album side. We also only start to scratch the surface of how weird this album is going to get with songs like ‘Wild Honey Pie’. Stay tuned for more…

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Awesome review Razor!