Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The #64 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era: the "White Album" by the Beatles

The blog is featuring one album per day as we count down the Top 100 Albums of All-Time in the Rock Era*.

This album came on the heels of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band, one of the all-time classics, that represented the Beatles at their peak.  Needless to say, anticipation and expectations were sky high.  The untitled Beatles album from 1968 that became known as The White Album, is officially certified at 19 million copies, but remember double albums count twice, so in reality the album has sold 9.5 million copies.  The Track Rating* is 8.48, among the lowest in the Top 100.  I'm well aware that some magazines and critics have ranked this album in the Top 10, but when you consider the Track Rating*, a Top 10 ranking is not possible with this album.  Again, double albums are hard to achieve the same quality as single albums.  That said, this album has plenty of good tracks.

I want people to understand my next comments.  The White Album was and is a classic; I completely agree that it should be one of the Top 100 Albums of All-Time in the Rock Era.  Because of the eclectic nature of the songs (the group was really experimenting in more ways than one at the time of its recording), there will be several tracks that some people will shake their heads and say "Why the heck did they include that song on the album?"  That's all part of artistry, and the freedom to record songs that you want to record.  Often, record labels dictate what can and can't be put on an album--the Beatles were big enough that they had the final say on what could be included.  The unique tracks on the album are part of the experience, and The White Album is all over the map in musical styles.

This would be their last great album, as it was, you might say, the beginning of the end for the group.  They had visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India for transcendental meditation and, while new ideas were flowing, turmoil was raging inside the Beatles.  Drummer Ringo Starr even quit the group for a short time, with Paul McCartney playing drums on a few of the songs on The White Album.  Producer George Martin noted that the group seemed unfocused and uninspired.  Midway through the album, engineer Geoff Emerick, who had been with the band since the Revolver album, announced that he was leaving.  Extremely sad that the world's greatest group had let ego and greed take the place of friendship, and that those traits forever prevented a reunion after the band's breakup in 1970.  McCartney would observe later "The world was a problem, but we weren't. You know, that was the best thing about The Beatles, until we started to break up, like during the White Album."

The album reached #2 in its second week and #1 in its third.  It spent nine weeks at #1 and 15 in the Top 10.  The 15 weeks inside the Top 10 is one of the lowest of the Top 100 Albums*.  The White Album  spent an impressive 155 weeks (just short of 3 years) on the album chart.  

One single was released from the album, an especially odd fact about the album from a group that had released 30 in the year 1964 alone.  "Revolution", featuring its distorted guitar and a great keyboard solo from Nicky Hopkins, was an alternative to "Revolution 1" and the flip side of the classic "Hey Jude", which originally was released only as a single and not on any album.  "Back in the U.S.S.R.", "Helter Skelter" (as a flip to "Got To Get You Into My Life") and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" with "Julia" as the flip side, were all released in 1976 to promote the Beatles' greatest hits package Rock & Roll Music.

But again, great albums contain much more than hit singles.  "A Day in the Life", which is not only considered by me but many top music critics to be one of the best songs the Beatles ever did, is one of the highlights on the album.  "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" too has become a classic from the album.  "Birthday", "Helter Skelter", "Blackbird" and "Rocky Raccoon" are other respected tracks on the album.

"A Day in the Life" was nominated for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists at the Grammy Awards.

The group made yet another breakthrough in musical recording when they went from the popular four-track recording of the day to an 8-track recording.  Another unique feature of the album was the serial number on the front that gave each pressing a unique number.  The album was all white with "The Beatles" embossed.  Inside, consumers would get a poster, lyrics to the songs, and view photographs from John Kelly.  

The White Album:
All songs written and composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, except where noted. 

Side one
1.  "Back in the U.S.S.R."
2.  "Dear Prudence"
3.  "Glass Onion"
4.  "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da"
5.  "Wild Honey Pie"
6.  "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"
7.  "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George Harrison)
8.  "Happiness is a Warm Gun"

Side two
1.  "Martha My Dear"
2.  "I'm So Tired"
3.  "Blackbird"
4.  "Piggies" (Harrison)
5.  "Rocky Raccoon"
6.  "Don't Pass Me By" (Richard Starkey)
7.  "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"
8.  "I Will"
9.  "Julia"

Side three
1.  "Birthday"
2.  "Yer Blues"
3.  "Mother Nature's Son"
4.  "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
5.  "Sexy Sadie"
6.  "Helter Skelter"
7.  "Long Long Long"

Side four
1.  "Revolution 1"
2.  "Honey Pie"
3.  "Savoy Truffle" (Harrison)
4.  "Cry Baby Cry"
5.  "Revolution 9"
6.  "Good Night"

handclaps, vocal percussion and sound effects, in addition to singing lead, harmony and backing vocals.  John Lennon played lead, electric and acoustic guitars, four and six-string pass, piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, harmonium, mellotron, drums, tambourine, maracas, handclaps, vocal percussion, harmonica, saxophone, whistling, tapes, tape loops and sound affects in addition to providing vocals.  Paul McCartney played lead, electric and acoustic guitars, four and six-string bass, piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, timpani, tambourine, handclaps, vocal percussion, drums, recorder, flugelhorn and sound effects in addition to providing lead and backing vocals.  Ringo Starr played drums, tambourine, bongos, cymbals, maracas, vocal percussion, electric piano, sleigh bell and lead and backing vocals.

Taking a look at the accomplishments credited above, that may seem like no big deal, although that range of instruments from four band members is not even the norm in the 21st century.  Put in perspective, however, it was groundbreaking.  These weren't the same four lads who started out in Liverpool in 1962; they had become highly accomplished musicians besides being the best songwriters the world had ever known.  No one had ever experimented and at the same time revolutionized popular music (or music of any kind) in such a way.  Their songs will be around for 200 years or longer, but the ideas which they pioneered will live forever.

Eric Clapton played lead guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", Jack Fallon played violin on the album, Mal Evans contributed backing vocals, handclaps and the trumpet on "Helter Skelter", Harrison's wife Pattie sang backup on "Birthday", Jackie Lomax and Ringo's wife Maureen Starkey and Lennon's girlfriend Yoko Ono sang backing vocals, some lead vocals and contributed speech, tape and sound effects on "Revolution 9".  Ted Barker played trombone, Leon Calvert contributed trumpet and flugelhorn, Eric Bowie, Henry Datyner, Norman Lederman, Ronald Thomas, Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Soufier and Les Maddox played violin, Leo Birnbaum, Keith Cummings, Henry Myerscough and John Underwood played viola and Frederick Alexander, Reginald Kilby and Eldon Fox played cello.  Harry Klein, Dennis Walton, Ronald Chamberlain, Jim Chest and Rex Morris played sax, Art Ellefson, Derek Collins and Danny Moss played tenor sax, Bernard George and Ronnie Ross played baritone sax and Raymond Newman and Davis Smith played clarinet .  Alf Reece was on tuba, Tony Tunstall played french horn, Ronnie Hughes and Stanley Reynolds played trumpet and the Mike Sammes Singers contributed backing vocals on "Good Night".

Martin both produced and mixed the album, played piano on "Rocky Raccoon" and arranged the string, brass, clarinet and orchestra.  Barry Sheffield and Ken Scott came in to finish as engineer after Emerick left; Scott also helped mix the album.  Chris Thomas helped produce the album and also played piano, harpsichord and Mellotron.

The album was recorded between May 30 and October 14, 1968 and EMI and Trident Studios in London.  As usual, it was produced by George Martin.  The White Album was the first album to be released on the Beatles' Apple Records on November 22, 1968.

The Beatles have the #64 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era* with The White Album.

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