A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE BEATLES- The White Album (1968)

Review by: Graham Warnken


The old chestnut that this is four separate solo albums smashed into one is a drastic oversimplification. At most, it’s two solo albums, a solo EP, and a solo single—John and Paul are running the show here, while George gets four compositions and Ringo gets two, one of which he didn’t even write. But the hyperbole of that cliche is driving at the truth—this album is at times almost unbearable to listen to because of how isolated its performers are.

The White Album has always felt like an endurance run to me. It’s not that I have to suffer the material reluctantly—it’s the feckin’ Beatles, after all, and of their LPs this is my #2 on a good day. It’s not the longest album I own by a long stretch—The Clash’s Sandinista and Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me immediately spring to mind as two longer ones. But I have to work myself up to listening to it. I always feel hollow when I’ve finished it, exhausted, and I can’t do it with headphones—I have to do it on vinyl, the music at a safe remove from my head as I listen. I love it, it’s one of the best records ever made, but I’m always left feeling unsettled and empty once the needle lifts for the final time.

For a long time, I thought this was due to the combination of its length and the diversity of its material—after all, it’s jarring to be hurled from gentle acoustic numbers to proto-metal to music hall to noise collage all on the same record. But the juxtaposition of genres and styles is no longer enough to startle me—I’ve been listening to this album since I was fifteen, and I’m intimately familiar with the track listing. Eventually, we grow accustomed to everything as long as we’ve heard it often enough.

No, the answer is less obvious, and it’s buried in that hyperbolic four-solo-albums chestnut. I realized this when I was listening to Rubber Soul the other day, closing my eyes and enjoying the blending of John and Paul’s voices into a seemingly single entity.

There are no harmonies on The White Album.

Now, that in and of itself is hyperbolic—of course there have to be some. But almost none of them spring instantly to your mind when you try to conjure them up. I can instantly summon the sound of Paul’s voice piping up in the verses to “Ticket to Ride,” the four-part unison of the boys on “Carry That Weight,” John and his co-lead barking the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise in tandem. When I try to think of similar moments on The White Album, I’m left with a blank.

It’s not just harmonies, of course. A huge percentage of the album’s tracks don’t even have the whole band playing. Ringo had quit the band for “Back in the U.S.S.R./Dear Prudence”; John and George were elsewhere when Paul and Mr. Starr decided to lay down “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”; Paul and John took “Blackbird,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “I Will,” “Julia,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” and others themselves; John and Yoko holed up with a tape deck and pieced together “Revolution 9”. But it’s not as if this hasn’t been the case before. Ringo is entirely absent from “I’m Looking Through You” besides the occasional Hammond organ blast. “Yesterday” is all Paul. George is isolated from his bandmates behind waves of sitar on “Within You Without You.” Sure, there were never so many pared-down tracks at once before, but with this expansive tracklist it was bound to happen more often. The abundance of absences from song to song is unusual, but not enough to induce the disquiet that lingers on the album.

No, what does it for me is how even on tracks that feature the whole band, the lead singer still might as well be by himself. Vocals stand out alone amid the instruments; they’re not bolstered by anything, they hang entirely on their own. The rich, full melding of John’s abrasive, nasal tone and Paul’s velvety one is absent, and it leaves a vacuum. The singers sound thin, weak, left to fend for themselves in the midst of their own tracks and not quite up to the challenge. Yoko’s sometime vocal intrusions make it worse—now there’s more than once voice on the track, but no, that’s not right, that’s not a Beatle there. The Beatles have always been and will always be a source of comfort and friendliness, and Paul’s inherent goodheartedness, Ringo’s lovable dopiness, John’s infectious cheekiness, George’s… whatever it is, can’t be taken away from them regardless of how they sing their songs. But where elsewhere you feel, listening to the group, that you have a whole pack of friends encased within the LP, here you only have one at a time. You’re alone with John as he uses you for a therapist, with Paul as he hams it up to make you laugh, with George as he strives to elevate your consciousness, with Ringo as he lulls you to sleep, and while it’s still a nice sensation, it’s an unavoidably different one.

I haven’t listened to Let It Be often enough to completely determine if it shares this album’s unsettling feeling of isolation, but I don’t think it can. It’s still a portrait of a band coming to terms with its own demise, but you have John and Paul trading off sections of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” backing each other up on “Get Back,” paying tribute to one another on “Two of Us.” On both that album and Abbey Road, you feel intuitively that things are not and cannot be the same as they once were, but the boys are trying, doing their best to produce, if not a return to the old days, the best facsimile of one they can. The White Album is frightening, disheartening, and draining because none of that’s there. The group is in tatters, and they don’t care who knows it.

All this talk of fear and emptiness is pompous and overblown, of course, because it completely ignores the fact that there’s just beautiful music on here, easily among each songwriter’s best. Were the album truly nothing but discomforting to listen to, something would be very wrong indeed; even at their most cynical, fed up, or workmanlike, the guys are incapable of entirely alienating their audience. But I have to take the beauty in drips and drabs to feel good about it; listen to a track here, a track there, scattered amongst my driving playlist.

When I listen to the record all at once, a vague sinking feeling takes hold; and though I turn the volume up for my favorite songs, and sing along at times, and enthuse over individual moments, every time Ringo’s final whispered message fades out I breathe a faint sigh of relief. Good night, he says, voice so close to the microphone that it tickles your ear. On any other Beatles album it would be a soothing sensation. On The White Album, I feel his breath against my face, imagine him all alone in the studio hoping that eventually George Martin will come along and lend him some instrumental company, and shiver.


Top 6 Jukebox: THE BEATLES

By Fahad Khan, Nina A and Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Fahad Khan

6. All You Need is Love
It’s all about the sentiments, man: those excessively utopian sentiments. A modern day secular hymn, it leads off with a raucous, but not unstately, rendition of the Marseillaise, the emblem of godless optimism. The song goes on to become an instant sugary cliche, but I love it, every single minute, right down to those repeated brass refrains. Finally it all starts to spiral and swirl into a maelstrom of even gloopier emotion and well that bit at the end with she loves you yeah yeah yeah gets me everytime.
5. Hello Goodbye
Once again I’m going to cite the tension between the essentially ephemeral, and even intrinsically silly — silly when shorn of their musical context that is — sentiments evoked by the lyrics and the weightiness and artistic heft that is furnished by the music. Then there’s confusion and perplexity of the song, the not knowing whether you’re coming or going. Except that it’s a gentle and joyous confusion, the perplexity of true pioneers working at the bleeding edge of art and culture with a sensitivity and a surefootedness that were utterly beyond the dreams of most of their peers.
4. She Loves You
Utterly irresistible: two minute twenty two seconds of pure pop ecstasy. Listen to how completely impatient it sounds, how much of a headlong rush into the future it represents. It manages to capture — with a supreme vitality and freshness that’s scarcely dimmed with the passage of the years — the instant when a generation’s extreme intolerance for boredom and the black and white limitations of the postwar world finally managed to kick start the 60s and modern day youth culture into existence.
3. Lovely Rita
The best song on Sergeant Pepper by a country mile. For me, Lovely Rita’s full-on zaniness has always proven a refreshing antidote to the tendency towards turgidity and a lack of focus in some of the album’s preceding tracks. It is, in essence, a randy young lad’s paean to a voluptuous and military looking meter maid, the titular Rita, whom the narrator manages to invite out to take some tea, and even gets to share a couch with — but without alas ever quite “making it”. The song ends with a heavy panting that’s either shagging or (given this aforementioned inability to make it) a gasping sort of masturbation, but it sounds so much like a dog’s panting that you kind of don’t realise what it is, or might be, straight away. Lovely Rita’s charm derives largely from its brassiness and its chutzpah. The track represents an aural allusion to that cheeky, fringey, head shake you always see them doing in the footage from the beginning of their career: and of course it also serves as a fantastic showcase of Lennon and McCartney’s complete mastery of the songwriter’s craft.
2. Sexy Sadie
The Beatles seemingly at their most frivolous and inconsequential — but it’s precisely here that you can really appreciate just how genuinely superlative Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting talents actually were. Just listen to it a few times in a row, over and over, until it finally clicks into place, and takes up permanent residence in your head. The words sound kind of silly to start with, and yet the music is so compelling, overloading the lyrics with such colour and significance, that soon they begin to appear weighty in and of themselves. Now, at this point you could well begin to roll off all the usual detailed, technical musicological/textual-rhetorical explanations as to why their songs continue to inspire awe and devotion amongst music fans of all generations; but I maintain that in essence it was the combination of both the Beatles’ supreme talent for melody along with, rather crucially, the absolute open-endedness, that somehow gnomic, elusive aspect characteristic of their art, that ensured its immortality. Sexy Sadie has that elusiveness in spades and it’s a song that continues to intrigue listen after listen after listen.
1. Strawberry Fields Forever
With Strawberry Fields Forever you feel like you’re getting the Fab Four at the absolute top of their game. They’ve reached the point where they can afford to goof around as much as they want and to make a decent stab at pushing whatever musical or cultural boundaries they felt like when they got up for breakfast that morning. All the same, it doesn’t have the self-consciousness and  that hint of pomposity that tends to mar their other more overtly experimental or psychedelic works (indeed for me it far surpasses other superficially similar tracks like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and in fact most of Sgt Peppers). Strawberry Fields has a languid and dreamy, opiate feel to it, across the which there wafts a certain air of ‘continental’ sophistication, and then there’s the insistent ‘primitive’ rhythms and finally a release into unreality and consequent bliss. The lyrics make little sense and yet they mean so much that, in the end, they manage to encapsulate the spiritual yearnings of an entire generation. When all is said and done, it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous mess. It seems to not want to go anywhere in particular but can’t really stand to stay still either: poised between a deep desire for an alice-in-wonderland style escape from the realities of everyday life, a reversion to a childlike state of simplicity, and the irresistible thrusts and promptings of personal ambition.

Nina A

In 1980, Chocho Vladovski (of Tangra) wondered whether in time under the stars in the window there will be light, and whether he will still be listening to the Beatles and reading the timeless poets. He’s sadly not around anymore but in a world where the beat, shortness and earwormy hooks are still pop songs’ main qualities under consideration, the Beatles are still the kings in the consciousness of many audiophiles, melomaniacs and casual music fans. Sadly, this most iconic of pop bands never touched my heart of hearts and never made my Balkan feet tap to the beat, but after some consideration, I had to concede that there are a couple of Beatles songs that are worthy of my love (or at least like) and here is the top 6 among them:
6. Eleanor Rigby
Have you seen that meme that All The Lonely People come from art college? Have you seen Paul Poirier and Vanessa Crone deliver a stunning performance on the ice to a version of this song in 2011? All I am saying is that this song had to take some helping to make it past my “ordinary people sob story” detectors, but still the strings provide the perfect backdrop and support for this piece and even the singing approaches genius emotiveness levels at points (something that is usually lacking with the Beatles).
5. Blackbird
You know, figure skaters luuurve the Beatles, and they are somehow generally seen as the intellectual skating kid’s path to greatness. Joshi Helgesson skated a cute routine to this Beatles song (or at least an elevator muzak blues cover, which is something else that skaters seem to love) in the 2014-2015 season. But I am best friends with this song from before – for example, the time when my sister would practice nothing else on the guitar for more than a year. Or the time when I stumbled upon the King’s Singer’s a cappella interpretation of it and it stuck to my brain like bubblegum sticks to hair. Ew. The bare bones arrangement and evocative lyrics do this song a massive service and its pretty melody is able to shine. Also it sounds perfect on a backdrop of rainy April evening noises, as I have just found out.
4. Revolution 1
Iconic British ice dancers Torvill and Dean skated to Revolution in the 1989-1990 season, actually (I don’t know why the skating routines keep happening in this list). However, I prefer Revolution 1 to Revolution, and it is mostly because of the beat, quite bluesy both times (major plus – I think the Beatles don’t do bluesy often enough) but I prefer the more laid-back and steady version here. Probably also because I am tired of hearing Revolution and Revolution 1 sounds like a refreshing rearrangement to my Beatles-unappreciative ear.
3. Because
Aaaaaah-aaah. This song is very pretty in an a cappella rendition but the harpsichord that underpins the whole thing is even better. Also the lyrics are rarely appealing and there is no English drama that can be found in the newspaper. Yes people, I think that the puns of blueness, etc. here work rather well here. Very well indeed.
2. Within You Without You
Someone told me that the lyrics to this are preachy. Well, what do you expect, it has sitars and is vaguely Indian and this is the 60s when New Age wisdom was released into the wild and even the title kinda ominously suggests what’s going to be going on here. I have no issue with that because for the most part I cannot make out what George is saying at all. His voice is just a part of this compelling oriental tapestry that’s being weaved before your very eyes. The whole thing is epically cool and like a hypnotised cobra, I want to rise out of my basket and do a little dance.
1. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Finally, a Beatles love song I can actually believe. No pick up lines, wink wink, nudge nudge, romantic clichés and other superfluous detail. He wants you so bad and it is driving him mad. The rhythm is driving too. The guitars sound appropriately gritty and so does everything else about the production. Now this song goes from an highlight moment to a highlight moment but my favourite bits are the subdued parts, and especially how the guitar mimics the vocal, and especially especially how the second repetition of “it’s driving me mad” trails off (on the principle: tension on the first repetition, release tension on the second — always very effective). Love the drumming, love the bass, love the guitar, love the organ, love the singing, love the passion and the maturity of the delivery. Best Beatles song ever.

Francelino de Azevedo

The Beatles are my favourite band, and have been since I’ve been 8 or 9, I don’t even remember. There’s not a lot to say about them that hasn’t been said, but here are my favourite 6 songs, in no particular order.
With a Little Help From My Friends
What makes this song unique, not only in the Beatles’ catalogue, but in the whole world of music, is the combination of so many disparate elements, that mingle with each other so perfectly. Paul’s bass is insistent, pulsing, talking throughout the song, while the piano brings a note of longing. Ringo’s vocal delivery is perfect, laid-back and sympathetic, contrasting with the others’ backing, which is simply gorgeous. The sum of it all is simply undescribable, mood-wise. Is it a happy song? A sad one? Or is it one that englobes the whole myriad of human emotions in less than three minutes? Probably not as much, but if any song is close to this ideal, that’s “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Also, some people say they prefer Joe Cocker’s version, and I couldn’t disagree harder, as he made a normal song out of something so special.
I’ve Got a Feeling
This was recorded live on the famous 1969 rooftop concert, perhaps I wouldn’t consider I’ve Got a Feeling so special if it weren’t so. On the other hand, I think it’d still rate highly, no matter what. As it is, this song is a glimpse into a different reality where they never stopped touring during their creative peak. And what a reality would that be! It is believed that it was their mastery of the studio that brought the Beatles to true greatness, well, there’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” proving this belief at least partially wrong! Both Paul’s and John’s voices feel much different live, with a weariness that don’t just add to the song, but in fact makes it. George, Ringo and Billy Preston are also completely tuned to the two stars. Mood-wise this is also very ambivalent, Paul’s lyrics are supposed to be happy, while John’s were meant to be sad, but both singers somehow mixed their emotions, so it ends up sounding so very urgent! This is a song felt in the guts and in the heart, a huge chunk of what rock and roll is supposed to mean.
Cry Baby Cry
Music is above all melody, and in the traditional pop song, the strongest melodies are saved for the refrain. Of all the great refrains found in the Beatles’ discography, this one is perhaps the strongest. The melody is gorgeous, and sung by John at his softest, which is accentuated by the hammering of the piano, bubbling bass and occasional guitar scream. Even though the verses themselves are not bad, with their folkish melody and intriguing lyrics, they could be cut from the song to the point where it would be three minutes of “cry baby cry / make your mother sigh / she’s old enough to know better / so cry baby cry” and it would still be an excellent song. In fact it would gain a different meaning, more like a mantra, and might even had been better than the original.
Eleanor Rigby
The Beatles’ most influential song. In 1966 this changed the perception of what a ‘pop song’ was meant to be. The melodies were lusher and more “classical” than anything else on the charts, and the somber lyrics made it even more clear: Rock was Art! Even if not for it’s historic significance, this song would still be one of the greatest ballads ever written. The verses’ vocal melody is simply stunning, and the strings are likely to have been the most beautiful in Sir George Martin’s career.
Long, Long, Long
The quiet “Long, Long, Long” might be one of the most overlooked Beatles’ songs. However, it touches me in an unequaled way. The way it starts so silently, as if drawing you inwards, but then submerges you in gorgeous intensity, on the “so many tears” bridge, it’s a journey throughout George’s soul. The ambiguous lyrics were meant to symbolize a rapprochement with God, but really they can mean anything you feel the strongest about. It’s also one of Paul’s and Ringo’s best performances, and they do provide a huge depth to the song.
The Abbey Road “suite”: You Never Give Me Your Money / Sun King / Mean Mr. Mustard / Polythene Pam / She Came in Through the Bathroom Window / Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End
Yeah, I went there. I asked Fahad and Nina if they’d let me and they said yes, so I did it. But really, even if they had forbidden me I’d choose “You Never Give Me Your Money” by itself. Everything in there is perfect, the piano, the bass, the vocal melodies, but specially the most beautiful guitar sounds George has ever produced. Seriously, it’s like he simply doesn’t stop with amazing guitar lines, culminating in the gorgeous part that appears when Paul does “came true / today” and continues till the end. That line is so haunting, if I listen to it once, I’ll hum it for the rest of the day. But, after a short rest on the beginning of Sun King, the rest of the suite continues with musical magic. It was meant to be the Beatles’ swan song, and they showed off all their range, diversity of melodies and moods, and, why not, instrumental virtuosity. No other artist in history can claim to close their career with something so significant, with the possible exception of Mozart and his Requiem Mass, and that’s because he fucking died writing it!
Playlist: Spotify, Deezer

THE BEATLES – The Beatles’ Christmas Album (The Beatles Christmas Records 1963-69) (1970)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

BEST SONG:  No idea! I’ll choose.. And this is my new Xmas song for 2016 (remind me in december):

First time I feel grateful the Beatles didn’t last longer! 

1963! Young and innocent days, right? John and his usual acid humour (“I’d like to thank everyone for my birthday gifts but I just haven’t enough pens!”). Wise bit about Paul having the audience send more adequate Beatle gifts (stop those jelly babies!). He was clever, huh? The best musical bits are John doing his deep voice and Ringo does the best King Wenceslas bit. Let the boy sing!

1964! Jingle bells intro. Guys are more professional hey!

Paul -“Don’t know where we’d be without you (the fans)”

John – “The Army, Perhaps”

Lots of mad laughter, probably drug-induced (Drugs were invented already! But Dr Robert will turn up later). Those were the days! (Mary Hopkin)

1965! Ad-Lib record. Best Yesterday, off-key version ever. 

Some banter without any script and some great John and Ringo singing. Ringo thing was Xmas record, no doubt.

More psychedelic talk. We’re entering the period (L-S-D!). They went to the dentist already, I bet. “AULD LANG SYNE” with some Vietnam and China mentions. And more Yesterday, beats Sinatra anytime!

This is an epic record, no doubt. Zappa level. Well a short record anyway. Guys, press it! Rating? Mm.. it’s a The Force Awakens in Stars Wars scale.

1966.. This one is truly weird! Don’t you love 1966? Could be the rehearsal for Tomorrow Never Knows.

Hisses here and there, they act a script? Pantomime! Old Stories told. Odd voices. And Everywhere is Xmas.

In the words of Gordon Gano when he remembered the chaos and turmoil in the Violent Femmes concerts “That was beautiful”. 4 stars and a half on this record.

1967.. Gorgeous version of “Xmas time is here again”. Bootleggers even made a song out of this, God Bless Them (Bob Dylan’s best album is no doubt “The Great White Wonder”). It’s Magical Mystery Tour quality, man. 

Their last Xmas record done together. Sad, that’s life. This one gets a heartily thumbs up!

1968 – Interesting. Remixed bits of a sped up Helter Skelter, Ob-la-di Ob-la-da. Great Xmas song from Paul (the new one, the other one is dead – “HAPPY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY NEW YEAR, ALL THE BEST TO YOU FROM HERE”.)

I would have put this in the White album instead of Revolution 9, probably. Gets a pass!

1969 – Yoko is here. Geez. John preparing corn-flakes; that would surely influence Pink Floyd and their Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast; that cunning Rog Waters boy. Paul McCartney, the doppelganger, saves the day again with a bit from his solo album sessions, probably. John sings with Yoko? At least they did “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” later, maybe they were just warming up.

Thumbs down! says my Beatle heart. Shouldn’t you quit, guys? The Xmas records I mean. But.. Oh well.

/*———–   AND IN THE END… THE LOVE YOU TAKE.. ———————*/