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A blog by Scott E. Shepherd · A continuing look at popular music, past, present and future.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is the "White Album" Too Long?
Can paring down a Beatles' classic make it a better album?

Filed under: Album Reviews, Lists, Opinion

In all of Rock and Roll, there is no album quite like the Beatles' self-titled 1968 release, otherwise known as the "White Album." Only the Beatles could have the audacity and confidence to not just release the first double album of rock, but release it with a generic white cover and no more description than the band's name.

Like all the Beatles' releases, the White Album was instantly a classic, and no one can deny its place in the great Beatles canon. Yet from the beginning, the album has sparked controversy - did the Beatles release a double album to more quickly fulfill their contractual obligation, and is there a "better" White Album hidden within its thirty tracks?

To imagine any of the White Album deemed "unnecessary" or "filler" seems blasphemous to most Beatle fans. Indeed, even the "filler" of most Beatles albums is far superior to most other bands most essential tracks. Yet many fans and music critics agree, as great as the White Album is, it may have been better if the Beatles "trimmed the fat" to one lean and powerful single album.

So because I like to play "record producer" every now and then, I'm going to pretend I'm George Martin and I have to whittle the White Album down to fourteen songs. I'll take it track by track:

"Back in the U.S.S.R.": A great opener and a parody of Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." Definitely a keeper.

"Dear Prudence": A softer more whimsical John Lennon writing a song about Mia Farrow's younger sister. This is a really good song, but not great - scrap it.

"Glass Onion": Lots of self-references to other Beatles songs - some really good stuff. Keep it.

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da": Silliness from Paul McCartney - entertaining, and showing a lighter side of the Beatles, but with only fourteen slots, this one has to be scrapped.

"Wild Honey Pie": Barely a minute long - does this even count as a song? Sounds like the Beatles snuck into the recording studio during an acid trip. Scrap it.

"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill": Lennon at his sarcastic best - I like it, but this song marginally gets in.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps": Even without the guest guitar solo by Eric Clapton, this is easily one of the best songs ever written by the Beatles. That it's a rare George Harrison tune makes it even more valuable, one of the most essential tracks of the album.

"Happiness is a Warm Gun": Kind of like three little songs stuck together, this is a great composition by Lennon - a keeper.

"Martha My Dear": A sweet love song by McCartney, even if it is to his sheepdog - a keeper unless I run out of room.

"I'm So Tired": Another great Lennon composition, but I'm afraid there's just no room - scrap it.

"Blackbird": A brilliant acoustic number by McCartney - a must keep.

"Piggies": Poor George Harrison, he gets so few tracks I'd hate to cut one, but this has to go. Maybe I can substitute "Not Guilty" off the Anthology 3 CD, which was recorded during the White Album sessions.

"Rocky Raccoon": A tongue-in-cheek attempt at a country song, it goes.

"Don't Pass Me By:" While maybe a weaker song, Ringo Starr gets so few vocals and even fewer writing credits, so for these reasons alone, it stays.

"Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" Hmmm, a minute and a half of McCartney singing the title question... I don't think so.

"I Will": The type of sweet sentimental love song the Beatles became famous for, a keeper.

"Julia": A gentle reflective John Lennon singing about his mother - how could I reject this?

Crap! I've only covered the first disc and I already have ten slots filled!

"Birthday": Far too catchy to reject, a must have.

"Yer Blues": Gritty angry Lennon, I can't let this go - I'm dropping "Martha My Dear" and picking this up.

"Mother Nature's Son": Another great acoustic number by McCartney. Under other circumstances a keeper, but I'm running out of room.

"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey": The Beatles at their hyper best - did the ever rock harder? A definite keeper.

"Sexy Sadie": Lennon takes a disillusioned jab at the Maharishi. One of my least favorite tracks on the White Album - scrap it.

"Helter Skelter": In answer to my earlier question - yes the Beatles did rock harder, right here! After hearing the bluesier, "slow burn" version on Anthology 3, it was hard for me to decide which I liked better, but who can forget Ringo's defiant cry of "I got blisters on my fingers!" at the end?

"Long, Long, Long": A spiritual Harrison tune, it unfortunately gets the axe because there just isn't enough room.

"Revolution 1": Another casualty due to length more than anything else - besides the harder, sped up version appears on Past Masters, Volume 2.

"Honey Pie": Much better than "Wild Honey Pie," this jazzy '30's throwback just can't make the cut.

"Savory Truffle": Don't know if I'm a sucker for Harrison tunes, or Clapton's guest solos, but I scrap "Yer Blues" for this.

"Cry Baby Cry": I really like this pseudo-lullaby by Lennon. I'll cut "Bungalow Bill" for this.

"Revolution 9": I'm convinced Lennon snuck this into the master tapes while the others were all out to lunch. Maybe he threatened to bring Yoko Ono around more often if they didn't keep it on. Utter drivel.

"Good Night": A sweet closing vocal for Starr on the original album, it is still a definitive example of what "filler" means. There's no room for it on my disc anyway.

Now I'm not saying that the fourteen songs I picked would make a better "White Album," and their order of appearance would most certainly have to change - but I do believe they are the cream of the crop. It is hard to imagine what the White Album would sound like if reduced to just one disc, but I think everyone agrees, with a little more editing, the Beatles could have made a great album even better.

If you are like me, you too can play George Martin and edit your own version of the "new" White Album ("whiter and brighter!"). Let me know what you come up with.

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