Playing God
The Beatles: The White Album

john Mayer, in his far more palatable cultural commentator guise, recently reviewed The Beatles in one line in Esquire: “I've missed too many episodes to follow the plot.” And, for anyone who didn’t grow up during the Beatles run of classic albums (all of them, right?), and was lucky enough to avoid the Anthology documentary (best music doc ever, right?), it’s exactly right, right?: The Beatles are mush in the minds of most youngsters. The group’s songs are TOO prevalent to make their albums matter in any sort of linear sense. Staples of classic rock and oldies radio, the group’s historical story becomes lost in the shuffle. They’re merely the sitcom that won’t go away. The one with the plotline that you know, but not really specifically enough to ever identify any episodes when you see it.

But, perhaps The White Album defied this? Too spread out, too wild, too unpredictable, you could hardly not know which album any of these songs came from (outside of that “Ob La” song, which featured on a sitcom oddly enough). There are cohering themes for the album, however. The most prevalent one, nature, is the one I’ve chosen to make the subject of this re-telling of The White Album. So, without further ado:

The Beatles: When Nature Calls

01. Wild Honey Pie

Instead of acclimation track like “Back in the USSR”, sound-wise at least, this version of The White Album utilizes the sproing guitar and yarbled vocals of “Wild Honey Pie” as its opening salvo. It’s meant here to let the listener know that this is going to be like no Beatles album they’ve ever heard. At the beginning of the last measure of the song, the next track barrels in.

02. Helter Skelter

You can’t mess with history. As such, we’ll put “Helter Skelter” at the forefront of this version of The White Album. It comes in on the last downbeat of “Wild Honey Pie”, allowing the vocals to start just as it finishes. “Helter” is, of course, the raucous opening track that any true rock band dreams about. The extended outro, though, is what makes the song interesting to my ears and it allows a nice entry for our next track.

03. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road

We begin this track, much like the previous, in the final moments of “Helter Skelter”. Riding its coattails, the moment at which one of the Beatles complains about his blistering feet is the moment of silence before another asks us the title question of the song. Another of the throwaway moments that made it on to the final record, this sub-two minute jaunt goes no further than its stated question continuing on the lyrical obscurity that’s characterized this side of the album thus far.

04. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And Me Monkey

A rollicking track, replete with a cavorting guitar having a lot of fun in the right channel. The ridiculous amount of voices swerving back and forth in the second half of the song is what merits its inclusion here, as well as the lack of substantive lyrics.

05. Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

If “Everybody’s Got Something…” could be construed to be about something lyrically, it could most easily be read as a peon to taking it easy. Possibly taking drugs. But we know the Beatles never did that. So we’ll just say taking it easy. “Bungalow Bill” is its obvious counterpoint, starting with a oddly recorded flamenco guitar bit and containing what seems like chipmunked back-up singers. It’s at this point that the listener takes the cover of the record and makes sure that’s it actually a Beatles record.

06. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

We need two singles and a Harrison song.

07. Revolution 1

I said two singles. This song does bear a slight mention here, though. As the last song on the first side of the record, it’s the sound of giving up. It’s also the sound of the group letting the listener know that they need to listen to the second side, because it’s going to be alright.

01. Revolution 9

But it’s not going to be alright for a little while yet. In my many conceptions of this piece, this song made it as the opener to the entire album. As it is, I think it’s the perfect opener to the hopeful fragility that pervades the second-half. And it’s a top-notch song. In my CD-R’d version of the album, “Yer Blues” is time stretched to match the running time and played backwards at about 10% of its original volume. Just for those playing along.

02. Mother Nature’s Son

Emerging out of the naturalistic tones of the first side of the album, we finally encounter one that glides rather than grooves. The combination of this and the previous track are exactly what Animal Collective would have been doing, if they’d been around back during this time period.

03. Martha My Dear

But they probably wouldn’t be doing this. This continues the slight theme of city vs. country that The White Album staked out in its original form and that I’ve tried to highlight here with my particular running order. I also really enjoy the horn arrangements.

04. Long, Long, Long

Which leads us into the final three songs of the album. For the most part, it seems that the three song statement is the most elegant format to open and/or close albums. “Long, Long, Long” is a pretty track, undoubtedly, sweeping across the stereo channel to gather up your emotions and focus them into something: that final drum beat.

05. Blackbird

Do we have room for the most beautiful song on the two discs? Yes. Yes, we do.

06. Good Night

As hard as we lobbied, Ringo kept hanging around the studio plodding out drumbeats and singing horrendous backups. Can you imagine anything scarier than a Beatles album beginning with either “Helter Skelter” or “Revolution 9” and then ending with Ringo Starr singing you a lullaby? I can’t. One out of three ain’t bad. These guys aren’t so overrated after all.

By: Todd Burns
Published on: 2004-06-08
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