John Lennon ushered in his post-Beatles career 50 years ago today with the stark, bare-bones, powerful, and sometimes harrowing Plastic Ono Band. Production was credited to John, Yoko, and Phil Spector, though the album bears little resemblance to Spector’s multi-layered behemoth by George Harrison which appeared a few weeks earlier. While all of Lennon’s albums are to some degree self/Yoko/Beatles-referential, his solo debut was a scab ripping primal scream therapy session played out on vinyl, and it became a classic.
It’s interesting to me how the ex-Beatles waded into their respective post-Fabs lives. Paul secluded himself at his Scotland farm and wrote and recorded the loose McCartney album earlier in the year as an exercise – with Linda’s help – to pull himself out of his Beatles hangover. George spent months in the studio with Phil Spector and a cast of musicians so numerous he wasn’t even aware of all of them for a few decades. The results included songs of lament over lost friendships as well as further declarations of his spiritual aspirations. Ringo’s musical breakthrough was still a few years away. Then came John’s rather minimalist Plastic Ono Band.
There were many indications in the music world at the turn of the 1970’s that the Flower Power era was over, and John put his own stamp on it with this album. His wounds were deep and went all the way back to childhood. He was barely thirty years old but had lived ten lives by 1970. He had entered an alternative, “primal” therapy developed by Arthur Janov which used screaming more so than analysis as part of one’s healing. Two of the heaviest songs feature this element: the opening track, Mother, and side two’s God. The latter is a paring down of all the things he no longer wants, needs, or believes in, from religion to political cults of personality to Elvis, Dylan, and lastly, the Beatles. He only believed in Yoko and himself by that point, and the world would just have to deal with it.
The rest of the album is no less dramatic in its simplicity with John, Ringo, and Klaus Voormann playing the majority of the instruments. Love is a welcomed respite in the middle of the onslaught, but it’s an emotionally draining affair overall from start to finish. Coincidentally, I’m writing this the day after the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s passing. I played Plastic Ono Band before leaving for work yesterday morning and I’m still feeling it. It’s just as powerful as ever.
Note: The following is a slightly edited re-post from a few months back when I was participating in a desert island album draft.
Where to start with George’s 1970 triple album opus, and how to explain concisely why this album means so much to me in a manner that doesn’t make me sound full of myself? If you’re reading this you’re probably a music fan and can, at least to some extent, relate. Despite the fact that I have no clue what it’s like to be musically gifted, internationally famous (never mind an ex-Beatle), a millionaire, etc., if there’s one artist who I think I can relate to as a person, it’s George. I wear my heart on my sleeve like he did, and if I were ever to experience any degree of fame, I’d probably react to it similarly to him. That is to say, “Hari Krishna, now please get off my lawn while I enjoy this piece of cake.” Maybe it’s because I’m a fellow Pisces, I don’t know. And if there’s one album of his which displays his full range of emotions relating to personal relationships and spiritual longing, and is presented in beautifully crafted songs with fantastic musicianship from start to finish, it’s All Things Must Pass, released 50 years ago today.
Due to the limits he faced regarding his songs making it onto Beatles albums, Harrison had been stockpiling them since roughly 1966. After starting 1968 by staying in India longer than the other Beatles, in the fall of that year George spent time with Dylan and The Band at Woodstock, which was perhaps the final nail in the Beatles’ coffin as far as George was concerned. Their influence is all over this solo debut album, which was an artistic and emotional purging for Harrison. There are songs of human love for friends, including the Dylan co-written I’d Have You Anytime, and George’s attempt at coaxing Bob out of his self-imposed exile on Behind That LockedDoor. Apple Scruffs is his humorous love song to his loyal fans who waited daily outside the recording studio, and What is Life is one of a number of George’s uniquely ambiguous love songs over the course of his solo years which leaves it up to the listener to decide if it’s about human or Godly love.
There are songs of lament over friendships on the wane. Wah-Wah was written when George walked out of the Get Back sessions. It’s a double entendre which refers to the guitar effect as well as the headache John and Paul had caused him. Run of the Mill, too, was written out of his sadness over the Beatles’ slow dissolution. Isn’t it a Pity, to me, is the most powerful track on this emotional roller coaster of an album. There are two slightly different versions on the album, and he could’ve added a third one as far as I’m concerned – a rendition for each of the three LPs.
And there are the songs which focus on George’s spiritual journey. The smash hit, of course, was My Sweet Lord, which includes a Vedic chant for which Harrison took heat from Christian fundamentalists for supposedly trying to subliminally indoctrinate America’s youth into heathen Eastern religion. As with his organizing the Concert for Bangladesh a year later, it took nerve (and Phil Spector’s insistence) for him to put this song out as a single, but it paid off. The Art of Dying had its genesis around 1966 when Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows was the Tibetan Book of the Dead-influenced song to make the cut on Revolver. To the uninitiated, it can be a dark or disturbing song. It is not. As with The Art of Dying, Awaiting on You All is Harrison encouraging us to wake up to what’s real and eschew that which isn’t. And lastly, after all the madness, fame, and fortune of his Beatles experience left him emotionally and spiritually frayed, there’s George’s bare bones plea in Hear Me Lord. For such a private man, it doesn’t get any more open and sincere than this.
But wait, there’s more! The third album in this set, known as Apple Jam, includes four extended instrumentals and a 49 second Monty Pythonesque ditty with an appearance by good ol’ Mal Evans. The indulgent jams include Dave Mason, Ginger Baker, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, and Derek & the Dominos. I’ve actually read opinions by fans who are put off by inclusion of these tracks, as if they are interspersed throughout the first two records and they’re forced to listen to them. I think of it as the unbuckling of the belt after a big meal. Sometimes I listen to it, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I unapologetically like it.
I could go on about other tracks, the plagiarism lawsuit, other session players, the cover, etc. Wiki’s got that covered if you’d like to read more. I would, however, like to comment briefly on Phil Spector’s production. As with Let it Be, this is the version we grew up with, and I love it just like it is. Perhaps when the deluxe 50th anniversary edition comes out, whenever that might be, it will include alternate versions and demos with toned down production. Some of it is available on bootlegs and YouTube.
Another month of a most bizarre year has come and gone. Time to tidy up and move on…
9/4/70: Caravan – If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You
Caravan released their second album this month 50 years ago. It was received relatively well, but their next album would become their most acclaimed. I enjoy the psych/jazz blend of some of the so-called Canterbury Scene groups such as this one and Soft Machine, but it’s been an acquired taste that I’m still developing.
9/8/70: Neko Case born
Canadian born Neko Case, one of my favorite singers from the past 20-plus years, turned 50 this month. Random memory: David Letterman once introduced her as “Necko.” Ugh.
9/9/70: Macy Gray born
…and so did the great singer/songwriter/producer/actress, Ohio-born Macy Gray.
9/12/70: Carpenters – Single – We’ve Only Just Begun
A fragment of this Paul Williams/Roger Nichols written tune first appeared on a bank commercial, sung by Williams. The full song ended up spending seven weeks at number one for the Carpenters.
9/14/70: The Byrds (Untitled)
The Byrds released what really is a fantastic double album – one studio album, one live – 50 years ago this month. Their early glory years were way behind them at this point, and it’s silly to even use pronouns such as “them.” Other than McGuinn, this was an entirely different band. But they cooked, especially live, and ironically this version of the group with McGuinn, Clarence White, Skip Battin, and Gene Parsons was together longer than any of the others. Maybe it’s only my perception as a second generation Byrds fan, but I wonder if a band name change after Chris Hillman’s departure following Sweetheart of the Rodeo would’ve given the latter years albums the attention they deserve. From the live portion, the sixteen minute Eight Miles High is a highlight, though it’s a bit of a letdown when Roger only sings the first verse when all’s said and done. Chestnut Mare is the standout from the studio sides.
9/19/70: Performance soundtrack
An interesting soundtrack to a good if somewhat dark period piece film. Names on the album include Randy Newman, Merry Clayton, Mick Jagger (who stars in the film), Ry Cooder, Jack Nitzsche, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
9/23/70: Ani DiFranco born
Another important artist from the 1990’s-onward turned 50 this month.
9/25/70: Ringo – Beaucoups of Blues
Ringo released his second solo album on the 25th. His third album would be the breakthrough (with a little help from many of his friends).
September 1970: Curtis Mayfield – Curtis
Mayfield released his post-Impressions solo debut, which he produced, 50 years ago this month. It spent five weeks atop the R&B charts, and reached number 19 on the Billboard Pop albums chart.
September 1970: Johnny Winter And
The Texas blues guitarist delivered another butt-kicking album this month in 1970, his fourth studio album.
I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. I was the ninth to select in this round, and I scored one of my favorite Beatles albums.
There was no doubt that my second pick would be a Beatles album. It was only a matter of what was still available to choose from. Twenty years ago, Rubber Soul would’ve been at the top of my Beatles list. Today it’s second by a hair, but I’ll still gladly add it to All Things Must Pass in my fledgling desert isle collection. Rubber Soul is another of their albums which saw two releases on separate labels with different track lists and song totals. I grew up with the U.S. (Capitol) version, which does have its positives despite being two tracks shorter. However, in my adult life I’ve only listened to the Parlophone version which was standard across most of the planet outside the U.S., and for the purposes of the draft that’s the one I’m going with.
By 1965 the Beatles were progressing at lightning speed as writers and as individuals, more so than what their heavily promoted mop top image – or what was left of it at that point – might’ve suggested. It’s astounding to me when looking at it in terms of a timeline just how rapidly they evolved. During their month long U.S. tour that summer they met Dylan in New York, dropped acid with The Byrds in L.A. (with Paul famously abstaining for the time being), listened to a lot of Motown and Stax music on the radio, and smoked pot for breakfast (John would even describe Rubber Soul as “the pot album”). They returned to the U.K. inspired to write a new batch of songs reflective of these experiences, which they began recording a short time later in October. Rubber Soul was released – along with its accompanying smash double A-sided single, Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out – on December 3. It was their second album of all original material, still somewhat unheard of in rock and pop music at the time. Whew!
The title pokes fun at themselves for not having “authentic” soul like the American R&B artists they admired, but when the needle hits the grooves, it’s anything but phony. The themes are more serious and much less bubblegum than on previous albums, and for many younger fans whose lives hadn’t changed so drastically and in such a short period of time, this was a shock. There are beautifully written songs of lament (You Won’t See Me, Wait, I’m Looking Through You, Girl), and sentimental retrospection (In My Life). We also start to hear their “later” personalities and influences come to the fore, especially with Harrison. There’s stern advice from “grumpy George” (Think for Yourself) as well as the sweet, jangly sound of his 12-string Rickenbacker on the Byrds-influenced If I Needed Someone (he’s no longer saying “I need you,” but only “If…”). Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), written by John about an extramarital affair and played in the style of Dylan, was not only the first Beatles song on which George played sitar, it was the first rock record to do so, period. This song alone spawned “raga rock” and brought Hindustani classical music – particularly that of Ravi Shankar and his associates – to Western ears like never before. John had laid bare his feelings of despair earlier in the year on his song Help!, but few heard it as he meant it. With Nowhere Man listeners now understood there was complexity behind Lennon’s goofy, sometimes acerbic façade.
I realize it’s silly to second guess what the Beatles did on their albums, but there are a couple of nicks in Rubber Soul’s vinyl in my view. It’s been written, and boasted about somewhat by McCartney, that they were a very democratic band, and to a great extent they were. Yet at times it was a bit to their detriment. While I wouldn’t have wanted anyone but Ringo as the drummer for the Beatles, looking at it today it seems rather misguided for them to designate a slot on their albums for a Ringo song. What Goes On, if only briefly, disrupts the vibe and flow of the album. Other than perhaps his White Album tracks, Ringo’s songs should’ve been B-sides only. And beginning with their next album it made even less sense as George was writing a lot more yet was still allotted only one or two tracks per record. Additionally, Run for Your Life has a regrettable set of lyrics despite being an otherwise fun track instrumentally speaking. Even John disavowed it later.
1965 was a transitional time all the way around for the Beatles and on Rubber Soul in particular, but not in a way to suggest anything was lacking. Almost everything they did, whether with their music or their group image and as individuals, had a major impact on popular culture. And if one is inclined to hear this album and Revolver as companion pieces as George Harrison did, it could be argued that it was their peak.
I had stepped away from my blog for a bit when the 50th anniversary of Jackie Lomax’s 1969 album Is This What You Want? came and went. It wasn’t a great album despite its connections, but there is one standout track that I want to acknowledge. Sour Milk Sea is a fairly well known song to Beatles fans despite the fact that it wasn’t on any of their albums (unless one counts The Esher Demos). I’ve mentioned it before, on the White Album‘s 50th. Written by George Harrison, who also produced the Lomax album for the Apple label after recording his own demo, in my mind its rightful place was on the White Album as a proper full-on Beatles song. Perhaps this post is an attempt at excising the topic from my mind so that I can just enjoy Lomax’s very good version.
Sour Milk Sea was written by Harrison during the Beatles’ retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in Rishikesh, India in early 1968. He drew inspiration for the song from a picture depicting a Hindu theme regarding “the geological theory of the evolution of organic life on earth.” The Sour Milk Sea represents a fallow period between Earth’s evolutionary cycles. The point of all of it being, in order to evolve we must seek God through meditation.
While the thematic influence is from the East, Sour Milk Sea is not raga rock. No sitar, no tablas. This is straight forward 1968 British blues rock, and what a backing band Lomax had here: Harrison and Clapton on guitars, McCartney on bass, Ringo on drums, and Nicky Hopkins on piano. The Hammond organ is uncredited. This was the first Harrison written song that he gave away to another artist. It’s also the only song to feature more than two Beatles on someone else’s recording.
I wrote ‘Sour Milk Sea’ in Rishikesh, India…it’s based on Vishvasara Tantra, from Trantric art…It’s a picture, and the picture is called ‘Sour Milk Sea’ – ‘Kalladadi Samudra’ in Sanskrit. I used Sour Milk Sea as the idea of – if you’re in the shit, don’t go around moaning about it: do something about it.
-George Harrison, from his autobiography I Me Mine
If your life’s not right, doesn’t satisfy you
You don’t get the breaks like some of us do
Better work it out, find where you’ve gone wrong
Better do it soon as you don’t have long
Get out of sour milk sea
You don’t belong there
Get back to where you should be
Find out what’s going on there
If you want the most from everything you do
In the shortest time your dreams will come true
In no time at all makes you more aware
A very simple process takes you there
Looking for release from limitation
There’s nothing much without illumination
Can fool around with every different cult
There’s only one way really brings results
Side A: Sour Milk Sea
Side B: The Eagle Laughs at You
An interesting “outfake,” a mashup of the Lomax instrumental track with the Harrison Esher Demo vocal:
Occasionally I’ll scroll through my notes concerning albums and other topics I’d like to write about, and one constant throughout 1970 is that – my opinion only, of course – until about November it was an up and down year with the occasional great album or single release, plenty of o.k. but not quite up to par albums by very good artists, and too much bad news. Sure, this could probably be said about any year, but for me 1970 was very much a yin-yang grab bag – more so than I earlier thought it to be – and May might be the epitome of that sentiment.
The immediate lead-up to May set the tone with the U.S. invasion of neutral Cambodia at the end of April. Whether one is hawkish or dovish, it had negative repercussions. From a military standpoint, who knows what would have been the ultimate result if they’d been allowed to continue their pursuit of the roughly 40k VC and North Vietnamese regulars whom they had discovered massing across the border from Vietnam? For those opposed to the war, well, what were we doing in Vietnam, let alone her neutral neighbor, in the first place? We know how it all turned out so I’m not going to write a term paper on the conflict. But the immediate impact in the U.S. of the Cambodian incursion was felt on the campus of Kent State University on May 4, where four students were shot dead and nine others wounded by members of the Ohio National Guard. The tragedy spawned arguably the most powerful protest song ever composed, and it was written very fast by Neil Young and recorded on May 21st by CSNY. Of course I’m referring to the single Ohio, b/w the anguish of Find the Cost of Freedom. It was released the following month, and it feels relevant even today.
The Beatles – Let It Be (album and film)
On May 8 the Beatles released their swan song album, Let It Be, followed by the release five (U.S.) and twelve (U.K.) days later of the documentary film of the same title. Both releases have been picked apart and analyzed to death over the years by critics, fans, and the band itself, mainly Paul McCartney. Personally, I’ve loved the album probably since before I could speak. This is true of almost all of their records. I grew up listening the weirdness of Dig a Pony and Maggie Mae, not thinking twice about the Spectorization of songs like The Long and Winding Road, I Me Mine and the title track. And as I’ve grown to love the music of George Harrison, his contributions to the album make it that much more enjoyable to me now as I near the half-century point in my own life. From a purely musical standpoint, this album is joy to me. It’s a visceral thing that I can’t really explain, but I know that to varying degrees there are many, many other fans who know what I mean. Let It Be has its own distinctive feel, but it’s just as “Beatles” as Meet the Beatles and Revolver. Perhaps that’s a positive acknowledgement of Phil Spector’s controversial contribution, I don’t know. I do know that the original gets played more often than Let It Be…Naked in my home.
As for the movie, it is what it is. It’s a dreary and bleak document of the greatest band of all time in the process of breaking up, but with a great soundtrack. The first time I watched it as a kid was in the late 1970’s, and I remember thinking “This is gonna get better, right?” Fast-forward 50 years, and we’re about to be offered a new and improved Let It Be documentary, currently scheduled for release September 4, titled The Beatles: Get Back, directed by Peter Jackson and compiled from 55 hours of unused footage from the sessions. Prior to writing this post I revisited an earlier post on the 50th anniversary of the rooftop concert in which I expressed enthusiasm for the then-recently announced Jackson project. We’d been assured that, while it will show the group in a more positive light than the original film, it won’t be revisionist history. I still assume that will be the case, but I must say I’m getting a bit of a skeptical feeling after reading some recent quotes by Paul, Ringo, and others about how rosy and warm the new film is after they viewed it for themselves. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what restoration magic Jackson has done with the footage, most of which presumably most of us have never seen. And if it’s on film then whatever moments of love and brotherhood are shown really did happen. And that’s good to know. (I’ve deleted an additional paragraph on this topic. I’ll save it until I’ve actually seen the damn thing.)
We’re also starting to get a good idea of what to expect with regard to the 50th anniversary of the Let it Bedocumentary. I actually find this to be exciting news, as it will shed a different light on the project. I don’t think it will be a revisionist light, as there’s no reversing the fact that the group was slowly dissolving while being filmed, but it will apparently illustrate that the Get Back sessions in January of 1969 as shown in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original film weren’t dreary and depressing all the time. There were 55 hours of unused film taken that month! I don’t care if Yoko’s in 99% of it – she was there a lot, after all. I just hope Billy Preston gets his due. And, fear not, we’ll also get the original film, restored in all its bleak glory.
To anyone who may scoff at the notion that what the Beatles pulled off during their relatively short existence was anything less than miraculous, and that they were under constant pressure to produce more, more, and more, I offer the example of the sometimes unfairly disregarded soundtrack to the animated film, Yellow Submarine, released this day 50 years ago (January 17 in the UK).
The soundtrack contained four “new” songs, two previously released tracks (the title track had been around for almost three years), plus George Martin’s orchestral score on side two. Its release was delayed so that it wouldn’t interfere with their double album release in November of ’68. The film and album were considered a contract obligation, hence the Beatles didn’t give it the full studio treatment after spending many contentious hours in the studio over the previous two years. Negative to ambivalent critical assessments of the album are a reflection of the group’s attitude toward the project. But is it really an album to be dismissed? Personally, I feel the four previously unreleased songs alone make it worthwhile.
George Harrison’s much-maligned Only a Northern Song had been rejected for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This turned out to be a good decision, as its replacement was the slightly less-disparaged Harrison track, Within You Without You (as fun as it can be to play the Beatles revisionist “what-if” game, I would never remove Within You Without You from Pepper!). As will surprise nobody who knows my music tastes, I love both of those songs. Yes, Only a Northern Song is cranky George complaining about his place on the group’s songwriting ladder, but it’s a trippy number with a cool organ and sound effects. It fit in well at the time it was recorded, but was already somewhat outdated (by late 60’s standards) by the time the soundtrack was released. McCartney’s All Together Now, written with old dance hall calls for a singalong in mind, may not have been his most creative songwriting effort, but again, look at the standard he had set for himself. Paul considered it a throwaway, but if ever one needs a peppy tune to get a jump-start out of a malaise, this is it.
George’s It’s All Too Much was inspired by the Summer of Love vibe, and is one of my favorite Beatles songs of all time. To me, it’s a perfect combination of grungy guitar, flower power, and a typically positive Beatles message. In my mind, the song’s psychedelic musical soul mate is the Byrds’ Eight Miles High. I only wish they were both ten-plus minutes long.* George’s song was originally eight minutes long but trimmed to a still lengthy for the era 6:25. Only a Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much were all recorded in early 1967. Only John’s Hey Bulldog, which he liked but said was about nothing, was recorded in 1968. Anyone want to remove this song from the Beatles canon? Not I.
It’s hard to get too worked up over contemporary critics’ dismissive attitudes toward this record since the Beatles themselves mostly mailed it in, though they were reportedly more enthusiastic about it after previewing the film. John was vocally opposed to the inclusion of George Martin’s orchestral score, but judging by Lennon’s lackluster participation on the Get Back sessions concurrently taking place at the time of this soundtrack’s release, I don’t know that he had much to offer that would’ve been an improvement in his mind. An EP was considered which would’ve included Across the Universe, but was ditched. With 1999’s reissue of the film came the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which includes all the Beatles songs used in the film and excludes Martin’s score. I never bothered to pick it up, I guess confirming I’m not the completist I once considered myself to be. Occasionally I let the soundtrack CD play out and find myself enjoying the orchestral tracks. Perhaps I should paint big black holes on my walls for a fuller effect.
*In later incarnations, the Byrds would stretch Eight Miles High into a nearly twenty minute jam session on stage, but Roger McGuinn would only sing the first verse for some reason. I digress.
We’ve finally arrived at the Big Anniversary of the Beatles’ sprawling, self-titled 1968 double album. It’s the first Beatles album to be covered in this unabashed fanboy’s blog which I started at the beginning of the year. Many of us have already greedily consumed the 50th anniversary release of the album, complete with the Esher Demos, session goodies, the famous individual portraits and lyrics poster, and a hardcover book. Some have already published nice reviews in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Somehow today feels a bit anticlimactic, though I’ll probably give it a spin before stuffing my face with turkey later in the day.
It’s not that the anniversary hasn’t re-sparked my enthusiasm for the White Album, released this day in 1968. It has. It isn’t that I’m not thrilled with everything to do with the deluxe edition which I’ve been poring over these past couple of weeks. I am. But if you’ll excuse a bit of hyperbole, when I think about it, this entire year has been about the White Album as pertains to my perception of the Beatles, the music scene in general, and to some extent the year 1968 itself.
Looking back over the first eleven months of my blog, this record looms throughout. The seed is probably found as far back as August of 1967 with the death of Brian Epstein. The Magical Mystery Tour project in the immediate aftermath of his passing may have been their first attempt to carry on managing themselves, but with the White Album we see the fissures within the group and their individual future directions in full light. Many of these songs were written in February during the Rishikesh retreat, and most of the band’s activities the rest of the year from that trip-onward led to this album or were an offshoot of it.
We had the single, Lady Madonna/The Inner Light, released in March. In May, the establishment of Apple Corps, Ltd. was announced. This was to be the band’s business and musical apparatus, as well as a vehicle for them as individual artists – and isn’t that really what the White Album is, some group work but a lot of individual effort? May was also the month sessions for the album began in earnest. With the release of the stunning Hey Jude/Revolution single in August, they showed the world that the Beatles were still the Beatles despite the turmoil they always seemed to find themselves in. Although those tracks were not included on the album, they are White Album session tracks.
Group and individual burnout is evident on this album. Even Ringo walked out during his well-documented “I thought it was YOU three?” moment. John’s behavior became predictably unpredictable, and the sad state of affairs (no pun intended, but yeah) surrounding his marriage to Cynthia finally came to an end as he officially transitioned to Yoko. They immediately created their first vinyl baby, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, under the Apple umbrella, and she would be a permanent fixture within the group dynamic from that point on.
George finally found his own creative outlet with Wonderwall Music (the inaugural release on the Apple label), the score to the Wonderwall movie which included Indian musicians who also performed on the Inner Light, as well as his buddy Eric Clapton, who participated on both the movie score and the White Album. All of these factors – from India to Apple, from recording the demos at George’s house in Esher to the singles releases, from the “Mad Day Out” photo session in July to the individual side projects and contentious group studio sessions – all of them are woven into the double album we’re celebrating today, and all were played out over the course of the year leading up to its release.
Some random personal thoughts about the record:
In 2018, if there’s any one member of the band I associate with the album more than the others, it’s George. I freely admit this is due in large part to Hari gradually becoming my “favorite” Beatle over the years. The White Album was perhaps his final chance to exert serious influence on the direction the Beatles would take, both musically and spiritually. His creative input could no longer be ignored by John and Paul if he was going to remain in the group long-term. It may not have gone as he had hoped, but his spirit is everywhere in these songs, including the ones which didn’t make the final cut. As he mentioned in interviews, he tried to enter the studio the following January for the Get Back sessions with a positive mindset, but it was too late. The Beatles were, for all intents and purposes, done, despite there being two albums yet to record. Amazingly to me, George was only 25 when the White Album was released.
As a child, even though I always loved most of its tracks, the White Album kind of creeped me out. First, the “Paul is dead ‘clues'” in the grooves and album artwork were both fascinating and, to 9 or 10-year-old me, frightening. My brother Paul would spin the vinyl backwards for me to hear voices supposedly saying “Paul is a dead man. Miss him, miss him,” and “Turn me on, dead man.” In that dimly lit basement I was glad not to be alone when listening. To this day, Revolution 9 still gives me the heebie jeebies, and Good Night which follows sounds more funereal than lullaby because of it. Then there was the unfortunate, unintended connection to the Manson murders. Even that shoddy collage of photos which makes up the poster insert was at best confusing to me. But it’s SoWhite Album, no?
Their individual appearances fascinated me, as they did many others. Overnight they transformed from the psychedelic, flower power Sgt. Pepper look to their disheveled appearances of ’68. John looked tired and bitter, and it wasn’t until my teen years that I understood why that was.
Yoko. Yoko, Yoko, Yoko. Yoko Ono… Because I was born the year after the Beatles broke up, as a younger person I always accepted everything I saw, heard, and read as just part of the narrative of the group. But wow, what an unforeseen shock her emergence in all their lives must have been! Whether he’s simply taking the high road or being sincere, Paul made peace with Yoko in recent years as well as declared his perhaps overdue respect for John for making his stand with her. I believe Paul is sincere. It’s past time to remove those “I still blame Yoko” bumper stickers, folks. There were plenty of other factors contributing to the split.
And lastly, as for the great debate about whether or not it should’ve been condensed down to a single LP, my answer is a resounding HELL NO! It’s great just the way it is, but if anything could’ve improved it, it wouldn’t have been making it a single album or two separate releases (the White and Whiter Album as Ringo quipped in the Anthology). In my mind, this could easily have been a triple album. I think it’s a crime that George’s Sour Milk Sea wasn’t properly recorded and included (nothing against Jackie Lomax’s version). The same goes for Not Guilty. Sprinkle those tracks, plus Hey Jude, Revolution, and Circles throughout Sides 1-5, and make Side 6 all about John and Yoko’s madness with What’s the New Mary Jane and Revolution 9, and presto!, The Grand and Mega-Blindingly White Album! It was all free-form craziness anyway, and we’d be celebrating it the same as we are today. That still would’ve left Lady Madonna/The Inner Light as the non-album single between Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album.
But I’ll defer to Sir Paul for the final word on the matter:
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)
I’ll wrap up my solo Beatles album rankings by putting it together in a tidy and very scientific Top 25 list. My thoughts on each album can be found in my individual posts for George,Paul,John, and Ringo. Other than my choice for #1, this is a rather absurd exercise to undertake, but what the hey. It’s got me thinking of some mighty good albums I haven’t listened to in a while. Just a reminder: the only reason choices such as #’s 25 and 22 aren’t rated higher is because John and George, respectively, are featured on only half the album or less.