The Beatles “The Beatles (White Album)”

Just as I vowed to write shorter articles, the magic 8-ball fell on this 1968 monster, which is practically a quadruple album, actually, and about which books could be written (and probably have). Everyone has a complicated relationship with this record, and its lyric sheet poster, and its name (it’s interesting how “white album” has come to have its own larger, and complex meaning). This has come to be my favorite and least favorite Beatles record—and I’m sure I’m not the first or only one to say that. (The LP cover alone—all white, that’s the best thing ever—but when you print that gray, off-center “The BEATLES” on the cover—that’s the wimpiest, dumbest, cop-out of all time.) What I’m going to do here is rank the 30 songs from least favorite to favorite, and limit myself to a word or two (trying not to go on too many tangents!) about each song. (I’m not even going to write the entire song titles, since some of these are the longest song titles ever!)

Dead last – “Helter Skelter” – could literally be used to torture someone, and it’s got multiple fake endings, just sadistic. 29 – “Ob-La-Di” – besides being annoying, they invented the expression “brah”—which makes me puke. 28 – “I Will” – even though I’ve listened to this record 1000 times, I can’t remember this song AT ALL. 27 – “Good Night” – maybe it’s supposed to be a lullaby, but a lullaby is supposed to be soothing, not bore you to sleep. 26 – “Yer Blues” – I used to like this song, but now it sounds like someone called Ded Lepriken—plus it’s WAY too long—about four minutes too long. 25 – “Wild Honey Pie” – one Honey Pie is one too many, so this really doesn’t help. 24 – “Don’t Pass Me By” – the drums are great on this song, but every other part (especially that fiddle) should be burned. 23 – “Blackbird” – is it arrive or arise? That annoys me, but not as much as cramming “into the light of the dark black night” into too small a space.

22 – “Birthday” – it’s kind of funny how you can have a really excellent song but after you hear it ONE MILLION TIMES it then sounds like hyenas being slaughtered. If my worst enemy really wants to get to me, hold a surprise birthday party for me with this playing when I come in, then follow that with karaoke. Or you could just slowly rip my skin off. 21 – “Mother Nature’s Son” – I’d like this song less, but it is pretty. That’s all it is, though, and the ending (song title button—like it’s a commercial for granola bars) ruins it. 20 – “Julia” – I’m not crazy about this song, but I like how subtly weird it is—I mean, if you were Julia would you want this to be the song named after you? It sounds more like a song about mental illness. 19 – “Long Long Long” – would be boring if it wasn’t so haunting—more so because the lyrics only make sense as the expression of a lost mind. 18 – “Honey Pie” – what if all the Beatles’ songs sounded just like this one? They’d be about half as great at The Rutles. 17 – “Rocky Raccoon” – would be the most annoying song the Beatles ever did IF IT WASN’T FOR THE LINE: “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”

16 – “While My Guitar…” it’s bad enough to sing about your guitar, but to personify it is unforgivable. I do love how the tape speed is all fucked up. 15 – “Bungalow Bill” – this song sounds cool, and I like the sentiment, but the words themselves grate on me. 14 – “Piggies” – I like the lyrics—is this the meanest Beatles song? I’d like it better without the pig sound effects and the corny, English-humor harpsichord. 13 – “Cry Baby Cry” – it’s a very pretty song, and interesting that the verse lyrics and the chorus lyrics don’t really match—like totally schizo, lyric-wise! 12 – “Why don’t we do it in the road?” – totally dumb, but great, and the best thing is that you expect the second verse to say something like, “why don’t we do it in the car,” or in the yard, or sand, or at a fish & chips place. But no, it’s just still in the road. 11 – “Martha My Dear” – that is just a solid love song. Plus, I’ve never met a woman named Martha, and at this point, if I did, and thought about this song—instant crush.

10 – “Revolution 1” – I can’t tell you how much hearing this for the first time freaked me out, this slower version, after being familiar with the fast version (I had the 45 as a kid)—it was like my first experience “on drugs.” 9 – “Back in the USSR” – I love the opening with the airplane noise, and the first three songs on this album are why I loved it so much over the years. Still, it’s joke song—but it is funny. 8 – “Happiness is a Warm Gun” – kind of post-teen humor, but we forget, the Beatles were pretty much just post-teens by the time they broke up. Also, I love all the different parts; it’s like a mini “A Day in the Life”—though sadly could be called “A day in the guns=sex American news.” 7 – “Revolution 9” – I can’t understate the importance of a song like this (on a pop music album) to a kid in 1970 who has just scored his first tape recorder. 6 – “Savoy Truffle” – not quite as good a Alice Cooper’s dentistry song, but this one makes me more hungry.

5 – “Sexy Sadie” – I love how weird this song is when you listen closely, with that haunting piano, and it’s so bitter. 4 – “Dear Prudence” – I always thought this was the worst name to name a girl (you may as well just invite her to have un-safe sex at an early age)—and this beautiful song was created just to make the world better for all the Prudences out there! 3 – “I’m So Tired” – this is the perfect love song (which at the same time is using love purely metaphorically, and is about the fatigue of being human) and all in two minutes! 2 – “Me and My Monkey” – the song that gave the kids courage to leave the safe Beatlesphere and move on (often to darker pastures). Also, a sampling smorgasbord. 1 – “Glass Onion” – I hear the groans, but I can’t argue with never getting tired of this song—it’s pure pleasure—just the sound, those strings, all of it. Some Beatles fans hate it because it makes fun of them, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re destined to be a very angry, old, white man.


3 Responses to “The Beatles “The Beatles (White Album)””

  1. March 18, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    So, National Lampoon released a White Album featuring cartoon Ku Klux Klan Kartoons on the cover.

    Ray, ranking the songs, really? Book of Rock Lists was a blast in 1981, but approaching 40 years later this kind of stunt is doubleclick.tv type content provision.

    I Will is the sequel to I’ll follow the sun. Julia is a fine message to John’s dead mom about Yoko. I’m So Tired is the beyond amazing sequel to I’m Only Sleeping. Martha My Dear was thrilling fun. Cry Baby Cry is best of all, esp. Leading into terror of Rev 9.

    “Yesterday”…and Today 1966 USA is the best Beatles album. Capitol releasing the Butcher Cover version on vinyl would sell millions of copies.

    To .cum is such a joy. Probably! Also Ray, I’ve sent a vinyl copy of the Byrds’ YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY (1967.)
    Review it on THE MODS PROBLEM http://themossproblem.blogspot.com link to DJ FARRAGINOUS, quick (maybe) $500 from Tony F. promotion for your new “listicle” lifestyle. Win-Win!

  2. March 19, 2018 at 10:22 am

    I was pretty sure I was the first one to ever think of ranking the songs on the White Album. I suppose, not, after all, but still it got me a lot of media attention, and I was scheduled to be on Charlie Rose, but he cancelled for some reason. I will be glad to review that Bryds album, even though Tony F. still owes me money!

  3. 3 J Curtis
    May 8, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    I started writing my own commentary on your commentary on these songs right after reading it when you first posted this, but kind of forgot about it until writing my comment to your Younger Than Yesterday review earlier today, so I finished my White Album comments and — here they all are. Sorry.

    30. Helter Skelter — one of my favorites on the album, actually. This is the song wherein The Beatles invent heavy metal. I was just thinking earlier this morning, comparing the Rolling Stones to the Beatles, how so incredibly limited the Stones were in their music: apart from their one official “psychedelic” album, they were always pretty much only a country blues garage rock band, later shifting to more countryish or plain rock’n’rollish music, whereas the Fabs experimented with all styles of music all throughout their career.

    29. Ob-La-Di — now, *this* really is the worst song on the album. And actually, I will just go ahead and agree with your assessments of most of the other songs you put in the basement here: 28. I Will – yecch; 27. Good Night – ughhhh; 26. Yer Blues – meh.. leave the blues to the Stones, this just sounds phony. It’s John’s song, but it’s as kitschy as any of Paul’s stuff here. I think Paul wrote some of his worst songs around this time, actually. I kind of think of “I Will” as his version of John’s (20) Julia, except “Julia,” which was John writing about his late mother, is really nicely poetic and wistful, while “I Will” is just a dumb old-style Paul empty by-the-numbers pop love song that, as you prove, is completely forgettable.

    25. Wild Honey Pie – Oh, I actually like this one a lot! It’s a very primitive-sounding stomper that sounds to me like something that would have just developed as a jam session improvised song. It’s not like anyone would spend any time at all writing something like this.

    24. Don’t Pass Me By – I actually kind of like, mostly because Ringo’s vocal is nice and homely, and his drums, as you note, are great. The music is weirdly wonky sounding, which I appreciate, and I really don’t mind the fiddle on it either. It’s not really a fave or anything, but I would put it higher on my list.

    23. Blackbird – Another kind of dumb Paul song, where he’s trying to be poetically addressing the 60s racial civil rights issues. It is kinda pretty, but I’m really not crazy about it.

    22. Birthday – I always kinda hated this song, I agree with pretty much everything you say about it, except I really don’t think it’s all that great of a song to begin with.

    21. Mother Nature’s Son – yep, another kind of dumb Paul song, though it is a little more unique and pleasant than some of his other dumb songs here. Pastoral. But yeah, the soda pop ending is regrettable.

    20. Julia – as I mentioned, this is John’s wistful song for his mother, who, if I remember correctly, died after being hit by a car while crossing the street, which John witnessed. I think it’s a really beautiful, tender song, which Paul’s empty “I Will” is no match for.

    19. Long, Long, Long – this is another one of my very favorite songs on the album, and one that frequently still just randomly goes through my head. I find it really haunting and romantic, yearning — one of George’s best songs. I’ve tried to learn to play it on guitar myself. The only thing that kind of ruins it for me is having read somewhere that it’s actually one of his religious songs — it’s not a love song, as it sounds like, to a woman, but to God. But I’ll interpret it as a romantic song to a lady, thankyou. Also, I really love the noisy weird spooky ending with ghost sounds and something that sounds like a lawn mower starting. Really, I think this song is quite a masterpiece.

    18. Honey Pie – meh. For a fake 1920’s British music-hall/vaudeville-style song, which for some reason, nostalgia for that kind of crap had a deathgrip on 60s culture, I guess it could be worse, but it’s still a fake 1920’s British music-hall/vaudeville-style song. Also, sorry, but I kind of resent your dis on the Rutles, who, for a fake Beatles parody band, were actually really pretty great on their own terms!

    17. Rocky Raccoon – you know, it never really occurred to me until going through the songs like this, but man, Paul’s dumb pastiche songs are all over this record, to an annoying extent. Still, there is something I kind of like about this one. But, like, this is not a song I would ever consider playing on my radio show or anything.

    16. Weeping Guitar – I blame Eric Crapton for this song. There are some things I like about it, but it really isn’t one of my favorite George songs. I’m not sure what you mean about the tape speed being fucked up, other than maybe at the end where (again) there are weird ghostly sounds. But unlike “Long Long Long,” where they sound haunting, in this song, they just sound nauseous. I would put this song far below “Long.” I think the best part of it is the way it transitions into this song from Bungalow Bill and sounds pretty urgent at first. But yeh — wtf is Crapton doing on a Beatles album anyway?

    15. Bungalow Bill – This is a pretty weird song — it strikes me as kind of cartoony, and in a way I think it’s sort of John’s version of Paul’s “Rocky Raccoon,” although with more social commentary. I like Yoko’s vocals in it, for the longest time I thought it was a child singing those parts. It’s a fun, goofy song though. Good singalong.

    14. Piggies – another financially-oriented social commentary song by George, kind of along the lines of his earlier “Taxman.” I always associated it with George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” The harpsichord is the main instrument in the song, so I think it’s kind of weird that you would put this song this high and complain about it, but whatever. I don’t actually mind the sound effects or the harpsichord. It may well be the Beatles’ meanest song — one of the very few (perhaps the only one?) with swearing in it!

    13. Cry Baby Cry – easily one of the best songs on the album, though I’ve never really been too sure what it was about. I love the sound of it though. I like the idea of children running around in a castle being mischievous, though.

    12. Do It In The Road – probably their dirtiest song. This is the sort of heavy blues that John was trying for with Yer Blues, but somehow Paul managed to nail it with this simple dumb “takes longer to play than to write” sort of song. Another one where it seems like it probably came out of just an improvised jam session rather than meticulous writing. I was always kind of embarrassed about this song playing when my parents were around when I was a teenager, even though I really wasn’t exactly sure what they were talking about.

    11. Martha – I’m a little surprised how much you like this one. I just kind of think it’s “okay,” but I guess it is kind of nice. Another one of Paul’s string quartet numbers like Eleanor Rigby, where none of the Beatles actually play on it (as far as I know). I hope this doesn’t ruin your appreciation of it, but Martha was a pet dog of Paul’s. I know what you mean about the name, though..

    10. Revolution 1 – I remember likewise being weirded out the first time I heard this version of this song. I kind of didn’t like the faster single version of it, feeling like it was a lot more “hard rock”ish than I preferred at the time — it struck me as a very Rolling-Stonesy kind of normal rock n roll song. But then hearing this, I think the first thing I assumed was that it was the “drugged-out” version, or maybe like a demo version or something. Which I guess also is similar to what you say about it. I do still prefer this version, though I have warmed up to the fast single version over the years also.

    9. Back In The USSR — I think my favorite thing about this song is how it ends and fades into Dear Prudence. It took me a long time to understand the satire involved in this song, and it really remains one of the Beatle songs I could really take or leave. Not really a fave.

    8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun – Another kind of jokey song, but really well done. I like the vocals and harmonies in it. But – eh. Again, not really a fave.

    7. Revolution 9 – The amazing thing about this “song,” to me, is that, having listened to this album countless millions of times over the years, including this track, I can pretty much completely “play” the entire thing in my head from start to finish, or sort of “sing along” if I’m actually listening to it, because I have just memorized and internalized it to that extent, along with pretty much all other Beatles songs. There are rhythmic parts to it that I think are really fascinating, lots of funny bits thrown in — it just sounds like a helluva lot of fun.

    6. Savoy Truffle – A pretty cool hard-rockin’ George song.. I always liked this one a lot, even though I really had no idea for a long time what the heck a Savoy Truffle was supposed to be. The saxophones/horn section on this sound incredible — I would love to have a horn section sounding like that in pretty much any band I was in. I can remember trying to figure out that part on my saxophone when I was in band in grade school, but it didn’t sound anywhere near as cool.

    5. Sexy Sadie – I was always a little embarrassed to be playing this song when my parents were around when I was still living with them, due to the word “Sexy” being involved. But yeah, the sound of the piano is really cool, and the minor chord progressions in it are cool too. Bitter, yeah, and sleazy sounding!

    4. Dear Prudence – Yeah, this is a really nice one. I feel like there was some girl on a tv show when I was a kid who I thought was cute at the time that I associated this song with, but I don’t remember now who that might have been. This has a really nice, very light kind of psychedelia going on in it, as opposed to so much other psychedelia that just hits you over the head with its trippiness.

    3. I’m So Tired – This song definitely puts its subject matter across effectively; I like how angry it winds up getting, but ultimately just kind of gives up. It also ends with the famous backwards-recorded “Paul is dead now, miss’im miss’im miss’im.”

    2. Everyone’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey – This really is a great and fun song with all the ringing clanging bells and everything, like a firetruck run amok. I always took this song as an endorsement of the concept of living your life genuinely with no apologies for your beliefs etc despite what uptight society at large might think.

    1. Glass Onion – This song always sounded kind of sinister to me, but I do like the self-referentiality of it, talking about other Beatle songs etc. I’m not so sure I would have pegged this as the #1 best song on this album, but it definitely belongs in the top 5 at least!

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