My friend Mark showed me something yesterday. An artist called Rutherford Chang has a thing called We Buy White Albums, where he has created a record store dedicated to buying copies of the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled album. I like this idea. And after reading about it, I listened to the album itself. I like the White Album. I like that compared specifically to its predecessor, it’s a bit of a sprawling mess. But, like most double albums, it would be a better album if it were cut in half; were it a single album. So, that’s what I’m gonna do. This is a process that requires thinking of the album as a stand alone piece of work, not as part of the Beatles’ history, where the White Album being a double album is an interesting and integral part of their career.
I guess there needs to be some limits to how I’m gonna do this. To create a single album, I’m gonna create a track list for a side one and side two. The longest side of the actual White Album is 24 minutes and 27 seconds long (side four), so that will be the time limit for my new White Single Album sides one and two. Obviously, this is entirely about my personal preferences when it comes to the White Album. There are thirty songs, and I’m gonna lose around half of them. The half that I want to lose. Plus, another good thing about the White Album being a single album would’ve been that Anthology 3 could’ve had some more interesting offcuts than the utterly horrible What’s the New Mary Jane. I’m not really paying any attention to anything else. Although, I am gonna try to keep the order the same, and I feel I should make a Beatles album out of it, not just a heavily McCartney-leaning album, as would likely be my personal preference. Spoiler alert: that’s the only reason While My Guitar Gently Weeps is getting on there.
Okay then, the actual track listing:
Side one: Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Wild Honey Pie, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Side two: Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, Blackbird, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?, I Will, Julia
Side three: Birthday, Yer Blues, Mother Nature’s Son, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, Sexy Sadie, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long
Side four: Revolution 1, Honey Pie, Savoy Truffle, Cry Baby Cry, Revolution 9, Good Night
Thirty fucking songs. Sweet Jesus. Let’s start choppin’.
Revolution 9 – By far the easiest to lose. While I’m not against the idea of experimenting, and it’s kind of impressive that the most popular band in the world would do such a thing, fuck it: we’ve only got about 48 minutes of vinyl time to play with here, I’m not using 17% of that time including this.
Piggies, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle – I like George Harrison. Honestly, I do. He’s done a lot of songs that I like. But his contributions to the White Album weren’t among his best. Two of them were utter shite. Savoy Truffle is horrible. Well done, George, you just listed a load of desserts. Piggies is worse. Dreadful song. Harpsichords and strings should’ve been left to McCartney, he was better at including non-“normal,” pastiche-y instruments on his songs. Long, Long, Long seems to me to be a few half-arsed ideas thrown together. And in this case, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. There could’ve been a good song in there somewhere, I guess. We’ll come back to While My Guitar Gently Weeps later.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Honey Pie – Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle. He has that syrup-y tendency now and again, which can sometimes be endearing, sometimes annoying. It’s moderately interesting, I think, how many songs on the White Album can, when listened to as a stand alone piece of art, sound like novelty songs, or pastiches, homages to other eras of music. Ob-La-Di is novelty, Honey Pie is a music hall pastiche, Rocky Racoon has him faking an American accent. It’s not just McCartney, either. Don’t Pass Me By is kinda goofy, Bungalow Bill seems fairly throwaway, and Good Night, while lovely, is a Hollywood black and white movie song.
Yer Blues – I guess this song is better lyrically than musically. Musically, this could be any one of a million bands. It’s not a Beatles song, just a song template re-used.
Birthday – Songs about birthdays… This is being cut simply because of the sneaking suspicion that, like songs that have the word “radio” in the chorus, it’s a cynical ploy to get played on the radio a lot.
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey – Great title. Average song. And it’s got that bloody bell going on all the time. Snip!
Don’t Pass Me By – Sorry, Ringo. I quite like this song, as it goes. And, let’s re-state this, most of the stuff being chopped aren’t songs I’d ever bother skipping over when I play the album (aside from Revolution 9 and the three Harrison songs mentioned above). Just, if we’re making a single album, we don’t need two songs with Ringo singing, and Good Night is the better song.
So, I’ve cut a third of the album. Let’s have a look at what we’re left with.
Side one: Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Wild Honey Pie, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Side two: Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon, Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?, I Will, Julia
Side three: Mother Nature’s Son, Sexy Sadie, Helter Skelter
Side four: Revolution 1, Cry Baby Cry, Good Night
Seems like it has been a lot easier to cut songs from the second piece of vinyl than the first so far. I have a decent idea of the songs that I definitely want on my White Single Album, so let’s look at those now, and leave the maybes until the end. Like I said, I’m mainly going for personal preferences here, but also keeping in mind that it should have the spirit of the Beatles and the spirit of the album itself. That is, I can’t get rid of all the slightly throwaway short songs. While only 52 seconds long, and hardly a song at all, Wild Honey Pie seems to, in a way, sum up the whole album for me: confident, successful musicians trying shit out. So that one is in.
Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion – All seem like no-brainers to be on there. It’s a pretty strong one-two-three start to the White Album. Wild Honey Pie we’ve discussed. Now, a Beatles album has to have a George song. Sigh…
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Wikipedia tells me that it’s number 136 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and number ten on their list of The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs. Alright, whatevs, granddad. I understand that this is a popular song and I can see it has merits, but but BUT- I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping. Really? It’s not a song I would ever have anywhere near my top 50 Beatles songs. But, there’s gotta be a George song, and this is the least shit George song on the White Album. And, length fans, this is the second longest song on the whole album after number nine number nine number nine. FML.
Happiness is a Warm Gun – I like this one. I really like the Lennon-ness about it. It’s kinda sinister and poppy at the same time. That’s six of the eight songs on side one definitely included.
Side two’s gotta-be-on-there songs: I’m So Tired, another great Lennon song. Plus, it’s a great band performance. I love Ringo’s drumming, and McCartney’s backing vocals are fantastic. And as a smoker, I’m always gonna enjoy the Sir Walter Raleigh bit.
Blackbird – Not much to say, really. A really lovely song, and a song that sounds so utterly amazing on the recent remastered version of the White Album.
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? – I guess this is kind of similar to Wild Honey Pie, in the sense that it’s hardly a song. But it sounds so good. The piano sounds ace, and the guitar has a nice tone. And when Paul does his “rock” voice, my brain does going into the happy.
Julia – Obviously. That’s four of side two’s nine songs definitely making the cut.
Only two songs from side three are definitely in: Sexy Sadie – a magic song with that splendid piano and the general languid rockin’ feeling. Sounds a bit stoned.
Helter Skelter – Seriously, fuck you Charles Manson. This song is way too good to have his name mentioned anywhere near it, but that so often seems to be the case. (I’ve just done it.) U2’s version, too. Urgh. Anyway, one of McCartney’s best vocals. And just a damn cool rockin’ song. The first fake end, the Sonic Youth-y bit around the 3:02 mark, the squeal-y bits, the second fake end, and Ringo shouting about his blisters. Splendid stuff.
I’ve already dismissed most of side four, but still a couple get on there. First, Revolution 1 – my favoured version of this song. I kinda like that this more laid-back version fits more with the lyrical in/out uncertainty than the more rocking single version. The unreleased “Take 20″ of this is also great. (I found it on the World Wide Internet, something I assume you could also do quite easily should you be inclined to do so.) And it’s interesting to see how this Revolution ended up spawning Revolution 9.
Good Night – Gotta have the Ringo song, right? And in a way, you gotta keep the last song on an album. I’m a big fan of last songs being appropriately placed. A song that is like a nice After Eight mint at the end of your 1970s British dinner. This one does that job perfectly.
Right then, that’s 14 songs, 41 minutes and 24 seconds of music. Seven Lennon songs (eight if we include Good Night, but I always think, even if the songs weren’t written by Ringo, they always end up being Ringo songs), five McCartney songs, and a Harrison song.
I’ve got about seven minutes of vinyl space left. And six songs not yet discussed: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Martha My Dear, Rocky Racoon, I Will, Mother Nature’s Son, and Cry Baby Cry. To keep the Beatles-ness of the album somewhat intact, with a more-or-less equal amount of Lennon and McCartney songs, I’m gonna have to lose The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and Cry Baby Cry. I don’t mind losing Bungalow Bill, but I do quite like Cry Baby Cry. But, I’ve made this fictitious bed, and I must pretend to go to sleep in it. And if it wasn’t for having to have a Harrison song, this’d be on there for sure.
Four McCartney songs, of which I can choose only two. Martha My Dear, Rocky Racoon, I Will, Mother Nature’s Son.
Martha My Dear – Boing boing boing bouncy piano. Very McCartney-ish. He seemed to be showing off a bit in the later years of the Beatles. Like, look at me! I can do a song in this style and this other different style. But, minor quibble. He’s got more talent in his right foot than I have in my whole body.
Rocky Racoon – Despite the horrible fake American accent at the start, I really do quite like this song. It’s got a nice pace to it, and I love the “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy” bit.
I Will – Ejected simply because it has the Frog Chorus-esque “vocal bass” all the way though.
Mother Nature’s Son – It’s clearly a very nice song, but doesn’t really do anything other McCartney “nice” songs don’t do better.
There we go, the last two songs are gonna be Martha and Rocky. 16 songs, 47 minutes and 25 seconds: The White Single Album.
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Wild Honey Pie
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
Anyway, this was all just a bit of fun. Were I to apply the same criticism to most of the albums — double or single — that I own, I could easily end up with a couple of thousand EPs in my collection. In reality, I’d only cut four songs (Revolution 9, and the non-weeping guitar Harrison songs) from this double album, which is pretty good going. And having listened to the edited version on my iPod today, it really does feel like stuff is missing, like the sprawling mass of differing quality songs genuinely is part of the album’s greatness. Well done, the Beatles, you were good.