The Beatles – The White Album

The White Album

The White Album sees the Fab Four at their most experimental, their angriest, and some would say their best. A true epic, the band enters further into uncharted territory with sounds unheard, ideas expounded never before, lyrical flourishes and weirdness all put to glorious sound and noise. Unfortunately for an album with so many songs and with so many ideas (not to mention the band chasing the dragon around on some plain just above the rest of our heads) it has many flaws. Some things don’t come off well, there is a lot of nonsense, some duff songs, and plenty of filler. Most fans who don’t see this as their best album agree that if this had been cut down it could have been much better. The good stuff that we do have ranges from classic Harrison ballads to McCartney blues romps and Lennon’s drug fuelled madness. There are plenty of fun moments, plenty of offbeat treats, but the days of the happy mop haired lads is long gone. From here on we are left with more coarse and hard edged guitar tracks as the group began to implode.

`Back In the USSR’ opens the album in a fairly rocking fashion with some ye olde fast piano playing slpiced with the modern sounds of a jet plane. McCartney sings in a clearly more gruff way hinting at the maturity, experimentation, and arguments within the band at the
time. Ringo was absent so the rest of the band took up his duties, not that this is noticeable. The lyrics speak of the excitement and relief of flying back home to be with all the ladies and is a clear homage to The Beach Boys. The Californian interlude is quite authentic.

`Dear Prudence’ fades in gently offering an opposite to what the first song displayed. Lennon’s tribute to Mia Farrow’s sister who joined them India only to stay in her room and meditate most of the time. It builds to a jamming climax accompanied by some nice guitar
before coming down to an acoustic fade out.

`Glass Onion’ returns to the heavier feel while referencing many old Beatles hits. The lyrics are deliberately messy and confusing, full of potential mystery and ideas. Mostly it is Lennon having a laugh at obsessive fans and critics obsessing over every lyric, and a challenge for them to decipher.

`Ob La Di Ob La Da’ is a McCartney ditty, a nonsense but nonetheless catchy pop song. It sounds like the band are having fun, contrary to what was actually happening, but also highlights the experimenting mode they were in when they first came up with it.

`Wild Honey Pie’ is an experimental piece with strange guitars, voices and other noises. Basically it is the group stoned, banging together whatever was close to hand and still managing to make a song out of it.

`The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ features a line from Yoko but is more notable for Lennon’s excellent sarcastic lyrics. He sings of a rich American who they knew for a while who happened to go hunting and kill a tiger. Lennon saw him as an upper class mummy’s boy taking an all expenses paid trip to India for some enlightenment that he could then relate to his equally rich friends. The chorus is catchy enough, the song ends in ironic applause and whistling. With a more interesting verse melody it could have been great.

`While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is Harrison’s famous downbeat sounding song about Eastern philosophy, yin yang, everything relating to everything and everyone. It features Clapton on guitar and is usually included in most lists of greatest guitar songs ever. The organs, effects, and Harrison’s vocals combine to create a trippy mood although it was probably intended to sound other worldy.

`Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ is a constantly evolving song with time and tone shifts as well as each part sounding musically distinct. Each part is linked by the gun imagery, and it inspired countless imitators from Halo Of Flies to Bohemian Rhapsody to Paranoid Android. Many of the ideas on the album don’t come off as well as they should have but on this song everything fits.

`Martha My Dear’ is McCartney’s music hall tribute, evoking images of old couple swirling about to gentle piano led songs. The lyrics oppose the feel of the song with thinly veiled insults to past lovers. Many dispute the song’s reference point- McCartney’s dog, his muse, his ex. As with most things it is a mixture of each influence.

`I’m So Tired’ was recorded at 3am, written about Lennon’s insomnia, and has a clear drowsy feel. There is emotional fatigue, the lyrics are angry, and the chorus livens things up.

`Blackbird’ is one of the better songs on the album, harkening back to simpler, more pop times. It is a typical McCartney song, singing of yearning, freedom, with some racial issues thrown in to satisfy the revolutionaries.

`Piggies’ is an interesting Harrison song featuring harpsichord and strings to give a baroque feel- a time noted for wealth and extravagance. This mirrors the lyrics as Harrison sings Orwell style of the rich people as piggies, rolling around in their opulence. Ironic yes given their own wealth, but at this time the group were rejecting all ideas of materialism. Charles Manson felt this was a large influence on his Helter Skelter plan, leading to the deaths of those he felt needed `a damn good
whacking’.

`Rocky Raccoon’ is a folk style McCartney song with Dylan leanings. There is a Cowboy movie style piano and acoustic guitar played over some storybook lyrics. It rounds off the `animal trilogy’.

`Don’t Pass Me By’ is Ringo’s first solo composition. He does his best with the vocals, though the lyrics are as bad as expected and the song has the same rolling down a hill in a shopping trolley rhythm. The strings offer a different feel from the other album tracks but it’s mostly forgettable.

`Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ sees McCartney at his most metal, shrieking the lyrics in an attempt to match the sounds of Daltrey and Townsend. The lyrics simply speak of him seeing two monkeys at it, inspiring the primal, animal instincts in all of us.

`I Will’ is a rather simple, soft love song from McCartney to Linda. The lyrics call back to the early days when music was more important than the words. The song is catchy enough but lacks anything truly memorable.

`Julia’ closes the first side, Lennon’s only solo Beatles song. Unfortunately it is mostly tuneless as the lyrics are good and he sings and plays well. With a stronger melody this could have been a much better song.

`Birthday’ opens the second side in heavy style, blasting out with one of the most famous guitar riffs. It builds and changes with chugging chords, distorted notes, and swirling effects laden piano. It was a clear attempt to return to a more simple rock’n’roll and blues style and leads nicely into the next song.

`Yer Blues’ continues the heavier, dirtier feel with an almost Zeppelin-esque song. It showcases Lennon’s personal demons, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It’s a song which it is hard not to jump around to, filled with good drum parts and intertwining guitar solos. Performing this song for the Stones Rock n Roll Circus renewed Lennon’s love for playing live after years in the wilderness.

`Mother Nature’s Son’ is a better McCartney ballad inspired as with most of the other songs here by his time with the Maharishi,
except here it pays off well musically. The lyrics are suitably ideal, the melodies gentle and hard to shake.

`Everybody’s Got Something To hide…’ is Lennon’s view of his relationship with Yoko and all the negative feelings towards it. They felt they were in love while everyone else was paranoid and edgy. The song is quite heavy with a loud riff at the end of the chorus. Some have also claimed that it is more about Lennon’s heroin addiction.

`Sexy Sadie’ has the famous piano part which sounds like Karma Police but it’s almost insignificant. It is an average Lennon song with some nice, angry lyrics, some strange effects on the vocals and an up and down rhythm.

`Helter Skelter’ was McCartney’s main attempt to make the heaviest, dirtiest, most rock song out there in a time when The Who and other English R’nB bands were taking noise levels moonwards. To an extent it works, the drums are great, the guitar is pretty loud and riff laden, and McCartney sings at his loudest. The Helter Skelter motion of the song is notable, everything swirls and comes around upon itself. This song was one of the major influences on Manson’s already destructive mind as he believed the lyrics contained veiled messages and calls to war. The song fades in and out a few times at the end to good effect, and proves that McCartney was more than a ballad writer.

`Long Long Long’ is a soft Harrison ballad with good drum and piano parts. The deliberately bad production is annoying though and makes it too difficult to listen to.

`Revolution 1′ may be the most famous, most popular song on the album. It is a traditional Beatles song, filled with melody and ideology, with a few guitar effects and plenty of instruments clanging together brilliantly. The version here differs quite a bit from the single most people know, but all the hallmarks of a great song lie in both.

`Honey Pie’ is another unusual song from McCartney showing his seeming obsession with older styles of music around this time. There is a clear WWII vibe and I can’t help hear it now without thinking of Allo Allo or Wish Me Luck. The lyrics speak of a young English woman who makes it big in Hollywood only for her old lover back home to call her to return.

`Savoy Truffle’ is a good song to listen to while raiding the fridge. It is quite jazzy, with lots of brass and guitars, lots of timing shifts and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album.

`Cry Baby Cry’ is based on a nursery rhyme from Lennon’s youth, features the Harmonium again but isn’t a very exciting or interesting song. The lyrics are fine but the music isn’t particularly inspired. It segues into an unreleased song at the end which really should have been included instead, but can be found on bootlegs.

`Revolution 9′ is probably the most experimental piece the band ever produced, a collage of sounds, words, clips, effects all smashed together to create something monstrous. It still sounds awesome today, but is pretty difficult to listen to more than once. It is like falling into a sewer and being swept naked at a million miles an hour through various viaducts of time, surrounded by sights you don’t want to see, like Terry Wogan playing golf with Jimmy Tarbuck’s leg instead of a nine. Understandably it still splits fans; it’s great.

`Good Night’ is a rather sumptuous ending, almost like a Disney composition. Ringo does very well here, the strings are beautiful and the backing singers give it all a good night lullaby feel. It is deliberately lovely, cheesy, but looking past all that it is a pretty good song, and a great ending.

The White Album was the final great departure for the band. Break ups and bust ups followed and everyone agreed they should go back to their roots to try to hold on to their success. At times it is boring, at times it is brilliant but on previous albums the brilliance overshadowed everything else. Here there are simply too many songs and many tracks either don’t work at all or don’t live up to the expectation. This is still the favourite of many fans, largely because it tries so much, covers so much, is brave and unlike anything else. Full marks for trying, full marks for breaking new ground, but mostly (for The Beatles) average songs.

Let It Be – The Beatles

This is either the last or penultimate Beatles album depending on how you look at it, but either way it has a sense of loss and ending throughout. The album is almost more famous for the arguments between members which took place on a daily basis culminating in Harrison leaving and coming back. After not touring for years and pursuing various solo projects, as well as the band’s previous album seeming more like a collection of songs from each member, tensions were high. McCartney felt the group should write, record, and tour together to repair affairs and they should make a no frills, no experimentation simple album as they had before. The other 3 like the bare bones approach, but didn’t like the idea of touring and the film crew following them around every second. In the end the movie is more interesting than the album, while the album is a mix of good songs, throwaway bites, and a couple of classics.

`Two of Us’ is a McCartney song which can either be seen as a tribute to himself and Linda, or himself and John. Beginning with the famous Lennon quote it breaks down into a catchy acoustic ditty. The harmonies hark back to the good old days, the guitar is a gentle folk style, the lyrics speak of happier times, freedom, and nostalgia and features a nice bridge section without a chorus. The easy tone and whistling end suggest that everything in the group was fine, contrary to what we know. It is a good first song let down by a few fillers later.

`Dig a Pony’ is Lennon’s nonsense tribute to Yoko full of pointless lyrics culminating in the chorus where he pours his heart out to his soon to be wife. The false start is famous, the verse and chorus melodies are catchy enough, the guitars are good and Lennon sings in a rough fashion. Again it is not the sound the band falling apart, but definitely shows signs of weariness.

`Across The Universe’ may be the best song the Beatles ever recorded, and it is probably my favourite. Beautiful poetic lyrics which fit the sound perfectly, other-wordly guitars, wonderful simple melodies, an effortless meter for the words to float along, and sumptious production. The Eastern influence is stronger here in theme than in music, yet it is full of strange and foreign instruments. This is the song to play to people who do not yet consider themselves fans of The Beatles.

`I Me Mine’ is Harrisons take on both the egotistical problems of the band and his more personal feelings on wealth, personal gains and rejecting all notions of self for the greater good. The song has a bluesy waltz feel with it’s trumpets and guitars, but bursts into a heavy, rocking chorus.

`Dig It’ is a jam of ideas, words thrown in on the spur of the moment, instruments all jangling together- the sort of thing a band does when warming up or severely intoxicated. The version included here isn’t the best, and again it is throwaway filler.

`Let It Be’ is the most famous song on the album, McCartney’s follow up to Yesterday and superior in my opinion. It isn’t as dreary as it’s predecessor and has more emotion. Again the melodies stand out, full of cadences, the piano suits the sound perfectly and the guitar solo stands out; while it is a rather heavy effect for the song it doesn’t grate or sound out of place.

`Maggie Mae’ is a filler piece, a childhood Liverpudlian rhyme based on a modern folk tale about a prostitute. The tune is ok but it’s entirely pointless and should really have been replaced with something better.

`I’ve got a Feeling’ is another McCartney tribute to Linda, a sign that for him at least things were getting better. Of course there were darker truths as John had divorced Cynthia and Yoko had suffered a miscarriage and no-one was really happy within the band. It continues the blues rock feeling and is more hard edged than most of the back catalogue despite aiming to sound light and optimistic.

`One after 909′ is an early Blues attempt by McCartney brought back to fit in with the overall feel of this album. Written around 10 years prior to this release it shows the American influences on the young songwriters, but also exposes the adolescent songwriting. With all their experience since writing it they managed to turn it into a decent tune, adding plenty of extra riffs and instruments to make it a dance favourite.

`The Long and Winding Road’ is the last classic on the album, a wonderful epic from McCartney which is better due to the production. McCartney’s earlier, simpler version is strong but sounds a bit empty after hearing this. Some say it is over produced, but it is nice for the group to have a song such as this which sounds as if it is backed by an entire orchestra. The lyrics were based on the tensions between the band and a hope that they would all get through it.

`For You Blue’ continues the blues influence with the reference to Elmore James and slide guitar. Harrison’s vocals are perhaps too high for him, and I can’t stand the spoken parts. If it had had a few extra guitar parts or an underlying piano part I think I would like this more but for me it is too light.

`Get Back’ closes the album in rocking style, a good song but another one where McCartney’s vocals annoy me. He creates a story about a couple of lovers, the lyrics are fine, the music is suitably bluesy but it just isn’t a personal favourite.

And so the story came to an end, for a while at least; each member’s solo work features many great songs proving that even if the band was no more the spirit would live on. Record companies would continue to churn out re-issues and greatest hits, but it isn’t until the Anthologies, Blue, Red, and Love that fans had anything new to be excited about. Let It Be ends almost as an opposite to Please Please Me, with four older, more tired, more cynical worn out men belting out some great songs with a more weighed down enthusiasm. If you’re only getting into the band now, start at the beginning and work your way through. You’ll be smiling by the end.

Hippies

If you liked/hated this, feel free to check out my other Beatles reviews in the music section.  

With The Beatles- The Beatles

With The Beatles

With The Beatles is the inferior follow up to Please Please Me bogged down by average covers similar to the ones that stopped the predecessor from being a classic. That said, there are some terrific originals and plenty of signs that the songwriting partnerships are getting stronger. Harrison writes his first song also which is a good if not outstanding contribution, and Ringo even sings well on I Wanna Be Your Man. The album gets off to an excellent start, but has an average middle section before saving itself with a few good tracks towards the end.

`It Won’t Be Long’ kicks off the album in stonking style, full of call and response vocals, and plenty of `yeah yeahs’. It is a high tempo rocker from Lennon which has both an interesting middle section and ending typical of the Beatles songs of this time. These sorts of flourishes prevented what were essentially simple pop songs from becoming monotonous verse chorus verse types. It shows that the group were trying new things and pulling influences from all types of music into their own.

`All I’ve Gotta Do’ has a distinct Motown feel given a moody tone by Lennon’s vocal and features yet another middle section. The lyrics speak of a powerful, lustful relationship where either party simply needs to call the other, and they will come over.

`All My Loving’ rounds off the opening trilogy of great songs in a fast paced style and is notable for the interesting guitar strumming style. The lyrics are similar to PS I Love You in that they are in the format of a letter being sent to a loved one. A simple tale of faithfulness and love to a partner when being away.

`Don’t Bother Me’ is Harrison’s first song for the group and is a departure from the love songs the others had been writing. It speaks of a need to be alone, and the depression, confusion, desire of reconciliation etc which we feel after a split. It features a jazzy, Latin feel and a strong staccato guitar solo.

`Little Child’ in some ways continues the sullen feel with the `I’m so sad and lonely’ lyrics.

`Till There Was You’ is the first cover on the album and is based on a Broadway song. It is a gentle ballad which fits McCartney’s voice but it is made annoying by him singing ‘Saur’instead of ‘Saw’. Picky maybe, but it gets me every time. George’s plying is pretty good here lifting the song a great deal.

`Please Mr. Postman’ is one of the better covers the band ever recorded and could be seen as the definitive version. Lennon adds to the natural pleading tone of the song with his yearning, desperate vocals.

`Roll Over Beethoven’ however is one of the lesser covers and is less interesting than the original. The whole song sounds like a bit of a joke when they play it and you can almost hear the gang laughing as they sing.

`Hold Me Tight’ is a fine song, but is pretty forgettable. It struts along at a fair pace but lacks any interesting guitar playing and while repetitive is still an ok album track. Any song which features clapping though instantly annoys me.

`You Really Got a Hold on Me’ is another poor cover which doesn’t seem to suit Lennon or Harrison’s vocals. The Michael Jackson version is probably the best as it properly conveys the emotion of the song, while Lennon simply sounds drunk.

`I Wanna Be Your Man’ gets things back on track and is probably Ringo’s best song. It is fast, heavy, with some impressive guitars and shrieks that would blow off a mini skirt at a hundred paces. Simple lyrics and a pretty simple tune with no frills, but done with such energy that it can’t fail but be enjoyed.

`Devil in Her Heart’ is a strong cover and repeats the jazzy, Latin feel of previous tracks. Harrison sings it well and the more cynical lyrics also mirror a few other tracks. The guitar playing is nice throughout and the melodies make it fairly memorable. One of the good early ballads.

`Not a Second Time’ is an ok album track, marked by matching guitar and piano playing and again features cynical lyrics, this time sung by Lennon. The melody throughout is catchy and the ending fades out nicely.

`Money’ closes the album with dual piano and bass/guitar and is probably the best version of the song. It features a few screams and fits perfectly with today’s fame hungry world. Not their best cover but an ok end to an ok album.

Overall With the Beatles is a step down for the band if not a step backwards. There are plenty of great moments, but too many fillers prevent the album from being mentioned in the same breath as those which would follow.

As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Please Please Me- The Beatles

Please Please Me

The Beatles first album is an average affair given the heights they would later reach; a mix of covers and catchy pop tunes it was stronger than most records of the day. However now it sounds in parts dated and naïve but is full of the moments which would soon become hallmarks of the most successful band ever. The most important things to note are the energy with which the songs are played and the fact that the music is so good that it covers the simplistic boy loves girl lyrics. The covers on this and a few albums which follow are a weak point and for now the original song writing is fresh but lacks the quality of later Lennon and McCartney classics.

`I Saw Her Standing There’ is as strong an opener as any band could hope for. It is energetic, catchy, and quick and shows off McCartney’s screech which he would become renowned for. A simple, lustful, fun song it grabs the listener and pulls them back into (if listening now) or opens their eyes to (if listening then) the mood of the early 60s.

`Misery’ is another Lennon/McCartney offering the dark opposite to the first song about losing love and the depression which follows. Although this is staple pop theme stuff it still sounds upbeat due to the tempo and is lifted by the little piano inserts throughout. It also marks the first appearance of the scouse harmonies.

`Anna’ is one of the better covers marked by Harrison’s guitar playing and Lennon’s doleful, yearning vocals. Another song to display the darker side of the group which would crop up in later Lennon penned hits.

`Chains’ is one of the lesser songs on the album, lacking the spark of others. The melody is more irritating than catchy but it improves on the original which was never an interesting song.

`Boys’ is a cover of a Shirelles song but I can’t help thinking an upbeat version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow would have been more suited. It shows early signs of the band’s humour though as it is essentially a song for girl bands. Although the band do what they can with it the final result is still forgettable and made worse by Ringo performing it. Personal preference though as I know it was a firm fan favourite.

`Ask Me Why’ is another upbeat sounding number with some cynical lyrics thrown in. Typically catchy with a memorable refrain it nonetheless includes the annoying too high pitched `anything I can do’ moment.

`Please Please Me’ is the title track and highlight of the album. Everything about the song is perfect, from the harmonica intro, the lustful lyrics, the harmonies, the threefold melodies of verse, bridge, and chorus. It is the obvious partner to Love Me Do with the harmonica use and lyrical intent, and it is these two songs which raise the album into greater status.

`Love Me Do’ is perhaps the most famous song on the album and showcases the growing writing talents of Lennon/McCartney even though Paul wrote the majority as a schoolboy. It is a simpler structured song than Please Please Me but perhaps has the more memorable tune.

`PS I Love You’ is another pleasant McCartney number, slower, softer, and more to do with love than sex when compared to other tracks on the album. It is marked by some unusual strumming which just about covers the simplistic and what would be considered today unfortunately as cheesy lyrics. The lyrics are helped by the fact that they seem incredibly personal yet universal as it is the sort of thing all young lovers would write in a letter to their loved one. It is also notable for the lower repetition of certain words in the `treasure’ these three `words’ when we’re `together’ sequence and others.

`Baby It’s You’ is the strongest cover on the album with Lennon’s vocal adding a certain desperation to the feel, and the backing vocals fit in perfectly with the way they were writing their own songs at the time.

`Do You Wanna Know A Secret?’ is another strong song standing out due to its unusual intro before breaking into the main melody. It is well suited to Harrison’s voice and sounds more scouse than any other song. The `oohs’ of the chorus are particularly great and the bridge helps anything from becoming repetitive.

`A Taste of Honey’ is another poor cover and is mainly album filler. It doesn’t feel much like the rest of the album and could easily be chopped or skipped when playing.

`There’s A Place’ begins with the now familiar harmonica of John before kicking into the child like yearning lyrics which sound as beautiful and innocent now as they did then. The dual vocals stretch and sear and make the song an early classic.

`Twist and Shout’ closes the album and luckily it is one of the better covers. The original song is already strong so it was unlikely the Beatles would either ruin or improve upon it. It fits well with the rest of the album as it is upbeat and catchy and shows of the vocal and musical talents of each member. Probably the definitive version of the track

On the whole this is a good album let down by a few dodgy covers. There were other songs that the band had written at this time which never made it on to any studio albums which would have been more suited. A better album than the follow up and a sign of things to come.