Album review by Michael Berman
I call this Disc 2 - but of course in the US release I had, Sides 1 and 4 were on one disc, and Sides 2 and 3 were on the other so you could play it on your automatic turntable and only have the flip the discs once. 45+ minutes of continuous music - what a deal! Anyway, let's call it the second disc - it's also the 2nd CD if you buy the box set.
Birthday - A Beatles rock classic that holds up pretty well - and one of the most Beatley songs on the "The Beatles" since it was apparently a collaboration between John and Paul, and recorded by all four of them together. Remix highlights the very cool bass line played by George - Paul plays the lead riff. Yoko and Patty Harrison join in on the high response. The other Beatles may have been angry at John for bringing Yoko into the studio, but it didn't stop George and Ringo from getting vocal cameos for their wives.
Yer Blues - This one has really grown on me over the years. It's almost like the John didn't get Help when he asked and now he's gone to another more desperate place. It's kind of amazing the Beatles went from "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" to "Feel so suicidal, even hate my rock and roll," in just 4 years. Nice name check of Dylan. Recorded live in a closet off the side of the EMI studio. The bleed-through vocals in the last verse add a very cool feel. I mean, there's not that much too it but it's a real high point for me.
Mother Nature's Son - A nice Paul song with what's definitely not his best vocal. Not sure the horn arrangement adds a lot - I kind of like the rehearsal version without them. Slight but pleasant, a marker for a lot of what Paul would produce over the next ten years and beyond. Remix cleans up the horns, which I'm not sure helps much.
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey - Another strong John rocker, and another one that I didn't appreciate as much back in the day. Not a lot to it, but it kicks along nicely with some of George's better lead licks. Percussion sounds great. John was a kick-ass rhythm guitar player.
Sexy Sadie - Always liked this one even before I knew it was a takedown of the Maharishi. (It even scans "Maharishi, what have you done" - but "Sexy Sadie" does sound better. Not sure I ever heard the Hammond Organ before. Nice piano work by Paul. George & Paul harmonies also come through. I know some people complain about the remix, but c'mon - this just sounds so much better. You can always go back and listen to the original, it's not like a film director who tries to destroy the original edit. Good song that sounds better than even.
Helter Skelter - When Paul cuts loose he can rock. This is maybe his best. The bass line keeps everything a little off-balance. Ringo shines with a perfect line just behind the beat. Cool psychedelic (double) coda. It's no wonder Charles Manson thought it was written for him. And I just realized - five in a row with all 4 Beatles. Perhaps the dramatic core of the album, complete with Ringo's wail at the end.
Long, Long, Long - Kind of a sleeper at the end of side three, but really a beautiful song from George. I would have fit right in on "All Things Must Pass". Poignant and gentle, but with another great Ringo drum part - maybe he wasn't the best drummer ever but I just can't hear a song like this without him. (And of course he played on "All Things Must Pass".) This song has really grown on me over the years and is easily in George's top five with the Beatles.
Revolution 1 - Back in the day, this was the only song that the Beatles released in two completely different versions. So I was fascinated to hear the contrast between the slow, almost folky, version here compared with the rock and roll single. But... the single is just better. Go listen, it kicks butt. This is just nice by comparison. And I'm not big on "shooby doo wah"... (Btw regardless of what Wikipedia says, Revolution 9 is *not* the same song. It's not even a song. But we'll get there.)
Honey Pie - Oh Paul. Yes, we know your dad played in a dance band. All the audio tricks and arrangement sugar can't make this into a Beatles song. Next!
Savoy Truffle - A solid effort from George. Horn section sounds like they were left over after "Got to Get You Into My Life" from Revolver - which is a good thing. Nice reference to "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" suggesting that it's... a piece of sugar.
Cry Baby Cry - I love the sort of mysterious feeling this song conjures. John prefigures his piano part on "Imagine". Nice relaxed, semi-stoned, vocal, and more really subtle and effective drumming from Ringo. In the Beatles' canon perhaps not a great song, but one that I've always enjoyed.
Revolution 9 - What to say about this glorious mess. Supposedly the Beatles were ready to move on from psychedelia, and then you have this. Tape loops forward & backward, John, George, Ringo, and Yoko talking. (Paul left out - apparently he was pretty annoyed since he first brought experimental home-recording techniques to John.) I loved to listen to this and try to figure out what was going on. Listening to it today, it stands as an interesting transition in popular music, and you can hear the layers nicely in the remix. But really - how many times are you going to listen to it? It would have made a great outtake to discover on a bootleg... (Yes, Revolution & Revolution 9 are joined at the hip because some of the sounds in #9 appear in an early take of Revolution... )
Good Night - Well, it's a better Ringo number than "Don't Pass Me By" - written of course by Lennon & McCartney. They should have had a little more faith in Ringo's voice - the outtakes without the orchestration and choirs are kind of sweet, despite his wobbly baritone. As it stands, a bit overwrought but hey, it's the end of the White Album and it always will be so it's got it a special place in my heart.
So Disc 2 - several solid rockers, a couple of gentle and evocative songs in Long, Long, Long and Cry Baby Cry, a couple of misses, and... Revolution 9.
The White Album as a single disc?George Martin famously suggested (and Paul McCartney pooh-poohed) the idea that "The Beatles" would have been a better single album than a double. The question is, what would you leave out? It's easy to get it down to 3 sides but 2 is tougher. Let's think about it and I may give it a shot. I doubt any two Beatle fans would come up with the same record... for that matter, I can guarantee no two Beatles would have been able to do it!
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.