Monday, December 6, 2010

Top 25 Albums #19. The Beatles - The Beatles

Ah, here we are. The first album on my list to be written and recorded by those mop-headed Britons everyone goes on and on about. And this one is a doozy. Released in 1968, The Beatles (or The White Album, as it's more commonly referred to for obvious reasons) had to confront a daunting question: how the hell do you follow up Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? The answer is a sprawling, eclectic, dizzyingly diverse double album in which The Greatest Band That Ever Was crammed in as many songs (in as many styles) as they wanted. Where Sgt. Pepper was a lean and unified concept album (of sorts) with the most lavish and detailed cover art of all time, The Beatles is an erratic hodgepodge, even a mess by the group's standards, with one of the simplest and most (at least seemingly) effortless covers ever: a solid expanse of white blemished only by "The BEATLES" and a serial number. In the spring of 1968, The Beatles took a trip to India to meditate and "get away from it all" under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although it was meant to be a vacation from song-making, Lennon and McCartney ended up writing quite a few songs-to-be, and the whole thing eventually ended on a sour note: Lennon was led to believe that Maharishi had made sexual advances toward Mia Farrow's sister Prudence (herself immortalized on the album's own "Dear Prudence"); in response, Lennon wrote what would become "Sexy Sadie." The original lyrics included the line "Maharishi, you little twat." So, the India thing didn't go too smoothly, and the bad vibes ended up at Abbey Road for the duration of The White Album's recording process and beyond. The tension and strife present in the 1968 sessions is downright legendary, and contributed largely to the final record's composition and sequencing. This context is important to understanding the music, but I think it's time to start talking about the music itself. With 30 tracks and four talents at each other's throats, The Beatles was bound to be one of the group's more uneven efforts. Nevertheless, this is the fucking Beatles we're talking about, so even if the overall thing is a little inconsistent, the music is still godly. Where to begin? The bouncy bassline in "Dear Prudence"? The fourth wall-breaking, self-referential lyrics of "Glass Onion"? The joyful sing-along of "Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da"? The "why the hell is this even here?" weirdness of "Wild Honey Pie"? Eric Clapton's weeping guitar? "When I hold you in my arms, and I feel my finger on yooouurrr trigger, I know nobody can do me no harm"? John Lennon's utterly believable fatigue in "I'm So Tired"? The orchestral flourish that closes out "Piggies"? Jack Fallon's bluegrass fiddle on "Don't Pass Me By"? Paul's scorching vocals on "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"? "Julia"(that would be Lennon's mother)'s "seashell eyes"? The stomping "Yer Blues," in which Lennon claims to "wanna die"? The grimy heavy metal of "Helter Skelter" and it's classic closing exclamation: "I got blisters on my fingers!!"? The headache-inducing musique concrete of "Revolution 9"? The oversize lullaby of "Good Night"? ... Well, would you look at that? It seems I've pretty much covered the whole shebang. The Beatles is definitely a desert island kind of deal, and, helter skelter as it may be, one hell of an album.


  1. The Beatles are overrated. I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but I am. They all harmonize really well, and Ringo loves to beat his skin while holding his wood, I mean those sticks, but in all honesty anybody can use Dom7 chords within standard pop progressions. Look up Jimmy Herring. He really has blisters on his fingers. Long live The Beatles!



    Why, yes.