Sunday, November 22, 2009

Approximate Alternate Universe:The White(r) Album(s)

Whenever I see articles about how the Beatles 1968 2 LP set - affectionately known as "The White Album" - could have been a single album, I have to disagree. However, I do like to reconfigure it in my mind so that it sounds fresh. Listening to all 30 tracks in the same order for 41 years can make it difficult to appreciate how great these songs are.

I remember getting the album when it was new. My father used to have Thursdays and Sundays off. This would be his time to visit record stores and purchase classical albums, as well as anything I asked for. I would repay him with money from my allowance.

I believe there was snow on the ground the night my father came back with the new Beatles album. It must have been a weekday, as it was dark when I took off the shrink wrap. Not sure of the date - the U.S. release date was November 25, three days after the U.K. street date. He couldn't have picked it up on Thursday, November 28, as that was Thanksgiving. Maybe it was the following week, even though it was just days before my birthday.

My father was magically able to peel off the sticker that was attached the the shrink wrap. It was black words on an orange background. It is still attached on the inner right side of my album cover.


The album scared me at the time. I was about to turn 10 years old. Everything was weird. The album cover was white (to cover up nudity?), the words "The Beatles" were crooked, it had its own number (A1951106). The "White Album" was on Apple Records - but it didn't actually SAY "Apple Records," there was just artwork of apples. The songs were strange - about communist Russia (Lennon/Lenin lyrics, I assumed), doing it in the road, wanting to die, guns, blisters on fingers - what the hell was Helter Skelter ? The Beatles had been getting weirder anyway, but this was like a different band altogether. They didn't look "safe" anymore - the poster collage was unnerving. First the Monkees were canceled, now this.

1969 would be a pivotal time for me. I must have gotten a transistor radio, as well as a stereo with a 45 adapter, for my December birthday, because this is when my musical world burst open. My new favorite band was Tommy James and the Shondells. I started buying singles by the Temptations, the Grass Roots, The Cowsills.

Early in 1969, there was an issue of "TV Guide" with a picture of the Beatles playing on a rooftop. Then I heard "Get "Back" on the radio. The Beatles were my #1 band again. For a while, the "White Album" was my absolute favorite album of all time.

I was wondering- what if the Beatles somehow decided to use their 1968 sessions to make solo albums? The Grateful Dead did something similar in the early 1970s. Here's what I came up with:

Paul's White Album
Side 1

"Back in the U.S.S.R." 2:43
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" 3:08
"Blackbird" 2:18
"Martha My Dear" 2:28
"Rocky Raccoon" 3:32
"Helter Skelter" 4:29

Side 2
"Wild Honey Pie" 0:53
"Birthday" 2:42
"Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" 1:41
"Mother Nature's Son" 2:48
"Honey Pie" 2:41
"I Will" 1:46
"Hey Jude" 7:11

I like the idea of the three "animal" songs together on side one, and the way the album alternates between acoustic to electric, and from guitars to piano.

John's White Album
Side 1

"Revolution 1" 4:15
"Dear Prudence" 3:56
"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" 2:24
"Sexy Sadie" 3:15
"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" 3:14
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" 2:43
"Julia" 2:54

Side 2
"Glass Onion" 2:17
"I'm So Tired" 2:03
"Yer Blues" 4:01
"Cry Baby Cry" 3:01
"Revolution 9" 8:22
"Good Night" (John singing? Guest vocal from Ringo? Yoko?) 3:11

This would be a pretty intense album! All of the "biographical" songs (Prudence, Sadie, Bill, Julia, and "Monkey") are on side one.

Then in January, they get back to the studio to record an album for George
(Based on known songs at that time) :

Side One:
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Savoy Truffle
Let It Down
Not Guilty
Isn't It A Pity
Long, Long, Long

Side Two:
Old Brown Shoe
I Me Mine
Sour Milk Sea
Hear Me Lord
All Things Must Pass

(B-side of the 45 - "For You Blue")