close your eyes
[music, albums]

XXVI: 1968 The Beatles - White Album

The Beatles - White Album

The self-titled Beatles double album is my favourite release by the fab four. There are at least three main reasons for this choice.

Firstly it is the most varied record they have ever made. 95 minutes full of sparkling ideas going into all kinds of directions. Ranging from surf pop echoes to ska, bluegrass, hard rock, experimental sound collage, film music, folky fingerpicking, several slow ballads, lots of blues and some weird unclassifiable bonusses. The main advantage of this record compared to the others is that it never gets boring, that the succession of songs never ceases to surprise, that there is so much to discover. Behind the versatility of the White Album lies the fact that it is their most collective effort. Calling it The Beatles was rather adequate. Everyone contributes at least one song, even Ringo though Don't Pass Me By is the weakest of them all. Ringo sings on the nicely sugary arranged dreamy lullaby Good Night which closes the album. George Harrison is responsible for four songs of which two are ingenious: While My Guitar Gently Weeps with Eric Clapton playing the phantastic lead guitar and Savoy Truffle which is the most funky (what a great fat saxophone section), psychedelic piece on the album. Paul plays drums on Back in the USSR and Dear Prudence. Here of course the paradoxon that they were a band slowly falling apart comes in. Ringo and Paul had had an argument and Ringo had left the studio for a while.

The second reason I like this double LP best is of a more technical nature. The music still sounds fresh. I hadn't heard most of the 30 songs before I discovered the White Album at the end of the 80's. Only Revolution was a single. And only three other songs (Back in the USSR with the falsetto choir nodding to the Beach Boys, the early ska-ish dance hit Ob-la-di, ob-la-da which I used to hate but like now and While My Guitar Gently Weeps) are on the blue double album comprising the best of their late years. Most Beatles songs may they be as gorgeous as e.g. Strawberry Fields Forever suffer from having been played too many times on the radio. They have become clichés and I can hardly appreciate them anymore.

Finally there is another almost metaphysical cause for my predilection. The Beatles had been in Rishikesh during February/March of 1968, listening to the lectures of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi known for his Transcendental Meditation (TM). There had been frictions in the band and a disappointment of the spiritual trip. First Ringo went back to England, then Paul, finally John and George. But over-all they had calmed down after the LSD-drenched craziness of the Magical Mystery Tour. In Rishikesh they met Donovan who according to legend taught John finger-picking. Of course they couldn't live without making music in India. But they were forced to concentrate on basic, simple music as they had only brought their acoustic instruments. Almost half of the songs on the White Album have either been written in Rishikesh or have been influenced by the meditative atmosphere there. It was as if they had come back to their roots. Before going back into the almost symphonic rock of their last studio record Abbey Road.

Sidenote: Let It Be was a slighter work in between featuring the cosmic(!) Across the Universe as a stand-out. A song written by John under LSD which pointed towards Eastern philosophy.

Two songs on the double album refer to the negative aspects of the Rishikesh experience. Lennon's great, melancholic Sexy Sadie on the extra lessons the guru supposedly gave to the females and the sardonicly titled phantastic rocker Everyone Has Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey which without the monkey part according to Harrison is a quote by the Maharishi.

My absolute favourite on the record is Julia. The most tender and touching love song I know. John is on his own here with his acoustic guitar and he sings about his mother Julia and about Yoko Ono (Yoko = ocean child in Japanese. The seashell eyes are hers.) who had just stepped into his life. John had lived with an aunt and had lost his mother whom he worshipped from the distance when he was 18. Yoko who was seven years older than John was just about to become his ersatz mother and lover at the same time. The way John starts this song whispering

Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you Julia

is the most personally direct he has ever been in a Beatles song. For an outsider like me it is like listening to an intimate, private love letter only destined for the beloved. The poetic imagery of this song to which Yoko apparently contributed is breathtakingly beautiful. The tune is soothing and yearning at the same time. Every time it spins on my record player I have to listen to it attentively, I cannot avert my ears from it. It is so intense.

Here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part XXVI was this post.

P.S. The last song, the lullaby Good Night which nobody would have expected after the chaotic sound collage Revolution 9 namedrops (;-) the title of this weblog:

Close your eyes and I close mine


yeah, it's a hard one to go past. i think i must have heard it all at the time - local radio played it in it's entirety many times and there were a few singles from it in australia at least. but, like you, i was surprised by hearing it all again in the 90s. terrific, mostly timeless stuff.

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So now we know...

...where you got the title. It all makes sense now.

When Radiohead's Hail To The Thief came out, I remember a friend describing it as Radiohead's "white album". I think I see his point. Like the Beatles' eponymous effort, HTTF has the most variety and diversity - every song is different and stands by itself.

And you're so right about Julia - a heartbreakingly gorgeous song.

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i must have heard it all at the time
you surprise me there, phil. either you listened to the beatles in kindergarden or you are older than i had in mind. i thought you were about my age.

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born 1957, fella

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last updated: 2/23/21 8:55 AM
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