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#askNat – concerning a shorter White Album

This week on #askNat I’m responding to a message from Joe D. in North Providence, R.I. who writes:

In several interviews, Beatles producer George Martin has always been of the opinion that The Beatles’ White” Album should have been made into one “great” LP instead of being released as a double album.  Nat, has George Martin ever provided a list of the 14 or 15 songs he felt should have comprised a single LP version of The White Album?

Good question Joe! And yes, you are quite correct. George Martin had said to the other Beatles at the time the White Album was being recorded that he was against the idea of a double album and suggested that instead they make a very, very good single album by reducing the number of songs to only feature their stronger work. Martin confirms this attitude in an interview seen on The Beatles Anthology DVD set. But has anyone cornered our legendary Beatles producer into a specific track listing that he would have compiled? The answer to my knowledge is no.

We should also keep in mind that in 1968, double albums of studio recordings by rock groups were not a very common thing and The Beatles had never released one. In fact the earliest double album that would be classified even remotely as rock would be Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde which had only been released two years earlier. A question may have risen as to how so much material presented together would be received and how would it sell given the additional cost.

The Beatles (White Album Portrait inserts, 1968)

The Beatles (White Album Portrait inserts, 1968)

In the same part of the Anthology film covering the White Album period, George Harrison says that some of the tracks could have been elbowed as b-sides (for singles) but “there was a lot of ego in that band.” He then digresses to being in favor of the double album for the sake of clearing out the backlog of songs that the group had written at the time. Ringo Starr said that in hindsight he felt it should have been two separate albums named The White Album and The Whiter Album citing that it’s a lot of information on a double album. Paul McCartney, alternatively sticks by the album as a double, saying it was fine as it was and that the fact that it has so much on it is one of the things that’s cool about it. To quote Paul specifically he says, “It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles White Album – shut up!”

Personally, I agree with Paul and am a big fan of the White Album just the way it is. That is why I will not speculate on possible track listings if it would have been shortened. I have seen a few interesting web sites that do just that while providing some interesting considerations justifying their choices. In the end, however, shortening means leaving tracks out, and I feel like all the songs on it have their own place and purpose.

Feel free to provide your own opinion, and if you like, your own shortened track listing of 14 or so songs that would have made it a better album. The comments section is just below.

Thanks again Joe for another good question to #askNat.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a designated form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks), but modfied to do both BROW requests and #askNat questions.

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB wall at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.

Here are some links to Amazon to read more or purchase some of the music related to this post:

1) The White Album – 2009 2-CD remaster of the original 1968 double stereo 30-track classic Apple album (in it’s entirety!).

2) Anthology 3 – 1996 2-CD collection of alternates from The Beatles final years 1968-1969, including alternate takes of many tracks from “The White Album.”

3) The Beatles Anthology – 2003 5-DVD remaster of 1995/96 original documentary of The Beatles in their own words with a plethora of exclusive material in the way of interviews, live performances and studio out-takes, etc.

4) Any of your favorite Beatles-related music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

18 people think this is FAB!

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  • Mike says:

    20/20 hindsight makes you want re-evaluate everything….I can’t imagine a single disc ‘White Album’. What do you leave off. I once read ‘…it’s the Aesop’s Fable of rock music…’.

    Also, Nat, wasn’t Frank Zappa’s ‘Freak Out’ a double album from 1966?

    Take care

    • Happy Nat says:

      Yes it was Mike! Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde preceded it (just barely). Thanks for your input! I agree!

      • James Fair says:

        The Beatles left us with their history of music, and I don’t want to mess with history. It is good to know of their input to George Martin and other facts like that, but the outcome was the album as we know it. That was part of the Beatles taking control of their output of music and not the studio heads… You can’t stop a group in their creative groove…

  • Denis says:

    Cortar un disco de The Beatles es algo horrible… Por favor George Martin selecciones las canciones excluídas del catálogo de los Beatles y que aparecen en los piratas o bootlegs y seleccionelas por período y edite uno o varios discos así como Anthology y que sean remasterizados, así evitaremos las piraterías… Temas como Bad To Me, Soldier Of Love, Im In Love, Loved of The loved, How Do You Do It, de la primera época y otras más como Sour Milk Sea, Not Guilty, Child of Nature, etc..

    Translation: To cut a disc of The Beatles is slightly horrible … Please George Martin select the songs excluídas of the catalog of the Beatles and that they appear in the pirates or bootlegs and select them for period and discs as well as Anthology edits one or several and that are remasterizados, this way we will avoid the piracies … Topics like Bad To Me, Soldier Of Love, Im In Love, Loved of The loved, How Do You Do It, of the first epoch and others more how Sour Milk Sea, Not Guilty, Child of Nature, etc.

  • Elliott Marx says:

    I think Denis is on to something, Sour Milk Sea and Not Guilty were ready for The White Album and I imagine that What’s the New Mary Jane and You Know My Name (Look up the Number) were already sitting around.
    Perhaps we should be considering what a weak triple album The Beatles would have been if they had not been wise enough to pare it down to a double album.

    Personally I think the White Album is the best of all Beatles albums. I feel that because the songs had been around so long (due to the stay in India) that they were more thoroughly composed and realized than several of the previous albums. Plus much of the material had been casually demoed at Esther.
    The gentle nature of some of the Travis picked songs still stuns me. The album is gorgeous.

    I feel that Revolution 9, which would probably be the most likely candidate to be booted off by Sir George is perhaps the most important track on the entire release. It was my (and countless others’)first taste of the avant garde and it was (and remains) breathtaking. One of the most influential of all Beatles tracks. I have never felt the need to ‘skip’ it.

    Yep, The White Album is perfect.

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    They had plenty to go around that’s for sure. Considering Paul even recorded a version of The Long & Winding Road in 1968 (I believe that recording made it to Anthology) and he didn’t feel the need to make sure it was on the LP means they had plenty in the tank. It truly had more to do with getting the EMi contract out of the way. Probably so they could start producing true APPLE records which they owned. But things got so screwed up with Apple in short time that plan fell apart between being too lax and Allen Klein, there was little hope things would get better.

    Even though I like the album the way it is, I could see cutting it down or making two separate albums out of it. If you also offered several singles from the LP you had plenty of B-Side material that way. Maybe even an EP? Or, they may have started a whole new project to fit their left overs tracks onto and spun five more classics?

    The reason why we like it the way it is, is because, that’s the way it is. If they had made 3 LPs, we’d love that! lol But I am game for making a shorter version LP. Here’s one possible scenario. Remember, I need to include Ringo tracks (they always did) and Harrison tracks (they always did) and a pretty equal spread of Lennon/McCartney. So here it goes!

    1. Back In The USSR
    2. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
    3. Piggies
    4. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
    5. Don’t Pass Me By
    6. Rocky Raccoon
    7. I’m So Tired
    8. Helter Skelter

    1. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
    2. Cry Baby Cry
    3. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
    4. Yer Blues
    5. Julia
    6. Blackbird
    7. Birthday
    8. Goodnight

    The single would be:

    Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
    Dear Prudence

    • ComingDownFast says:

      @YKMN – I made your White Album alternative an iTunes and listened to it. One of the big things for me with any album is flow. I think yours does that with one exception: I would move “Birthday” to the top of Side Two. To me, it flows better into “Happiness…” than into “Good Night.” Maybe its just instinct to have it as the first track having listened to the originial so many times but I think it fits better in your list there. Great selection though!

      • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

        ComingDownFast, I was going for balance of fast-slow, hard-soft, Lennon-McCartney, and I tried to keep two Lennon or two Macca songs back to back if possible. I also went for overall blend of tracks. One thing you may notice on their albums (solo or as Beatles) you might find a song like Beautiful Night having a “big sound” right before a softer song like It’s Gonna Be A Great Day to finish out the album. Also, without room for Revolution 9, I needed a louder song leading into Goodnight (it’s the perfect lead in for that track) and that was the loudest outside of Helter Skelter which I felt had to end side one. If I could include the heavier version of Revolution, I’d have led into it with that song. Although, that’s two Lennon tracks in a row. lol It gets complicated! lol

        Thanks for making the iTunes track list though. I make my own best of volumes that way to keep listening fresh.

  • Lennonista says:

    I’m with you and Paul when it comes to “the bloody Beatles White Album.” The “what ifs” can be fun, but when I see Dear Prudence left off and Don’t Pass Me By left on, it makes me all kinds of crazy… so I just avoid ‘em. ;-)

    • Lou says:

      Put me firmly in the “The White Album is Great As It Is” camp with Paul and Nat!

      Sure, it’s fun to debate what songs should be left on and off the album (personally, I can’t get behind adding Not Guilty; I can’t get past the lazy lyrics about stealing a vest or, even worse: “but like you heard me said” — shudder).

      But usually, I find people want to cut songs from the White Album based on who their favorite Beatle is, or on their aversion to a particular genre of song. For me, the beauty of the White Album is in its diversity and its messiness. It’s like one of those houses you walk into and it’s filled with great little treasures and oddities all over the place, and you can’t quite tell why the whole place feels so warm and comfortable when it’s really kinda disorganized and overstuffed, but you don’t question it after awhile. It just feels welcoming, like the more the merrier.

      And that’s how I feel about the White Album.

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    I think my album is strong. Why? Because it’s the Beatles! lol But honestly, the problem becomes you have to accommodate George more AND Ringo still gets his song. Goodnight was a John song, sung by Ringo so you have to have both of his vocal tracks on the LP. It probably became a fight between them as well which is why they said, screw it, let’s just put it all out! lol I too am glad they did.

    • Happy Nat says:

      @YKMN: I think you have picked up some wrong info on “The Long And Winding Road” somewhere. It was not recorded until Jan. 1969 and the version on Anthology 3 was recorded on the 26th of that month.

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    Sorry Nat, but this time I am dead right! Not about the recording showing up on Anthology perhaps, (although I said “I believe” and didn’t declare it as fact because I didn’t check before writing my previous post), but about the fact that Paul recorded The Long & Winding Road in 1968. Want the date? lol

    Thursday September 19, 1968, According to Chris Thomas, Paul ran through Let It Be between takes of other songs. He also recorded (during the White Album Sessions – according to Recording Engineer Alan Brown) The Long & Winding Road, but that tape was spooled back up and given to Paul who took it home with him.

    This info comes from The Beatles Recording Sessions page 156. George also ran through Something that day and considered giving it to Jackie Lomax. So actually, they had more than enough great songs to make a third LP if desired. Those three songs combined with others like Not Guilty would have drastically changed that album.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Thanks again YKMN (and no apologies necessary)! I knew he wrote it in ’68 shortly after acquiring his farm in Scotland (the song is based on a winding road near the coast of Kintyre) but wasn’t aware that there was an actual existing recording of it in 1968. I would love to hear that or know where to find it. What threw me off in your post is your suggestion that the Anthology recording was earlier so I put it all together and thought you picked up some bad info (an easy thing to do on The Beatles as I read inaccurate stuff about them on the web all the time). Feel free to set me straight on these things anytime!

      • josefpraks says:

        Concerning early version of The Long And Winding Road song I would like to point to the memory of A. Taylor (their PA) – he remembers to be given an acetate of this song as a goft to his wife … The version was very early “just” Sir Paul on piano, no text (as it was written yet). I am not to able to track the book or find the exact date of this version but it would be great to hear it anyway! Thank you for the great discussions and posts!

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    Nat, I hope my tone wasn’t bad. lol I don’t mean to sit and correct everything but that was one of those things when I read it while reading the book (yes, I read that book cover to cover, lol) it just stuck out so I never forgot it. I forgot about Let it Be and Something, but I recalled that because I wanted to hear that version. Let It Be was merely something he was still working on at the time. But to hear a complete demo version he took home, that would be something (to steal a Macca song title) lol. I’ll check my stuff to see if I have that demo. (checking) NOPE! I don’t have it.

    Anyway, I just wanted you to know my tone wasn’t negative in any way. Heck, we are talking about Beatles! Can’t get mad at that even if I was wrong. lol

    • Happy Nat says:

      @YKMN Thanks and no problems! I sure don’t claim to be perfect here and that also means I do not always interpret comments the way they were intended. That is one of the reasons why I welcome and am very thankful when someone clarifies, corrects or otherwise includes info I might have missed. The other reason is that naturally I want the information here to be as complete as possible, whether it is from me or another of you Beatles scholars out there. It just adds to my feeling that the site has drawn the crowd I wanted it to. Now let me see what I can do about your misplaced comment.

  • Tony Maxwell says:

    Wowww, what a mass compilation of riveting commentary I’ve missed since this was first posted! I’m bad to ‘name drop’ but it just can’t be avoided in this instance.

    Nat, that’s one of my favorite Paul quotes (“It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles ‘White Album’ – shut up!”); along with his similar dismissal of MMT’s critics about it being ‘worthy’ enough for its inclusion of John’s ‘I Am The Walrus’ performance, I really love the comfortable mix of candor and humor he seems to have adopted in the latter years.

    (pure opinion time ahead) Throughout the 80′s McCartney was expected to maintain a certain measure of contrition when speaking of his Beatles years and/or more specifically not allowing himself the proper recognition he deserved (undoubtedly accepted as it is now) in treading that fine line that Lennon’s early death tragically & unexpectedly created in consequence. I believe that’s why a lot of the “shocking new evidence” or exclusive untold stories” about those years continues to surface: people get older (or not), they are less ashamed or embarrassed to reveal certain ‘truths’ that are no longer damaging enough, to theirs or other’s lives, to make any difference, and they make some long overdue cash for telling a story to some tabloid or writing a book about the ‘scandal/tragedy/sad life/one true regret, et al’ subject that will benefit them as it has countless others in past re-telling. (end of pure opinion time)

    Paul no longer has any need for such useless issues of ‘appearance’ or ‘attitude’ that happened to be captured in interviews or films or even recorded music from 40 years ago – if any average person were expected to defend, or explain, or apologize for artistic missteps or over-inflated opinions they espoused in their long ago youth, when they were less than half the humanly-experienced person they are now, then they could well imagine what it has to have been like for those ex-Beatles who still are expected to do so.

    The first thought that came to my mind was Mike‘s when he mentioned Zappa’s double LP, but I’ll take your word for it, Nat- I didn’t know ‘Blonde On Blonde’ was a double LP until reading it here, & I too always thought Zappa’s was the first.

    But I’m at odds in some places with YKMN, Denis & Elliott, like: “Sour Milk Sea and Not Guilty were ready for The White Album and I imagine that What’s the New Mary Jane and You Know My Name (Look up the Number) were already sitting around.” Right you are, Elliott. But to call ‘Revolution 9′ the most “influential” or “important” track on a Beatles album? Personally, I consider it the most indefensibly ‘spiteful’ piece of crap to ever have been etched into vinyl- a huge, glaring middle finger to everyone, not just the other three, George Martin & EMI, but of course to the countless millions of bewildered fans, then and now, scratching their heads & thinking, “surely these guys had some more songs to fill two full albums with apart from this indulgence of audio nonsense, didn’t they?” (Like maybe George’s ‘Sour Milk Sea’ and ‘Not Guilty’?)

    And YKMN, a statement like “honestly, the problem becomes you have to accommodate George more AND Ringo still gets his song” is absolutely insulting on more levels than you realize.

    Your “shorter version LP” track listing is pretty great. The “flow” of tracks 5 – 8 on side one is inspired, an excellent re-imagining. While I would have placed ‘Birthday’ as the 1st track on side two, followed by your #1 – 3 preferences, then #6, 5, 4 & 8, that’s just the sequence I’d use for what you listed – that’s taking into account having to work within the confines of what you listed, which thankfully I nor anyone else should never be required to work with exclusively.

    I’ve never considered myself a huge George Harrison fan, but to reduce him, or Ringo for that matter, to an “accomodation,” do you understand why others like Lennonista could be put off by your exclusion of a song like ‘Dear Prudence’ in your “what if” scenario, or others still could lambast your “strong” White Album for the lack of ‘Martha My Dear’ or ‘Savoy Truffle’?

    Please don’t think I’m singling you out for criticism of imagined ‘White Album’ perfection- Nat himself says “In the end, however, shortening means leaving tracks out, and I feel like all the songs on it have their own place and purpose.”

    I don’t agree with that, either – the White Album has moments of purely embarrassing, self-indulgent waste that the most die-hard Beatles fan will still involuntarily cringe at when they hear it- but it’s not up to you, or me, or anyone else to proclaim exactly what those moments are, because they’re different for everyone.

    “It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles ‘White Album’ – shut up!”

    Alrighty then.

    • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

      (Please read this in a conversational tone. I am not being defensive, just explanatory of what I had posted before. I don’t want to make this a flame thread over the fact I entertained the idea of cutting down a great two record set into one record. Ny tracklist doesn’t change your CD or mine. Thank goodness for that, too! lol)

      Tony, I think you didn’t read all of my posts to this. I concluded that I wouldn’t want it any other way than the way it was released. But you also dismissed my comment about “accommodating George & Ringo” within a shorter LP format as being unthoughtful to George or Ringo. On the contrary, I meant that with more coming forth from both of them, how do you cut down their output to make a shorter LP? I was never a fan of Savoy Truffle as a kid, but I really like that song now. I never hated it, it just wasn’t “important” to me years ago. Now it’s just a great song with some tight horns. I would have preferred Not Guilty, myself, but C’est Le Vie.

      And I always thought Long, Long, Long was a very overlooked song and it should be on a Beatles LP. But where did it fit on my shorter LP? It didn’t because there were more “mainstream songs” that would make a “better single LP”.

      So I totally agree that to cut this album down to one “strong LP” as Martin had wanted, would have been a mistake (as I love the album as is), but had they done it, we would not have known at the time. They would have just put out another album in short time with the rest of their songs anyway. lol I only took the bait of trying to cut it down as an exercise.

      Oh and being a good “record exec” I had to hold a great B-Side for Obla-di, Obla-da as a single. How could I not include Obla-di, Obla-da on the LP? Because we were limited to a certain number of tracks on the LP and I already extended the LP to 16 tracks anyway. lol If anything, it proves you really couldn’t limit that album to less than what it was. (But you have to admit, it would have been a great single, and their singles would not have been on their albums.)

      I wonder if they toyed with the idea of a three LP album? Keep in mind, George Harrison released several songs first being realized during this album on his three LP set, All Things Must Pass. But maybe they were convinced as compromise that 2 LPs was stretching it enough? They had the material for three LPs.

      So you can probably see why there started to be more fighting within the band over whose songs should be on their albums and whose shouldn’t? George certainly had more to give at the time as did Paul. John somehow got away with putting Revolution 9 onto the album but in its defense, after listening to it, it sets up the lilting strings which rise from the ashes of Goodnight like no other song on that album would have. rofl

      Think about this. It was right after this album that Get Back/Let It Be (both Paul songs) started to take shape in 1969. George had already decided he was getting squeezed by John & Paul on albums for tracks (1 per side per album?) and John wanted to suddenly experiment with crazy sounds and musical experiments (which wouldn’t fit onto a Beatles album). So really Paul took the reigns and wanted to push them into more Beatles records and he was willing to give up good songs to the benefit of the band he loved so much being part of. And it was George & John holding back output which caused a lot of unrest during those sessions. They decided to have one more go at it with Abbey Road and they took their scraps and formed one side, and had a few songs from each other them on the other side. But when it came time for solo albums, Paul was spent and John and George had loads of finished songs at the ready. Ringo even had the most success initially as a solo artist. (Where hit singles were concerned).

      DISCLAIMER: The above paragraph was an over-simplification of their situation which was way more complex then anything implied or inferred by what I wrote. My point was just that George had wanted out by the time the white album was finished and John wanted out before it started. So it’s not inconceivable they consciously or unconsciously (and in George’s case he wasn’t allowed to put more songs onto the album) held back output for their own interests. That was my point.

      Anyway, don’t take my cutting down the album for me WANTING to cut down the White Album. I agree with Paul! It’s not a concept album, and wasn’t meant to be one. In fact, I remember my 6th grade teacher telling the class that many albums were selling more and more because of their attractive and colorful album covers and not for their musical content. The Beatles apparently got some criticism back in the day for having great sales added to because of their covers especially Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB and Magical Mystery Tour. So what did they do? They put out a double LP of new material without ANY cover art! Their names wasn’t initially printed onto the cover. It looked like a bootleg. Their images only appeared as small b&w images inside the gatefold and as portraits which were inserted into the LP which you could tack to your wall (Like I did as a kid). (I still have those original images too! Tiny holes where I tacked them up on my wall at age 9? 10? in 1975? lol) Oh and it was a big hit! ;-)

      • Happy Nat says:

        @YKMN To add to your comment – “Ob-La-Di, Ob-L-Da” WAS a single in 1968 in some countries (Austria, Japan and Switzerland). Paul wanted to issue the song as a single worldwide but John and George rejected it (see more info here). It was finally released as a single in the U.S. and U.K. in 1976 to promote the Rock ‘N’ Roll compilation. I’m sort of glad it wasn’t a worldwide single personally in 1968 as the single output was getting a bit “Paul-heavy” (considering the other two ’68 singles “Hey Jude,” “Lady Madonna” as well as the first 1969 single “Get Back”).

        • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

          Nat, the Paul heavy output was because Paul was still caring the most about the band. And his songs stood the best as singles for the pop market. (Isn’t that what they accuse Paul of being, the pop song writer?) That was sort of what I was leaning for in part of my too long post. lol And yes, they have released almost all of their songs as singles at some point to promote almost everything. Some were remixed just for the purpose of being released as a single. I’d like a compilation of those mixes like Got To Get You Into My Life from the Rock ‘n Roll LP & single. Your article about Obla-di, Obla-da was really interesting. I didn’t know about the single with Marmalade on the front and John Lennon on the B-Side. That’s just too odd. lol I bet you have one of those!

          My main point though was that it was not released in the major markets of the US or UK as a single. Or it would have been on Beatles 1 and it would have made that CD too long to fit onto one disc. So I guess that’s a good thing it wasn’t. lol

  • Pescador says:

    Great topic here and enlightening discussion. To throw in my opinion: I think I agree with YKMN saying that we love the albums the way they are and would have loved them equally if they had turned out differently. Therefore we would have considered not only a triple album as being perfect but a single LP version as well – without “Prudence” (or whatever songs would have been sacrificed)…after all, nobody really complains that “Sgt. Pepper” is lacking “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” (or “It’s All too much” which was rejected by Martin in 1967).

    Therefore I am quite sure that George Martin would have been proven right if it had been done his way. However, in this particular case I am happy that the Beatles didn’t take his advise :)

  • Elliott Marx says:


    I have been stewing your comments for a few days now, and I think I can see where our disagreement begins. I did not mean to say that Revolution 9 was one of the most influential Beatles songs, what I should have said is that Revolution 9 is one of the most influential song on The Beatles (the White Album.)

    The Beatles influence before the White Album on popular culture was immense and does not need recounted here. A quick list would include being the genesis of one hundred million garage bands beginning February 1964, sophisticated harmonic changes, the introduction of world and studio-derived elements into pop, turning pop into art, etc. Huge tomes have been written about their influence. No doubt they made dozens of ground breaking artistic decisions.

    The White Album is a tremendous release and, as I said earlier, my favorite Beatles record. However I believe that only two elements of The White Album are massively influential – the newly acquired guitar picking patterns and the avant garde tape collage, Revolution 9.

    Many guitarists develop their Travis picking chops on Julia, Dear Prudence and Blackbird (which isn’t an authentic Travis pattern, but it often played with one by amateurs.) According to legend John learned to play this way from Donovan during their study in India. No Beatles work before The White Album uses this finger style technique. Earlier acoustic guitar pieces like Yesterday or Norwegian Wood are either strummed or simply picked in a creative, perhaps random way – with a plectrum. However after the White Album millions of guitarists reevaluated their acoustics and approached them anew. That sound is now a standard element of rock. Of course better, more precise Travis picking had existed for a generation and a half before the White Album, but it is Lennon who made it acceptable and widely imitated.

    I understand that the recording of Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da was contentious and McCartney was unhappy with the result. I would have been too. Because that song, if given the rhythmic treatment that Paul intended would have been groundbreaking and very influential. Instead it is a throw away and rather childish. He was trying to incorporate the new rhythms coming from Jamaica and flooding the London scene. The Beatles didn’t (or perhaps out of fatigue couldn’t) get those rhythms onto tape. Which I find odd because the Anthology version of You Know my Name has a quite convincing ska section. Ob-la-di could have been a major inspiration for millions – instead Desmond Decker did the trick.

    The White Album, despite its name, is very dark. There is murder – Rocky Raccoon, Piggies, Bungalow Bill. Dark, violent sex – Happiness is a Warm Gun, Why Don’t we Do it in the Road, Helter Skelter, Sexy Sadie. There is a seance in Cry, Baby Cry and suicidal thought in Yer Blues. The whole thing is pretty dark and grown up. I think much of the material stems from the few months away from their fame and constant drug use. Frequent, sustained meditation allowed for introspection. Putting words to this darkness is a task for a poet or songwriter. They did this masterfully in 1968. But rhyming words was only one way to express these themes, Lennon/Ono/Harrison attempted to express their internal horrors through abstract musique concrete.

    Like the gentle picking patterns that taught generations of guitarists right hand finger independence, Revolution 9 turned many toward abstract expressionism sound recording. R9 was not just a freakout recorded to tape. The Velvet’s Sister Ray or much of Their Satanic Majesty Request set the template for freakouts. The idea that sound – not just musical sound, could be chopped up and reassembled or looped and repeated to a maddening point was important. As a child I was scared of Revolution 9, but I was determined not to be. I loved what it promised. And years before I ever picked up a guitar and learned to Travis pick, I was messing around with my little Radio Shack tape decks. I was trying to create my own sound collages – I was aiming for depth and meaning yet my results are hilariously awful.
    But I was truly inspired. Working through Revolution 9 was an essential part of developing as a composer. Of course Lennon was not the first to do collage; John Cage, Stockhausen and others did it first and did it better. But how on earth was a kid in the suburbs supposed to run into that academic music? I contend that the White Album is full of absolutely great, disturbing music. But the only truly new ground was in the approach to acoustic guitars and Revolution 9.

    As far as a middle finger to the fans and each other? I would say Lennon and Harrison’s complicit agreement to allow Phil Spector to desecrate The Long and Winding Road with syrupy strings and obnoxious choir is pretty offensive. McCartney had been clearly betrayed in a manner that is infuriating. Sure it was a hit, but McCartney deserved to have the right to determine the direction of his own song. As I understand it John invited everyone to participate in Revolution 9, but George was the only one remotely interested. By the way, George naming various old-time dances in R9 is one of my favorite moments.

  • Tony Maxwell says:

    YKNM and Elliott:

    There is so very much to respond to from your combined commentary, and I’ll admit to many instances where I relished lambasting opinionated blowhards who quite clearly had no idea of the most elementary, fundamental precepts of the subject they were so blindly supporting, and still enjoy ripping out a few missives, when the occasion(s) and/or their writer’s demeanor demand it, or are just too tempting to ignore outright.

    But what I enjoy even more is having this forum, which includes two such amazingly articulate and reasoned commenters among it’s membership as yourselves, to respond to with what I hope will be at least a fraction of the eloquence and well-informed commentary that you gave to all of us.

    The comment I posted the early morning of Nov 3 was the last time I was online until yesterday afternoon – just a couple of hours after writing that, I got a call from Greensboro, NC, telling me that my best (& more accurately “only”) friend I’ve known for almost 17 years had died in his sleep from a heart attack, with no warning of having been ill, and exactly one year and two days younger than me. It’s been a very diificult time, for a variety of reasons, but I have only this evening given myself permission to read something besides the ton of emails that needed checking, and it was a truly refreshing delight to indulge in your comments (which, in my opinion, are incapable of being “too long,” especially when every idea, opinion and analysis are equally crucial in presenting an entire communication, leaving no intentional ambiguity or need/want of further clarification), and your considerate language in addressing my commentary is impressive on a level that I cannot adequately express, since it’s a singularly unique experience in my life.

    (I’ve already typed so much on just the preface of my responses, I’m not sure I’ll be able to actually complete those responses in this one commentary!)

    YKMN, I apologize for miscontruing your remarks regarding George’s and Ringo’s contributions to the overall accomplishment of the White Album, and would like to discuss it further in another comment that I can hopefully finish by the end of the week.

    Elliott, there are points I would also like to address & apologize to you, too. But you are the only one I’ve ever read who has bothered discussing the ‘Travis’ style (or variations thereof) that The Beatles displayed so beautifully on The White Album, and being an almost 45-year guitar ‘picker’ who spent entire days trying to imitate Merle’s playing on ‘I Am A Pilgrim’, I’m practically splitting open with envy that you seem to be ‘Travis picking’ as a matter of course -I would LOVE to hear some samples!

    And finally, Nat: I’m sorry to have been out of touch recently, but I haven’t forgotten what I wrote you about,and I promise it will be forthcoming soon.

    Until next post, friends

    • Happy Nat says:

      No rush at all Tony and so sorry to hear about your friend. My condolences. Glad to see you back here.

    • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:


      Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I suppose this time of year makes us all think about those we have lost and the good times we shared while we had the chance(s). I trust you shall be doing so with a much more intense sense of loss being more profound with its recent nature.

      As for my posts, have no fear, I am not here to dictate my opinions and thought as anything more than what they are, my thoughts and opinions. lol if I state a fact, I’ll try to back it up whenever possible just so we all can share the information, not to win an argument. (Unless there is a prize at stake, then all bets are off. LOL)

      Nat has created a nice place to talk about a great and fun band, so there is no reason to have anything but fun conversations here. I figure we already will agree more than we will disagree when it comes to the Beatles or we wouldn’t be checking out what Nat has to offer. If this were an Amazon forum, we’d all have to be ready for Monkees fans who insist they were better or whatever the case may be. lol

      • Elliott Marx says:

        Uh-oh – I drove 130 miles to Santa Barbara last weekend to see the Monkees. I think this was my 5th Monkees show – but the first with Nesmith. Boy did they ever have a series of great albums in the 60s. I am happy to report though, that in no way were they better than the Beatles, at least in my estimation.

        • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

          ROFLMAO Oh Elliot, you do realize I reluctantly wrote in Monkees. I could have said Dave Clark 5, Hermans Hermits (who I enjoy a lot) or so many others. I went with Monkees because I have heard some say they were better than the Beatles and not even in a parallel universe could that be true, and I like them a lot! I opted not to go with Rolling Stones because that may actually start an argument. I think the Beatles would win that too, but a stronger case could be made for the Stones. lol

          OK, I opened another door there, didn’t I? lol

  • Elliott Marx says:


    I offer my sincerest condolences to at this time. I imagine this holiday season will be a difficult one for you and am sorry that you have lost a close companion. Good friends are hard to find, and perhaps harder to replace. Your grief is real and palpable, and comes through in your message. We are strangers for sure, but our love for music unites us and that is enough for me. I can not offer much, but you have my appreciation, concern and friendship.

    I love finger picking and am very fortunate that I had an amazing guitar teacher for a few years as an early teen. He not only could play anything, he emphasized music theory. Which served me well for a long time, especially when working toward a degree in classical composition years later.
    With that said I am clumsy, ham-fisted and never practiced with a metronome, despite knowing that I should. I take some pride in the songs that write, but am always embarrassed and slightly ashamed of my playing. For what it is worth my favorite player is Richard Thompson, I do not sound a thing like that master, but I strive. And strive, and strive.

    Best wishes to you this Thanksgiving.

    Hey, I can play a reasonable facsimile of Alice’s Restaurant. That’s seasonal, right?

  • Clare says:

    I agree! There are some weaker points in it but they do all have a place; in a very strange way, as often happens with the Beatles. But it works!

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