This article is part of a series that we are doing on which Beatles album is the best. At the conclusion of the series, we will offer a poll on the main page asking you to vote on which one was your favorite
In this age of Spotify, online mixtapes, and countless Tweets, it is hard not to feel an oversaturation of any given artist. Marketing campaigns at their core are designed to scream “look at me” in a voice that dares you to deny their existence while burying the viewer under a mountain of gifs, memes, and YouTube clips. From that perspective, it is a refreshing break to even just look at The Beatles’ White Album – its cover barely distinguishable from your standard issue piece of paper with the exception of the band’s name in the lower right-hand corner. It is the kind of simplicity with a message, one that encourages the listener to focus solely on the music and its integrity – something that is never a burden or difficult to do considering, in my opinion, that this album is the Fab Four’s greatest accomplishment amongst a history of exceptional works.
The White Album itself came at a disruptive time in the history of the band – the group had just returned from their trip to India and musical and personal divisions between the members were beginning to surface. During the recording, disagreements apparently got so bad that Ringo stormed out for a bit leaving Paul to pick up the drum track for a couple of songs. It’s hard not to see the theme of tension completely present or lying under the surface in much of the album – I mean there are two songs entitled “Revolution” alone. However, it is in this atmosphere of clashing musical tastes and aesthetic that the band produced some of their best and most distinctive recordings as well as began to develop their solo music sensibilities.
The sheer number of songs (30 to be exact) ensures that the album covers a wide spectrum, which is exactly what it does. Present on the White Album is almost everything the Beatles were, what they came to be together as a band, and the beginnings of what each individual member transformed into their own style. On this album alone the following career themes are covered:
– Your classic McCartney ballad (Blackbird)
– Pre-#9 Dream experimental Lennon (Julia, Revolution 9)
– Harrison demonstrating his vastly underappreciated talent (While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Long, Long, Long)
– Standard pop number guaranteed to be played at any large gathering/used in countless licensing opportunities for the rest of eternity (Birthday)
– Group political statements/songs misinterpreted as political statements (Revolution 1, Revolution 9, Back in the USSR)
– Harrison political statements (Piggies)
– Songs by McCartney that Lennon hated (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da)
– Songs by Lennon that McCartney hated (Revolution 9)
– Song that will later be drastically misinterpreted by individuals for their own interest (Helter Skelter)
– The genius of the McCartney-Lennon song-writing duo (Happiness is A Warm Gun, Cry Baby Cry, pretty much almost every song on this album)
– A throw-back to the early days of Blues-based Rock n Roll (Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?, Yer Blues)
– Haight-Ashbury/flower child anthems (Dear Prudence)
– Gushy love track (I Will)
– “Lets make fun of the public’s ridiculous obsession with our every move” track (Glass Onion)
– McCartney character study song (Mother Nature’s Son)
And they are all great (okay, maybe not “Birthday” but they’re batting at a pretty good average I think) and, even more significantly, sound as original and hit the listener as dramatically as when they were first cued up in ’68. While one could make successful arguments that individual tracks on Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s or even Let It Be are better, there is no work in the Beatles’ catalog that, in my opinion, is collectively as good as the White Album. It is both the essential Beatles primer as well as an album that those who usually don’t enjoy the Beatles (they exist!) find one or two tracks they can enjoy. Overall, the White Album represents not only a continuation of the pioneering and experimental sound created by the Beatles in Sgt. Pepper’s but also a completely different spectrum of songs showcasing their ability to continuously evolve as a band. For that reason alone not only does the White Album represent the best of the Beatles but one of the stand mark albums of all time.