By Jocelyn Codner
There is one album that I can trace throughout my entire life. I danced to it when I was seven, made music videos for the songs when I was 13 and fell asleep to it at 17. My mom can likewise trace the same album throughout her life, as can my best friend and my aunt.?The Beatles’ The White Album, released in Nov. 1968 (actually entitled The Beatles) has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It is more a fixture of the present than the past to me. Not only is it a beloved memento of our parents’ generation, it has successfully found its place in following generations.
This double album’s strange mix of classic hits such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and oddball tracks like “Wild Honey Pie” keep listeners on their toes. The crazy combination of styles and musical visions of the band’s four members was problematic at first. Beatles producer George Martin tried his hardest to get them to hone the album down to a single LP. He lost that battle.
Most of the inspiration for The White Album came from the Beatles’ visit to India. While there, they participated in meditation sessions with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the developer of the Transcendental Meditation technique, but the trip did not end well. Three of the Beatles left angry at the Maharishi, and part of that resentment shows up in the album.
At this point in the band’s career, each member was drawn in a different artistic direction. It was, in a sense, the beginning of the end for them. The album was recorded in fragments, with no more than three of the members together in the same studio at one time. It was not uncommon for them to have three individual sessions going at once. “What marks The White Album as being remarkable,” writes Jeff Terich of treblezine.com, “is how much of an album it isn’t. It’s essentially two discs packed with songs, none of which seem to be related, save for the people who wrote them.” The individual preference for different styles is the main reason for the album’s length. No Beatle would give up any of his own songs.
This fragmented style of recording frustrated the members, and drummer Ringo Star actually quit the band for a time. He ended up returning to finish the album with the rest of the members, mainly because he realized production was continuing, with Paul substituting on drums. This was also when Yoko Ono began making appearances at recording sessions, even performing back-up vocals on a few tracks, including “Birthday.” Her presence eventually led to a larger rift between members.
The White Album is the Beatles’ ninth album, filing in right after Magical Mystery Tour and followed by Abbey Road. Perhaps The White Album‘s immense success is partially due to the fact that the Beatles were at the height of their popularity.
There was a time when the Beatles were not cool. Despite their incredible talent and vision as musicians, they were a fad, and like all fads they faded. During the ’70s it was “un-hip” to like the Beatles. Slowly, they regained their popularity with new generations, but this time instead of being a fad, listeners appreciated their musicianship.
Old and new fans have stayed loyal and keep raising the Beatles to new heights. In fact, The White Album didn’t reach the height of its Billboard standings until over 20 years after its release on Oct. 3, 1987, when it hit number 87 on the Billboard 200. Today the Beatles are a huge part of popular culture and hardly something of the past. For example, the 2007 film Across the Universe was solely based on the Beatles’ songs and has amassed a devoted fan base. Other musical artists draw inspiration from the Beatles. Radiohead uses a bit of the melody from “Sexy Sadie” in their song “Karma Police,” and Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album tests the waters of copyright infringement with its blend of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album. The White Album also shows up in countless articles comparing it to all kinds of different music, and is constantly blogged about. One blogger on Blog Critics Magazine describes The White Album as, “The sound coming out of the stereo speakers floored me. I was instantly captivated….”
When comparing The White Album with other classic double LPs, there is a basic pattern. Take Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., and The Who’s Tommy: All three albums were criticized upon their initial releases, and all were teetering between genius and complete failure. Just like The White Album, in time they grew greatly in popularity. Each one is now frequently referred to as the greatest rock album of all time. These double albums gave the artists room to experiment and break out of their norms. Producing a double album is a very risky move for any band, no matter how well established; the bands could potentially alienate fans and lose support of the critics, but it seems that the long-term rewards are a better pay-off in the end.
Listeners should consider each disc of The White Album independently. Some fans believe that Part 1 is a better, more solid collection of songs, including such iconic tracks as “Back in the USSR,” “Dear Prudence,” “Blackbird” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” On Part 2, the most recognizable songs are “Yer Blues,” “Helter Skelter,” “Revolution 1” and “Cry Baby Cry.” Many people argue that if the album were cut down to a single LP, it would have been a powerhouse of hits. There are more than enough amazing, inventive and solid songs on The White Album to condense down to one mind-blowing record.
The White Album has been rejected, accepted, used, and loved by many in its time. Finally, it has found a place in listeners’ and critics’ hearts alike. It has already transcended generations in my family, and I am sure that it will continue to do so in many others.
Jocelyn Codner is a junior cinema and photography major. E-mail her at jcodner1[at]ithaca.edu.