All Writing and Photography © Alex Livingstone/Owner's Closet

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Horses For Courses: The White Album as a single album

While flying down the highway in the van with Tim Easton last year, the subject of a single-disc White Album came up. The suggestion that The White Album would have been better as one album than as two is 40+ years old and still interesting to me. I've often entertained the idea of it being a single disc because I've always thought that there's some serious filler spread across the four sides of The Beatles' November 1968 release.

So that day, in the van on the highway, I came up with the song sequence for what I think would be the best single disc White Album. Many things were considered before I came to my final 14-song sequence. Without a doubt, my choices revolve around which songs on The Beatles are my favorites and which I think are filler. Perhaps that "my favorites" is the only qualifier based in
my reality makes it one of the most stringent parameters. My favorites are my favorites and while some may disagree, it's my opinion and its the basis for my whole side of the argument. By the same token, I'm not trying to say that some of the songs I omitted from the line-up aren't amongst my favorites. It's just that of the omitted tracks, I have decided that there's something about them that makes them less brilliant, more aimless, or just poopy. For instance, I have always loved the song "Martha My Dear" but for the purposes of this experiment, I feel that it's too sappy and theatrical. On top of those qualities, I've read that the song was borne out of McCartney's desire to write a challenging piano piece as an exercise which comes off as clinical. Then you have the fact that none of the other Beatles played on this track, while a quality not precluding a song from being in my one album sequence, it's certainly not a quality benefitting a song whose merits are already in doubt. Lastly, "Martha My Dear" was not a part of the Esher demos.

Though I came up with my single-album sequence (SAS) in September, I hadn't considered writing about my SAS until I heard the complete Esher demos earlier this month. I had heard the songs from the Esher tapes that were included on The Beatles Anthology 3 but I hadn't fully considered the importance of The Beatles' four track session at Harrison's house in May of 1968. By mid-May, The Beatles had all finally returned from Rishikesh, India with a ton of songs for their next album. I now put a lot of importance on these demos because as a songwriter, I know that when it comes time to make demo recordings, the songs that get priority treatment are the completed ones as well as the songwriters' favorites. So in considering my SAS, a song's presence on the Esher tapes is a feather in its cap.

As far as the framework for the length of the album, I decided that like the majority of their albums had up to 1968, it should include 14 songs. The Beatles contained 30 songs meaning less than half were making the cut. Due to obvious inferiority and overwhelming unpopularity, nine of those thirty had no chance of making it on the album. I bet anybody could guess which ones those are. This left a list of 21 songs to be judged by the aforementioned determinants and the rule that Ringo had one lead vocal per album.

Side One
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Yer Blues
Mother Nature's Son
Don't Pass Me By
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Long, Long, Long

Side Two
Sexy Sadie
Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Helter Skelter

One thing that I didn't consider when I came up with this list is the balance of Paul and John songs that seemed to occur on the earlier albums. I know that during that 24-hour long sequencing session on October 16-17, 1968, they decided that neither John nor Paul would have more than two of their own songs in a row. I also determined that if George got one song per side and Ringo got one vocal per disc like they orchestrated on the original release, that would leave 11 songs for John and Paul to split up giving someone the upper hand. Looking back on my John-heavy sequence, I feel like so much of what Paul did didn't really include the other Beatles that John's tunes would naturally win out. "Honey Pie", "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?", and "I Will" just aren't band songs. Julia isn't either, but it shows a side of Lennon that had rarely been seen up to this point and with it's open-hearted sentiment, it has to be included. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is the possibly the one song by Paul that I would put on the SAS against my better judgement, mainly because of its popularity. It got cut in the first round because I find it annoying and I know that it took them forever to get it right in the studio, having tracked the song over and over throughout each day of a week. This to me says that they just weren't feeling it or that some of them didn't think it was worthy enough of their hard work and attention to take it seriously and get it right. Perhaps I would substitute "Everybody's Got Something Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey" with "Ob-La-Di", making it more balanced. Anyway, I reckon I think John's songs are better.

There you have it. I love "Savoy Truffle" and "Cry Baby Cry" and "I Will" and "Martha My Dear" and "Glass Onion" but I just don't think they make the cut. Sue me. Also, I think Harrison's "Not Guilty" would have been a contender over "Piggies".

As I'm sitting here looking at the 16 songs that didn't make the cut, 6 to 8 of those would have made an interesting double EP like Magical Mystery Tour or maybe a couple four song EPs like they periodically released up through July 1966. I didn't spend much time on the sequence but it might look something like...

I'm So Tired
Martha My Dear
Cry Baby Cry

Savoy Truffle
Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da
Glass Onion
I Will

But I love The White Album. Just sayin's all.