A little over fifty years ago, The Beatles broke musical ground with the release of their ninth studio album, the eponymous ‘White Album’. Aptly named due to the blankness and void of its cover, the record featured two little words embossed in the front in Helvetica font: ‘THE BEATLES’, and that was all they needed.
Of course, you already know this. Just like you already know that the album was a complete reversal of their previous child, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. You already know the songs of the double LP back-to-front, and if you don’t, well, I’m not going to regurgitate them for you. There’s plenty of reviews on the White Album, handcrafted over the years by Beatles disciples and critics alike. It’s an experimental album, it isn’t black or white – And yet that’s also exactly what it is.
I’m going to talk about just how important the White Album was, and how it continues to be to this day. The Beatles’ White Album is a stark reminder that originality exists, that the very nature of music is to twist like a cobbled path along windy hilltops. The four British boys took a gamble –They knew everyone might hate their music, that the record label might despise them evermore, and yet it paid off.
Sure, the double LP has tracks that fizzle and drip with that Beatles ‘sound’. ‘Back in the USSR’, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ (An amazing track that shows even the vocal talent of poor Ringo can craft perfection) are all songs that let us know we’re in safe hands, in the safe company of four men who want nothing more than to please us with their guitars and soft vocals.
But the album has tracks like ‘Revolution 1’, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ – All of which are pumped full of aggression and action,with a rawer,more rough sound that The Beatles mastered with all the elegance of a miner’s pickaxe. They hit hard, they hit home, and they more than deliver. But this isn’t a review, and I don’t want to write what people have before me. ‘Helter Skelter’ created the metal genre,’, another fan in their twilight years with a rolled-up cigarette drawls, ‘that’s all Paul McCartney.’
The White Album is experimental heaven. That’s fact, a matter of public record. Some of its tracks are boiled in the cauldron of a mad shaman, concocting his odd spells and casting them on chords wreathed with encryption. What an odd sentence, and yet so fitting for an odd album. The Beatles made history when they released this simply packaged record, and I, for one, believe it to be possibly their best work. I’m sure that’s hardly an original opinion. but just think: the audacity these Beatles boys had to release… this.After ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’, it’s a message we can all take home with us:that originality wins, hands down.
Sticking to a formula is fine, if it works. And as humans we naturally are creatures of routine. In my own personal writing, I stick to the same type of character, the same antagonist, the same setting. But maybe, just maybe, we should take the Beatles’ approach sometime, and go wild.
I’m not trying to preach anarchy here, I’m just trying to emphasise that originality doesn’t seem to matter anymore. In work, in school, in writing, in drawing… in whatever it is, it lacks that originality. It lacks that personal touch. It lacks that ‘Revolution 9’. Not, of course, that I’m telling you to make another ‘Revolution 9’.
I think even Che Guevara would admit one of those is enough. I just mean that we, as a people, should think about how much The White Album can impact us, can help us see the musical light, so to speak.
When I first heard the White Album, I hated it. I found two good tracks among a dungheap of illegible chord progressions and lyrics. But maybe I was hoping for another ‘Sgt. Peppers…’ too much, another ‘Abbey Road’. The first time I heard the experimental paradise that was Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’, I despised that, too. I wanted another ‘Rumours’. I was ready to make my protest sign and march the streets.
So often, we blame bands for being experimental, for taking the control right back into their laps and creating what they want to create. To them, music is an ice rink in which it is impossible to fall over. There are many ways to skate, but no ways to stumble. And that’s exactly what The White Album is.
So please, I implore you as another member of the sad human race: Be original, however you take that to mean. And always remember those words that John Lennon sang so long ago.
‘You say you want a Revolution, well you know, we all wanna change the world.”