George Martin, the British record producer who signed the Beatles to their first recording contract and guided them with his wisdom and musical astuteness, was against “The Beatles,” better known as “The White Album,” being a double album. He didn’t think there were enough strong tracks for a 30-song double album, and of course he was right.
Whenever we listen to a Beatles A to Z weekend on a classic rock station, we can’t help but notice that many of the songs we like least and wish the Beatles had never recorded or released come from “The White Album.” The Fab Four’s 1968 effort would have been far more distinguished as a single 14-track album. Of course that would have meant lopping off 16 songs. And these “sour 16,” once gone, should have been gone for good, except for maybe two of them that could have been preserved for a subsequent album.
Whittling down “The White Album” to 14 songs that make the cut.
“Back in the USSR” – This song led off “The White Album” and it should continue to do so. It was inspired by the sound of the Beach Boys and was a parody of Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA.” American conservatives decried the song as being pro communist and an endorsement of Soviet society, which of course it wasn’t.
“Glass Onion” – Kind of a nonsensical song with plenty of references to previous Beatles recordings.
“Savoy Truffle” – George Harrison naming about every kind of sweet that can cause tooth decay.
“I Will” – An acoustic number by Paul McCartney. According to the book “A Hard Day’s Write,” Paul spent 67 takes on this song written about future wife Linda Eastman.
“Julia” – John Lennon proving he too could do an acoustic song. This very personal tune about his “mum” and Yoko Ono may be the best song on “The White Album.”
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – One of George’s greatest songs, with legendary guitarist Eric Clapton playing lead guitar.
“Dear Prudence” – The Beatles wrote many of their tunes for “The White Album” while visiting the Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. “Dear Prudence” was one of those songs, and it was written about Prudence Farrow, the younger sister of actress Mia Farrow, who was attending the same Transcendental Meditation sessions in India as the Beatles. John Lennon was urging her to “come out to play” or join the others and interact with the group.
“Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” – This has sometimes been called the first “white reggae” song, but despite its Jamaican influences the title actually means “Life goes on” in the language of Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe. This could have been a number one song but no songs on the album were released as a single during the time the album was out.
“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” – John offering satire about the Anglo-Saxon male’s love of hunting.
“Blackbird” – This song by Paul has been rumored to be a salute to the African American civil rights struggle.
“I’m So Tired” – Written by John while in India. He laments the things he is missing back home in the West.
“Birthday” – This was a scorching rocker written by Paul for Linda Eastman’s approaching 26th birthday. “It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album because it was instantaneous,” McCartney said, according to “A Hard Day’s Write.” “It’s a good one to dance to.”
“Long Long Long” – The music in this song by George is much stronger than the lyrics.
“Good Night” – This song was written by John as a lullaby for his five-year-old son Julian. The song was given to Ringo Starr to sing and wrapped up “The White Album.” It can remain in place as the closing song on the single album.
Delicate balance maintained. The 14 selections allocate five songs to John, five to Paul, three to George, who was vastly improving as a songwriter, and one written for Ringo to sing.
Songs eliminated. “Sexy Sadie” by John and “Mother Nature’s Son” by Paul were good enough to find a place on a later Beatles album, perhaps “Let It Be” because that album had only 12 songs instead of the standard 14 tracks on many Beatles albums. “Revolution 9,” “Honey Pie,” “Revolution 1,” “Helter Skelter,” “Cry Baby Cry,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey,” “Yer Blues,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Piggies,” “Martha My Dear,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” and “Wild Honey Pie” should have been subtracted from the album.
The Beatles always prided themselves on throwing away their lesser songs, but egos got in the way and they didn’t do that in the case of “The White Album.” A strong single album would have been much preferable to the double album, not to mention that it would make Beatles A-Z weekends a lot more enjoyable.
“A Hard Day’s Write, the stories behind every Beatles’ song,” Steve Turner, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1994
“The Complete Beatles Lyrics,” Hal Leonard Corporation, Omnibus Press, 1982