The Off-White Album



This has been done a million times before but………

When we recently covered the year 1968 in barbryn’s Spillyears series, the subject of The Beatles’ White Album came up. I said that, much though I loved it, I wouldn’t say I loved any individual song enough to pick as a track of the year.

Not everyone agreed with that but it is one of those double albums that (according to convention) could have lost a few tracks and made a much better single album. Or an even better e.p.

I don’t think that’s right. Part of the appeal of the thing is its sprawling, insane mix of rock, pop, MOR, blues, experimental shenanigans and Ringo.

So I thought I’d ask any of you who care to comment, in spare moments between thinking up puns about rejection, listening to Earworms and campaigning to keep R/R going of course:

  1. What tracks would you definitely save if you had to cut  the original album down to size?
  2. Which (if any) do you be happy to jettison?
  3. What cover versions should I have included to make this hastily assembled fiasco of a YouTube list into something worth playing? (This, of course, is the real reason I posted)
  4. That teddy bear’s nice, isn’t it?



27 thoughts on “The Off-White Album

  1. Interesting idea. I will happily admit to disliking a lot of this album. Mind you, I probably haven’t sat down and listened to it since some time in the early 1970s. For me, it is the kind of album that bands make when they are a) too big to criticise b) given too much time and freedom c) taking too many drugs and d) falling apart.

    What would I keep? To be honest, not a great deal. I’ve just looked at the track listing and split the songs into three groups.

    I would definitely keep;

    “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
    “Dear Prudence”
    “Glass Onion”
    “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
    “Helter Skelter”
    “Revolution 1”

    I would definitely dump;

    “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
    “Wild Honey Pie”
    “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”
    “Sexy Sadie”
    “Honey Pie”
    “Savoy Truffle”
    “Revolution 9”

    The rest I either can’t remember what they sound like or haven’t got any strong feelings about.

    What covers would I add?

    Siouxsie and The Banshees doing “Dear Prudence”, natch.

    The bear is cute, though.

    • Yep, I’m with you Carole. I’d probably also retain Julia though.

      It was the last Beatles album I bought. As I was getting into more ‘progressive’ music, it seemed like something of a regression after Revolver and Sgt Pepper (and Magical Mystery) and, to my mind, the silliness and move back to the middle of the road continued to the end.

  2. I agree it works best as a sprawling mess. There’s a lot of silliness, and that’s a big part of its charm.

    When I was growing up, we often listened to the first LP, but rarely the second, because my mum didn’t much like it. So I have a deep attachment to the first one, and enjoy the second because I don’t know it so well.

    My initial list of keepers came to 22. It’s a struggle to get it down to 14, but here’s an attempt:

    Back In The U.S.S.R.
    Dear Prudence
    Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
    While My Guitar Gently Weeps
    Happiness Is A Warm Gun
    Rocky Raccoon
    I Will
    Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
    Sexy Sadie
    Helter Skelter
    Long, Long, Long
    Revolution 1

    That’s an amazing album.

    Uncut did a whole CD of White Album covers a few years ago, of which the highlight for me was Julie Fowlis singing Blackbird in Gaelic.

  3. I’ll add at this stage that I had the album on cassette for ages so I had to play whole sections if not a whole side. When I finally bought it on CD the two tracks I played most often were Don’t Pass Me By and Piggies, but I’ve always had an almost irrational dislike of Glass Onion. I’m probably just perverse.

    • Piggies is great, and I’m already regretting leaving it off my list.

      A lot of the songs that some find irritating – Ob-la-di, Piggies, Bungalow Bill, Rocky Raccoon – make a big impression on a small child.

  4. Interesting. Count me in as one who thinks the whole sprawling mess should basically stand as it is. I have my faves, lots of mehs and a few dislikes too, but it’s not all about me. Like Exile, i suppose everyone would cough up a different top and bottom five.

    So – fave keepers:

    Glass Onion
    Happiness is a Warm Gun
    I’m So Tired
    I Will
    Yer Blues
    Helter Skelter
    Long Long Long
    Savoy Truffle
    Cry Baby Cry

    Ones i probably just got tired of over time, but like –

    Martha My Dear
    Mother Nature’s Son
    Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
    While My Guitar…

    Ones I could do without – but at least the first four should still be on the album.

    Back in the USSR
    Rocky Raccoon
    Don’t Pass Me By
    Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
    Obladi Oblada
    Both Revolutions and Honey Pies
    Good Night

    That’s pretty impressive list of covers, Steve. Only ones i could think of offhand were Siouxie and Prince, which probably doesn’t count as a cover. Have to say i had no problem with Clapton’s original axework, or George’s pipes.

    Also not really a cover, but some years ago Paul McCartney played at the local university, and they were streaming it while i was at work. His voice was a mess, raw and torn up, which made for a bang up Helter Skelter.

  5. Nobody else had any love for Yer Blues, eh? I love it, and it makes me wish Lennon had explored that blues vein a bit more. Here’s some covers by Elliott Smith and Jeff Healey.

  6. I must admit, I’d feel a lot happier about Yer Blues if it didn’t include the line “Just like Dylan’s Mr Jones” which sounds like something that a much lesser writer would have come up with. A clunky bit of name-dropping that he didn’t need to do and which doesn’t even make sense as “Dylan’s Mr Jones” wasn’t particularly suicidal. OK, I’m a pedant.

    The Unthanks version of Sexy Sadie is in the Marconium but I passed over it in favour of Paul Weller as I hadn’t heard his before. Their performance is something I can’t make up my mind about. Love them and (almost) all their works but there’s something a little bit stilted about that one.

    If you haven’t listened to the playlist and don’t want to plough through the whole thing – and why should you? – the covers by black artists are worth lingering over. Ella’s “Savoy Truffle”, Fats’ “Everybody’s Got..” and Lena’s “Rocky Racoon” all strike me as better than the originals.

    Slade when they were still skinheads is a bit of a grin too. As is the dad and kids’ take on Rev no 9. Well I think so.

    • I’m actually looking forward to ella, and especially Fats. And Lemmy too. I got halfway thru Carole’s list until I had to head off for class.

    • I agree about the playlist. You need the right voice to make Beatles covers work, I think. They have to own the songs, which not all do. Garcia (thanks for including him, sev) loved Beatles songs but he never really did them justice.

      • I quite enjoyed that one for the first three minutes but, blimey, it does go on a bit for my taste. Would have used the Banshees version but I was saving them for Helter Skelter. Which is one of my Desert Island Discs. Probably.

  7. I’ve never heard The White Album but I guess it’s time I delved into it … never heard of some of the tracks, either. I have some beatles on cassette, love songs mostly, and my brother bought me the “Love” CD but I haven’t really got into that, either. Odd, because I like the Beatles in theory. After the guruing is over … (but the bear is cute).

  8. I have to take the ‘warts and all’ approach and keep the lot, even the execrable Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da. I bought the album in 1969 – the shop only had a mono version and I only had one window of opportunity and I only had a mono Dansette at home in my bedroom anyway, so I took it. I played it to shreds. It’s my favourite Beatles album ‘cos it was so varied and it seemed they had matured. It also had some ‘edge’ to it, following on from the psychedelics of Sgt Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour, and the growing fractiousness amongst the band members. Torn between Dear Prudence, Yer Blues and While My Guitar . . as favourite tracks, but that would probably change tomorrow.

  9. The Beatles have never been for me, I’m afraid. (Yes, it’s probably a generational thing – they were my dad’s music and I’m therefore unreasonably prejudiced against them.)

    Couldn’t comment on any decent covers. But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this must be the worst cover of all time:

  10. 1. Only got to this LP a couple of years ago and would keep all of it because of its ‘contrariness’ (similar to The Clash’s ‘Sandinista’).
    2. None
    3. Something from the Ramsey Lewis ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ LP or Bobby McFerrin’s version of ‘Blackbird’
    4. Is it a drugs mule bear?

    • The name could do with a bit of attention too. BEAT -les! Pretty corny. Anyway, guitar bands are on the way out.
      Apparently The Rutles toured and played played to quite large crowds a couple of years ago. Possibly they have their own tribute band.

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