So my Desert Island disc would always be The Beatles or as it is commonly known, The White Album. Oh, it is not my favourite Beatles’ record. That is Abbey Road. It is not the best Beatles’ record. That is Revolver. Yet, The White Album is the one I would want.
Why? It is the eclectic mix of sounds. If you are on a desert island, on your lonesome, then you need to be able to rock out with songs like Back In The USSR or Helter Skelter. Turn it up loud. There will be other times to be reflective and Blackbird, Julia and Long Long Long can give that meditative introspection. Cry Baby Cry might come into its own and when my predicament causes me to lose sleep then perhaps Good Night will be the lullaby to do the trick. Yer Blues is for a heavily depressive afternoon and for celebration there is always Birthday. Revolution can give inspiration for change! Surely no other album ever made has this kind of sonic sprawl
The White Album is also a perfect Desert Island Jukebox. This record has almost a history of Twentieth Century music. Honey Pie is all 1920’s music hall, the closing Good Night brings crooner Ringo into a big 50’s film soundtrack, there is a touch of Caribbean ska on Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and country in Don’t Pass Me By.
Children’s stories that filled Saturday mornings at the Picture Houses in Liverpool are here in Rocky Raccoon and The Continuing Story of Bungalow.
Just back from time with the Maharishi in India, there are some folk hints in the acoustic finger picking style that seemed to have taken up some jamming time with Donovan in the ashram. 50’s rock n roll is in there with a pastiche of Chuck Berry’s Back in the USA on Back in the USSR. Beach Boy harmonies give that same song an early 60s feel too! So many genres.
Scanning the musical history that influenced them is one thing. The White Album goes further. It is not just the history of music until 1968, it takes us beyond 1968 to the future of music too.
The embryonic stages of the Beatles’ early solo records is on here. Julia is the very personal introspection that Lennon would follow up in Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. The sweeping sounds of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a big hint at Harrison’s massive triple album All Things Must Pass. Good Night could be on Starr’s Sentimental Journey. the short experimental, and lucky to be on this great record track, Wild Honey and Can You Take Me Back not even credited are templates for some of the do-it-yourself miniatures on McCartney’s eponymous debut.
Then surely Revolution 9 that no one but Lennon thought should be here is the inspiration of samples and loops that will become central in pop decades later and would heavy metal have got so bit with Led Zeppelin if Helter Skelter hadn’t taken Hendrix and Cream and gave it more bang!
50 years after this album there is a six CD deluxe edition that gives me even more reason to take it to my desert island.
Giles Martin, son of original Beatles’ prouder George, has almost reinvented those scared sounds. I need to disagree with Paul Weller who has said he doesn’t need to hear this remix because the original was good enough for him. I would suggest that Martin takes one of the best albums ever made and somehow makes it even greater.
Stereo was of no interest to The Beatles, a new fangled thing that George Martin did a lazy job of instrument separation in the speakers. Son Giles uses the fifty years of studio knowledge in-between to re-centre the sound.
He did the same job on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, last year. These new mixes give Ringo’s drums a lot more bang and you can hear the ping in every acoustic guitar. There are sounds never before heard and everything is so bright and fresh. It is not going too far to say that you are hearing something new. The verve. The energy. The magic of The Beatles playing together.
The extra CDs concentrate on that last line. Throughout 4 discs of demos and out-takes we get close to The Beatles than ever before. First the Esher sessions recorded in Harrison’s house at Kinfauns give us access to 27 songs that had mostly been written in India over the previous two months. It is fascinating and satisfying listen. Acoustic versions of Back In The USSR, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Yer Blues and a delicate Julia where the guitar playing goes askew but not the intent in Lennon’s soul
You got to ask too how Not Guilty and Junk didn’t make the record but you’re glad that John’s Child Of Nature waited to flower into Jealous Guy at a later stage.
The other discs throw up ten minutes plus versions of Helter Skelter and Revolution that reveal The Beatles loving a jam. There are embryonic versions of Let It Be, Hey Jude and Lady Madonna and rarities such as (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care and Blue Moon. The comedy of nonsense track Los Paranoias made my daughter question the money her dad handed over for this but I love this Beatlefest so much that I even love the instrumental out-take of Savoy Truffle!
The story has it that this was The Beatles starting to unravel. I do not doubt that the beginnings of the end are growing between these chords and melodies but I think the rumours that they were finished here are highly exaggerated.
They have just come back from what was almost a sabbatical in India that lasted for almost two months. The communal aspect of that sojourn had not had time to fray just yet. This box proves that it was still fun to be a Beatle in the middle of 1968 and that they were cooking when they played together. You can see why McCartney tried to get them to go out live again.
On these White Album extras, The Beatles are tight, the harmonies are sweet, the creativity as energy, angst, love and tenderness. It almost makes you want to get a few weeks on a desert island just to take it all in!