Obviously it’s a big mess (though I think the degree to which it's a mess is actually exaggerated in popular lore), but that is, as the cliché goes, exactly what is so interesting about it. Because of the conditions in which it was made, of course. It is 1968 and you are a Beatle, and you have nothing to prove to anybody anymore – not the public, not music critics, not George Martin, not even your bandmates … so what do you decide to do? The title The Beatles and the plain white sleeve works so well in light of that – there’s no quote-unquote concept like Sgt. Pepper’s, no movie tie-in, no attempt at even making a cohesive album (although it does make the White Album, in some way, uniquely suited to the post-album iPod era of popular music, if you believe in such a thing). The Beatles is just The Beatles, unfiltered. And it’s a testament to their talent that their most self-indulgent, uneven record is still considered one of the finest ever made by anyone ever despite all that. There are boring bits, and there are embarrassing bits, but it’s fascinating nonetheless; this is the breakup record, not Let It Be.
But not everyone goes in for that. I recently went through The Beatles Anthology (the book, not the TV series or CD set) again and Ringo Starr and George Martin apparently both feel to one degree or another that yeah, maybe they should’ve just made one really good album. To which, on any other day, I scoff and wave my hand dismissively…
…but then I think, what if?
What if you had to cut down the White Album to one album? There’s thirty tracks in all (I’m counting, as most everyone does, the Can You Take Me Back fragment as a part of Cry Baby Cry), so let’s say you get fifteen tracks. That means you have to take fifteen really good Beatles songs and say these are not good enough. What a horrifying proposition!
Well, you know, I had to try it...
So here’s what I’m doing, and if anyone wants to do the same, we can make this a meme, but I’m happy to let this be my private folly (though I’m sure somebody’s already done this before). I am, in fact, going to do this twice.
The first one will be just my 15 favorite songs on a purely subjective level. Not based on “importance” or interest or quality, just the 15 I would rather listen to than the other 15. I’ve made that list, and it wasn’t easy.
But even more difficult is what I’m going to attempt next, and that will be to try and assemble a “proper” single album. Subjectivity has to give way to objectivity. I am going to play Fantasy Producer in my Fantasy Studio; the Beatles have given me 30 tracks but I have to pick 15 based on quality, 15 qui vont tres bien ensemble, if you'll indulge, and I suppose trying to keep everyone in the band happy. And then I have to resequence it as well.
So this is my mad idea. My 15 favorites, coming soon. New album (let’s call it A Doll’s House, eh?) coming probably after much more thought (if ever; might just drive me insane instead).
It'll be grrrrreat!