Happy Xmas (War Is Over) — An Unappreciation

I was driving into the office yesterday morning, and I heard “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” on the radio.  I’m going to level here.  “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is garbage.  Maybe that’s overstating it, but not by much!

The lyrics are uninspired, if not outright trite, and they barely even fit the melody.  (Lennon stole the melody from an English folk song, “Stewball.”  It’s about gambling and a race horse.) Just look at the way John stretches out the word “Now” (as in, “War is over now”) over four notes and an octave of range.  I get what John was trying to do, but his choice was either to write a melody that fit the lyric or rewrite the lyric to fit the melody.  Instead, he went the lazy man’s way out and decided he didn’t give a shit.  Then, for some reason, John sings the song extra-nasally, and I’m not much a fan of Nasally John.  And Yoko should have been buried further down in the mix; when she’s singing along with the Harlem Community Children’s Choir she overwhelms them.

You don’t realize quite how bad the melody for “Happy Xmas” is until you’ve heard the song on bagpipes.  The main lyric line is very atonal, so on bagpipes the song just drones.

This song was John in his overtly political New York phase in the early 1970s, about the time he was working on his absolute worst rock album, Some Time in New York City, and he didn’t put a lot of care into his work in that period.  His idea at the time was that he could start writing a song at nine in the morning, be in the studio by Noon, and have a mixed mastertape by six.  You can tell, listening to the results.  For a cherished Christmas classic, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is pretty bad.

Sarah McLachlan’s version is very nice, though.  She has the voice to make it work, and the production is evocatively lush.

The Beatles Anthology Podcast

Last week the Beatles released a new 3-part podcast that takes a look at Beatles Anthology project from twenty years ago — “British music journalists and Beatles experts Kevin Holwett and Mark Ellen discuss the classic Anthology releases, shining a light on the fascinating stories behind these albums which tell the story of the development of The Beatles career.” — to accompany the recent addition of the Anthology to various online streaming services.

anthology-avatarThe idea of this podcast, it seems to me, is to be a quick guide to the Anthology collections for the streaming audience who is just discovering these twenty year-old outtakes collections.  Holwett and Ellen discuss the content of each of the three Anthology volumes, and they put the songs from each volume into some context in the terms of Beatles history.  Holwett and Ellen have a nice rapport — Holwett, the calm expert; Ellen, the excitable fan.  The episodes are brief, just fifteen minutes each, yet they manage to cover the high points of each of the three collections, pointing out the songs that are worth checking out and noting how the outtakes show the way the Beatles worked in the studio.

This podcast isn’t essential listening, but even so it’s a nice introduction to these collections, even for a long-time Beatles fan like me.  It’s certainly made me think about revisiting the Anthologies and some similarly themed bootleg collections that complement it.

You can find the program on iTunes, but it’s also available through an RSS feed.

Alternate Beatles

Recently I’ve seen the traffic spike on some of my Beatles writings, specifically on alt-history Beatles, so I’m going to assemble a guide to things I written on the subject over the years.

Post-Abbey Road Albums

It’s an interesting game to imagine what the Beatles might’ve done had they soldiered on into 1970.  There’s interesting material on their debut solo albums, they worked together (but not as a foursome) in various capacities in 1970, so it’s not impossible that they could have made one more album.  It’s just a question of picking the right tracks and sequencing them.

I took a shot at it myself with an “album” I called “Hot As Sun,” which, if I don’t say so myself, is damn near perfect. :)

I had later thoughts on “Hot as Sun,” but they’re not essential.

Others have done so, too.  Sometimes, I’d weigh in with my thoughts as to whether or not they worked.

Stephen Baxter, the sci-fi novelist, did, creating an album he called “God.”  (Thoughts on Baxter’s short story here.)

Spencer Leigh made on he called “Finishing School” in an article for BBC Radio Merseyside.  I wasn’t a fan of this one, sorry.

We can’t forget Ethan Hawke’s “The Black Album,” a playlist he created for his daughter which was incorporated into the film Boyhood.

There was even a program on WAMU, “One More Album,” in which a group of Beatles experts discussed the subject.

Suffice it to say, this is a game people have played — and will play for years to come.

Alternate Beatles Albums

The Beatles considered making a Lord of the Rings film.  I pondered what the film and soundtrack album would have been like.

What if The Beatles, commonly known as the White Album, wasn’t a double album?  Here’s my edit.

Other Stuff

BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio play, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition, which looks at a world where they failed to secure a recording contract with EMI.  My thoughts here.

Mark Shipper wrote a fictitious, comedic biography of the Beatles and their reunion in his 1970s novel Paperback Writer, and I reviewed that here.

This list of links isn’t comprehensive — I’ve written much more on the Beatles than this — but it covers as much of my alternate-Beatles material as I can remember penning over the years.

The Plan

This weekend I sat down and did something I never do — I wrote out New Year’s Resolutions.

I’ve never been the resolution-y type.  I’d occasionally make a list, and it would be a vague list — write more, exercise more.

This time, I sat down and asked myself, “What am I trying to accomplish?  What do I want to do?  What will make my life measurably better?”

I came up with some ideas.  I wrote them down.  I came up with some more ideas.  I wrote those down, too.  I typed them up.  I reordered them.  I rewrote a few.  Then I formatted the list for printing, picking some suitably appropriate fonts.

Here’s the list:

1.   Write 1,000 words per day.  Note: Things that do not count: work writing, blog posts, forum posts, e-mails.
2.   Make at least 3 blog posts per week.  Note: Link Round-Ups do not count, nor do Tweet compilations.
3.   Leave the cubicle every day for lunch.  Do not eat lunch at the desk.  Do not work through lunch.  Take a book to read.  Write in a notebook.
4.   Leave work at work.  If deadlines are missed, deadlines are missed.
5.   Eat breakfast daily.
6.   Pack a lunch each workday.
7.   Walk three days a week, no matter the weather, no matter the time, unless there is snow on the ground.
8.   Set the alarm clock for 6 o'clock every morning.  Saturday and Sunday are exceptions.
9.   Make the bed every morning.
10.  Shave thrice weekly.
11.  Submit one job application or resume each week.
12.  Develop a podcast to launch in the spring.
13.  Code new front page for website by April.
14.  Resume and complete The Misadventures Project.
15.  Work through the One Minute Gaelic podcast, and continue with Teach Yourself Gaelic.
16.  Reread The Lord of the Rings and the Lankhmar series, for possible blog series.
17.  Listen to The Lost Lennon Tapes episodes, also for possible blog series.

I’m going to print out three copies.  One I will hang in the office at home.  One I will hang in my kitchen.  And one I will hang in my cubicle at work.  The idea is that they’ll always be somewhere where I can see them, read them, think about them, and internalize them.

Some of these may seem like lifehacks.  I don’t eat breakfast every day.  I don’t usually make my bed; as someone who lives alone, I don’t usually see the point.  I don’t shave because I don’t deal with the public anymore; why be presentable?  I want to implement and reinforce better behavior on my part.

Toward the end, I name some specific things that I want to complete or embark upon.  Some are projects that I began and then lost interest in.  Some are things that I’ve wanted to do but have never started.  I wrote them down to keep myself accountable.

Yes, I really do want to learn Scots Gaelic.  I got far enough into the One Minute Gaelic podcast that I can understand a little of the Gaelic used in Starz’s Outlander.

Tomorrow after work, I’ll stop at Target or Office Max and pick up a daily planner where I can track my progress on these.  And, if more ideas occur to me as the year wears on, I can write them down.

That’s the plan.

If you have any questions on any of these, please ask.

Link Round-Up: December 21

Here are some things I read today that interested me.

Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition

What if the Beatles didn’t get a record contract with Parlophone in 1962?

That’s the subject of BBC Radio 4’s radio play, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition, adapted by Ray Connolly from his novella of the same name.  Originally broadcast by the BBC in 2013, it was rebroadcast again this week, and I streamed it at work this afternoon.

I have two reactions to the radio play, one as a work of fiction and drama on its own terms, one as a speculation on the Beatles and their history.  (I should note that I have not read Conolley’s novella, though I have now bought it for my Kindle.)

Let’s talk about this as a piece of drama first.

As a piece of drama, on its own terms, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition ia enjoyable.  Told from the perspective of Freda Kelly, their official fan club chronicler in their Liverpool days, the Beatles fail to secure a recording contract and, having reached the limit of where they could go as, essentially, a Liverpool bar band, they go their separate ways — John Lennon marries Cynthia and becomes a comic writer, Paul McCartney goes to college and becomes a school teacher, George Harrison stays in music and becomes something of a session guitarist, and Ringo Starr disappears.  Freda is the play’s narrative viewpoint and central character, and she is determined to carry on chronicling their post-band exploits.  Just when she’s ready to pack it in, after a few years of carrying the Beatles’ flame, something happens that gives her a new purpose in life — to reunite John Lennon and Paul McCartney as songwriters, and maybe the rest of the band, too.

It’s a cute radio drama, and Sara Bahadori’s Freda Kelly is a charming and captivating narrator.  The Beatles voices sound generally right, and the characterizations of the Beatles, even in a world without the Beatles, ring largely true.  The end of the play, on a cold morning in January, 1969, isn’t at all surprise, and despite that lack of surprise I had a grin on my face when it happened.  I was impressed with the production of the play; Beatles songs are used at several points in the play to give it a sense of verisimilitude such as in its recreation of the Cavern.  It was entertaining and fun to listen to, and I think Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition is worth listening to.

Now, let’s talk about this as a work of Beatles speculation.

As a piece of alternate history, I’m critical of it.  Every few minutes, it would do something that didn’t strike me as quite right.

I had three basic problems here — the 6 June 1962 EMI session, Ringo Starr, and the butterfly effects.  I’ll take each of these in turn.

At New Years 1962, the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records in London.  The Beatles were turned down; Decca famously said that “guitar groups [were] on the way out.”  Beatles manager Brian Epstein then used the Decca recordings (of which he had an acetate made) to attempt to get the Beatles in the door elsewhere.  In this, he proved successful — eventually, the Beatles came to the attention of EMI and Parlophone producer George Martin.

It has commonly been believed that the Beatles first session with EMI at Abbey Road Studios on June 6, 1962 was an audition.  The Beatles themselves certainly believed that.  However, that’s not what EMI’s paperwork indicates; George Martin signed the Beatles without an audition through something of a circuitous process, as Mark Lewisohn documents in Tune In, yet the play’s point-of-departure turns on the common myth that what was, in fact, their first recording session was an audition.  To be fair to Ray Connolly, Tune In was published at about the same time this play was originally broadcast, and had the Beatles not impressed at the time Martin and Parlophone would have been able to cut them loose quite easily, so he does have some justification for turning history on the myth rather than the reality.

Less justifiable is the presence of Ringo Starr in the story.  At the time of the June 6 session, the Beatles’ drummer was Pete Best, and he was yet to be sacked and replaced by Starr.  (In our history, Best was dismissed by the Brian Epstein, at the behest of the other three Beatles, on August 16th.) The Beatles were certainly friendly with Starr — they crossed paths on a number of occasions in Liverpool and Hamburg, and Starr was certainly the most accomplished and sought after drummer in Liverpool at the time — but he wasn’t part of the band as of the June 6 EMI session.

You can almost sidestep these problems if the point-of-departure for the story comes after the September 11, 1962 recording session at EMI which, if I’m remembering Tune In correctly, fulfilled their initial EMI recording contract, but the play’s initial scene and the Beatles’ recollection of their “audition” better fits the June 6 recording session.  The reason I say “almost” is that, even if you make that one change to the story, Ringo still would have been a Beatle for only a month which makes later events for Ringo less likely than they are in the story.

Or the point of departure is much earlier, say immediately after the Decca audition.  Perhaps the band sacks Pete Best in early 1962, and the knock-on effects of that — Ringo instead of Pete — causes the June 6 session to go badly, which causes George Martin to write the Beatles off as a loss, which leads to the start of the play.  This scenario might work.

This brings me to my third problem — the butterfly effects.  To me, the world Freda Kelly inhabits in Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition seems a bit too familiar.  Groups like The Rolling Stones and The Moody Blues exist in forms that we would recognize — we hear one of the Stones’ early recordings at one point — sidestepping the whole issue of the extent to which British music was a reaction to the Beatles.  (For a really good look at this, especially as it relates to the Stones, see John McMillian’s book, Beatles vs. Stones.) I found it especially questionable that George Martin would be looking for — or even be in a position to be looking for — a band like the Beatles in 1969 in a world where the Beatles didn’t make it.  As a poetic, artistic statement, I understood that creative decision; as a matter of history, I’m quite skeptical.

I’ve just eviscerated something that I enjoyed.  As a writer myself, I understand that there are times where you don’t let the facts stand in the way of your story.  I totally get what Connolly was doing with Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition.  He found a unique angle to explore the Beatles’ break-up and what it felt like, as a fan, to want to see them back together.

Let me explain this thinking.

It’s notable that, in the play, it’s John who leaves the band first, and the other three attempt to carry on without him.  In the summer of 1969, it was John who announced that he was leaving the band, leaving the other three to decide what they wanted to do, and they did record together without John one track for Let It Be — “I Me Mine.”

John becomes something of a house husband, as he did in real life.  Paul continues to write music; in real life, he was by far the most prolific of the ex-Beatles.  George becomes a session man with a passion for gardening, not unlike his own post-Beatles career.  (George seemed to like being a background guitarist.) And Ringo was laid back and unambitious, which describes Ringo’s last thirty years.  (This is not a knock on Ringo; I really like his solo output since Time Takes Time, but he’s doing it because he enjoys it, not because he trying to top the charts or be a name.)

Freda, when she decides to get John and Paul back together, annoys them with her incessant questioning, just as the Beatles themselves were annoyed by fans and reporters over the years asking them when they were going to get back together.  Then, John and Paul have a moment, in the play, that’s not unlike the 1974 Los Angeles jam session with John and Paul during John’s “Lost Weekend,” albeit a moment that turns out to have more lasting consequence than the Los Angeles session.  (Is the difference here that John was married to Cynthia instead of Yoko Ono at the time?  I have to wonder…)

My point is, you can read the play as a commentary on what it was like to be a Beatles fan in the 1970s, wishing and hoping for the band to get back together, told instead through the prism of the 1960s as seen through the eyes of their most dedicated fan.  In that sense, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition is really quite unique and interesting, and the historical criticisms I have are wholly beside the point.

I enjoyed it more than Stephen Baxter’s “The Twelfth Album,” that’s for sure. :)

If you at all like the Beatles, give Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition a listen.  It’s fun, Sara Bahadori’s performance as Freda Kelly is captivating and winsome, and the whole thing is enjoyable.  I really did like it.

On the Occasion of John Lennon’s 75th Birthday

Today, John Lennon would have been seventy-five.

That seems almost impossible to credit.  In our minds, an image burned in from pictures or movies or television or music, he’s always a young man, never quite reaching middle age.  I’m older now than Lennon was when he was killed.  We remember him young, because he never had to chance to grow old.

Five years ago, for Lennon’s 70th birthday, I was in a nostalgic mood.  I listened to all of his solo music in the run-up to his birthday.  I’m not feeling as nostalgic today.  This year, I’ve been so overwhelmed with work (it’s a publication week) that I’ve barely kept my head above water and my musical companion this week has been, oddly, the Malcolm in the Middle soundtrack album.  I’ll probably queue up an album when I get home from work, or maybe I’ll put A Hard Day’s Night in the DVD player (which I’ve not watched in a few years).  I have nothing profound or witty or interesting to say.

Instead, then, let me share a few choice pieces I wrote on John Lennon over the years. :)

Happy birthday, John.

Paul McCartney and the Beatles’ Songwriting Credits

In an interview with Esquire, Paul McCartney was asked about the famous “Lennon/McCartney” songwriting credit and why he has suggested in the past that some songs should be credited with the reverse, “McCartney/Lennon.”

(Without getting overly technical, it has to do with limitations of metadata on digital music files.)

On some of his live albums (Wings at the Speed of Sound, Back in the US), McCartney has reversed the traditional Lennon/McCartney to McCartney/Lennon.  In the 1970s, when Speed of Sound came out, it doesn’t seem that anyone cared.  In 2003, when Back in the US came out, Yoko Ono had Issues with a capital I, she vented in the press, and McCartney ended up looking like a villain.

I think McCartney has a point, and I’d like to think that McCartney and Ono could sit down like adults and come to an agreement — these songs get the standard “Lennon/McCartney,” these songs get “McCartney/Lennon,” and some special songs get either “Lennon” alone or “McCartney” alone.

I know that won’t happen, however.  You see, what I think McCartney fails to understand is that by talking about the issue he’s playing into Ono’s hands.  She has an image of John as the singular genius she wants to maintain, and she enjoys tweaking and denigrating McCartney in public, like when she said he was the Salieri to Lennon’s Mozart.  A conversation like this, which when you read the Esquire original and not the Rolling Stone quotes which I link to here, is thoughtful and measured (and even, shall we say, resigned), but it gives Ono the opportunity to portray McCartney as insecure.  Even though one conversation would bring closure to this issue, it’s in Ono’s interests for there to never be closure.

I don’t blame McCartney for talking about this.  He didn’t bring it up.  He was responding to a reporter’s question.  I agree with him — and I think there are many Beatles fans who do — but I wish he could let it be.

Ethan Hawke’s “The Black Album”

I haven’t seen Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood yet, and despite the rave reviews I may not anytime soon, but there is an aspect of the film that touches on my interests.

At some late point in the film, the character played by Ethan Hawke gives his son a 3-disc mixtape of post-Beatles songs.  It’s called “The Black Album.”

Imaginary post-Beatles albums made up of solo Beatles tracks!  I’ve played that game before; see “Hot As Sun,” my attempt at a hypothetical post-Let It Be 1970 Beatles album.

It turns out that there’s an actual playlist for Hawke’s “The Black Album,” and BuzzFeed has the track list as well as Hawke’s liner notes.  You see, it was originally created for Hawke’s own daughter, and it was incorporated into the film.

I printed off the tracklist and went to work assembling WinAmp playlist files.

(Yes, I still use WinAmp.  It’s very good at what it does.  Just because it’s been discontinued doesn’t mean it’s not a good piece of software.  Would you stop reading a favorite book just because it went out of print?  I think not!)

A couple of things jumped out at me as I reviewed the tracks chosen.  Hawke picked fifty tracks total, and there’s nothing really surprising.  Almost all of the radio-friendly hits are here.  With a handful of exceptions there’s nothing more recent than 1980 here.  There’s nothing edgy here; no “Working Class Hero.”  There aren’t many surprises; Harrison’s “Blow Away” may be the most obscure track here, and McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre,” great as it is and much as I love it, is an odd choice considering that it hit the American charts with all the success of a lead balloon.

The only place where I ran into trouble was in assembling the third disc, and both trouble spots were McCartney tracks.  While I have “Dear Friend” on two live albums (Back in the USA and Good Evening New York City), I don’t have the studio Tug of War version.  Nor do I have McCartney’s Unplugged album, the source of the live version of “And I Love Her” on “The Black Album” playlist.

Like any fan-made post-Beatles playlist, the playlist says a lot about the person who made it.  I think with “The Black Album” Hawke was trying to create a very basic introduction to who the Beatles were in the wake of their break-up and to show that, in spite of the break-up, they went on to make very good music.  He wasn’t trying to scare his real-life daughter with the edgy songs, he wasn’t trying to make his fictional son feel there aren’t still possibilities when things (like the Beatles) end.

Nevertheless, I need some edginess with my Beatles.  And thus, I reworked the third disc.  It started with a need to replace the songs I didn’t have, and it ended with a reconceptualization of the tracklist that achieves the same effect by delving deeper.

The third disc of “The Black Album” is eleven songs long.  The first five tracks are love songs.  They then segue into songs about peace (McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace,” Lennon’s “Imagine”), followed by McCartney reflecting on Lennon (“Here Today”), Harrison reflecting on how “All Things Must Pass,” and then one last “And I Love Her” from McCartney.

This was the structure I saw: Love -> Peace -> Reflections on the Past -> Closure.

I could work with that.  It was missing Ringo.  There were other songs that looked back on the Beatles years than just “Here Today.”

So this is what I did, with notes where I altered Hawke’s version.

  1. Lennon: “Grow Old With Me”
    Hawke uses the version of Lennon’s home demo from 2010 Lennon remasters.  No, I’m going to use the version from the 1999 Lennon Anthology, with the string arrangement by George Martin.
  2. McCartney: “Silly Love Songs”
  3. The Beatles: “Real Love”
  4. George Harrison: “Never Get Over You”
    An addition!  Hawke left Harrison out of the run of love songs.  I can’t really criticize Hawke for that; Harrison doesn’t have any really memorable love songs in his solo career.  That just wasn’t an interest of his.  If you delve down into his albums, though, there are a few, like this gem from Brainwashed.
  5. Paul McCartney: “My Valentine”
    Hawke followed “Real Love” with McCartney’s “My Love.”  We’ve already had a saccharine McCartney love song (“Silly Love Songs”) in the past ten minutes.  We don’t need another.  So, I replace “My Love” with Kisses on the Bottom‘s “My Valentine,” a darker, more mature love song.  (You could also sub in something like Driving Rain‘s “From a Lover to a Friend” here.)
  6. Ringo Starr: “Never Without You”
    An addition, since Hawke left Ringo out of the third disc.  From Ringorama, this is Ringo’s collaboration with Eric Clapton in memory of the recently deceased George Harrison.
  7. John Lennon: “Oh My Love”
  8. George Harrison: “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”
  9. Paul McCartney: “Pipes of Peace”
  10. Ringo Starr: “Peace Dream”
    Another addition, from Ringo’s Y Not album.  Ringo’s work the last fifteen years has been very enjoyable and, dare I say it?, good.  He’s clearly making records for the fun of it at this point.  Yet, he’s producing quality work, and “Peace Dream” is a great example.
  11. John Lennon: “Imagine”
  12. Paul McCartney: “Return To Pepperland”
    Now we’re into really obscure territory.  “Return to Pepperland” comes from an unreleased McCartney album from 1987.  This makes a good turning point to the third segment of disc 3 — the reflections on being a Beatle.  “Return to Pepperland,” besides calling back to Sgt Pepper, is a song in the style of “Eleanor Rigby,” one of McCartney’s portraits of people bustling in their lives.  It synth-y, it sounds very 80s.
  13. George Harrison: “When We Were Fab”
    Now that we’ve turned the page back to Beatle-hood, we have this song from George’s Cloud Nine.  It would have been either this or “All Those Years Ago,” and, frankly, I like “When We Were Fab” more because I feel that George had more distance and wasn’t approaching his Beatle years with the undisguised pain that he had in 1981.
  14. Ringo Starr: “After All These Years”
    A third Ringo track!  This is from Time Takes Time, Ringo’s highly-regarded 1992 album.  It’s not as self-referential as “When We Were Fab,” but it does have the feeling of reminiscence, hence its inclusion.
  15. John Lennon: “#9 Dream”
    This is as close as Lennon comes to a “Beatles reminiscence” song that’s positive.  (“How Do You Sleep?” is pretty direct, but it’s also savage toward McCartney.) “#9 Dream” was, basically, Lennon’s attempt to bury the hatchet with Harrison.  I considered following this with McCartney’s “Flaming Pie,” but I had a better idea…
  16. Paul McCartney: “Strawberry Fields Forever/Help!/Give Peace a Chance”
    The b-side to McCartney’s “All My Trials” single, this is a live medley of three Lennon-penned songs that McCartney performed live in Liverpool during his 1990 world tour.  It doesn’t get more Beatle-y than that, and it’s a better tribute to Lennon, in my opinion, than “Here Today.”
  17. George Harrison: “All Things Must Pass”

And we end it there.  There’s no reason for anything past that.  All things must pass.  There’s nothing more that needs to be said.

It’s a little deeper, a little edgier, a little more recent than what Ethan Hawke came up, but I think it makes the same point and does so in a more interesting way. :)

A Single-Disc White Album

Let’s talk about the Beatles’ White Album.

Recording in 1968, after the Beatles went to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the White Album, thirty tracks long, is famously bloated.  The band came back from India with a wealth of material and the intention to record it all.  Then the recording became long and laborious, Ringo Starr quit the band, some songs were recorded virtually solo, and the result was a mass of music, far too much for a single album.  and George Martin has said of the White Album that, pared down to a single LP of 14 or 15 tracks it could have been the best Beatles album ever.

On Twitter yesterday Mike Taylor asked me if I had looked at his blog post on making a single disc “White Album.” 

I hadn’t seen Mike’s list.  I was curious, so I took a look.

This wasn’t the first time I had encountered the idea of a one-disc White Album.  MOJO had an article on their website (now gone) in July 2008 titled “Toward a One-Disc White Album.”  There were several different configurations given.  One was “Mountain and Valley,” another “The Nice Album,” a third “The Little Black & White Album.”

I put one together of my own at that time.

Side One:

  1. Blackbird
  2. Julia
  3. I’m So Tired
  4. I Will
  5. Martha My Dear
  6. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  7. Long, Long, Long
  8. Cry Baby Cry

Side Two:

  1. Yer Blues
  2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  3. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
  4. Revolution 1
  5. Don’t Pass Me By
  6. Happiness is a Warm Gun
  7. Helter Skelter

Soft stuff on one side, harder stuff on the other.  It’s a nice mix of songs, but look at all the things left off!  No “Back in the USSR.”  No “Dear Prudence.”  No “Everybody’s Got Something to Hid Except for Me and My Monkey.”  No “Glass Onion.”  And that’s just four off the top of my head.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought of this list in more than a few years.  Which is fortunate, because I sat down when I got home from work I made a new version without reference to that one.

I used the same rules that I used for “Hot as Sun,” the hypothetical 1970 Beatles album had recorded an album after Abbey Road.  And I came up with something entirely different:

Side One:

  1. Helter Skelter
  2. Long, Long, Long
  3. Dear Prudence
  4. Martha My Dear
  5. Piggies
  6. Julia
  7. Revolution 1

Side Two:

  1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  2. Cry Baby Cry
  3. Birthday
  4. Yer Blues
  5. Blackbird
  6. Don’t Pass Me By
  7. I Will

And this has the same problem!  There’s a wealth of material that’s just not there!  Interestingly, I ended up using a lot of the same songs.  “Dear Prudence” appears on one, “I’m So Tired” on the other.  The thing is, I like them both.  (The songs, that is.)

The problem with this exercise is that there’s a lot of really good material on the White Album, but not quite enough for a solid and consistent double album.  Yes, there’s dross on the White Album — I cannot stand “Wild Honey Pie,” for instance — but there’s more good to great stuff than will fit comfortably on a single album.

I’m not happy with either of these playlists, not in the way that I’m happy with “Hot As Sun.”  They suffice, but some things have to be sacrificed because they simply won’t fit.

No, I think I’ll stick with the White Album as is, flawed though it may be.  It’s a strange, ungainly, gawky sort of thing, yet I love it anyway. :)