The White Album, 50 Years And Counting

It was 50 years ago today… Image courtesy: Apple Corps Ltd.

The White Album is 50 yeas old now, which gave the music world a good reason to take a long look back. At over 90 minutes and 30 songs, the whole thing kicks off with ‘”Back In The USSR”, a Beach Boys-tinged rocker that Paul McCartney wrote while in India, as a parody to Chuck Berry’s “Back in The USA”. 

That’s a pretty good starting point for an album that’s all over the map. And still, on The White Album (officially The Beatles) there’s a song for everyone, whether you like to hear it slow, loud, sped up, tape looped, electric, or acoustic. As Rolling Stone wrote in its review at the time: “you are either hip to it, or you ain’t.”

When I found the album, or, should I say, it found me, I was still connecting the dots. I came to it in 1998; that’s the year I was introduced to Radiohead’s cinematic The Bends, which seemed to owe a lot to The Beatles. And so I dove in. 

I bought a used copy at the discount record store, went straight home, put on my headphones, and sat back expectantly to hear what the lads were up to this time. If it were 1968, and not 30 years later, I’d have thought the first two songs (“USSR” is followed by “Dear Prudence”) could have alone saved the world. 

The White Album, as a certain clairvoyant named Danger Mouse proved many years later, is the ultimate mash-up-material. There was something insane about the songs, and the way the band could make candy-flavored pop, roots and country, Helter-Skelter-styled metal, children’s music, experimental noise, psychedelics – and let’s not forget, a monkey – all fit into one. 

Ask yourself, as an experiment, which White Album person are you? 
Are you more inclined to a song like “Dear Prudence”, a Mount Rushmore song for The Beatles?
Or George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which has a guest appearance from Eric Clapton, because, why not?
Hey, want to start a revolution? There’s “Helter Skelter” to get started. Want something less tear-gaseous? How about a calmer protest on the acoustic-styled “Revolution 1” – still, to me, a more affecting song than the electric version
“Blackbird”, “I’m So Tired”, “Honeypie”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Yer Blues”, “I Will”, “Piggies” – they could all go toe to toe with any Beatles song, period. The list goes on, from side A to side D. 
And then there’s the year of its release: the turbulent 1968.
Fifty years later, some of the same battles seem to rage, if a little differently. Sitting in my room and listening for hours, with the whole of my 20s and 30s ahead of me, The White Album somehow made it ok to be lonely, be happy, be sad, be triumphant, or at a loss, all at once.
And that’s why it will probably last for another 50 … million years. As long as there is music. And don’t you know? It’s gonna be alright. And life goes on. Yes, how the life goes on