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.