I was reading a book recently by a chap called David Quantick called 'Revolution' which is about the making of The Beatles' White Album. It was entertaining, but ultimately not very enlightening, and certainly wasn't in the same league as Ian MacDonald's similarly-formatted 'Revolution in the Head'.
In any event it reminded me that this year is the 40th birthday of the record.
I first heard The White Album in Cologne, when I was 11 or 12. At that point I'd absorbed all the Beatles albums that happened to be in my parents' record collection or which they had copied onto tapes (tapes, remember those?) . They had all of them except The White Album and Abbey Road (more on the latter another time).
We were in Cologne because my parents were during a tour of Europe of sorts - my dad is an academic, and at the time we were driving round Europe in a blue and white VW camper van, stopping off at various university towns so that he could be suitably professorial (I'm sure he would put it differently, but you get the gist). We had stopped off at my uncle Ciaran's place, who at the time was in his mid-20s and living with a bunch of slightly eccentric Germans. One of them had the White Album on a couple of cassettes.
Well God, I didn't know what to make of the album (nor did the Germans when I woke them up with it every morning for a week). I loved 'Back in the USSR', misheard the lyrics of 'Sexy Sadie' as 'Sex is easy' (very exciting that for a 12 year old, I must say), and was utterly bemused by Revolution 9.
And I still don't know what to make of it. There are some fantastic songs on it, but as a whole it leaves me somewhat cold, or bemused. I think that I agree with George Martin's initial assessment, that the band should have opted for what would have been an incredible single album, rather than a double one. To my ears, the record sounds like a load of amazing songs interspersed with a load of bootlegs; indeed, much of the Anthology stuff that came out years later could have happily sat on the White Album - it certainly reminded me of it.
Many will swear by The White Album in its entirety. For those of us who are less gone on tracks like 'Wild Honey Pie' or 'Don't Pass Me By', it presents us with a fascinating (and fun) opportunity: to edit it down, and make our own 'single' album version of it. The idea being to reduce the 30 songs to, say, a more manageable 12-14. After some reflection, here is my perfect White Album.
My ultimate White Album:
1. Back in the USSR
2. Dear Prudence
3. Happiness is a Warm Gun
4. Martha My Dear
5. I'm So Tired
6. Why Don't We Do It in the Road?
7. I Will
8. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9. Sexy Sadie
11. Revolution 1
12. Cry Baby Cry
I know, it's sacrilege. But it would have been bloody good, eh?