The Beatles - The Beatles (Double White)
How could I go a year without a Beatles album amongst the selection? The challenge was to decide which one. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road or the Double White Album? I could pick any of them but the Double White (The Beatles) sticks in my mind as the one that had the most diverse selection of styles and genres and so provided an introduction to different music to my then young ears. Such is the mental imprint this gave that I can visualise the radiogram and room where I used to dig this out of its sleeve and play it.
The Beatles were able to move between genres with no critical comment or censure and I would say that this blessing meant that I embraced many sounds. I could run through each track of this 1968 record with affection as somewhere there is a brilliant riff, wonderful tune, experimental or surprising arrangements and freaked out lyrics that appealed to me. So lets talk about a few tracks.
Side One kicks off with ‘Back In The USSR’, clearly an anachronism in 2017 with BOAC and the Soviet Union long gone but at the height of the Cold War this intoxicating mix of Rock ‘n Roll, transatlantic air travel and the portrayal of Russians as humans was quite a thing for this 14 year old to absorb. Paul McCartney composed this as a supposed Beach Boys parody. However, the Chuck Berry influence dominates. Intriguingly Ringo Starr didn’t play drums as he quit the band briefly during their recording.
George Harrison composes ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with the magnificent Eric Clapton helping on Harrison’s Gibson Les Paul guitar. This was a coming of age for Harrison, he started to compose more, rather than just play, and this might be seen as the best track on the album. The lyrics are certainly influenced by George’s reading Chinese philosophy at the time albeit at his mother’s house in Warrington! This was a typical Rock song paraded on both sides of the Atlantic over the next decade.
Paul McCartney’s ‘Martha My Dear’ has Music Hall styled piano, I just loved it. McCartney has never been constrained by being hip and this along with ‘Honey Pie’ bears no resemblance to Rock music. This inclusion legitimised my parent’s record collection as a catalogue of enjoyment and made me adopt the position that there are only two types of music – ‘good and bad’.
We have the acoustic beauty that McCartney became synonymous with in ‘Blackbird’. This is such a soothing and healing song with it’s metronomic beat, what lyrics:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
If this is a memorable set of words then the story that ‘Rocky Racoon’, a British folk style tune, recounts is of a Dakota gun fight over a woman between two love rivals with wry humour.
Even Ringo gets to write on the album, his first solo Beatles composition ‘Don’t Pass Me By’. Ringo tracks were something you never looked for but usually his talented mates were often able to elevate anything he wrote to something tolerable. On this then there is a violin/fiddle solo. Which British acts were using this instrument in its US guise on their albums in 1968?
My wonder and education continued with ‘Yer Blues’, a John Lennon composition with a faithful blues treatment that inevitably brings George Harrison to the fore and he nails it throughout. In between passages of fluidity he makes it wail and screech. Delicious.
Even artists of this stature wouldn’t be allowed to sprawl on so many styles and indulgences over four sides of vinyl today. ‘Revolution 9’ is a cacophony of sound and voice clips as they play with the capability of the recording equipment. This was not something that my record collection went near: until now.
After this musical journey we come to rest at the end of Side Four with ‘Good Night’, a song written by Lennon for his young son and sung by Starr. Lush strings turn this into a perfect lullaby and somehow is the beautiful and reflective ending the album deserves.
The Beatles are still revered around the world and not least in the USA. I have stories of asking Americans, on my bike travels, to identify three famous Britons only to have these guys regularly be named. We’re fiercely proud of them, a true gift to mankind.
(This was the last Beatles album to be mixed in mono and stereo. I have a mono version on vinyl. This was only originally sold in the UK. It shifted over 300,000 copies in the UK and so is ‘relatively scarce’. A quick look at Discogs sees my edition selling comfortably between £90 to £200. However, I’m not in a hurry to dispose of it anytime soon).