Tuesday, November 22, 2005

it was 37 years ago today ...

the greatest rock and roll album of all time was released on november 22, 1968. the beatles by the beatles, or the white album as it is known in pop culture vernacular, is a sprawling, chaotic two record masterpiece that can't be pinned down to any fixed conception of what a rock album should be. even today musicians are trying to emulate the breadth and scope that the white album delivers; it is truly one of the few records that has a little something for everyone. from the beach boys/chuck berry send-up of 'back in the ussr' to the grandeur of the closing track 'goodnight' it has an enduring, appealing magic that still seems to grow with every listen. when taken as a whole it's like a three course dinner, very satisfying, while still leaving room for dessert ... at any rate it is a mouthful of a record.

this was the album that really changed my life. 1968 was a very wierd year, things were changing very fast all over the world (i remember my aunt claiming it was the end of the world during the riots after martin luther king, jr was shot). but i was only 12 so to me that was just the way it was supposed to be. nothing had been normal in my life to that point and that was a time where it felt as if anything goes. that was the year i found sex, drugs and rock and roll. my aunt gave me her old guitar for my birthday in janurary and i was off to the races. constantly listening to songs on the radio and trying to pick them apart for chords or watching shindig and hullabaloo hoping to see the fingers on the frets, (i woulda learned a lot faster if they had the early emp-tv back then). the music seemed to be getting cooler as i got older, like it was following my lead (altho now i know it was the other way around). i started reading and listening to anything and everything ...and i kinda sucked up as much as i could, as fast as i could, from that year on.

the beatles were always on the radar. when i was 10 my best friend's dad was a lieutenant in the las vegas police dept. he got the two of us tickets and we sat in the back of the convention center on that afternoon of august 20, 1964. i sorta remember the band, but mainly we went there to watch all our female classmates pee on themselves over the beatles. i didn't really care about music then (or about girls, unless it was to humiliate them), so i don't feel as it really counts for much. but things changed in the next year or so. my first real album was a copy of 'yesterday and today' that i got xmas of '66. my sis got what she wanted, 'headquarters' by the monkees and i remember these bloody knock-down-drag-outs over who was the best band. we would spend our weekends fighting over this massive, ostentatious piece of furniture that was mom's stereo only to have her cut in and start playing a sinatra record to break us apart (we would flee in all directions at the first hint of frankie. funny how your tastes change as you age, i love that stuff too now!). but in the long run it seems my argument has won out. and i still have that first record in my archives, along with about another hundred or so other beatle albums, 8 of those being copies of the white one because i kept playing them til they were unplayable (plus 4 on cd, because i keep finding lower numbers, daggnnabbitt!, my first white l.p. i got for xmas of '68 is #0307809, i haven't found one lower yet on vinyl, but i'm not done.)

it's now known that the beatles were also going through a lot of changes that year. at the time no one had any idea of the turmoil within the greatest band in the world, the output had slowed but the music was so much better. they were no longer those lovable mop-tops. the fab four had found new loves and interests that made the whole concept of stardom a bit less attractive. earlier in the year all the beatles and their friends and lovers went on a sabbatical to india to study meditation under the maharishi. they left seperately after it was found that his exhaultedness was chasing the young women in the group like harpo marx (john became very bitter in the aftermath and wrote a scathing song about the guru that evolved into 'sexy sadie'). and it would be the last time they would gather as a group for anything other than making records. and they only had that to keep them together at all from that point on ...

the record was begun on may 30th with the initial sessions focused on john's 'revolution' (which was morphed into to three radically different
released versions) and ended on the 21st of october. in between the band had many rows, with even the mild mannered ringo quitting the band for 2 weeks because of the squabbling. of course no word of anything rotten in the land of beatles got out, but the feel of their music on the white album had definetly gotten edgier and in john's case, more personal. gone were the frilly promises of a psychedelic wonderland envisioned only a year ago. this was no mystery tour, it was more like a misery tour. john even reported later that it was really a solo record by the band, each one using the rest to highlight their songs.

yet the white album, with all it's uneveness, is more a beatle record in feeling than 'sgt. pepper', which relied more on studio wizardry over songwriting prowess. each song on the white one is like a celebration of life itself, the loose studio feeling of songs like 'birthday' and 'yer blues' with hooping and hollering all throughout, the little snippets of songs that float in and out, the heartfelt ballads wedged in between the raucous rockers, the sense that every song did not fit with the last, all made for a roller coaster of a ride. even the dreaded 'revolution 9' is a snapshot of the times the beatles were living in with it's aural description of the wars, riots and chaos of 1968. in fact the whole l.p. encapsulates it's surroundings more than any other record, while still sounding relevent and mysterious, even after 37 years of repeated listenings. i have tried to collect as much of the outtakes over the years, and have amassed all that i know is out and about, except for a mono copy of the white one (if ya got one for sale i am in the marrket), take 3 of helter skelter and the 20 something minute version of revolution 1, but i am afraid if i ever do find them my hunger for music will be filled and then i'll just wither and fade away. but i keep looking anyway .

a few rare alternate tracks from the white album sessions on mp3 (via yousendit):
i'm so tired (take 14)
step inside medley (recorded 9-16-68)
sexy sadie (remix from take 117)
revolution 1 (yoko's diary/session mix take 20) 23 min

buy the white album!

along with the beatle's 'anthology' tome, mark lewisohn's essential beatle books, 'recording sessions' and 'complete chronicles' are a constant source of reference and entertainment, a real must for any beatle fan of any age.

not done yet tho ...
here is a link to the charlie manson/white album connection,
and a track from dj dangermouse's mash-up of the white album and jay-z's black album on the grey album... (which is fairly bizarre in it's own right, this cut features rips of helter skelter)
99 problems

... i think that is all i got to say, for now.


Blogger Jen T. (that's me) said...

I knew you'd mention Manson at some point. Everytime I hear it, I think of poor Sharon Tate. It's a good album, though, so I can distance that thought pretty quickly, thank goodness.

9:44 PM CST  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

well, the manson mention was an after thought. it really has nothing to do with the record per se, just as a historical fact, tho it does show the power of music over the mind of weak people who make it out to be what it wasn't meant to, for their own evil means. i still find it facsinating that it is still so revilled for that reason after all these years. but in my mind the record is a great statement without the connotations linked to that grisly event. those poor people will forever be linked to the album none the less.
p.s. trent reznor of nine inch nails lived in that house while recording 'downward spiral', he calims it was inspiration ... the house has since been demolished.

10:02 PM CST  
Blogger griff le riff said...

great looking post sleepy, i have stared for hours at those four portraits in the past... i had my hair like george once, had an old denim jacket like john, tried paul's stubbley look... but i decided to give ringo's 'tash and frilly shirt a miss tho'... bless 'im.

3:36 AM CST  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

yes mr le griff, i have done all the above in the past also, altho i hate to admit it, even had a shirt like ringo's too, but white. i do have a pair of lennon 'working class' glasses that never leave my face and my hair is still longer than george's and have a substatial stubblegrowth now that i don't need to be seen in public.
oh, and as an addem to the previous comment, i couldn't imagine a mass murder done today to the likes of modern 21st century pop pablum ... could you imagine a crime scene with the words 'oops i did it again' scrawled on the walls in blood? i shudder to think.

10:08 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another fab post! I'm a bit younger, so although I heard of the Beatles at the time, it wasn't until 1974 that I got my first Beatles records--singles they were, and I knew I had found something fantastic because the B sides were as good or better than the A sides.
I had all those posters that came with the White Album up on the walls and door of my room, and I would stare at them as I listened to the album, trying to imagine their lips moving. That was before Mtv and the Internet, it's hard to explain that time to today's rock fans. Thanks again for your insights.

9:48 AM CST  
Blogger Laurie said...

Another thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: Sleepybomb and his musical/historical musical posts. Brilliant!

2:19 PM CST  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

tim, my boy, i am so glad to hear your lil beatle confessions, it didn't take me long to corrupt angel into the beatle thingy, that is all i had playing and all over the walls in the old wreckroom at mom's. she had no choice, other than to run away from home ...

ms. L, you are too kind. i was at a loss for a post and lo and behold, the day kinda snuck up on me. but to be sure, i'll always have some meaningless trivial facts to be found in here to amaze and baffle your friends and co-workers with. much to their dismay i'm sure!

9:04 PM CST  
Blogger Snave said...

What a great album... was then, still is today! Thanks for posting such a great tribute!

I remember getting my copy for Christmas the year it was released, when I was 11. We were spending Christmas at my grandmother's house, and I had to play it on her crappy old player, but it was a revelation, even through tinny speakers and via a tone-arm that I swore would leave curly vinyl shavings as it grooved it's way through the record. With no song titles listed on the outside, I didn't have the faintest idea what to expect, but I was desperately hoping that "Hey Jude" and that single's flip-side "Revolution" would be included. Disappointed to find neither, I was somewhat glum about firing up Side One, but that evaporated as soon as the guitars started fading in.

What a weird, creative, druggy, fantastical listening experience! I was mesmerized, spending hours looking at the lyric sheet, staring at the posters, becoming one with the album as much as I could. What kind of drugs did these guys take to come up with such far-out ideas? My inquiring mind wanted to know! Heh...

I replaced my original copy during college, and I still have both the original the replacement. The White Album was one of the first things I bought on CD in 1987. It's my Number One album of all time, and it always will be.

Thanks again for your article, Sleepy. Now, it's time to go listen to "Sexy Sadie"!

1:04 PM CST  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

funny thing, but the beatles just don't do it for me, the way they do for so many. I guess if there was an album from the 60s that still knocks my socks off, it's highway 61 revisited by weird bob (blood on the tracks still turns my crank too!). More and more, though, I keep going back to all kinds of roots music...even more so since I started playing the button accordion - along with some jazz material I can't stop listening too - Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders -that kind of stuff.

10:49 PM CST  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

mr snave, seems we are quite alike, i was just a year older when i got my first copy. the thing about hey jude not being on the lp was theat the beatles always released singles separately from the albums ... but we did get 2 extra versions of revolution on the white lp, i always thought that made up for it then. besides, hey jude was so played by the time the lp came out i was glad they used the space for new tunes, even '#9'.

mr anchovy, i can understand that the beatles aren't everyones bag, but from the white album i gained a huge respect for other music. the diversity of sounds and styles on that record made me hunt down everything i could (and still do). my tastes in all music grew from that one lp. it opened doors i never knew existed, reggae, blues, country (the good stuff, not that pablum they call country) and from there to more experimental stuff. even revolution 9 was an eye opener to new and exotic sounds like the ones you mention (it was also a precursor to all the sampled and looped music i dabble with on a daily basis, but with out 7 8-track machines). and it was from the beatles i found to love and enjoy dylan very much (he was infuenced by the boys just as much as they were by him). today i listen to and hunt down the most obscure stuff i can, and my archives are just about filled. but i'll always go back to the white one as the point of departure. it is still the greatest rock lp ever, but there are others i consider just as important in other genres. tho i have to give it up to the stones for turning me on to robert johnson and delta blues, which is my current fixation de jour.
(its cool you play the accordian, i had one a few years back that fell apart from age and wear, today my fave instrument is my dobro and i spend way too much time trying to figure out how all those old guys made theirs sing and moan using just a slide and a feeling)

12:13 PM CST  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

Your comments are well taken, sleepybomb. I'd love to mess around with a dobro...for now, though, the accordions, button and piano, are keeping out of trouble. If you like old blues, check out Dr. Oakroot, who makes and plays cigarbox guitar. I enjoy his sensibility, even if it is sometimes constricted by a fairly limited vocal range.

6:51 PM CST  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

i gotta admit i had never heard of cigarbox guitars, but the sound is really cool. thanks for the heads up mr anchovy. i will go back to that site often.

2:14 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I missed it...please post them again...please please please..

2:01 AM CST  
Blogger Snave said...

Mr. A, Blood On the Tracks, John Wesley HArding and Blonde On Blonde are a few of my favorite albums, and I also love Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home... even if the Beatles don't do it for you, you still have good taste in music in my opinion. Dylan rocks.

2:04 AM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only just found your blog and it's amazing; I would like to hear those tracks, could you possible put them up again?

8:04 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's not too late to add....

Trent Reznor took that door from the Sharon Tate house and now has it on his studio in Louisiana. (It survived Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath)

4:10 AM CST  

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