Monday, April 20, 2009

16 Greatest Albums: The Beatles - 'The White Album'

This is not your ordinary Top 50 List. First of all, the albums are not in any real order in terms of quality or ranking. I merely search through the muddled ether that serves as my cerebral cortex and I grab onto whatever seems weighty enough to drag my fingers down to the keyboard from their normal position, which is on my skull tearing my hair out.

Putting The Beatles up against anyone else in pop music is unfair. Being a musician in the wake of The Beatles is like claiming to be the Messiah anytime after this guy named Jesus was hanging around. You might be able to do it, you might get a few people to believe in you along the way, but the scope of history is not going to pay you much heed.

So let me state that if this were any kind of conventional list, the 13 official album releases of The Beatles would be #'s 1 thru 13 and everyone else would be a very distant 14 thru 50.

Since it is an unconventional list, I am picking the album that is sort of like the Sesame Street song...'one of these things is not like the other'.

'The White Album'. Right away there is something subversive going on because everyone knows the album by a title which is incorrect. Out of all of their albums, THIS one is the one The Beatles were comfortable saying, 'This is The Beatles' about. As an artist, I look on that as a very significant gesture on their part.

The two previous albums had been 'Sgt. Pepper's' and 'Magical Mystery Tour', both of which fictionalize the band to a certain degree. There is a level of myth and creation that sets them apart, that separate the listener from the band. This has its own set of pleasures. And as I said, either of those albums could go at # 1 on any list and it would not be inappropriate.

But if you want a real idea of what it was like to be one of those 4 guys trapped inside of that nuclear bubble of fame, creativity, politics, cultural upheaval, Cold War posturing, media explosion, the dismantling of accepted sexual structure...this is the album to listen to. And those 4 guys collectively said, "This album is The Beatles."

(In a very interesting side note that undercuts everything I've just been typing, legend has it that they wanted to call the album "A Doll's House" but some band called Family released a similarly titled album earlier in the year. I could write 17 books about this one fact. Or read 29 books about it. Or both.)

I just got overwhelmed by merely looking at the track list. I can't go into it. I feel mildly like Nigel Tufnel forbidding Marty DiBergi from even looking at a certain guitar in his collection.

I'll go back to the simple fact that these 4 guys, clearly at the top of their game, having completely restructured the music business, shot a youthful jolt through the crusty bullshit of a decaying outdated moral framework, experienced fame in a completely unprecedented manner...these 4 guys together decided that THIS particular album didn't need an intricate cover, didn't need a clever title, didn't need any trappings WHATSOEVER. All it needed was the packaging material it came in and two words on the cover.

The Beatles.

To speak of these things is dangerous and unnecessary. How can you quantify genius on that scope? Tell me what the universe means. Why is the sky blue. What does it all mean?

I am a false Messiah.

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