November 23, 2018

"The White Album’s working title was A Doll’s House, and it could be compared to a shambling mansion, with ballrooms, bedrooms..."

"... nurseries, cellars, and rooms full of junk that are rarely visited. It starts with a joke and ends with a lullaby. Between those two points, this omnivorous record takes bites out of folk, blues, rock’n’roll, ska, country, doo-wop, psychedelia, Tin Pan Alley, musique concrete and easy listening, while offering previsions of prog-rock and heavy metal. Happiness is a Warm Gun alone is three songs in one. Songwriting inspirations include a box of chocolates, a gun magazine, a Little Richard movie, Mia Farrow’s sister, monkey sex and, on the barbed wind-up Glass Onion, The Beatles’ own history. The White Album was the first major release to deploy incoherence as a deliberate artistic strategy. It contains space-fillers even though there’s no space that needs filling, and is sequenced in such a way as to accentuate its jumbling together of the archaic and the avant-garde, the meaningless and the profound, the generous and the toxic, the ragged and the luminous, the spiritual and the profane, the desperately moving and the too silly for words. Many of John Lennon’s cryptic contributions are an assault on rationality itself...."

From "Fifty years ago, The Beatles’ ninth album ‘made a fitting capstone for one of the most wildly eventful years of the 20th Century’ but remains as mysterious and elusive as Moby-Dick" by Dorian Lynskey (BBC).

The "white album" was titled "The Beatles" because The Beatles were breaking up, though we who bought the record at the time didn't know that. We were like guests at a dinner party given by a couple that has not yet announced they are divorcing. Looking back, we see the breakup in the event — the dinner party, the white album. But at the time, we thought these people are even more fascinating and exciting than we'd ever noticed before.

23 comments:

rhhardin said...

It contains space-fillers even though there’s no space that needs filling, and is sequenced in such a way as to accentuate its jumbling together of the archaic and the avant-garde, the meaningless and the profound, the generous and the toxic, the ragged and the luminous, the spiritual and the profane, the desperately moving and the too silly for words.

Stanley Cavell believed that it would be possible to argue that Coleridge's Biographia Literaria was written without digression.

As usually read it looks like nothing but digression.

Darrell said...

I thought it was just a record album. Tunes.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

It must be possible for someone to write a great book, of a manageable size, about the year 1968. The Making of the President has a lot of material, the famous and almost incomprehensible assassinations, etc., but there is the whole cultural side--the oldest boomers turning 23, and generally speaking taking a hell of a lot of drugs, confidently immersed in their music which is getting louder and rockier, etc. It's a cliche that the boomers/hippies were taking over, the squares were giving in and changing the rules, but ... Nixon won.

Saint Croix said...

You can buy the White Album via the Althouse portal.

You can also buy the Black Album via the Althouse portal.

Note that the Beatles put their name on the album, effectively ruining the all-white motif all for the purpose of drumming up sales.

Spinal Tap is 100% black album. Possibly the band's name is on the album cover, in black font, and we just can't see it.

Temujin said...

It's the album with Sexy Sadie. Nothing more needs to be said.

Darrell said...

Nixon won

Yeah. Hubert Horatio Hornblower (who Jimmy Carter knew) was a real hip dude. Tubular, even.

DavidD said...

Saint Croix,

The White Album as originally released had The Beatles in raised letters, not gray on white.

AMDG said...

It also had each album individually numbered.

Of the run of Rubber Soul through Abbey Road it is my least favorite work. A Smacked Up John Lennon is an uninteresting John Lennon.

Charlie Currie said...

I got the album - reel to reel tape, actually - as a Christmas gift from my dad and sister while I was in Vietnam. I donated it to the EM club where it was played nightly. Happiness was the favorite.

I wonder if it survived.

Fritz said...

I always thought the White Album was a mess. Now I know it was a deliberate mess.

Thanks!

Rob said...

"The White Album was the first major release to deploy incoherence as a deliberate artistic strategy." And Trump was the first President to deploy incoherence as a deliberate political strategy. That's artistry!

wild chicken said...

It's a cliche that the boomers/hippies were taking over,

Actually, the scuzzbslls and con men and wannabe gurus were taking over the hippies. Nasty element there. See: 1969.

I'll attest that the White Album assaulted my rationality. Listening to a warped record, the side with Number Nine on it, over and over on a bad acid trip does that.

Saint Croix said...

The White Album as originally released had The Beatles in raised letters, not gray on white.

100% white! At least on the front side.

Spinal Tap is black on both sides.

Saint Croix said...

Technically the Black Album is called Smell the Glove. One of their finest efforts.

Certainly better than Shark Sandwich, which one critic derided as Shit Sandwich.

(That is a damn hard album to find, by the way).

Amexpat said...

The Ibsen Museum here in Oslo recently had an exhibit about Ibsen and the Beatles. They claimed that the Beatles were considering " A Dolls House" as an album name to honor Ibsen. Apparently John Lennon was a fan. The "granny" glasses he wore were probably inspired by Ibsen (perhaps even the sideburns he wore for awhile).

surfed said...

The Sir George Martin Parlour Game.
Make one great 14 song album out of the sprawling two disc mess. With digital tracks it's easy to do and everybody's is different.

Bob Boyd said...

"Fuck the fucking Beatles" - A sentiment overheard while passing the juke box on the way to the men's room of the Stockman's Bar in Walden, Colorado in 1986.

Bob Boyd said...

It should be noted, there were no Beatles songs on the juke box of the Stockman's Bar in Walden Colorado in 1986.

Roy Jacobsen said...

So, blog comment spam is making a comeback.

Maybe Hillary can, too.

I mean, she's almost as "hep" to the American electorate as those two "comments" were germane to the topic of this post.

Almost.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

So what does one prefer, finely crafted art or chaos? Stravinsky or Mozart? Joyce or Austen? The White Album or Sgt. Pepper's?

For my part, I'm a liturgical Lutheran. But I married a charismatic.

D 2 said...

I was well after their day, but purchased most of the groups vinyl. Maybe because I was not there in 68 I don't get "it" but I do agree with the comment upthread re Rubber Soul - Abbey Rd - that 20 yrs later, by the 80s, my own opinion is that some of the other albums In that group were more frequent listens.

And shame on me for not remembering if there was this level of Althousian posting of the 50yr mark for Dylan's double back in 2015.... will try a search if I can figure it out....

And double shame on me for just sliding in here to note that Astral Weeks was also released in late '68. And if anyone told me, as we came ashore as two castaways on a desert isle, that they chose to save the White Album over Astral Weeks when we got into the lifeboat.... well, Alls I can say is that my inner Andamanian might come out pretty quick

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Mrs. Bear said...

For what it's worth as an artistic comment, when I was an adolescent and first heard the Beatles' albums, they all sounded to me, on some level, as graceful and relaxed. Not the White Album, though. That one sounds NERVOUS.