The White Album - Part 1



Tomorrow, 22 November, will be 50 years to the day that The Beatles released their eponymous album or as it’s more commonly referred to “The White Album” and I shall be doing a track by track review of this classic album. I will split this into two stories. I’ll do the first 17 in this story and the final 13 on the next story. Some of the track stories will be more detailed than others. 30 tracks of stunning variety.

The Beatles had released Sgt Pepper’s the year before and it was a stunning success. However, between albums they had lost their manager Brian Epstein due to accidental death which arguably was the beginning of the end for the band as they fought during the sessions for this album, although I will try and focus on the positives where possible in this album rather than those negatives. They decided to go to India in March and April 1968 to see spiritual teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They wrote a lot of songs on this trip and a lot of them went on the White Album.

One common, frankly pathetic criticism of this album is that it’s too long. I concur with Paul who said: “You can always say that (that it’s too long), you know. ‘Perhaps’ I’ll go with, not ‘definitely’. I think it’s a fine little album. The fact it’s got so much on it is one of the things that’s cool about it, they’re very varied. I’m not a great one for that, “maybe it was too many”. It was great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles White Album, shut up.”

Trivia: There was one song that was demoed for the White Album that didn’t make it. It was a song of John’s called Child of Nature that later became Jealous Guy, a song on his debut solo album Imagine. Alright enough of that. Let's get cracking!

1. Back in The USSR To put it simply this was essentially a parody song, combining Chuck Berry’s Back in the USA and The Beach Boys classic California Girls. It was written in India and one morning Paul came down to breakfast with his acoustic guitar and started playing what he had of the song to The Beach Boys’ Mike Love who was out there with the rest of the band.

Mike Love said in the mid-2000s that he said to Paul that it in order to make the song work as a Beach Boys parody he should write about the girls in all across Russia, Ukraine, Georgia etc and Paul took the advice on board and the result is this popular number. Around the time of the recording of this song Ringo Starr had briefly walked out of The Beatles claiming that the other 3 were really close and he was on the periphery. As a result of this it is Paul you can hear playing drums on this track, not Ringo.

Richard SP Frost

even a Beatle is not too high and mighty to not listen to advice

As you might expect (get ready to roll your eyes) Back in the USSR prompted immediate responses from the New Left and Far Right, who claimed the group were "pro-Soviet". As further evidence of the Beatles' supposed "pro-Soviet" sentiments, the John Birch Society magazine cited the song. Paul was barred from touring the USSR in the 1980’s but played this song when he played Red Square in Moscow in 2003.

2. Dear Prudence This song was written by John about Prudence Farrow who was the sister of actress Mia Farrow. Prudence went with her sister Mia to India and would spend a lot of time on her own meditating. The others at the camp thought she was being too serious, that she was spending so much time on her own and that she should socialise more instead of meditating.

Richard SP Frost

a beautiful song unlike any previously by the band. Gentle but playful.

John said years later about the song: “A song about Mia Farrow's sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn't come out of the little hut that we were living in. They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us. If she'd been in the West, they would have put her away. We got her out of the house. She'd been locked in for three weeks and wouldn't come out, trying to reach God quicker than anybody else.”

Prudence said: "I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so I could meditate. John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I'd be flying into my room. They were all serious about what they were doing, but they just weren't as fanatical as me." John did play the song for Prudence while they were in India together. Prudence said "I was flattered. It was a beautiful thing to have done."