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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Beatles "White Album" Showdown: Round 1

10:23 AM Posted by Nicole M

This whole thing started with a fairly innocent question: can The Beatles' double-LP, commonly known as The White Album, be reasonably trimmed down to a single, cream-of-the-crop disc? George Martin famously said in The Anthology that he wished they had done exactly that, but we're talking about throwing away half of the 30 songs on the album here. It can't be done! Or can it?

And that's when this innocent little question somehow got bit on the arm by a zombie and became an un-dead monster with a life of its own. Not content with devouring 15 of the 30 songs, the query became "What if 15 songs become eight, and what if eight became four, and WHAT IF WE HAD A BRACKET-STYLE TOURNAMENT TO DETERMINE THE ALL TIME GREATEST SONG ON THE WHOLE WHITE ALBUM?!?!?!"

It might just be the most awesome thing ever, especially if adult beverages are involved. The tournament bracket looks like this (click to enlarge the image):

So here we go with the opening round, in which both "Back in the USSR" and "Dear Prudence" get a bye, and the rest of the songs just thrash it out until we're left with a one-disc album.

#16 Martha My Dear vs #17 Piggies
Animal song against animal song, sheep dog versus swine, big cheery brass taking on baroque harpsichords and strings. It's a close one right down to the wire, but the piggy sound effects and "one more time"-plus-big-strings-coda push "Piggies" over the edge into victory.

#9 While My Guitar Gently Weeps vs #24 Savoy Truffle
This is a tough one. On the one hand, you've got a beefed up saxophone section driving a song about Eric Clapton's mouthful of cavities and toothaches, but on the other hand you've got Eric Clapton himself playing a searing guitar solo for the ages. Did I say this was a tough one? It's not. "Guitar Gently Weeps" by a landslide.

#8 I Will vs #25 Don't Pass Me By
A sweet acoustic ballad about the wonders of love, lilting and wonderfully delivered via McCartney's tenor vocal, will always beat Ringo honking out an overly simple barn-and-hay tune that includes lyrics like "you were in a car crash, and you lost your hair." Winner: "I Will."

#4 Helter Skelter vs #29 Wild Honey Pie
I've never considered these two songs side by side, but I think I just discovered the Yin & Yang of the Maccaverse. One song shows what Paul could do when he set his mind to executing a plan ("all I wanted to do [was] make a very loud, raunchy rock 'n' roll record"), and one shows what happens when you smoke a joint the size of a large burrito. "Helter Skelter" wins easily.

#13 Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey vs #20 Mother Nature's Son
Paul's finger-picking ode to daisies and mountain streams is lovely, but it's a solo effort that probably belonged on McCartney or Ram, while John's screaming, thrashing, caffeine-induced urgings to "come on, come on, come on, come on, come on" are a full band effort. The gnarly bass lick at the end kicks the song into the next level. "Monkey" wins this one.

#12 I'm So Tired vs #21 Good Night
Songs about being tired versus songs about going to sleep? I guess I'd rather stay up, have the cigarette and the drink that John suggests, and continue cursing Sir Walter Raleigh until the wee hours. "I'm So Tired" takes this contest without much trouble.

#5 Revolution 1 vs #28 The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
"Bungalow Bill" is a silly song, oddly constructed, badly ended (did someone forget to tell the Mellotron player the song was over?), needlessly long-titled, and -- worst of all -- contains 250% more than the FDA-recommended amount of Yoko Ono vocals. "Revolution 1," for the win.

#15 Long, Long, Long vs #18 Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
Play the first 8-10 seconds of "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" That drum riff, with the whip-crack handclaps? Yeah, that's why this song wins.

#10 Julia vs #23 Cry Baby Cry
John gets massive points for spinning an oddball yarn about kings, queens, dukes, and seances interrupted by prankster kids, but let's face it: his tightly constructed song of mourning for his mother is a masterpiece. "Julia" was always going to win this contest.

#7 Sexy Sadie vs #26 Birthday
Yes, I did say it's my birthday, but I do not for even a second believe that it's your birthday too, Paul. Also, there's more Yoko in this song. "Sexy Sadie" wins for being an awesome, biting rebuke set to music.

#3 Happiness Is A Warm Gun vs #30 Revolution 9
After waiting around for over eight minutes, the other team never even showed up to play, so "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" wins this round by default.

#14 Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da vs #19 Yer Blues
Yes, a lot of people like the little bluesy jam-fest in the closet, but consider this: no. The Beatles and blues are a tenuous partner to begin with, and authentic blues is usually a bit more subtle and metaphorical, lyrically speaking. You say things like, "I went down to the crossroads and tried to flag a ride," or "The sky is crying, can you see the tears roll down the street," or even "Boom, boom, boom, boom," but not usually something so on-the-nose as "Yes I'm lonely, wanna die." This round goes to the chirpier, cheerier "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

#11 Glass Onion vs #22 Honey Pie
In a stunning upset, the homage to the dance hall defeats the imagery-loaded lyrics full of callbacks to previous Beatles songs. It's not that "Glass Onion" isn't a great song, it's that "Honey Pie" is just a really, really well-written genre tribute with wildly interesting chord changes, and a once-in-a-lifetime jazz guitar solo played to perfection by John, of all people. "Honey Pie" advances to the next round.

#6 Blackbird vs #27 Rocky Raccoon
Both songs are about animals, both songs are Paul compositions, and both are played out on a simple set of acoustic guitar chords. Except that "Blackbird" is a parable with profound meaning, hung on a musical architecture that is both simple and stunning at the same time, and "Rocky Raccoon" is about a trash-digging animal who is apparently in an intimate relationship with a human female. (No wonder she changed her name three times.) "Blackbird" soundly wins the round.

And that was that. Your newly fashioned, "guaranteed not to crack," single-LP version of The White Album is as follows:
  • Back in the USSR
  • Dear Prudence
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  • I'm So Tired
  • Blackbird
  • Piggies
  • Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
  • I Will
  • Julia
  • Revolution 1
  • Helter Skelter
  • Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
  • Sexy Sadie
  • Honey Pie
Stick around, though. There's more White-whittling left to be done.