Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Beatles - The White Album on My Gigabeat with Earbuds

Here we go, live-blogging the White Album:

1) Back in the U.S.S.R. - The sound of a plane tells us we're on a trip. And the song tells the story of a guy on a dreadful flight, but now back in his homeland, the hated Soviet Union. This was really something to sing in 1968. It'd be about like doing a Chuck Berry "Back in the U.S.A." take-off today about going to Tora Bora. Evil empire? That wasn't the half of it. "Moscow girls make me sing and shout." I don't hear any new revelations in this well-worn track. It's still very delightful. The airplane effects are extensive on earbuds. Some extra little talk in the background you don't usually notice except on earbuds.

2) Dear Prudence - My absolute favorite White Album song. As every website tells us, it has a connection to Mia Farrow's sister, there in India during the whole meditation time with the Maharishi. It's a delightful song of playing, daisy chains, clouds, and frolic, and smiling children. "Open up your eyes, Dear Prudence, see the sunny skies!" This is a picture perfect song. I've heard a varying version or two along the way, but it's just right here. This is definitely a song about living today and fully. Then here comes that marching Ahhhh stuff with the music chugging under and floating/flying over the whole thing, building to a very cool, diminishing bit with the single guitar. And that's the end!

3) Glass Onion - Self-referential song, Strawberry Fields, Fool on the Hill, another place you can go. The lyrics are nicely obscure. The walrus and me, man. And another clue for you all, the walrus is Paul! So what's that tell you? I always thought it meant the walrus on the Magical Mystery Tour cover was Paul, even with the John glasses. There's a pipe sustained in there a little more than I've heard before with speakers. Then the bass and violins overlay at the end.

4) Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - I heard they did this song repeatedly and hated it (except for Paul). Listening for the body parts thrown into the mix. Desmond = Desmond Dekker? Didn't he just die recently and I was reading that? Interesting clapping noises there, and sounds like voice percussion a bit. Ha ha ha ha ha. "Happy ever after." Hand, Arm, Leg! I do hear some good noises and background asides in here, laughing, what-not. I remember hearing an alternate version of this on one of the Lost Lennon shows (the only one I heard) several years ago, which could be on one of the Anthology discs. And it ends with Thank You.

5) Wild Honey Pie - Kind of a weird track, some of the instruments sound like an 8-track cartridge going bad, very wavvery. "I love you, honey pie."

6) The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill - That's Yoko on this track, right? I've heard that. "Bill and his elephants were taken by surprise." "Us instead of him" has an interesting deeper voiced bit on the harmony. The song sounds like a toss-off track, one that would've never made the single LP master, but would've been an Anthology track in the '90s.

7) While My Guitar Gently Weeps - George's very beautiful, serious song. Emotion, examination, "How to unfold your love," with Eric Clapton uncredited on weeping guitar. As Vivian Stanshall would say, "Thanks Eric!" I can sure hear George's layered vocals clearer on the earbuds, so nice. "You were perverted, too....No one alerted you." That's goosebump stuff. There's some Ohhs in the background you can't hear so easily on the speakers, right before the more overt Ohhs. Neat stuff buried in there.

8) Happiness is a Warm Gun - I always think of John being shot, same thing for "Come Together," Shoot me. Otherwise a great song. Supposed to have come from a poster or advertisement saying, "Happiness is a warm gun," based on expressions common at the time, Peanuts ("Happiness is a warm puppy") and Johnny Carson's book "Happiness is a Dry Martini" [maybe not the exact title, something like that, itself a take-off of Peanuts.] I love the doo-wop section of the song, and the kind of "Little Darlin'" talking part. "Mother Superior jumped the gun," you know. Good, subtle, deep voiced Uuuu's in here.

That would be the end of side one if we were going by the LP.

9) Martha My Dear - Paul's dog, get that bit of cliche trivia out of the way. Very romantic fellow. I don't hear too many other Beatles in the mix, unless that's J-G-R on tuba. Oh, now we have guitars and drums! Then the violins and tubas back in, and trumpets, sounds like. A very happy, challenging song, like Georgy Girl, "Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you, silly girl!" Live up to your potential, get out there and live! Pretty song.

10) I'm So Tired - "Walter Raleigh, git." Nasty kind of word in English English, like "Randy Scouse Git" by Micky Dolenz. The song is intense but a sing-along favorite. "I'm feeling so upset ... and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git!" Ha ha ha. The drums are strong. He definitely wants a little piece of mind! Drifting off with some gibberish.

11) Blackbird - Paul on guitar and someone doing improv percussion on the left earbud. Bird effects, I know you can hear those well on speakers. The song is one of encouragement. Very lovely.

12) Piggies - They have the animal songs together, by intention. This is George's view on policemen at the time, I heard, because he had some trouble. But he gets into the bigger piggies with an uncaring eye to society around. "They need a damn good whacking." Kind of a minuet thing going on with cello counterpoint, pardon while I get my white powdered Beatle wig out and hand-held glasses and do a little dance around my room here. Thank God for this lap-top strap, as I keep typing. "One more time," and the pig noises come in after the orchestra. That's humorous.

13) Rocky Raccoon - I hate this song. It's such toss-off crap it probably would not have even made the Anthology album. But we will suffer it for the sake of this immortal blog. The bass notes are made how? Sound a little extended, loose. The hoe-down harmonica is over on the right. Nice drum asserting itself, with ragtime piano on the right only. "Doctor comes in, stinking of gin." Other voices come in toward the end, right only, then the ragtime reappears. It's just like it was recorded in Dodge City.

14) Don't Pass Me By - Ringo's turn to shine, which he immediately foregos. Wow, what a bad song, lyrically a meaningless mess, the hackish country vibe is an embarrassment, there's nothing good about it. The violin over on the right isn't so bad, if I may backtrack on my previous statement. I don't play bass but I think I could probably manage this song, like Johnny Cash's guy on guitar. "You were in a car crash and lost your hair." Oh boy, I think I'll play that next time I'm in the therapy you need before they give you hairplugs. Hey, I hear some counting over on the right I never heard before, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and some noises on the left I never heard before. Toward the end, right when the music gets a little lower. OK, it's over!

15) Why Don't We Do It In The Road? - Paul's solo effort. Not exactly a desert island track, unless we can strand it somewhere. I don't remember this song inspiring a lot of doing it in the road, and I've never liked it.

16) I Will - Beautiful bass notes sung, doo, doo, doo. Lovely song, sort of like "I'll Follow The Sun" in tone but not tune. It has a kind of tropical bongo over on the left. Pretty Paul keeper. Although it's interesting if you go by titles to have "I Will" follow "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"

17) Julia - John's sweet Mom song, a little different from "Mother" on Plastic Ono Band. "A song of love, Julia." "Seashell eyes, windy smile." I like stuff like that, especially with Spring about here. It's time to go out and fall in love! If you can find that girl on the "It's A Beautiful Day" album, somewhere out there in the wind and breeze, she'll be the keeper. "Sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me." Why can't songs like this save the world?

And that's the end of side two on the LP.

18) Birthday - Side 3 rages out of the gate with what was actually, I heard, a toss-off song, "Birthday," still played everyday on the radio somewhere in honor of people's birthdays. Strong drum, and extra counting in the background, hard to hear on speakers. Lots of party clapping. I think I heard they brought people in off the street to make noises to this song when they were recording it. It's fun fun fun, and lots of noises in the background, calls, shouts, asides. I definitely hear a female voice in there, which I thought Paul said they never had before Phil Spector got done with "A Long and Winding Road." Maybe he meant on an ongoing basis. Fun song to listen to, Birthday!

19) Yer Blues - Intense John song about dying and killing himself, lonely, not just tired this time. It has a very stark sound, tough edge to his voice. It does sound kind of like a bar combo playing live. Maybe this was more of an ensemble piece, I don't know. There's an echo on him, or maybe it's just pflanging at work. Is that Paul back there, singing a bit, on "Girl, you know the reason why?" "Feel so suicidal," with some of extra background talk, noises on left, before the guitars go uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh. Then a raw guitar solo, with a left counterpoint, less raw. Very abrupt end to the guitar, with drums and the verse sung in the background, which we've all heard on the speakers, but not well. Then it fades out without John ever coming again to the fore. Off to commit hari kari.

20) Mother Nature's Son - Paul with his "Martha" and "I Will" guitar. "Sitting, singing songs for everyone," Which I appreciate. Pretty sounds of music, flying, etc., similar to what I was saying about "Dear Prudence," but not with the same punch for me. The horns are all on the right, and a different guitar after the horn section. That's nice on the right.

21) Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me & My Monkey - I heard this was about John and Yoko, who I've actually come to really like BTW. Her album, "Yes, I'm A Witch," is great. This is going to have some background noises and voices, over on the left, hoots, hollers, voices bubbling just under the surface. Listen to it. It's like they flashed a "Recording - Please Make Noise" sign or something. "Make it easy" HOOT HOOT! He was right out there, I guess, with nothing to hide. A bunch of confused "Come on"'s. John cuts loose looooooose on this.

22) Sexy Sadie - Absolutely a great song, they say about the Maharishi, same number of syllables, and a good way to say he made a fool of them (from John's point of view, not mine) without saying his name/title. "You laid it down for all to see." This is such a spitting bitter song, I love it. Especially the "You'll get yours yet!" lines. That is wicked! Here comes a wicked bit, "However big you think you are, however big you think you are!" That's genius stuff, "You'll get your's yet!." It's The Beatles as victims, giving up everything they owned just to sit at his table. Beautiful bit on the "Latest and the greatest of them all." And "You made a fool" and "Sexy Sadie" a little more buried. This song is a treasure.

23) Helter Skelter - About a playground, amusement park ride, I've heard. But of course if you're a mass murderer, you might take it other ways! It's kind of intense, kind of menacing for such a playful description (amusement park.) The guitars are thick as mud, Paul's voice as rocked out as ever, ragged, raw, like heavy metal. I love Paul, really, but now that he's like all of us, old and mortal, sometimes we think of him like Pat Boone. Wow, there's a laugh I never heard before, and some extranea on the left earbud right about the same place. "Look out!!!!!!" "Comin' down fast!!!!" That was a very dangerous ride. Paul is singing closer to the mic. Talking on the right earbud at the end, a few snippets actually. Then the mud guitars come in for another menacing bow, and shrieking horns I've never noticed. And what next? It's going to fade back in, isn't it, and some guy is going to shout something about blisters on his fingers!! This track is chaos of the most inspired kind.

24) Long, Long, Long - Soft George track. I never think of this track when I think of the White Album. It's kind of buried in there and obscure. "So many tears I was searching." I don't even halfway know the lyrics to this one. I don't think I've ever intentionally listened to it before, you know, going, "I think I'll listen to 'Long, Long, Long.'" I didn't even remember it had three Long's in the title. So what's it? The instruments have a slight warble. Then a door creaks, and there's the new dawn of what?, a bunch of ghost crows escaping or something. It was nice enough.

I think we're at side four, with Revolution 1:

25) Revolution 1 - John says, "OK." Guitar is great, one of the Revolutions, different from the flip of "Hey Jude" but in a more loping, less distorted form. The lyrics of Revolution excluded the Beatles from violence and some of the left's more extreme political response to Vietnam, etc. The "bump, shooby doo wop" stuff puts this in the parody class, like what was going on with "Back in the U.S.S.R." A great song, which I actually like more in the Single Version. "You better free your mind instead. If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow." That's a slap at someone.

26) Honey Pie - Here we go. Paul's 78 rpm charmer, complete with surface noise there a bit. I actually like this kind of musical theater, London stage sound, which of course Paul was brought up hearing. Very sentimental, vaudeville, voodie-o-doh. You could play this track to your Grandpa (back then) [I never did] and say, "See, the Beatles are not so bad, eh, Grandpa?" And he puts his big earhorn up to it and next thing he's cutting the rug and maybe the mustard with Grams.

27) Savoy Truffle - This is one of my GO-TO songs on the White Album. I love it. A bunch of candies that will rot your teeth, with George's voice in amongst a bunch of streamlined, clipped, clean-as-a-whistle instruments. I heard some extra little voice stuff on the left earbud. And by the way, the vocals are not balanced here, but all to the right. That's a little unnerving. The guitar solo is as antiseptic and sharp as a razor. Turn it up and it'd split a drum, guaranteed. "What you eat you are, but what is sweet now turns so sour." Then a swat at "Ob-La-Di" and Da. "But you'll have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle!" I love this song.

28) Cry Baby Cry - John. This song is kind of like "Long, Long, Long" for relative obscurity. I've heard it a lot and basically know it but I don't. Vocals are balanced, with some sound effects buried under the vocal, and the "Cry Baby" refrain is over at the left, with an even more buried accompanying vocal on the right. Some harmony. Tagged on the end is a tune I thought I missed and I was going to have to check my Gigabeat to see if I'd left it off, "Can I Take Me Back?" Just a little bit of nothing. I think on the Anthology CD this tune doesn't even have a copyright credit, but don't quote me on that.

29) Revolution 9 - OK, here we go. I should have some coffee as I type this. This is going to be a long hard slog, though I listened to it one day and sort of enjoyed it. [I'm on PAUSE for all those who think I'm indeed live-blogging this. I just need to vent my spleen about this track a bit before I proceed.] This was never a favorite of mine. I have usually skipped it and decried its existence. I always hated having to go over and lift the needle and put it on the last song. This track if it was on the album should've been last, or a 45 stuck in as a bonus. But it's there. One thing about it, everyone's who heard it has remembered at least one little thing, "Number Nine." Anytime the word "Number Nine" comes up in conversation, someone, if there's anyone under 65 in the room, will say in that robotic music studio voice, "Number Nine." [Off Pause and to the track]:

The "Number Nine" is bouncing back and forth. Then some unearthly music clips, indeed clipped or reversed. Drums, like off a TV show. Muttering, confused, and John there clearly speaking, and George. I heard J & G were the only Beatles on this track. What can I say? It's a lot of rubbish, but there's some good little bits. A baby's voice, the number nine guy, and very little else. Like a mash-up of movie openings and closing. There's a "Riiiight" guy on the right, and a bell. Turn off and turn on whatever tape loop you happen to have. It's sort of a blog of sound. Here's George and John a bit more. And a guy going "Hoooo!" The track might really be a good soundtrack to the time, which wasn't as innocent as we always think the "past" was. People being killed, RFK, MLK, 1968, not in that order. Prague. LBJ. Vietnam. There's some protest sounds in the mix. John's voice is this low monotone dark voice. Shooting, suggesting a western. George is reading something about a night watchman. I check, only a minute 39 to go. "Take this brother, may it serve you well." Someone's watching TV, which sounds like Yoko. And a trebly section follows, like a frightening noise chamber. Let me out. "If you become naked." "Hold that line!," a protest bouncing back and forth between the tracks, as we close....

30) Good night - Beautiful Ringo warbler. I love this track. From the Anthology CDs we find there was a spoken bit before, as originally intended, or was that "Yellow Submarine"? Speaking of movie openings and closing (see above), this one definitely has a swelling Hollywood feel to it, except for the voice being the voice of Everyman and not a big Hollywood Starr (sorry). The trills and swells are swell indeed, and the girl voices back there in the mix. The music is so far and away over the top, I love it. Ringo's voice was just right for such a quirky, parody thing like this. Ringo whispers, as we all have heard, "Good night."

And with that we come to the end of side four!

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