The most heated discussion I’ve had in weeks was about The Beatles.
No typo there. The Beatles was a double LP by the Beatles. The public called it “The White Album” from the day it was released in November 1968.
Anticipation before the release was huge after mid-1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” For a band that was cranking out at least two albums a year, 17 months was a long time between original works. I caught that vibe even at age 12.
“The Whitey,” as British fans called it, raised eyebrows from the day it hit the record shops.
Some people thought it was too long. Others thought it should have been condensed into a single disc. Still others thought it should be put out as two separate albums.
Some folks just plain didn’t like it.
I’ve joked that Apple Corps, the company founded by the Beatles, could have released the 30 cuts as 15 or so single 45 rpm discs. You could then play them in the order of your choice, like “shuffle play” before there were CDs.
Then there was that cover.
It was uh....very white. Not a thing on it except for “The Beatles” embossed on the front and a printed number on the back.
I no longer have my 1968 copy, but I recall it had a serial number which had a few zeros. I doubt it was a collectible, but I’ve heard the lowest numbers are worth a couple quid. I’ve also enjoyed “The White Album” dubbed to cassette from fairly clean LPs or the early CD version.
Like Agent K predicted in “Men in Black,” I recently bought “The White Album” again. It was a three-CD set, with enhanced, remixed versions of the original and a separate disc of demos recorded at George Harrison’s home in Surrey.
If I’d cared to spend $159.99 I could have had the super deluxe set with remixed vinyl LPs, the “Esher Demos,” Blue Ray video discs and a 100-page booklet. All I really wanted was to check if Giles Martin, son of the band’s primary producer, had spruced up the audio with the same flair as was done a year ago with “Sgt. Pepper.”
That’s what started the dustup.
The debate was with a guy we’ll call Buddy. He’s approaching age 50 and is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever met.
Buddy can make a cheap guitar sing or swing at will. He plays virtually by ear, like the Beatles and the blues greats of Memphis. And nobody knows more about stuff like strings, pickups, amps, bridges and even the wood in a guitar.
But Buddy is hard to budge when it comes to his thoughts on things, notably that a recorded performance should not be tinkered with after it’s done.
He is also steadfast in the view that material released 50 years ago was released for a reason. No one cares, Buddy says, to hear an artist’s outtakes even if listening to the creative process in action may be “interesting.”
In other words, what was not released half a century ago was not released for a reason. Never mind that “Unplugged,” mostly music redone like demos or outtakes, rekindled interest in MTV a couple of decades ago.
Buddy’s critique that the Beatles were ragged and inconsistent, that they weren’t playing as a group in the strictest sense, was largely right. The history books tell us that was exactly what was going on with the Fab Four at the time.
I tried to point out that what Buddy thought was ragged, if viewed through the lens of power punk and grunge, was actually 20 or 25 years ahead of its time. He didn’t buy any of that either.
So I called my sister Jo, who is no slouch in the music department. She can read a musical score. Jo was also in a punk band in her early 50s as well as a group that played in church. She taught herself the electric bass, plays flute and keyboards and has an amazing singing voice.
Jo is five years younger than myself and has long maintained that “The White Album” was her favorite.
“I remember playing the vinyl disc and feeling like this is something new and exciting,” she said when we spoke on the phone. “I remember wanting my friends to hear it.”
The album had already been out a couple of years, but my sis was won over by the boldness, the confidence each band member brought to it.
“Every track..is different,” Jo said. “You go from hard rock to folk to a ‘Strauss symphony.’”
Jo admitted that when she was really young, “Revolution 9,” a sound collage John Lennon called an audio illustration of political upheaval scared her. But “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” was always cool.
My latest take is that the Beatles were always on the crest of one thing or another. Their recorded work both reflected and defined their times.
“The Whitey” influenced rock and pop originals for decades. You can hear echoes of it in 1990s pop, not so much rhythmically or melodically, but lyrically. Remember that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” song? Listen to it carefully. If I play it backwards and change my mind, I’ll let you know.
FYI: Beatle albums in the USA were manufactured and distributed only by Capitol Records by 1968. Capitol had a plant in Scranton. If you have old LPs, “White Albums” or not, take a look at the blank vinyl around the label. LPs pressed in Scranton have a triangle with the letters “IAM” stamped near the turnout groove.
Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at email@example.com.