The Classics 001

Monday, 21 June 2010

[Editor's Note: When Ground Control first proposed a 'Classics' column, the question was simple: “Which albums do you feel are classic?” The theory was that any and all entries would be a matter of personal taste; our writers would have the opportunity to sing the praises of some of their favorite albums that may have gone under-regarded for the quality they possess. In that way, it would be personal; every one of us has uttered the words, “How have you not heard this record before?” But our first entry is different. No one will argue that the "White Album" isn't classic. So why is it here? Because the “other” half of the idea behind the column remains intact; there's no doubt that what follows is a very personal look at the "White Album" for Joe Pelone.]

I repurchased The Beatles' “White Album” this week. I had been putting it off for about a decade. That’s not an exaggeration, either. My brother borrowed my original CD copy back in 1999/2000 so he could play “Birthday” for his second grade teacher. It came back with a huge gash, rendering “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” a stuttering, unplayable mess. But hey, I’m finally able to forgive and forget.

I suppose my reluctance in re-buying the album was two-fold: 1) I hate re-buying albums. I’d rather spend my money on new stuff, and 2) I also own the album on black vinyl, courtesy of my parents. If the idea of this column is to explore the albums we’ve grown up with, there are few other records I can examine in my life better than the “White Album.” 

When I received a copy of the record as a Christmas gift as wee lad in the mid-’90s, there were only two other CDs in my collection: TLC’s Crazysexycool and Boyz II Men’s II. Now I spend my days spinning Against Me! and Paint It Black. Things done changed.

At this point, I think I’ve gone through every stage a music fan can go through with The Beatles: Casual awareness, bitter resentment at their universal acceptance and avid fandom for buying every song they ever wrote. It all starts with the “White Album,” the first Beatles album I could call my own. I knew most of the band’s singles, of course. They were as common to me then as Disney themes and gospel hymns. But “White Album” marked my first dip into their songs in context.

Double albums are rarely good all the way through. I generally dig albums that run 25-50 minutes. Every once in a while I’ll appreciate something that intentionally runs longer – Tori Amos’ American Doll Posse and The Clash’s Sandinista! are good examples of that – but wasn’t meant to be enjoyed straight through. “White Album” sort of plays into that idea as well. At 30 tracks, there sure are a lot of ideas floating around.

But “White Album” doesn’t fit that mold entirely for me; since I love it from start to finish and I have loved it in different ways throughout my life. As a young 'un, my interests lay in hooks. As long as the songs were catchy, I didn’t care what they meant. Paul McCartney always had the best knack for hooks, and “Rocky Racoon” is among the best. “Blackbird” was another knockout, but everybody knows and loves that song. Anyone who says otherwise is not to be trusted.

As I entered high school, my tastes started to change. I began listening to pop-punk and emo music and thinking about girls, specifically why I couldn’t get them to like me. This is what led to John Lennon’s “Julia” becoming my favorite track on the album, even though it was really just because that was the name of my high school crush. Now I know that it’s a farewell to Lennon’s mother (who he kind of had an oedipal complex about) and a call of love to his wife Yoko Ono; now I feel weird for having felt that way. As for the girl, we never hooked up. But I saw her at a party years later and we got along fine –  so that was nice.

Early on in college, I entered an anti-Beatles phase. I got sick of them. I championed *gasp* The Beach Boys instead (and Black Flag… and My Bloody Valentine…). I eventually snapped out of it and started revisiting the band’s catalogue. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, being the most overrated document in the world’s most overrated pop group’s discography, was a little disappointing, but Rubber Soul and Revolver both went over well. Nothing matched the sprawl of “White Album,” though, and I soon returned to it. I think perhaps the best indicator of its greatness is that I still haven’t mentioned plenty of its best tracks: “Helter Skelter,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Revolution I,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and even the throw-away tracks that are ostensibly about nothing (“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”, “Savoy Truffle”) are great. And it boasts the best Ringo Starr track, “Don’t Pass Me By.” You have to give the album credit for that.

Side note: I like “White Album” so much that I even bought that one Phish live album where they cover the record (mostly) from start to finish, and I don’t even like Phish.


The “White Album” is available now on Amazon. Buy it here .

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