Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mission: White Album

Real Talk extended edition! Recently our Chicago compatriot Josh Siegel posed this question: "You're called in as executive producer by the Beatles, who've asked you to whittle the White Album down to a ten-track LP. What's your track list?"

It's a devil of a question, because at first it seems so obvious—you know the first few you'd definitely keep, you know the first couple you've never really been crazy about. I mean, you love the White Album, but could you live with "Bungalow Bill"? Probably. But there are 30 tracks on this monumental double slab of vinyl, so you can only save one song for every two you toss. And once you start thinking about the actual flow of the album, the album as album... all of a sudden it's like one of those dreams where you're late to your Calculus of Philosophy final.

We asked some musicians and music thinkers about their personal track lists, which you'll find below. But also: what's your personal White Album sound like? Is it crazy to keep "Piggies" on the track list—or is it crazy to take it off? These are the questions to keep you up at night...

First: the full track listing of the actual White Album, so you know the stakes:

Back in the U.S.S.R.: Dear Prudence: Glass Onion: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da: Wild Honey Pie: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill: While My Guitar Gently Weeps: Happiness is a Warm Gun: Martha My Dear: I'm so tired: Blackbird: Piggies: Rocky Raccoon: Don't Pass Me By: Why don't we do it in the road?: I Will : Julia: Birthday: Yer Blues: Mother Nature's Son: Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey: Sexy Sadie: Helter Skelter: Long, Long, Long: Revolution 1: Honey Pie: Savoy Truffle: Cry Baby Cry: Revolution 9: Good Night

Let the White Wars begin:

Josh Siegel (singer/guitarist of Bailiff)
This question popped in my head while I was listening to the White Album and
recalling a clip from The Beatles Anthology Documentary where George Martin
says something about wishing they'd been more focused during The White
Album and made a "proper album" or something along those lines.  I went
with 10 songs because I recalled Lennon saying something like, "After Brian
(Epstein) died, Paul would say, "Let's make an album.  You know, let's get
our 10 songs in order and make an album."

Here's what I came up with:

1. Helter Skelter

Man, that would be a hot opener.  Possibly would've been the greatest
opening track on any Beatles album.  Forget "Back in the U.S.S.R.." Paul,
these are the vocals you want to introduce the album.

2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

For me this is arguably the best song on the album.  It sounds so good
right after Helter!  It's dark and hip but then the chorus comes and it's
like a beautiful swaying willow tree.  Yeah I said it.

3. Revolution #2

Ok, it's time for a John song.  An anthem.  I'm not sure if this is
breaking the rules but I'm going with Revolution #2 even though #1 & #9 are
actually on the White Album.  Hell, I'm not even sure it's called #2 but
it's the one that appeared on the Past Masters album, it's an outtake from
the White Album that they released as a single.  The #2 version has the
right tempo and that awesome Gary Glitter drum groove.  Compare the
versions and you'll see what I mean.

4. Mother Nature's Son

Let's cool things off with a soft acoustic song.  I wanted to put this one
and 'Blackbird' on the album but ultimately realized that we can only have
one sweet pretty acoustic Paul song.  Mother Nature's Son is one of the
most focused and beautifully arranged songs on the White Album.  Look at
how much ground they cover in just under 2 minutes.  Ok, maybe Paul didn't
finish the lyrics and does a few too many "oohs" at the end.  Maybe he's
willing to write a few more before we send the LP to be pressed.

5. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

This one wasn't on my original track list but when I replayed the record I
realized that this one does sound fantastic launching right after Mother
Nature's Son.  So maybe John just sings "C'mon" and "Take it easy" 30
times.  It rocks and we need a fast one after Mother Nature's Son.

6. Dear Prudence

Oh man, "Me and My Monkey" fades out and "Dear Prudence" fades in!  This
one will settle things a bit after that last rocker.  And whoa, while I was
listening I thought, "Man, I love Ringo, look at how he keeps morphing the
drum grooves," only to read that McCartney played drums on this one.

7. Rocky Raccoon

Ok we're gonna keep things settled for one more song after Prudence.  This
is one of McCartney's best narratives.  It's somehow sad and funny, oh, and
incredibly catchy.  Well done, Paul.  Unlike 'Blackbird' this one does not
seem to compete with 'Mother Nature's Son'.  Maybe it's the Scott Joplin
section in Rocky Raccoon?

8. Yer Blues

This is a must for me.  And it's time to stir things up pretty good after
those last two lighter songs.  This track has got to be the rawest blues
songs the Beatles ever recorded.  It's hard to know the right place to put
it on the album but I've got to have faith that it sort of doesn't matter.
Once it kicks off no one will question it.

9. Piggies

Ok, this was the hardest track to pick by far.  There are many songs I
prefer over this one.  I wanted to get "I'm So Tired" on this album but
another Lennon blues song doesn't make sense here.  And it feels like six
Lennon songs on a 10-song LP might cause tension in the band ;)  Trust me I
want to get another George song on here but "Long, Long, Long" doesn't fit
and I know a lot of folks would insist on "Savoy Truffle" but it doesn't
sound right here either.  And well, you're just not going to convince me to
put Ringo's "Don't Pass Me By" on here.  So I went with 'Piggies" a song I
never listen to on it's own but somehow a Bach-influenced song about pigs
just fits here.  It's musically unlike anything else on the album and
lyrically it breaks up the darkness of "Yer Blues" and the closing track.

10. Happiness is a Warm Gun

This track was easy pick for me.  The hard part for me was that I was
tempted to include 'Julia' on the album but I felt like minor arpeggiated
guitar stuff sounded a little two similar to the opening of the Happiness
is a Warm Gun.  This is one of those magical Beatles songs that starts out
one place then takes a hard right in another direction and then out of
nowhere finds itself resolving so satisfyingly at an end.

Jason Robinson (singer of the Orbz, host of the KDHX's the mixtape, and Eleven contributor)
1. Revolution 1
2. Back in the USSR
3. I Will
4. Obli-Di-Olba-Da
5. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
6. Why Don't We Do It in The Road?
7. Helter Skelter
8. Blackbird
9. Birthday
10. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
11. Revolution 9

[Though it's 1 track longer than the limitation, the final track being
"Revolution 9" makes the opening and ending thematically match, so
it's a requirement.]

So, with this remix, my intention was to trim the fat and make the
album more of a rock-heavy hit-laden pop album, the kind The Beatles
pioneered with Sgt Peppers, while still keeping the spirit of
experimentation and roots/blues crate-digging that permeated the
original bloated track list. Certain songs were deemed way too sappy
("Julia", "Mother Nature's Son" et al) while others were just
seemingly out of place ("Wild Honey Pie" should never have made the
cut in any just universe).

Moving tracks around you have the two big slabs of rock up front (put
your best foot forward and all). We then have that sudden drop to "I
Will"'s kinda syrupy sentimentality, or as I call it "pretty much
everything McCartney ever wrote" (zing!). Then comes the funnest
sequence this side of the 2nd half of Abbey Road - the onomatopoeia of
"Obli-Di", the disparate darkness of "Happiness..." and the randy,
saucy "Why Don't We Do It...?", the pure psychotic bliss of "Helter
Skelter", followed by another emotional drop into McCartney territory
for "Blackbird" before returning to rockville with "Birthday" and
"Everybody's Got Something To Hide..." Then, you close the record with
"Revolution 9", leaving the listener wanting to start the record

Jason Hutto (Tower Groove Records and Smoking Baby Studio)
Why would I want to edit "the White Album"? I know it's an interesting question. One that I would actually like to read people's responses, but I'm in no position to answer. I don't necessarily think its a "perfect" album, but what is? I feel like I'm so far removed from the intentions of that record, and to use to hearing all of the material, that in a way, even if I didn't care for a track growing up, I still got comfortable with it over time. Those tracks for me, have become just as important in how they are sequenced in a record that is so full of amazing songs. I love the hodgepodge of that piece of work. It's a great look into an incredible group of talent, spiraling out of control from each other. Showcasing the strengths that made "the Beatles", and the weaknesses that were the Beatles. An all-too-important record in the history of music for me to edit.

Stephen Baier (Dots Not Feathers)
1. Glass Onion
2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
3. Happiness Is a Warm Gun
4. Dear Prudence
5. Mother Nature’s Son
6. Julia
7. Blackbird
8. Rocky Raccoon
9. Martha My Dear
10. Sexy Sadie

When I was in middle school my muddled attempts to impress female peers were always started with a song. I would croon “Rocky Raccoon” on the school bus, during recess, or in the hallways. Others banked on their sports skills or good looks to woo women, I relied on my ability to match Paul McCartney’s vibrato while I would sing, “Only to find Gideon’s bible…” Floundered success rate aside, the songs on the White Album are not so much woven into my daily life, but more so thrust into my bones, a detailed account of a mercurial teenager who wanted nothing more than meet Bungalow Bill and bad mouth Sir Walter Raleigh. To trim the White Album to ten songs was akin to dropping the guillotine on 20 family members.
When I listen to “Piggies”, I see the sus in starch white shirts stirring up the dirt while a blissed harpsichord fugues along. In their eyes, the mercurial teenager deserves a damn good whacking for such a casual edit of a revolutionary album. With ambitious compositions, superb songwriting, and an omnipotent band tearing at the seams over 93 minutes, the White Album has become the colloquialism upon which every band’s greatest success is measured.

Tim Gebauer (RFT's 2012 Best songwriter, and composer at Electropolis)
Back in the USSR
Dear Prudence
I'm So Tired
Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Helter Skelter
Revolution 1
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
I Will
Revolution 9

Paige Brubeck (singer/guitarist of Sleepy Kitty, and curator of Eleven's Paper Time Machine)

This was a hard call to make! I feel like my list is a little of what I kept, but also a lot of what I cut. For example, Piggies and Helter Skelter were the first to go (which I'd be happy to discuss in person.) I'm a fan of the ten track album so I like this challenge. "Rocky Raccoon" was my wild card. At the last minute, as I was typing this list it bumped Birthday. Maybe I should put "Birthday" back! Ah, anyways:

1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
3. Revolution 1
4. Glass Onion
5. Rocky Raccoon

6. I'm So Tired
7. Blackbird
8. Revolution 9
9. I Will
10. Julia

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