It’s so easy to like The Beatles. It would be near heresy, as a fan of modern rock music (or any music for that matter), to not have some sort of affinity for their tunes. Even if you’ve never heard a piece of music before, you like a Beatles song. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, the hundreds of tunes those four lads from Liverpool meticulously crafted in their short but ever-so-sweet career laid the groundwork for nearly every pop and/or rock song that would follow for decades to come. Some would say you can trace any pop song you like back to a Beatles song of a similar nature, chord progression, or structure. I’d like to step in and refute this, but in all honesty, it’s pretty frightening how true this statement holds, even 40 years after the fact. No album in the catalog, however, brings this statement closer to the surface than the gloriously scattered, tremendously stacked, Beatles magnum opus, The Beatles (The White Album).
The thing has every kind of Beatles song we’d ever want on it. It’s a career-spanning effort of gigantic proportions. At just over an hour and a half, bringing in two full LPs of stunning pop, it’s got more than enough to go ’round. While some may beg to differ, for the most part these are the songs that inspired some of the better pop tunes from the years to come. Want some proof? For one, it’s not difficult to spot the chord progression or piano of “Sexy Sadie” in Radiohead’s “Karma Police”. It may be a bit harder to see the parallels in structure and style between “Paranoid Android” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, arguably the greatest pop song of all time, but they’re most certainly there. Thom Yorke is open about it. But, let’s not just get on Radiohead’s case about nabbing some major blueprints from the Fab Four. It’s quite easy to make the assessment that without the same aforementioned song and for that matter “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, multi-movement pop tracks such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” may never have come into fruition. Not only that, but the varied nature of the album paved the way for bands to step outside of their delegated genre and explore the fringes of what the word genre even means. Some 50 years later, Pavement took a stab at it with Wowee Zowee; Bjork did her fair share on Post, etc. I could name more such examples, but we’ll have to stop there before things get too out of hand. Now, back to the album in question.
It’s a pretty safe bet that no band has ever mastered the art of the multi-genre album better than the Beatles. They did it with pizzaz, and in a way that doesn’t even cross your mind as you listen. It’s so seamless, we sometimes forget that the songs found on The Beatles could have been written by 20 different bands. But then again, the only band who could pull it off so well is the Beats. With the solemn folk of “Blackbird” alongside the near-metal raucous of “Helter Skelter”, there’s no denying the diversity of influence that The Beatles has accumulated since its 1968 release. And, though it may be somewhat unbelievable to lifelong Beatles minions, with the 2009 stereo remasters of the legendary album, it just got a little easier to love the Beatles. If, for one reason or another, these songs didn’t find a place in your heart over the 40 years since their release, now’s the time to open up the real estate market.
From “Back in the USSR” to “Julia”, the minor touch-ups found on disc one alone would be enough to get folks in a frenzy. The bomb dropping hiss that opens “U.S.S.R” travels right to left across your ear phones, making the laughable satirical nature of the song all the more clear. As the song progresses, each distinct noise –each ooh, each ahh– can be heard vividly… and I don’t even really like “Back in the U.S.S.R”. But, as I mentioned before, it just got easier to like.
It would be somewhat pointless to go through every track on the album, picking out every refurbished sound, so I won’t do that. I will say that the album sounds a bit fresher with the minute touch-ups in tow. It’s not a sea change from the remasters of the ’80s, but the little alterations make enough of a difference to notice. The remastering allows you to more easily selectively follow along with each layer if you so wish. Where it may have once been harder to notice the little tweaks sprinkled on each track, they shine through quite well now. Things flow better, sound clearer, and it makes for an even greater listen. These clean-ups don’t transform the album in a way that makes it completely different from the original remasters, but they do give us enough just cause to revisit the album as if it were new again, and with open ears. Because there’s apparently something new to notice, we open our minds and begin to hear more and more of the beauty that existed all along. Whether it’s the thumping bass of “Rocky Raccoon”, the multi-layered guitar noodling of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, or the smooth lushness of “I’m So Tired”, everything about this album makes one thing perfectly clear: It’s an absolute masterpiece.
The Beatles (The White Album) is the best Beatles album, though it sits amongst a catalog filled with bests. There’s a Beatles song for everybody on The Beatles, and even the less-than tracks seem to fit in nicely (“Birthday” anyone?). Four decades later, The Beatles still remain the four greatest figures in pop/rock history, thanks in large part to their vanilla-washed, self-titled magnum opus.