The Beatles stayed relatively quiet musically throughout 1968 while being constantly in the news. The year saw exactly two singles plus one double album appear, and Capitol fought the temptation to collect some of the loose ends onto an LP. (Of course, the Magical Mystery Tour album had taken care of the bulk of the recent leftovers.)
At this point in their career the boys were teeming with ideas, and had the pull to cram as much music as they wanted onto wax—in this case, a two-record set in a plain white cover simply titled The Beatles, which was immediately informally dubbed the White Album. If they had the nerve, they could have put out a three-record set, and it would have sold. As it is, one of the ongoing arguments among Beatlemaniacs is how to create the perfect single-disc version of the White Album. One reason is that there’s so much to choose from, and most of it is really, really good. They’re still using lots of studio tricks, but they’d just come back from India with thirty songs that had been constructed on acoustic guitars. Most of the performances are straightforward rock ‘n roll songs, and the rest are pretty mature ideas from a bunch of kids with nothing but time.
Even with all the music to choose from, the boys took care to sequence the album well. Neither John nor Paul gets more than two songs in a row, George gets a song on each side (and they’re all excellent) and even Ringo appears twice, one of which being a song he wrote all by himself. (He managed to accomplish this even having quit the band for a few weeks during the sessions.) They also put all the song titles with animals on the same side. Yet despite the wide range of styles, genres and attitudes—and the isolationist method each used to craft their songs—the album still makes a cohesive whole. (Also, by this time there weren’t any differences between the American and British versions, except for some cosmetic touches in the packaging.)
Revolver is the ultimate desert island CD, but if you can bring an album, you could make a persuasive argument in choosing the White Album. It doesn’t get five stars, since too many people would have a justifiable beef over “Revolution 9”. “Birthday” has also worn out its welcome over the years. Would it really be better as a single album? Maybe. But Paul said it best: “It’s the bloody Beatles White Album, shut up.” Okay then.
But how about this: Dear Prudence - Glass Onion - While My Guitar Gently Weeps - Martha My Dear - I’m So Tired - Blackbird - Piggies - Don’t Pass Me By; Yer Blues - Mother Nature’s Son - Sexy Sadie - Helter Skelter - Honey Pie - Cry Baby Cry - I Will. Those are the current Everybody’s Dummy contenders for a single-disc, 45-minute White Album (with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” backed with “Long, Long, Long” for the concurrent single). And it’s never easy.
The Beatles The Beatles (1968)—4½