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Lamenting The White Album 50th Anniversary Remix

My original copy of the White Album

The Beatles released their first double LP 50 years ago. As the leaders and the spokespersons of their generation, the Beatles had once again expressed with amazing accuracy the signs of the times, as they were back in 1968. Most people seem to agree that this record contains songs that were mostly characterized by the sound that is usually described as:

Tense, claustrophobic, edgy, nervous, anxious, creepy, eery, somber, ominous, even dangerous.

The White Album, then, contains 30 brand new songs by the Beatles, and shows the Beatles as four fully grownup individuals who are starting to take life seriously.

No more cutesy love songs. No more mind-expanding songs. Instead, here is how one might break the material published on the White Album.

Spiritual ballads: Dear Prudence, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, Long Long Long, Mother Nature’s Son

Political/satirical songs: Back In The USSR, Glass Onion, Piggies, Sexy Sadie, Revolution 1

Confessional songs: I’m So Tired, Julia, Yer Blues, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey

Raunchy adult rockers: Birthday, Helter Skelter, Savoy Truffle

Goofy songs: Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, Wild Honey Pie, The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill, Martha My Dear, Rocky Raccoon, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, Honey Pie

Creepy ominous songs: Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Cry Baby Cry, Revolution 9, Good Night

Love songs: Don’t Pass Me By, I Will

Overall, among the 30 songs on the White Album, there are only 2 love songs and only 3 raunchy rockers. The rest are either creepy, or dead serious, or just goofy songs.

Almost each individual song on the White Album is characterized by its own, one of a kind production. Unlike their previous albums, where they worked on delivering cohesive, coherent overall sound and feel, this album presents a hodge podge of sonic impressions, sometimes verging on unnerving brittleness.

But in the overall sense, as much as almost every song on there was recorded and produced differently, all songs somehow share the same overarching sound. This brooding, worrisome, uneasy, eery, even creepy an claustrophobic sound is what makes the White Album such an exhilarating listening experience.

I call that particular sound ‘the rock and roll sound’. This rock and roll sound is present in all songs, even in those that are nowhere close to the rock and roll genre. For example, “Good Night”. On the surface a schmaltzy ballad smeared in the Hollywood style grandiose choir and symphony orchestra, nevertheless features that unmistakeable rock and roll sound. It feels tense, anxious, uneasy, unsettled. Which is what rock and roll mostly is — it is the music of anxiety.

The 50th anniversary of the release of the White Album was met with a lot of eager anticipation. We were hoping not only for Apple Corps. to release some new material (i.e. the Esher demos and the alternate studio takes that the Beatles recorded in 1968), but also to get a fully remastered stereo version of the album.

Instead, we got a remix, done by Giles Martin. Which is fine, but the biggest shock was not the choices Giles made when mixing the source tapes, but the alterations he made to the overall sound of the White Album.

Maybe his thinking was guided by the perennial complaints of some fans that the White Album sounds too harsh, too brittle. So he applied a lot of sonic sugar coating to make it sound warmer and less grating on our ears.

Or, another impression, after repeatedly listening to the remix, is that the sound he was aiming for was to approximate the sound the Beatles had produced on their last album — Abbey Road.

Hard to tell. But what is not hard to tell is how the remix totally robs the White Album of all its grittiness, and removes all the rough sonic edges. The remix now sounds more like a ‘pipe and slippers’ affair, a cozy snuggly evening sitting by a warm fireplace, instead of being out in the cold, shivering and worrying about all the blatant killing and the violence that’s going on all around us.

As such, this remix betrays everything the White Album has been standing for during the past 50 years.

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