The White Album, Side 2 / The Beatles
I've been thinking a lot about the white album lately. Christmastime will always make me long for this record, ever since Christmas 1968 when I found it under the tree, tore off the cellophane wrapper, and promptly disappeared into my girlhood bedroom for a week. I gazed at those four enclosed color head shots of John, Paul, George, and Ringo and pored over the lyrics booklet and committed the entire LP to memory as I have never before, or since, absorbed any record album. I consider it such a complete, coherent work of art that I can't even hear these songs out of order -- the instant "Bungalow Bill" is over, I MUST hear "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and nothing else will do. Et cetera, et cetera.
I saw the superb Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux perform the white album in its entirety two nights ago; I was in heaven, standing amidst a thicket of other vintage-1968 music fans who likewise knew every word, every drumbeat, every syncopation and stutter and odd sound effect. Luckily, the Fab Faux are obsessive Beatle geeks too and reproduced the whole thing exactly -- except that they stopped to change guitars between songs, totally disconcerting those of us who needed the sweet acoustic downbeat of "Mother Nature's Son" to fall immediately, a split second and no more, after the crashing last electric chord of "Yer Blues."
My favorite side was always Side 2 (I still think of it in vinyl terms, you see). My favorite song? "I Will," because Paul McCartney wrote it for me -- we hadn't yet met (still haven't, I'll admit), but somehow he knew I was out there and was waiting for me (still is, I'm sure).
But to get there, I absolutely had to go through the rest of the side in order: first the catchy music-hall tune "Martha, My Dear" (remember the photo of Paul with his sheepdog Martha in the album booklet?), then the deliciously draggy "I'm So Tired", which is in a dead heat with the Beatles' "I'm Only Sleeping" and the Kinks' "Tired of Waiting" for the most perfect expressions of exhaustion ever; you've gotta love that line "And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid get," the inevitable rhyme for "cigarette". (By the way, I lied a couple weeks ago when I said Paul Simon's "America" was the song that started me smoking; this song had every bit as much to do with it.)
Then the stunning Paul acoustic number "Blackbird," then George's snotty satire "Piggies" (that killer last line: "clutching forks and knives to eat the bacon" -- forget his gauzy Eastern spirituality, in my opinion George Harrison should have let his sharp, snide wit show more often). And then comes John's Bob Dylan parody "Rocky Raccoon", which -- come on, admit it -- is better than ninety percent of all Bob Dylan songs. Admit it. I'll never check into a hotel room without looking for the Gideon's Bible in the bedside table and thinking of this song.
It's followed by the obligatory Ringo track, "Don't Pass Me By," a country-twangin' number wonderfully suited to Ringo's limited vocal skills; that whole "you were in a car crash and you lost your hair" verse was, of course, central to the whole "Paul is dead" hoax. (Apologies to those who are too young to know about this...so go look it up; I'm on a roll and can't stop to explain.)
Then came "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?", which faintly discomfited the adolescent me, already getting antsy to hear "I Will" by this point. But god, how it's grown on me over the years. Sure, it's ludicrous and was meant as a joke, and yet . . . man, how awesome is it to hear McCartney ripping into this number. That slightly discordant electric piano banging away, just a touch of sneaky slide guitar, and a thumping drum way forward in the mix; it's down-and-nasty, just to prove that there's a darker edge to Paul, balancing the sweetness of "Martha" and "Blackbird" and "I Will." At age 15 I didn't want to know that other side existed; but oh, now I do.
And then comes "Julia." Because Paul isn't the only sensitive, aching soul around here, and John's poignant acoustic ode to his dead mother brings down the house. So you're getting the full range of Paul, and the full range of John, and Ringo at his best, and George at his sharpest -- what more could you ask for? The best side on the best album by the best band that ever lived. Admit it.