Arguably The Best Songs From “The White Album”

Arguably The Best Songs From “The White Album” | I Love Classic Rock Videos

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The Beatles’ ninth studio album needs no introduction, but the world knows it more affectionately by another name: The White Album.

Unlike the explosion of color and psychedelia that graced the cover of their previous masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album is stark simplicity itself. A blank canvas, if you will. But don’t be fooled by the cover’s minimalism – the music within explodes with vibrant experimentation.

This wasn’t a collection meticulously crafted for radio play. These were audacious sonic journeys, genre-bending explorations that defied categorization. It was a treasure trove of “oddities”, as some might call them, each a testament to the unbridled creativity of the Fab Four.  

The seeds of these songs were sown in the spring of 1968, during the band’s now-legendary trip to Rishikesh, India, where they immersed themselves in Transcendental Meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  But the idyllic beginnings would soon give way to a tumultuous recording process, one riddled with creative clashes and simmering tensions that would foreshadow the eventual dissolution of the band.

The ten below are our best picks.

10. “Back In the U.S.S.R.”

“Back In the U.S.S.R.” kicks off The White Album with a bang. It’s a playful yet subversive tribute to both the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry. Paul McCartney sings about the joys of being back in the Soviet Union, a cheeky twist on the typical American patriotism found in rock and roll during the Cold War. The energy on this track is infectious.

Macca pounds the piano with the intensity of Little Richard, George Harrison throws down a scorching guitar solo, and the band’s signature harmonies soar on the backing vocals. In fact, this might be the only moment on the entire White Album where The Beatles truly sound like they’re enjoying themselves.

9. “Dear Prudence”

John Lennon’s “Dear Prudence” boasts one of the most unusual inspirations on The White Album. While the band was in India studying meditation, Lennon found himself trying to convince Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence to emerge from her self-imposed seclusion.

This quirky backstory might raise an eyebrow, but the song itself is a stunning masterpiece.  Lennon’s shimmering guitar tone sets the stage for a beautiful melody, lush harmonies, and a powerful, uplifting finale that washes over the listener in the final chorus.

8. “Rocky Raccoon”

“Rocky Raccoon” injects a dose of absurdist humor into The White Album‘s eclectic mix. This genre-bending track takes aim at the rambling folk ballads of the 60s, spinning a wild tale of a love triangle, a drunken doctor, and revenge in the Wild West – all delivered with a wink and a nod.

The musical arrangements perfectly complement the lyrical chaos. George Martin’s honky-tonk piano lays the foundation, while McCartney channels his inner cowboy (with perhaps a slightly questionable accent). “Rocky Raccoon” is a welcome respite from the album’s heavier themes, offering a dose of lighthearted eccentricity.

7. “Blackbird”

Paul’s “Blackbird” is a powerful folk ballad inspired by a confluence of influences: the American Civil Rights Movement, the music of J.S. Bach, and the simple beauty of a singing blackbird. The song’s strength lies in its deceptive simplicity. The stripped-down arrangement and straightforward lyrics, urging someone to “take these broken wings and learn to fly”, are accessible on the surface.

Yet, the metaphor of a bird yearning for freedom resonates deeply, offering a timeless message of overcoming oppression. Unlike many political anthems that quickly become dated, “Blackbird” transcends its specific inspiration, serving as a masterclass in crafting enduring social commentary.

6. “Glass Onion”

John unleashes a torrent of playful mockery in “Glass Onion”, the White Album‘s frenetic psych-rock explosion. Ringo Starr’s relentless snare drum lays down the foundation for this two-minute blast of musical fury, while George Harrison’s razor-sharp guitar riffs slice through the mix. Lennon’s vocal delivery is a joyous sneer, gleefully poking fun at Beatles superfans who dissect the band’s earlier psychedelic works for hidden meanings.

The song doesn’t take itself too seriously, reveling in its own absurdity with a punk-like energy that’s both exhilarating and infectious. The track concludes with a disorienting shift, as George Martin’s swirling strings usher in a sense of playful chaos, leaving the listener both breathless and wanting more.

5. “Julia”

Lennon lays bare his soul on “Julia”, a hauntingly beautiful folk ballad that ranks among his most emotionally raw compositions. The song grapples with the complexities of his relationship with his mother, Julia, who died tragically in a car accident when Lennon was just 17.

Despite a strained relationship marked by abandonment, the sharp-witted Beatle’s lyrics overflow with a potent mix of love and longing. The gentle fingerpicking guitar underscores the solitary nature of his grief, leaving the listener with a palpable sense of John’s enduring emotional vulnerability.

4. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”

McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is a vibrant explosion of pure sonic joy that divides audiences like no other Beatles song. While Lennon famously disliked it, many find it exhilarating. The track is a three-minute sugar rush fueled by handclaps, bongos, maracas, falsetto harmonies, and a clanging piano that wouldn’t be out of place in a Western saloon.  McCartney sidesteps the pitfalls of imitation, opting for a clever twist.

He infuses the song with the buoyant energy of ska, evident in the elastic bassline, but uses it as a springboard for his own playful musical concoction. The unexpected gender swap in the lyrics, a dash of canned laughter, and McCartney’s passionate final chorus all contribute to the song’s deliriously joyful spirit. Unlike most rock anthems that focus on teenage romance or partying, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” finds pure pleasure in the simple joys of domestic life.

3. “Helter Skelter”

The Beatles weren’t exactly known for heavy metal, but “Helter Skelter” stands as a surprising proto-metal masterpiece on The White Album. Composed by the usually melody-driven Paul McCartney, the song pre-dates the rise of Black Sabbath and even the early experiments of bands like Blue Cheer.

“Helter Skelter” explodes with a pummeling guitar riff that’s both mesmerizing and punishing, a sound that would become a hallmark of heavy metal. Unlike most proto-metal which leaned towards psychedelic rock or blues, this track dives headfirst into sonic brutality. McCartney’s demonic screams, Ringo’s caveman-like drumming, and not one, but two fake endings make for an exhilaratingly intense listening experience.  While it may have left blisters on Ringo’s fingers, “Helter Skelter” undeniably paved the way for an entire genre of music.

2. “Happiness is a Warm Gun”

John unleashes a potent sonic assault with “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, a two-minute and forty-three-second masterpiece that packs the punch of a much longer track. This genre-bending song is actually three mini-songs stitched together, and Lennon himself later described it as a whirlwind tour through “the history of rock and roll”.

Despite its brevity, the song’s power is undeniable. The BBC even banned it for the sexually suggestive imagery in the final section, where a fired-up Lennon screams his lyrics as the other Beatles provide a layer of hauntingly beautiful backing vocals that counterpoint the raw intensity.  It’s no wonder that “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is reportedly a favorite among both McCartney and Harrison.

1. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Forget “greatest George Harrison song” – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a contender for the top of The Beatles’ entire catalog. This masterpiece emerged from a period of discord, both within the world and within the band itself. Harrison, having spent the previous two years delving into the sitar, returned to his guitar with renewed passion.

The song’s very creation feels almost divinely inspired – using the I Ching as a guide, Harrison opened a book at random and based the song on the first phrase he saw: “gently weeps”. The resulting melody, punctuated by a soaring Eric Clapton solo, is a testament to Harrison’s raw talent and emotional honesty. It’s a song that reminds us music can truly transcend – a beacon of harmony born from discord.