Rock Geeks Remix the White Album

In March 2007, Cristy and William set out to right one of the wrongs of history, and turn the Beatles’ The Beatles (“the White Album”) into a strong single-album (one-record LP). This involved reordering the tracks, tampering with them using sound-editing software in more or less unobtrusive ways, and adding songs recorded at the same time but somehow not included in the hodgepodge helter-skelter miscellany of the seemingly all-inclusive record. A milestone of rock history, arguably a masterpiece, the White Album was not, we felt, a solid Beatles album. Now, we feel, it is. Here the post-producers discuss their remixed LP.

Side 1

Track 1—Glass Onion

W: I have serious doubts about “Back in the USSR” as an opener for the White Album. It’s a novelty, a B-Side, and, for the Beatles, not even a good B-Side. It’s like something to be released as a flexi-single to the fan club for Christmas, like “You Know My Name (Look up the Number).” Granted, the jet sounds are a nice opener for the album, but the song itself feels like weak joke. It’s underdeveloped both as a song about the Soviet Union and as a Beach Boys parody. They don’t develop it; they don’t even do the job that the Beach Boys would’ve done.

C: I think it’s representative of what they were putting out as singles in that time period (late 1967–late 1968): “Hello Goodbye,” “The Fool on the Hill,” etc., so I think it stands up as an introduction, especially with the jet sounds. But I think “Back in the U.S.S.R.” is typical Paul fluff, and there are songs that would be just as effective, if not more, as an opener to the White Album.

W: I agree, which brings us to our remixed White Album. Your suggestion of “Glass Onion” is excellent as an opening track. By referring to the songs of the Beatles’ past, it eases the listener into new phases of their development.

C: Yeah, plus it’s catchy. The two-beat drum at the intro is startling. An opening track has to throttle the listener, in my opinion. And adding to what you said, it references earlier songs—it’s like the album is picking up where “Magical Mystery Tour” left off.

W: As you pointed out, the Beatles have always showed masterful taste in opening tracks (at least for the British versions of their albums; I’m not sure how much control they had over their American counterparts—“Drive My Car,” for example, on the British release of Rubber Soul, as opposed to the American version’s “I’m Looking Through You”). It seems as though a lot of albums by lesser bands will include the hit single as the opening track, a shallow commercial strategy either to promote the single by making it the track that album listeners are most likely to hear, or to promote the album by giving listeners the instant gratification of hearing the single first before sitting through nine tracks of “filler.” (For an example, take “In a Big Country,” the ultimate one-hit wonder—both album and band even seemed named to push the single.) The Beatles don’t do that. Their opening tracks serve as opening tracks (admittedly, almost all their songs are hit-single-quality). But “Glass Onion” is just too weird to be a single; it can’t be taken out of context, it’s not self-contained—but it’s effective as an opener because it’s punchy, and it bridges new and old material.

(As a side note, I and other XTC fans are convinced that they usually arranged the songs on their albums from worst song to best—not in a commercial sense, but in a musical sense.)

C: And it’s short. “Glass Onion” doesn’t clock in at much more than two minutes. An opening track should be like the opening credits of a movie, or an opening scene of a television program. It’s the hook.
            One of the most misplaced tracks I’ve ever heard on an album was Madonna’s “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” on Ray of Light. This song would be perfect either as the last track or the penultimate track (sometimes final songs serve as a postscript, or epilogue [e.g., “Her Majesty” from Abbey Road]). Instead, it’s the introduction. It’s slow, it’s long, it seems to be a summary of the entire Ray of Light album.
W: “Here’s another place you can go…” appears to introduce the album.

C: “Looking through the bent-back tulips” is like a reference to “Mother Nature’s Son”: “Find me in the field of grass.”

W: But even knowing the references to other songs doesn’t make the song crystal clear. The “glass onion” is not transparent. I have not yet heard a theory about what they could be referring to. The actual meaning of a glass onion is inscrutable or ambiguous, which I admire.

Track 2—Dear Prudence

W: I had to remove the annoying jet sounds that conclude “Back in the U.S.S.R” and bleed over the opening guitar chords of “Dear Prudence” to make a smooth transition. Luckily, the sound effect was mostly in one stereo channel, which made it easier to remove without hurting the guitar intro.

C: I couldn’t think of any other place to put “Dear Prudence.” It’s the second song.

W: This is the only song we left in place. It’s not brash enough to open the album, but it needs to be at the beginning, it’s a sweet, seductive, “brand new day.”

Track 3—Martha My Dear

W: Well, we had to include Paul. I would’ve normally overlooked this one, so I’m glad you brought it to my attention. It has the usual Paul naïveté, but it’s not overly campy.

C: I can’t remember what we wanted to be the third track, but I knew that it should be a Paul song. “Blackbird” was too acoustic to immediately follow “Dear Prudence.” “I Will” and “Honey Pie”—no. “Martha My Dear” is a bit quirky for Paul so I thought it fit nicely here.

W: Of all the animal songs on the White Album, this one is the most sincere. A song for Paul’s dog. Aw.

Track 4—Why Don’t We Do It in the Road

W: I cut this down to one verse instead of three, splicing the jarring final chord onto the end of the first verse—the last two verses are just silly with the wailing. It has the quality of a one-joke Saturday Night Live sketch, gleaning humor from repetition. Short songs are funnier. But as for why we decided to keep it at all, I think we wanted to keep some diversity and playfulness of the White Album while cutting way back on it.

C: This is such a tension-filled album in the first place, and has so many excesses (“Helter Skelter,” “Revolution 9,” “Revolution 1”). It’s important to preserve that spirit. But to make this new version a tight album, it was necessary to abridge all the self-indulgence.

W: I’m proud of the editing I did; a one-joke song ought to be a one-verse song.

Track 5—Cry Baby Cry

W: I like the transition from the brassy indulgent into the subtle, complex, and sweet.

C: “Cry Baby Cry,” I think, was unfairly placed in the annals of the White Album, dropped between “Savoy Truffle” and “Revolution 9” on side four.

W: We left the mystery song “Take me back” in place, deferring judgment to whatever reasoning had put it there in the first place (although it will be less unnoticeable without its aftertaste flooded by “Revolution 9”).

C: “Cry Baby Cry” isn’t a masterpiece, but it grabs me somehow.

W: To me it’s like a three-verse version of a 12-verse Dylan song. It has fanciful fairy-tale lyrics but doesn’t progress musically. Of course, it’s more musically polished than Dylan.

Track 6—Not Guilty

W: The first of two surprises.

C: This should have been included on the original. It’s creepy and has a great sound. George was screwed.

W: He once said that he had to let John and Paul record ten of their songs before he could get them to think about recording one of his. If you ever doubted that George Harrison was an undervalued member of this ensemble, consider they spent more time recording this unreleased masterpiece than they spent recording their whole first album. Why they left this one off and included “Revolution 9” is a question more people should be asking. The album could have built to a satisfying crescendo instead of tapering off into dribble.
            “Not Guilty” is overbearing and dramatic; it feels like a five-minute song at only three minutes. The heaviness of the instrumentation contrasts beautifully with the lightness of the vocals.

Track 7—Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

C: We didn’t want our White Album to be leaden, which is why I suggested “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.”

W: To me, this is one of the defining rock songs of the White Album. So many of the tracks feel like they’re diversions or digressions, investigating backwaters or back alleys, but this feels like full-speed-ahead rock. It feels like the direction Lennon needed to go. I interpret it as a heroin song, the opening bracket to the closing bracket of “Cold Turkey”, though I don’t have any evidence.

C: I always thought it was nonsensical—John singing about him and Yoko (“monkey” being some sort of pet name). I think we placed it toward the end of side one to re-energize the listener.

W: I think both sides of our White Album have a progression from gentler to more rocking—from soothing to difficult. It unravels into chaos, but doesn’t disintegrate.

Track 8—I’m So Tired

C: The end of side one. This album was conceptualized as a 33 1/3 RPM LP, not a CD. “I’m So Tired” is a strong closer, like the scene before an intermission.

W: It’s a beautiful song. Its ambiguity with regard to wakefulness versus sleep—as well as falling somewhere between soft rock and hard rock—makes it an excellent track to place in the middle. John Lennon is not sure whether to go on, but he does. The mumbling is a perfect way to end this side, also.

C: “I’m So Tired,” although one of my favorites, always filled me with dread. There’s this special effect in the documentary The Compleat Beatles that shows a picture circa 1969; while this song plays, each Beatle disappears, one by one. It’s meant to symbolize the band’s breakup. “I’m So Tired” reminds me of the disintegration of a phenomenal band, so I believe it is best used as a closer.

Side 2


Track 9—Mother Nature’s Son

W: We added a long silence between sides one and two to symbolize the LP format (i.e., the time it would take to flip over the album). But we chose to use just one CD instead of two. If only we had the gear to burn vinyl!

C: “Mother Nature’s Son.” This is one of Paul’s better moments on the White Album, making the most of his gift for melody and delicacy. Selecting this as the opening track for side two makes an overlooked song more prominent.

W: I think “Yer Blues” ruined this for me. They both evoke natural imagery (“The eagle picks my eye/The worm he licks my bone”) but “Yer Blues” is empty and mean.
            “Mother Nature’s Son” is easy to dismiss—the lyrics are straightforward and sentimental—but I think it’s more complex and beautiful than “Blackbird.” It’s a good opener for the second side for me because it evokes more than any song their time spent in India. Neither as derivative of Indian music as George’s sitar-and-tabla songs, nor as cynical as “Sexy Sadie” or “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,”  it seems as though for these few minutes Paul was able to relax into the spirit of meditation.

Track 10—Happiness is a Warm Gun

W: This fits the overall structure of the album—softer to harder. Plus “She’s not a girl who misses much” could refer to Mother Nature, following “Mother Nature’s Son.”

C: This was extremely difficult for me to place. It’s brilliant and imperative—to me—that it was included in our version. It’s in a great place (side one, last track) on the original. But I think we did an effective job placing it. The transition is smooth, and is a great foil to Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son.”

W: It’s like “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” in that it shows John Lennon advancing as a songwriter. Not necessarily improving as a songwriter, but going where he needed to go next—moving away from pop and going toward harder rock and social criticism.

Track 11—Savoy Truffle

C: I think most of George’s songs of this era easily stand up to Paul’s and John’s. They’re straightforward rock without John’s cryptic lyrics or Paul’s whimsy. Adding more of his songs—more than what would usually be included on a Beatles album—gives an earthy, accessible element to the collection.
            For once, George is the Beatle who sounds as if he is having the most fun, with the knowledge of his burgeoning song-crafting talent and his friendship with Eric Clapton (who plays on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and is the subject of “Savoy Truffle”). John and Paul, on the other hand, blatantly compete and antagonize each other with their drastically emerging musical styles.

W: I agree. I might go so far as to say that George is my favorite songwriter of the Beatles. Partly this is due to my desire to be original (which is why George Martin is my favorite Beatle), but I’m also serious. “Savoy Truffle” is a peculiar example. Like “Taxman,” it’s somewhere between blazing rock and humorous novelty. But there aren’t enough great rock songs about food, and this aspect of decadence and excess has been neglected as a subject by spoiled millionaire rock celebrities in favor of the more obvious and trite sex and drugs.
            I consider this another song we’ve saved from the unlistenable tail-end of the White Album.

C: The beginning—with the drums and what sounds like a Hammond organ—has always reminded me of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Groovily playing in a scene with Fred ripping off a phantom’s mask, revealing an old man. “And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

Track 12—Sexy Sadie

W: I think it re-establishes a note of sophistication. We’re teetering on the brink of pop and rock, order and chaos. This brings us back into order. The piano works well after “Savoy Truffle.”
            Given that this song is about the Maharishi,  with“Savoy Truffle” we have a two-song transition we have a snapshot of this time in the Beatles’ lives: George, Eric Clapton, John, and the Maharishi. I think we’ve managed to make the White Album a more personal, sincere, autobiographical document.

Cristy doesn’t like Abbey Road as much as I do, and at some point we unraveled how we felt about it. While it’s a musically solid Beatles album, the Lennon/McCartney songs tend to be empty vessels, devoid of a connection to John and Paul’s interior lives. They had become emotionally withdrawn from each other, the dying love decade, and perhaps from their now astronomical audience. Or they had started setting aside the material they were most invested in for their solo projects—Wings or the Plastic Ono Band. There might be an arc that could be tracked over the Beatles’ career from more personal (“In My Life”) to less personal (“Polythene Pam”) material, from more vulnerable (“Help”) to more guarded (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), from more literal (“Norwegian Wood”) to more poetic or cyptic (“Come Together”). If so, our new White Album slows that arc. It’s not that the personal material wasn’t in the original, it had just been subjected to “censorship by flooding,” mixed with things that made it seem irrelevant.

C: I don’t have any deep reason for selecting this song. Although it’s important to give a representation of the era, I really just picked it because I’ve always liked it. The melody is complex; I think it would be difficult to nail down if you were trying to pick it out on the piano or guitar. The Beatles’ knack for funky chord changes and unexpected path of melody has always astounded me.

Track 13—Blackbird

W: It’s sort of obligatory. Truthfully this has been ruined for me by women in my high school class who, in their sensitivity, latched onto this song without demonstrating anything like an interest in the larger context of the Beatles and the White Album. Maybe it’s unfair, but I think if you listen to this, you also need to listen to “Helter Skelter,” and I don’t think they would have been able to deal with that. I mean, “Blackbird” by itself misrepresents the Beatles of this era. But we leave it on our White Album because it’s a good song, and we don’t want to leave Paul McCartney off. We gotta throw Paul a bone or two. But our generosity and respect for the man ends at “Honey Pie” and “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da.” I have serious allergies. “The Long and Winding Road” makes me queasy, and I even have a hard time with “Penny Lane.”

C: It just seems as if Paul’s brand of pop is obsolete by now—well, in 1968, I mean. With all due respect to him (after all, he is one of the great songwriters of the past 50 years), songs such as the ones you mention, along with “Rocky Raccoon,” seem weak compared to John’s and George’s. I’m not sure what he’s aiming for besides novelty and lullabies.

W; He’s just trying to piss off John by making his rock band uncool.

Track 14—Revolution 2:00

W: I shortened “Revolution 9” to two minutes, one of the best things I’ve ever done, on a par with picking up beer cans other people left lying on the beach. It wouldn’t be the White Album without it, but it wasn’t really the White Album with it. Seriously, in the context of a pop album, this is alarmingly weird, but in the context of electronic music and tape pieces, even in 1968, this is a weak effort. For example, John Cage’s “William’s Mix” was already 16 years old when John Lennon created “Revolution 9.” He should have saved this for the Plastic Ono Band.

C: To me, the White Album always ended with “Cry Baby Cry.” Skipping the last two songs—“Revolution 9” and “Good Night”—was part of the ritual of listening to the record. This left only four songs on side four; by the time you got to it, all the air had pretty much seeped out of the album, along with your enthusiasm. Did you really want to listen to “Revolution 1,” with all the parrot-type screeching and John’s moaning? “Honey Pie,” which was corny beyond words? So really, it left two songs on side four: “Savoy Truffle” and “Cry Baby Cry,” and by then, what was the point?
            Anyway, including “Revolution 9” on our new version of the White Album was a thoroughly gross idea, but we surmised that if we shortened it to two minutes, we could provide the Beatles layman with a sample. Plus, we could name it “Revolution 2,” which carried many meanings for me, the funniest of which I likened to the bodily function it so neatly represents.
            We did the hard work, dear readers, of poring over this faux-experimental track, picking out the most intriguing sounds. Kudos to William for making it almost bearable.

Track 15—Hey Bulldog

W: Until we came along, John Lennon’s best rock song was homeless. The Yellow Submarine movie tie-in LP did not constitute a rock album or even a worthwhile listening experience. It had two previously unreleased songs—three if you think “All Together Now” is good enough to be considered a Beatles song. Although George Martin is my favorite Beatle, I must admit that his movie soundtrack work is only that. Cristy’s suggestion to add this to our White Album solved two problems: one was how to rescue “Hey Bulldog” from the purgatory to which it had been damned—a sixteen-dollar CD single (with “Only A Northern Song” as a solid B-side, and a bunch of other stuff); the other was how to make our White Album be more than just a reshuffling of songs but, in fact, a rethinking of the Beatles output from that confused time period.

C: With its sharp edges and harshness (if this song had a taste it would be lemon) “Hey Bulldog” uncharacteristically sounds as if the Beatles are having a good time recording this song (and, according to Geoff Emerick, this was one of the last good times they had). Its melody is simple, the chorus is memorable, the lyrics are easy to remember but typical cryptic Lennon nonsense. The heavy-breathing conclusion reminds me a lot of the end of “Lovely Rita,” which was recorded in a more inspired, harmonious time. I think if “Hey Bulldog” were included on the White Album, or even released as a single like “Hey Jude” or “Lady Madonna” or “Revolution,” it would have been a much bigger hit and easily recognizable to those not well versed in the Beatles canon.

W; The two other candidates for tracks missing from the original album that could have been included on ours were “The Inner Light”—

C: It doesn’t fit.

W: —and “What’s the New Mary Jane”—

C: Ew.

W: —which somehow made the cut for the Anthology six-CD series. Fair enough, but “Hey Bulldog” should have been included as well.

Track 16—While My Guitar Gently Weeps

W: Whoever produced my White Album CD divided the tracks so as to include the shouted “Hail!” at the end of “Bungalow Bill” instead of at the beginning of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—I felt it belonged at the beginning of the latter, so I used sound-editing software to put it there. Cristy and I are unsure that “hail” is what that utterance is. I always thought of it as “hail!” as in “All Hail!”—heralding the arrival of a great song,  recapturing the attention of the people at the party who had drifted out of the room and started talking over “The Continuing Adventures of Bungalow Bill.”. This is probably my favorite song on the White Album, which is why I pushed to make it the ultimate song, soothing, melodic, hypnotic, heavy, and yet pure rock.

C: I put up no argument to William’s insistence that this song should be the album’s closer. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” has always lent majesty to the disjointed mess that sometimes characterizes the White Album. It’s a classy, somber, serious rock song. It gives definition to the finality of our collection, and in my opinion, pays further homage to the underappreciated George Harrison, who, in 1968, is on the ascent to his 1969 zenith as a Beatle.

W: We did it. Let the fact that we remixed one of the greatest rock albums of all time stand as a testament to our slavish dedication to the legacy of the Beatles, embellished by the gift of hindsight. They were the greatest rock band in the world, but we wanted them to be even better.

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