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Beatles’ ‘White Album': 45-Minute Album Police

Apple / Adrian Borromeo, Ultimate Classic Rock
Apple / Adrian Borromeo, Ultimate Classic Rock

The Beatles‘ self-titled 1968 double album, immediately dubbed the White Album for its inventive cover design, makes a powerful argument for its kitchen-sink track listing. Ironically, given that title, the group was quickly moving in opposing directions – and the project perfectly captured this fission.

That said, it’s just too long (long, long). There are, frankly, parts of the White Album that are barely listenable. There are parts which perhaps could have made better stand-alone singles. There are parts that probably should have been solo asides.

So, what if – instead of packing all of these disparate things into one bulky package – the Beatles had issued another of their tightly constructed single-disc albums in the style of earlier classics like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

You might end up with something like the playlists in this edition of 45-Minute Album Police. Consensus was difficult to find, though there emerged certain trends. Nobody included “Honey Pie,” “Don’t Pass Me By” or “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” Then again, opinions quickly diverged on songs like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Revolution 1.”

Nick DeRiso: I tried for a personality-balanced album that blended equal measures of John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs – then, in keeping with their usual formatting, added two from George Harrison and one from Ringo Starr.

The challenge was keeping enough hints of the outsized experimentalism that has for so long defined the White Album. For me, that meant replacing “Revolution 9″ with the grinding metal of “Helter Skelter,” but also preserving the name-checking goof “Glass Onion,” the cut-and-paste weirdness of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and the lush sendoff “Good Night.”

Side One
“Back in the U.S.S.R.”
“Dear Prudence”
“Martha My Dear”
“Savoy Truffle”
“Revolution 1″
“Mother Nature’s Son”
“Glass Onion”

Side Two
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
“Blackbird”
“I’m So Tired”
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
“I Will”
“Julia”
“Helter Skelter”
“Good Night”
Leave out: “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Wild Honey Pie,” “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Piggies,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” “Birthday,” “Yer Blues,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Honey Pie,” “Cry Baby Cry,” “Revolution 9.”

Michael Gallucci: How do you cut in half one of the greatest albums ever made? With much hesitation and regret it turns out. The flow of the original White Album’s four sides is near perfect, so my running order remains pretty much the same (except for those regrettable omissions), but with Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” swapped to the end of the new Side One and “Rocky Raccoon” moved up to start Side Two.

That original first side is also near perfect, so six (of my revised album’s 14 total) tracks come from it, starting with the excellent opener, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” I also retained the LP’s fitting closer, “Good Night” (and it also makes room for one Starr song, per the Beatles’ usual position at the time). Cutting all but one of Harrison’s songs was the toughest decision here, but Lennon and McCartney probably would have done the same thing.

Side One
“Back in the U.S.S.R.”
“Dear Prudence”
“Glass Onion”
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
“Martha My Dear”
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Side Two
“Rocky Raccoon”
“Blackbird”
“Julia”
“Birthday”
“Helter Skelter”
“Revolution 1″
“Good Night”

Leave out: “Wild Honey Pie,” “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “I’m So Tired,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” “I Will,” “Yer Blues,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Honey Pie,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Cry Baby Cry,” “Revolution 9.”

Annie Zaleski: Part of the White Album’s charm is that it’s a sprawling, somewhat-messy double record. Although “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” narrowly missed making my cut due to the time constraints (drat!), I left on the self-referential “Glass Onion” and whimsical, Macca folk trifle “Rocky Raccoon,” to ensure this subtle obtuseness remained.

However, viewing the record through a lens of weirdness obscures the fact that the White Album contains some of the Beatles’ most indelible songwriting. There’s “Blackbird,” of course — a staple of recent McCartney set lists prefaced by a story about its civil rights-related origins — George Harrison’s career-defining “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the oft-covered “Dear Prudence.”

Above all, I wanted to highlight how the White Album illustrates the Beatles’ range and confidence, between its deft moments of rangy rock ‘n’ roll (“Helter Skelter,” “Birthday,” “Back In the U.S.S.R.”) and acoustic delicacy (“I Will,” “Julia”). Plus, the aptly named “I’m So Tired,” jaunty “Martha My Dear” and foggy “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” pointed where the band would go on future records.

Side One
“Back In the U.S.S.R.”
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
“Blackbird”
“Rocky Raccoon”
“I Will”
“Julia”

Side Two
“Helter Skelter”
“Glass Onion”
“Martha My Dear”
“Sexy Sadie”
“I’m So Tired”
“Dear Prudence”
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
“Birthday”

Leave out: “Wild Honey Pie,” “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Piggies,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” “Yer Blues,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Revolution 1,” “Honey Pie,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Cry Baby Cry,” “Revolution 9,” “Good Night.”

Dave Lifton: I’ve long believed that the White Album’s sprawl was its greatest strength, even if it let in some weaker songs, because you could see where John and Paul were branching out; John in a more experimental and abstract direction and Paul showing his command of American music styles. So, the dilemma in cutting it in half involved whether I wanted to include only my favorite songs or give a more accurate portrayal of where the individual Beatles were at that stage. I went with the latter approach because it was more fun to imagine the arguments they would have had, like Paul insisting on “Birthday” and “Rocky Raccoon,” only getting them if “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Sexy Sadie” were in, and John threatening to quit if “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” made the final cut.

Side One
“Back in the U.S.S.R.”
“Dear Prudence”
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
“Blackbird”
“I’m So Tired”
“I Will”
“Julia”

Side Two
“Birthday”
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
“Martha My Dear”
“Sexy Sadie”
“Mother Nature’s Son”
“Piggies”
“Rocky Raccoon”
“Good Night”

Leave out: “Glass Onion,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Wild Honey Pie,” “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” “Yer Blues,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Helter Skelter,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Revolution 1,” “Honey Pie,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Cry Baby Cry,” “Revolution 9.”

Matthew Wilkening: As I’m sure everybody’s saying, this was very difficult. There’s way more than 45 minutes of great music on this album. I expected this to be the assignment where I was outed as being firmly on “Team Paul,” but surprisingly, this list trims an equal number of McCartney and Lennon songs.

The easiest cuts came from opposite sides of the spectrum: the most experimental (“Revolution 9,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun”) and the most nostalgic (“Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Birthday.”) After that, it became pretty clear that things were heading in a mellow, more traditional direction, so even very good rock songs such as “Helter Skelter” and “Revolution 1″ had to go. Besides, Motley Crue did the former song better, and “Yer Blues” covers the blues-rock territory more impressively than the latter.

Final note about how amazing the Beatles are: After all these years, you can still find new surprises in their work. “Long, Long, Long” somehow never connected with me before, but I can’t imagine I’ll listen to it less than 50 times today.

Side One
“Dear Prudence”
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
“Martha My Dear”
“I’m So Tired”
“Blackbird”
“Piggies”
“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”
“I Will”

Side Two
“Don’t Pass Me By”
“Julia”
“Yer Blues”
“Mother Nature’s Son”
“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
“Long, Long, Long”
“Cry Baby Cry”
“Wild Honey Pie”

Leave out: “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Glass Onion,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Birthday,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Helter Skelter,” “Revolution 1,” “Honey Pie,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Revolution 9,” “Good Night.”

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