White Album: 50 Years Later And Still Not Dated
Fifty years ago today, the Beatles released their ninth album, ‘The Beatles’ - later known as the ‘White Album’ due to its stripped back plain white cover.
Half a century has passed, yet the thirty songs featured have not aged a bit. Indeed, the album was re-released on last November 9th, with a few remastered and remixed songs but little else changed.
Upon the re-release of the ‘White Album’, Paul McCartney stated ‘We had left Sgt Pepper’s band to play in his sunny Elysian Fields and were now striding out in new directions without a map’. These ‘new directions’ seem to be more of a return to a more ‘classic’ rock vibe, especially embodied by the timeless ‘Helter Skelter’ track. This return to a sense of simplicity is also underlined by the album’s artwork, a simple white background with plain black letters contrasting with the madness of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’.
The Beatles’ new direction seemed to please listeners at the time: the album entered UK chart at no 1, and occupied that position for 8 of the 22 weeks it spent on the chart. Listening to it now however, the album somehow manages to not seem dated.
‘Back in the USSR’ is maybe the one song of this album that could be have aged badly, but its cynical take on Cold War politics combined with a classic rock feel means ‘vintage’ seems more appropriate than ‘dated’. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ also stands out on this album with its beautiful vocals; John Lennon called it ‘an exercise in randomness’, and the strong influence of Eric Clapton can definitely be sensed, as well as the impact of the group’s recent practicing of meditation in India. As Lennon sings ‘I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping’, the themes potential and wistfulness shine through: themes that transcend time and space. My favourite track, ‘Blackbird’, seems like it will eternally remain soothing and calming, the combination of delicate guitar and simple lyrics still touching.
The ‘White Album’ seems quite straightforward, a real rock’n’roll album, not especially earth shattering - yet in 1969 The Beatles managed what seems quite impossible, to create an album that withstands the test of time. Listening to it now, it seems comforting and familiar, maybe not groundbreaking but still creative, varied, and just all around a timeless good listen.