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The Beatles - The Beatles [Aka: The White Album] CD (album) cover


The Beatles



4.17 | 792 ratings

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5 stars Dead musicians can be a handful. Talking to them can be even worse. Stripped of their fame and notoriety but still with the same ego and obsessions that got them to the top of the rock 'n roll food chain, you never know what you'll be in for when taking an interview. But there are some meetings that are just too tempting to pass up. This was one. I can't say the Liverpudlian songsmiths who changed popular music are among my personal favorites. But those albums. Oh those albums. And when things started getting really interesting ~ which is to say tense, messy and painful ~ it became compelling. Though those moments are not this band's best inter-personally, they yielded some of their most challenging, and ultimately successful, music. Tension and the painful wake of traumatic events will often cause conditions that foment creative breakthroughs and the Most Famous Band in the World began showing clear signs of that in 1968. And Yoko wasn't the only upstart one making trouble, either.

I figured George Harrison and John Lennon would want to meet somewhere in their British homeland but, unsettlingly for me, we gathered at the Dakota Apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the place Mr. Lennon was murdered in 1980. As an American, that event has given me terrible guilt ever since. Here was probably the most important rock musician of his time and he couldn't walk home without getting shot. God bless America. The three of us sat in Lennon's old flat he'd shared with Yoko Ono, an airy but comfortable warehouse-like space that reflected Lennon's spartan tendencies mixed with Ono's Nipponese aesthetic. My first question was compulsory.

A - Why did you guys want to talk at the Dakota?

John - This'd been my home for seven years before I died, mate, I luv this city. Me and Yoko spent a lot of great time in this apartment, I wasn't gonna let some dope take that away from me.

A - Of course, I can understand that. So you stayed in New York, made it your permanent home?

John - Yeah man, I already traveled the universe when I was alive, I just wanna relax and enjoy things.

A - But George, you're more active?

George - (grinning) Barmy. I mostly hang-out in Scotland frightening people (both chuckle). And play guitah.

A - Gotcha. If it's alright I'd like to talk about the band's 1968 issue, known as The White Album.

George - Good one.

John - My favorite.

A - What makes it your favorite?

John - (after a long pause) It's closest to what we did best; It's what I thought was the closest we ever got to a truly great piece of work.

A - Why?

John - It makes me smile the most.

A - Word is they were difficult sessions, a lot of turmoil and fallout.

John - Don't believe everything you read.

George - Actually it got to be hellish in there. Peoples' patience was frayed, and nerves.

A - Right. Let's begin with 'Back in the USSR'.

John - What about it? It's just a song. Not even a great one, a bluddy attention grabber 'at was, wunn'it.

A - 'Dear Prudence' was written at Rishikesh during the spring of '68 along with many other cuts that appear on the double record. Mia Farrow claimed that the song was written about her sister, both of whom were at the Rishikesh Transcendental course with you. Is that true?

John - If not, that makes her a liar, dunn'it? And me too.

[* Note to reader: It was moments like this, and there were numerous, when Lennon's infamous temper would show and I would have to summon some patience .]

A - 'Glass Onion', a satire about Beatles popular mythology.

George - I like that one.

John - Made 'o glass, baby.

A - And the increasingly reviled 'Ob-La-Di'-- funny because when I was younger it was sort of a kitschy favorite.

John - It's rubbish but if people like it that's fine.

George - I'd not say rubbish. Bottom shelf maybe.

A - And 'Wild Honey Pie', known as "the greatest piece of filler..."

George - But it's passages like this that set the tone for things. It turned out to be alright.

A - Bungalow Bill was written out of disgust at hunting?

John - It wasn't disgust for hunting as much as for this one knob.

A - And maybe a bit of Ugly-Americanism?

John - Maybe, but English hunters are no bettah.

A - And George, we know a lot about 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', the work Eric Clapton did on it. It sounds like he mainly did the solo work, is that right?

George - Mmm, yes, primarily, but, you know, he really helped with the whole thing, rhythm bits and suggesting an arrangement here or change there. It was almost as much his bit as mine.

A - I remember a rumor that you'd wanted to turn the cut into one hour-long experimental project featuring people weeping. [Both men erupt in belly laughter-- I turn a shade of red just a bit darker than a baboon's ass and sink in my seat]. Okay, alright, and Warm Gun, not about heroin I assume?

John - No, no, that's about guns, mate. Guns. This is what started happening. Everyone assumed there was always some hidden message, some cryptic meaning in things, and there just wasn't.

A - I can see that. Must've been frustrating. Did it turn you off interpreting other artists' work?

George - Well just over interpreting, I reckon.

A - And the nice '50s-style falsetto there. This was a good moment for the band at a difficult time, yes?

George - Yeah, great, y'know, after all the bickering we just all really enjoyed doing it. Working it out.

John - I mean that's what being a band is, playing together and each one giving something. We couldn't seem to capture that anymore, so it was a nice one.

A - Paul said 'Martha My Dear' came to him through his "muse" - -

George - That tune was just Paul recording; (grinning) It was only a Northern song.

A - And 'I'm So Tired'; simply that?

John - Exactly, yeah, why not --

A - Even though it's a Paul song, let's talk just a bit about 'Blackbird'.

George - Ace tune, that is. How can you argue with it, and that guitar, and the metronome. Bit o' genius, that.

John - (making a silly face) Aye, like that wun. It's brill. And then George's tune, I like the piggies, George.

[* At this point an assistant came in with coffee, pastry, bowls of fruit, packs of Gauloises, and a container of fat joints. We ate, drank, smoked, and generally goofed-off before sitting down for more conversation.]

A - It's reported that producer George Martin thought 'Rocky Raccoon' was filler. What's your take on that?

George - Not really fair, I'd say. It's a fun track. You have to remember we were disintegrating as a family and so a bit of fun was a great relief ... and also gave the sessions a sense of the unknown. It'd gotten nuts, we were always expected to write hits. But we'd 'av gone crazy if that's all we did.

John - Same with 'Why Don't We Do it in the Road'. Bit o' trifle that, but actually a nifty little number.

A - And your tribute to your mother, Julia, and the only time you play alone on the record. Any thoughts?

John - I said it all in the song.

A - After everyone's favorite party tune, 'Birthday', is one of my favorites, 'Yer Blues'. Please talk about writing and recording it, and your performance of it with the Stones in '68.

John - We were in India and realized the Maharishi was full of sh*t, so I lost my buzz and wrote it. I was missing rock 'n roll and needed it. The odd rhythms were unusual for a straight rock tune, y'know? And that was a good jam with Mick and everyone.

A - Both 'Everybody's Got Something to Hide..' and 'Sexy Sadie' were inspired by him, the Maharishi?

George - That's right, yeah.

A - "Helter skelter" is of course a kind of skyslide for kids in the UK, and had nothing to do with Hell. Another misinterpretation, this time a deadly one?

George - You can't perceive things through just one lens, otherwise you're capable of awful things. Quite sad, that.

A - Guys, we're about to wrap this up with just a brief discussion of side 4, which seemed to be the most unconventional part of the record. Would you agree?

John - The best part. How could you not have fun with Rev Nine?

A - You didn't care for 'Honey Pie' -

John - Look, we wrote songs, man, that's what we did. It's all we did. We'd come in and put what we had out there; We'd arrange, record and re-record, and George (Martin) would do his thing and eventually we'd have some decent stuff, get an album together. That's it. That's all. We were a rock band. ~~~

Atavachron | 5/5 |


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