Wednesday, November 18, 2009

White Album Update
In order of most-to-least preferred, below is the list of tracks my students would have placed in The Beatles' White Album if it were only a single LP of 14 songs. We didn't take track length into account, even thought that would have been a practical concern if they had actually decided to whittle it down like George Martin urged. Our goal was just get it down to 14 and order them into side A and side B.

A few notes:
--Many of the students were familiar with a couple of the more generally popular songs, and a couple students who came to class as big fans already knew the album fairly well. But hardly any of them had really listened to the whole thing, even once, until completing this assignment. So, most of their decisions were really first impressions.

--"Blackbird" was the only unanimous selection.

--No song received zero selections (out of 20 students).

--In our discussions, the first thing I did was raise the issue of Revolution 9, assuming that none of them had chosen it. In fact, I was able to beam like a proud parent after a solid handful of them said they picked it in their necessary 14 - proud not because I agree (it wouldn't have come close to my 14), but because I figured they would dismiss it. In fact, many of them had great reasons for including it despite not being something they would likely listen to, say, in the car. To them it seemed to fit in line with many of the things we have discussed from Revolver through Sgt. Pepper's. It was nice to be able to talk about whether or not the piece worked on the album and rewarded close listening, and not have to only defend the idea of electronic collage as legitimate musical expression.

--Revolution 1 was not especially high on their list, but I can explain that. In the previous class, we discussed the single that preceded The White Album, "Hey Jude" with "Revolution". They loved the single version of Revolution and were a bit deflated when I showed them the very different version of the song (Revolution 1) that ended up on the White Album. I like both, but from an energy level standpoint, the album version really does suffer when you play them back to back. So, most decided they could remove it from the album and still have the song as a single. A win-win. (That let them count it out. in.)

--Their album was required to include a George song and a Ringo song. Nobody was too taken with either Ringo selection, but they preferred "Good Night" to "Don't Pass Me By". That's why it made #6.

--Otherwise, most of our discussion focused on whether or not all the seemingly throwaway tracks like "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" or "Wild Honey Pie" were really expendable or if a few of them had to be kept to preserve the character of the album, and whether that character was worth preserving.

--In general, they seemed to like some of the individual songs quite a bit, but didn't care as much for the album as a whole. And they were saddened to learn how many of the tracks were really the work of only 1 or 2 of the Beatles in isolation from the others. Or maybe they could just tell I was sad about it and were playing along. Who knows.

By how often selected for 14-track version (* means it made my list):
*1. Blackbird
*2 While My Guitar Gently Weeps
*3. Helter Skelter
*4. Back in USSR
*5. Dear Prudence
6. Good Night
7. Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da
*8. Happiness is a Warm Gun
*9. I Will
10. Cry Baby Cry
11. Birthday
*12. Sexy Sadie
*13. Julia
*14. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey
*15. Glass Onion
16. Mother Nature's Son
17. Revolution 1
18. Rocky Raccoon
19. Revolution 9
*20. Why Don't We Do it in the Road?
21. Honey Pie
*22. Don't Pass Me By
23. Yer Blues
24. Long, Long, Long
25. I'm So Tired
26. Piggies
27. Martha My Dear
28. Wild Honey Pie
29. Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
*30. Savoy Truffle

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