Saturday, June 14, 2008

Album of an Era...

Over the past week, I've had the opportunity to enjoy a rare treat. Twice while driving, I have listened through the entire Beatles' White Album, which was released 40 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1968.

I remember that year well as a time when I was beginning to come of age. On the other hand, many thought the world itself was beginning to come to an end. 1968 was a year of profoundly painful birthpangs in the U.S. and around the world...
  • In Viet Nam...it is the year of the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Saigon, and the My Lai massacre. President Johnson orders the cessation of bombing in North Viet Nam by November. However, in the same month, 3 million tons of bombs are dropped on Laos. Student protests grow around the world.
  • Presidential politics...Lyndon Johnson announces he will not run for re-election, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated, it's Nixon/Agnew for the Republicans and Humphrey/Muskie for the Democrats after a famously riotous convention in Chicago. Nixon is elected.
  • Civil rights battles explode...Dr. King is gunned down. America's cities are on fire—sit-ins, riots and scenes of frightening urban chaos proliferate. The issue even shows up at the Mexico City Olympics with "black-power" protests.
  • Near year's end, Apollo 8 orbits the moon and for the first time in human history, people see the far side of the moon and a complete view of Earth from space. The astronauts read from Genesis.
The mood and atmosphere of such a tumultuous year could only be captured musically by the immense talent of the Beatles. Fresh off the success of their groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper album in 1967, sequestered for a season in India to meditate under the guidance of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and with serious personal and creative tension and discord growing among them, the Beatles put together a wide-ranging, imaginative work that captures the prodigious skills of these four musicians at the height of their talent.

This record shares similarities with Sgt. Pepper, and it takes even greater advantage of the musical variety and technological advances that made the earlier record so innovative. In fact, I think of the White Album as Sgt. Pepper gone to seed—a further experimental "concept" album more like an encyclopedia of ideas rather than any one focused concept. As with Sgt. Pepper, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, although, unlike Sgt. Pepper, which has only a few exceptional songs, many songs on the White Album are true classics—and have no trouble standing on their own to this day.

Critics have asserted that this album represents the work of four individuals more than that of a cohesive band, that it is uneven, that it includes debatable material (e.g. "Wild Honey Pie," "Revolution #9," etc.), that it is pretentious, overblown and would have been much tighter as a single record, and so on. However, the simple fact is that musically and culturally this is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, that both its flaws and strengths work together to create a magical world in the listener's imagination as only the Beatles could, and that when the White Album is listened to as an album, it stands as a work of musical genius that enables its hearers to journey through the crazy-making, mind-bending days of the world that was in 1968.

It blew me away back then and it still does 40 years later. I encourage you to take some time and listen to it at one sitting and see if you don't agree.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Listen to the Beatles....really?

All Music Guide claimed the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper “will forever be known as the recording that changed rock and roll.” Time magazine said, Sgt. Pepper was “drenched in drugs.” The cover of the Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper album shows the band with a backdrop of several people. Ringo Starr was quoted in Hit Parader magazine in October 1976 as saying, they are people “we like and admire.” Paul McCartney was also quoted in describing the cover as “...we were going to have photos on the wall of all our HEROS...”

There are many infamous people in the picture including four Hindu priests and a man named Aldous Huxley. Second from the left, on the top row, is Aleister Crowley. Many people at that time did not even know who Aleister Crowley was, but the Beatles did. Chances are, you did not know who he was. He was a BABY MURDERER, and the Beatles considered him a hero. The Beatles were devout followers of Crowley. Beatle Lennon says in an interview, the “whole idea of the Beatles” was Crowley’s infamous “do what thou wilt.” “The whole Beatle idea was to do what you want, right? To take your own responsibility, do what you want and try not to harm other people, right? DO WHAT THOU WILST, as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody...”

Alexander Edward "Aleister" Crowley was born in England on October 12, 1875. Yet, still today he has a tremendous effect on rock and roll music. Aleister Crowley is referred to as the founding father of modern satanism. He was known to practice ritual child sacrifice regularly" in support of his role as devil's high priest.

Crowley said: "That religion they call Christianity; the devil they honor they call God...it is their God and their religion that I HATE and will Destroy."

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was a well-known British writer. His books are currently used in the California public school system. What Huxley might not be as well-known for is his experimentation with psychotropic drugs. He supported their use as a “tool of enlightenment.”

One of his writings is called "The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell." It is considered by some to be a classic of psychedelic literature. Approximately ten years after its release, The Doors became the name of a band.

Sure...let's kick back with some Black Sabath as well.

Michael Mercer said...

While I respect your positions, I do not share the separatistic style of Christianity you seem to be endorsing. We can quote Bible verses back and forth at each other, but I'm not sure that will accomplish anything.

I hope you can see that my intent in this post was to point out that we can gain insight into our culture and history by listening to this record. There was no intent to glorify the spiritual intentions of the artists or their material.

I'm also sorry you feel you have to comment anonymously, but I respect that right too.

Pastor Sam said...

I'm with you, Michael. Good album. And I'm a pastor.