/ the daily muse

#1 Record

The Beatles - The White Album

 

Yesterday, Knight reiterated a question posed by friend on Facebook, asking people: “What single record should every serious music fan own?”

It’s a tricky query – the answer could depend on your interpretation of the question. But as I see it, we’re not talking about a “desert island” kind of choice, one that is informed by one’s personal tastes and experiences. Rather I look at it as a choice that reflects the impact and influence the record in question has had on (rock) music as a whole. If this is how we approach the challenging task of selecting that one record, it seems the choice is rather easy:

The Beatles White Album.

“Helter Skelter” | The Beatles | The White Album | 1968

Breaking down the rationale, first we could likely all agree that The Beatles are by far the most influential band in rock history. Fans of the band are, well, fanatical. Countless artists cite them as an influence. And though The Fab Four’s contributions to songwriting, topical material, production, and style are legendary, we can’t overlook the influence they had on future musicians that, regardless of their stylistic inclinations, looked at those four boys performing and said simply: “I want to do that.”

Now I must admit, my gut reaction choice was Sgt. Pepper’s. It broke new ground on so many levels. No other record before it sounded like it, thanks to George Martin’s production wizardry. It heralded a new era of sound that reached far beyond the psychedelic arena, as artists began to mine the wealth of textures and spaces created by this mother-of-all-rock-records. It also introduced an entirely new approach to topical songwriting, as evidenced by the ripped from the headlines approach of “Day In the Life” or “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” So much more could be said about the seminal quality of this record, but as it pertains to the topic at hand, this is a subject to be explored in later posts.

The White Album. Why this record in particular? My choice stems from the stylistic eclecticism of the song selections. This record was made at time when the band was beginning to show signs of cracking. Tensions were high. The fierce competition and one-upmanship between Lennon and McCartney that previously fueled a collaborative songwriting partnership began to implode. No longer was this competition a spark towards collaborative creativity. It instead gave way to a splintering between songwriters and created an atmosphere of individual rather than collaborative output.

For this reason, the White Album is a schizophrenic record, so stylistically varied as to present what seems at first listen to be a disjointed collection of songs written in a vacuum. It’s almost as if the four members had made solo records and at the last minute decided to release them as one behemoth collection of individual creativity. But with repeated listenings, one can reconcile and appreciate it’s stylistic variety by virtue of its remarkable scope. We’ve got arguably the first heavy metal song (“Helter Skelter”) playing alongside the western balladry of “Rocky Raccoon”; the plaintive psychedelia of “Dear Prudence” going head to head with the weird and edgy “Happiness is a Warm Gun”; and terribly sad songs of loss such as “Julia” next to the joyful reverie of “Birthday” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.”  The variety of structure, style and arrangement is dizzying. It’s a challenging record, one that requires the listener to put aside expectations of continuity and learn to regard it as a musical menagerie never topped before or since.

So how does this sit with you, dear reader? What would you choose? Let the debate continue…

Beatles White Album Portraits on Maunet

  1. Sunday 07.14.2013 | 5:35 EST

    Robert dene says:

    John Lennon said that Ticket To Ride was the first heavy metal song…

  2. Thursday 03.14.2013 | 4:28 EST

    KPH says:

    I was gonna say Zeppelin II.

    1. Thursday 03.14.2013 | 4:32 EST

      chairmanmau says:

      funny you should mention it. As an offshoot to this conversation, Knight and I today discussed which Zeppelin album was the best. I was torn between II and Houses of the Holy. I eventually landed on HotH – this was the record where they abandoned blatant nods to the blues structure and offered a collection of songs that were entirely new and fresh.


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