Single-Disc White Album

Unforeseen side effects of the iPod: I probably couldn’t have put together Short Sharp Shocks without the help of iTunes breaking down my music library by length of song. And I wouldn’t have had the patience a couple of years ago to edit down classic double albums to single albums without being able to tinker with iTunes playlists.

While I’m off in the desert this week, I thought you might enjoy a few installments of that project, previously published under the Rolling Stone “Rock and Roll Daily” umbrella.

Some double albums represent a rock act having an extraordinary creative outpouring, coming up with too many great songs to fit on one disc. But only a few. Many more double albums are the result of ego, band infighting, and an unwillingness to edit down two overweight discs into a killer single record. Yeah, we’re looking at you, Use Your Illusion.

So how would various classic-but-flawed double albums sound if the musicians behind them had cut them down to single albums? Let’s look at five edited versions of major albums—all of which sound better with a haircut. If you don’t believe me, plug these playlists into your MP3 player and judge for yourself. You might never go back to the originals.

We start, of course, with the Beatles’ 1968 release known as The White Album. It was one of the very first rock double albums and set the brilliant-but-bloated standard for the format. Producer George Martin implored the Beatles to make a “very, very good single album, rather than a double,” but they ignored him. What if they hadn’t? What if John and Paul had made some hard decisions (while making sure Ringo and George still got a turn at the microphone)? The record might have sounded like this:

Side One:
1. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
2. Martha My Dear
3. I’m So Tired
4. Helter Skelter
5. Blackbird
6. Wild Honey Pie
7. Don’t Pass Me By
8. Julia

Side Two:
9. Back in the U.S.S.R.
10. Dear Prudence
11. Savoy Truffle
12. I Will
13. Happiness Is a Warm Gun
14. Rocky Racoon
15. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
16. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

(total running time: 46:05)

(This is one mix I’ve modified since its original publication; originally, I mistakenly put two George songs back-to-back, which never would have happened.)

posted 25 August 2008 in Tasty Bits and tagged , , . 5 comments

5 Comments on Single-Disc White Album

  1. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    I can’t imagine “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” would have made the final cut, but not “Yer Blues.”

  2. Chris M. Says:

    In one of my more infamous asides in a column that was otherwise about Prince’s greatest albums, I slagged off Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder fans and declared, “[N]ot only is Sign [‘O’ the Times] Prince’s only great double-album, it’s one of only two great double albums of the rock era, the other being the Beatles’ White Album. ”

    Given that I have such strict standards for double albums, and that you’re disemboweling one of only two that I consider great, I should be aggrieved. And for a moment, I almost was. But then I remembered that I had the full White Album on my iPod, and using the On-the-Go feature, I could replicate your mix. So I did, and I’ve listened to it a couple of times now.

    It’s a really good mix. You seem to have discovered some really good placements for songs I never would have imagined would work in new contexts — especially “Me and My Monkey” as a leadoff track, which works shockingly well; and the shouldn’t-work-but-it-does transition from the two heavily contrasting McCartney tracks, “Helter Skelter” and “Blackbird.”

    You’ve mostly expended stuff I can live without, particularly the tiresome “Bungalow Bill” and, of course, “Revolution 9.” I have quibbles with some of the A-to-B choices you’ve made: for George, after “Gently Weeps,” I would’ve chosen “Piggies” as his second song, not “Savoy Truffle.” And while I understand why you kept “Wild Honey Pie” for its irresistible hoedown-flavored lead-in to Ringo’s song, that seems like a minute expended on a marginal song that could’ve gone to something better and not much longer, like “Mother Nature’s Son” or “Cry Baby Cry,” say.

    So you’ve got a terrific single album here. But at the risk of sounding like a hidebound Beatlemaniac, I think the reason I love the White Album has less to do with its length and more to do with its eclecticism. With Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles codified (though didn’t invent) the Album-as-Album. With the White Album, they invented the Random Album. No, you don’t need “Long, Long, Long” or “Honey Pie” or “Good Night,” per se, but they give the album its whacked-out variety. When I call Get Behind Me Satan my second-favorite White Stripes album because to me, it’s “Jack’s White Album,” I know what I mean by that.

    So, I dunno, I admire and enjoy your distillation — and I don’t regard it as sacrilege or anything — but I continue to think the two-disc White Album exists for a reason. So I’m keeping both.

  3. Gavin Says:

    To answer Tom’s question: “Road” is just 1:41, while “Yer Blues” checks in at 4:01. One of the things I tried to do in this edit was get across some of the eclectic flavor of the White Album, but in a much more compressed fashion–which was easier to do with short songs, which is also why “Wild Honey Pie” made the cut.

    “Savoy Truffle” I just think is an underrated gem. Hardest song for me to cut: “Glass Onion.” One that other people have noted the absence of: “Mother Nature’s Son.” (I only had room for one acoustic McCartney number, and slightly to my surprise, discovered that I liked “Blackbird” better.)

    I should say that I’m glad the White Album was released as a double album–although I think my mix is “stronger,” I wouldn’t have wanted to wait thirty years to hear the material that would have been left off it.

  4. doug Says:

    Where’s Yer Blues? But oh yeah, you have Martha My Dear and I Will… Gross.

  5. Rule Forty Two - » Single-Disc White Album Roundup Says:

    […] I traded tweets earlier today with a very cool graphic artist, Craig Robinson, author of the excellent and witty baseball infographic collection Flip Flop Fly Ball. The spur: he recently compiled his own single-disc version of the Beatles’ White Album, which reminded me of the time I did my version. […]

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