The Beatles “White Album” is a mess. Whether it’s a glorious mess or a tedious scavenger hunt for good songs among two LPs worth of filler depends on your point of view. When the album came out, I was too young to know anything but the songs that got radio airplay – and those, like “Ob La Di Ob La Da (Life Goes On)” and “Julia,” only confirmed my growing suspicion that the Rolling Stones were actually a better rock band then the Beatles. “Back in the USSR” was fun, though, and “Dear Prudence” did not get nearly the airplay it deserved. Still, I never actually listened to the whole thing until some years later, when I got to high school and heard it at a friend’s house. Hearing the White Album in its entirety for the first time was like listening to a radio station where multiple crazed DJs were shoving each other out of the way to get their records on the air. It occasionally sounded like fun, but sometimes it most certainly did not. “Helter Skelter” was a side of Paul I’d never suspected was there, and I was glad to hear it.
If often takes a while, and repeated visits, to understand a work of art, and over the years, my opinion of the White Album has changed a bit. I used to think it was way less than the sum of its parts – full of some of the Beatles’ most self-indulgent, dopey songs, some weird sonic experiments that seemed to be there just so you’d think how weird they were, and a handful of genuinely good tunes. Now I’m not so sure. Time has been kind to songs like “Blackbird” and “I Will,” which passed me by when I was a kid. Still, I think the White Album could easily have been just that – an album, as opposed to a 2-LP set. Then, after the breakup, their Apple Records would’ve had a charmingly weird collection of outtakes and b-sides to release.