On November 22, 1968, the Beatles released their ninth official studio album, simply titled The Beatles, but commonly known as “The White Album.” It was a chaotic affair, more a collection of solo songs than a band’s effort, but also perhaps the most perfect example of great art coming out of distress.
Upon its release, reviews were mixed: Robert Christgau wrote that it was “their most consistent and probably their worst” album, “a pastiche of musical exercises.”
Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner was more enthusiastic, saying it was their best: “They are so good that they not only expand the idiom, but they are also able to penetrate it and take it further.”
Over time, the album grew in stature and it is now considered one of the best albums of all time, and arguably the best double album ever. Paradoxically, the Beatles’ most experimental, least commercial album is also their best-selling one, with more than 20 million copies sold since 1968 (not counting compilations and special editions, it is followed by Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, Rubber Soul, Revolver and Meet the Beatles, in that order).
Though it’s true a single album would have probably made it a “stronger record,” the fact they stuck to their guns and presented two instead of one made the whole experience more epic. For that, I agree with Paul McCartney’s ultimate verdict on the Beatles’ Anthology DVD:
"It's great. It sold. It's the bloody Beatles White Album. Shut up."
Here’s my 13 favorite tracks.
"Back in the USSR"
"Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?"
"I’m So Tired"
"Cry Baby Cry"
"While my Guitar Gently Weeps"
"Mother Nature’s Son"
What are yours, and in what order?
If you don’t have the album handy, refresh your memory below with the “White Album Unplugged” (all I could get on YouTube, due to copyright issues; you can jump to the song of your choice by clicking on each song’s time code). Or better yet: get the final studio version on iTunes NOW.