March 3, 2006

White Album v. Abbey Road, Round 2

This is the second portion of a three-part debate.

Click here for Round 1
Click here for Round 2
Click here for Round 3

Rebuttal: Abbey Road

Doug: Number9. Number9. Number9. Number9. Number9. Number9. Number9. Number9.

Pretty annoying, isn’t it? No? It’s just “genre-warping,” you say? Well then, please allow me to continue:

Number 9. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9.

Okay, that’s what I thought. Perhaps “genre-warping” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While I can stop this nonsense, you’d have to endure another 8 minutes if you were to listen to Colin’s beloved album. And, lest we forget, those excruciating 8 minutes are followed by the Beatles’ second-worst creation (I hesitate to use the word “song”): “Good Night.” Game. Set. Match.

I thought I’d be generous; I thought I’d be compassionate; I thought I’d make this contest interesting and give Colin a fighting chance by excluding Disc 2 from our little debate—if you can even call it that. But no, Colin got greedy—and now I’m going to make him pay for it, in blood. He says Disc 1 of the White Album is better than Abbey Road. Admittedly that’s a tough pill to swallow, but I can do it with a strong chaser. But to have the audacity to state that the entire White Album is superior to Abbey Road, well that’s like taking a shit in a cup of Dubra, swishing it around in your mouth as if it were a fine wine, and then spitting it out just to get the flavor. Or, if you will, like swallowing a slice of “Honey Pie.”

Still, when I first read Colin’s argument, my reaction wasn’t anger; it wasn’t sorrow; it wasn’t even disbelief. It was pity. In fact, I prayed for the poor soul.

The good news is Colin can still be saved, but the path to redemption is long, rocky, and barren. Further, it requires him to embrace every single word I write as if it were a divine proclamation. Except for this one: bogart. I just like the word. It’s a funny word. Okay, now let’s begin.*

Colin—in his futile attempt to reason with me—stated that “Happiness is a Warm Gun” was enough to propel the White Album far above Abbey Road. To be sure, I’m sexually attracted to the brilliant Lenon track. It’s the greatest song ever recorded. Unfortunately, being an abstract entity, it lacks the proper organs necessary for me to express my love. Score one for Colin—he’ll need it. But, if one song is enough to elevate the White Album, surely the two most heinously awful Beatles songs hold equal weight? At best, they negate “Happiness.” At worst, they completely eliminate the album from contention. True, Colin, God may be on your soccer team, but you also have that overweight, pale kid with the hiked-up shorts, thick glasses, and acne-scarred face playing goal. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

After all, it is Abbey Road—not the White Album—that allowed each Beatle to shine. It includes George’s two best songs, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” as well as Ringo’s hit “Octopus’s Garden,” which is far more interesting than “Don’t Pass Me By.” And let’s not neglect Paul’s very best song, “You Never Give Me Your Money”—or John and Paul’s final medley, which is the greatest stretch of songs ever recorded in pop history. While John’s best may appear on the White Album, so do some of his worst. Perhaps this is my point. The White Album is a great album. But when the fantastic four missed, they missed badly (something apparent on Disc 1, but even more so on Disc 2).

I’d like to conclude by examining Colin’s laughable premise that individual songs are more important than a cohesive album. Colin, let me pose a question to you: if you could vomit all of your favorite Beatles songs onto a CD, would your soggy, multi-colored chunks of songs be better than Abbey Road, or, if you must, the White Album? Of course not. To do so would destroy all continuity, theme, and emotion. That’s why even you—in your obsessive song worship—never listen to a “greatest hits” album. And before we get too carried away, let’s keep in mind that the White Album is far from a collection of greatest hits. If anything, it is a collection of greatest hits AND MISSES.

*ED. “Don’t bogart the can… man.”

Rebuttal: White Album

Colin: Fine…let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some sort of overriding value to the “meta-structure” of the album—that is, the relationships between songs. I suppose I could just use the term “structure,” but “meta” makes it sound like I actually know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Abbey Road certainly isn’t the shining example of such meta-structure.

First of all, notice how different in style and substance the A- and B-sides of the album are: this is because John and Paul (with George Martin on his side) were basically at each other’s throats by this point, and had to divide the album straight down the middle with a chalk line, I Love Lucy-style. To be conciliatory, they mixed-and-matched some of each other’s songs, but each side was essentially a one-man show in terms of song selection.

Granted, the crux of your argument is the medley…you sort of disregarded the entire A-side, which I think is kind of foolish, given the strong showing by John. But even the medley is more fractured than you would like to admit: Paul didn’t conceive of the thing as a medley…all of the songs were written individually (most of them, by the way, during the fertile period in which they were composing the White Album). He reworked the order again and again before the final release…in fact, “Her Majesty,” which you refer to as an “appendix to the record” was originally cut from the record by Paul. It was in the middle of the medley, and a sound engineer, upon receiving instructions to cut it out, and having received previous instructions to never ever erase anything the Beatles recorded, moved it to the end of the reel, 15 or 20 seconds after “The End.” The effect seemed sufficiently whimsical that they left this mistake in. And a good mistake it was, but certainly not planned.

The medley effect, therefore, is secondary to the songs within the medley. I mean, what if I wrote a medley? Certainly no one would listen to it, even if it might have a great deal of this zen-flow you seem to be referring to, because the songs that made up this medley would suck.

I must reiterate: the basic unit of pop music is the song, not the album. That being said, we are debating on the topic of best Beatles album, not song. But nonetheless I contend that a pop album, being a collection of songs, must be judged on the merit of the individual songs of which it is composed. And I personally count no fewer than nineteen absolutely phenomenal songs on The White Album (a list of which I will gladly provide to my opponent) and eight others that no mere mortal could write. This leaves only three so-so songs. One-tenth of a two-disc album falls flat…certainly not the “skip-skip-skip” arrangement you spoke of.

An album is not a novel, as you claim it is. An album is an album. To say that the definition of a good album is one in which “each song is connected to that which precedes and follows it” is unnecessarily narrowing the scope of all the things a good album can be. Take a live album, for example: the best albums of many bands (the Velvet Underground comes to mind, or just about any jazz musician for that matter) are recorded live, and are essentially a reassembling of their previous studio work, usually in a radically different order from that originally set down. Please, Douglas, admit the profound error of your ways.

1 comment:

Nathan Rothstein said...

Because of I want you (she's so heavy)-I have to agree with Doug and go with Abbey Road