Who needs new music?

There's been a small flurry of items in the media about the 40th anniversary of the release of The Beatles (better known as the White Album) in November 1968. Whilst at home and headed to arguably the worst bar in Akron, Ohio (no small feat!) I heard a bit of this NPR documentary, with track-by-track analysis--it's long, but worth the time. It inspired me to listen to the whole album, all four sides, a couple times through.

I have been accused of under-appreciating the Fab Four, which may be true. I had my period of really digging them in about the fifth grade, but since actually getting into music, I lost an interest. A large part of that is that no matter how brilliant and revolutionary (I'm sure) their tunes were in the '60s, much of it sounds hopelessly dated now. From "Roll Over Beethoven" to Rubber Soul, they sound old, trite, corny. It's just pop music--really, really good pop music, but but pop music nonetheless--and that doesn't tend to last.

Later Beatles is a bit better. But Let It Be suffers from severe Spectoritis, and Abbey Road has only some flashes of brilliance (and some flashes of silliness), in addition to suffering from the band's near-terminal fragmentation. Not so with the White Album. Pretty much everything works. My father once pointed out to me that every song on the whole record is in a different genre; and not only that, they're brilliant forays into each genre. For example, the music-hall camp that comes off as juvenile on "Octopus' Garden" works marvelously in several places.

What's most impressive to me, though, is that the record still sounds so fresh. It has none of the must of its siblings; even Abbey Road sounds way more like a period piece. In fact, listening again to the record, it's hard to think of anything in rock music since that isn't prefigured. Everyone we listen to today is ripping off the Beatles. They're bigger than Jesus. And this shit is forty years old!

Anyway, enough half-baked rambling. Listen to the NPR doc here.


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