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Good as gold

01:00 Mon 25th Mar 2002 |

Q.� What was the most experimental album The Beatles ever made < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.� That would have to be The Beatles, known to everyone as The White Album.

Q.� What is experimental about it

A.� This is an album for which the term 'sprawling' could have been invented. Recorded by a group of musicians�- The Beatles had long since outgrown the notion that they were still a 'pop group' - at the peak of their creativity, this was an album to create wonder, awe, amusement, frustration, and a large number of questions. Consider that this was still only 1968�- a mere five years since the 'boys' were being Mop Tops and churning out seemingly endless three minute pop gems for the newly awoken masses of pop music fans.

Q.� So why did they make a record like this

A.� It's fair to say that The Beatles, as individuals, had grown up. The differences in their personalities, once seen as loveable character traits, were to see them grow in disparate directions as mature adults, and mature musicians, and their respective talents, and occasional indulgences, are captured perfectly on this extended collection of material.

If The Beatles wanted to shed their happy chappy Liverpool lads image and be seen as songwriters of worth and substance, then this was the record to underline that intention. It was after the release of this, their 'grown up' album, that people began to reassess the worth and status of their earlier material. Viewed in context, it's possible to see that The Beatles were always supremely gifted musicians and writers, its just that no-one, including them, really appreciated that fact, until this album.

Q.� And the stand out tracks are

A.� It's impossible to analyse all thirty songs.�This was�a massive undertaking for fans used to their pop in nice single-sized chunks, this was 'album rock', a new idea all round�- but some tracks are signposts for the way the album was structured, and the contributions made by the individual band members.

Paul McCartney has starting honours, and stakes his claim to his Chuck Berry influences by hitting a chugging rhythm, and a rock hard vocal over a cheery pastiche of everyone else's pop-rock songs, with Back In The USSR.

George Harrison uses his minimally allowed contribution to any Beatles album to place While My Guitar Gently Weeps in the consciousness of appreciators of classic songs everywhere. From the mournful vocals to the superlative soloing by his close friend Eric Clapton, this remains an object lesson in the maturity of Harrison's writing, and his ability to contribute to a collection of some of the greatest Beatles songs on one album, with his own song which is never found wanting in the quality stakes.

McCartney's I Will is again a perfect example of his peerless ability to write a perfect love song. Playing both guitar parts, and even singing the bass lines, McCartney effortlessly provides a seemingly simple romantic melody, which simply grows stronger with each listening until it joins the best of his work. The placing of this song, straight after McCartney's comedic vocal tour de force Why Dont We Do It In The Road, simply underlines the versatility of both his voice, and his writing�- if the idea was to showcase just how complete a vocalist and writer Paul McCartney is, it worked. It really worked.

Even Ringo got a song credit, and a rare vocal, with Don't Pass Me By, an appealing nonsense ditty that suits his admittedly limited vocal range. The appeal of Ringo as the group sad clown is captured here, but it's his drumming on the rest of the album that earns him a place as the greatest backbeat drummer in the greatest pop group of all time.

John Lennon. Perhaps even more than his partner, Lennon managed to demonstrate the myriad layers of his personality via the songs he wrote, and the ways in which he sang them. Bungalow Bill is Lennon's pure surrealism, with a storyline and vocal that would fit nicely into a Goon show, aligned with his cynical musical pop at the Maharishi, in Sexy Sadie. The mystic may have taken in Lennon, but it didn't stop him laughing at the experience, and himself, in song. Lennon's increasing disillusionment with being a Beatle is voiced in Glass Onion, with its embryonic synthesisers, and driving rock and roll beat.

Q.� That's a lot of tracks!

A.� There is almost no filler on this album, which given its length is no mean feat. Some may carp at Revolution 9, Lennon's sonic experiment which may have been better left to his solo work with Yoko Ono, but his touching hymn to his deceased mother Julia, including reference to Ocean Child, the translation of Yoko's name, shows the twin emotions of loss and love that were beginning to make their impact on Lennon as a man, as a partner, and as a Beatle.

It's possible to trace a thread of development for all the individual members of the band, or simply to enjoy the album as a diverse collection of songs on their own merits. However you choose to approach the album, and you can do either, neither, or both, it's an outstanding achievement, made more remarkable buy the limited studio technology available at the time. Proof if any were needed, that imagination and genius combined will create a work of lasting impact whenever it is conceived. The Beatles were born a pop band, and grew up into a rock band. This album is their 'teenage' years,�and its occasional failings and stunning insights are there for fans to explore and enjoy over and over again.

Q.� Are there any songs that don't measure up on this album

A.� No. That says it all really.

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Andy Hughes

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