Revisiting The Beatles' Top-Seller


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November 22, 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of one of The Beatles' most remarkable releases. The two-album set was officially called THE BEATLES, but it became known forever after as The White Album. It was the top-selling of all The Beatles' albums and ranks #11 on the all-time album sales list. Join award-winning producer Paul Ingles for another one of his in-depth explorations of The Beatles' experience by tuning into THE WHITE ALBUM LISTENING PARTY.

Emerging from what many called their three-album psychedelic period that produced Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, The Beatles' White Album was a wildly diverse collection that included instant classics ("Back in the U.S.S.R", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Dear Prudence", "Blackbird"), gentle ballads ("Mother Nature's Son", "I Will", "Julia"), raucous electric rock ("Helter Skelter", "Yer Blues") amusing ditties ("Honey Pie", "Savoy Truffle", "Rocky Raccoon"), and surprising experimental tracks ("Revolution #9"). The writing and performing styles of the four individual Beatles became distinct. Many Beatle fans and historians point to the White Album as the beginning of the break-up of the Beatles. In little over a year, the band would be dissolved.

Ingles recalls being 12 years old in 1968 and listening with his best friend to this challenging and, at times, disturbing collection in the basement of his suburban Maryland home. "I knew I couldn't play this one on the family stereo upstairs," says Ingles. "A lot of the music seemed naughty, tortured and edgy." In an effort to re-create that listening experience, Ingles invited about a dozen Beatle fans into the studio to listen through to the album again and share both their memories and more current observations about the landmark music. Among the guests are Beatle author Steve Turner who shares the stories behind each of the White Album tracks. Also, a panel of musicians help listeners tune into the musicality of The Beatles, calling attention to a certain bass line here, a drum lick there, a production trick over there. Other friends share stories of dancing to "Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da", dropping acid to "Julia", or being scared to death by "Helter Skelter" and wishing for a return of the ol' mop-tops. Hour 3 even includes a special combination of both versions of "Revolution" - the fast single and the slower White Album version, mixed and mashed together, courtesy of engineer Douglas Grant. In addition to Steve Turner, Paul's guest list includes musicians Jon Spurney, David Gans, Kristy Kruger, Douglas Grant, and Rob Martinez. KUNM radio personalities Scott MacNicholl, Luciano Urbano, Suzanne Kryder, and Travis Parkin join in as well.












Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, Shawn Colvin



I got my White Album when I was a student in Boulder, Colorado. I listened to it many times over in my third floor attic apartment. Then, sometime in the mid 70's, a roommate borrowed it and never returned it, something I didn't realize until many years later. So, recently, I bought the album on Ebay except almost every cut had a skip or a stick in it, so thanks for letting me hear it once again, from start to finish, and with all that wonderful commentary. I listened to it on KAXE Community Radio in Grand Rapids, MN on Jan 1st. I had to tape the Rose Bowl parade because I was so drawn to the program! Thanks for a great beginning to 2009!



All of the Beatles albums were very much a part of the fabric and texture of my life when I was young. Through this show, I realized that Beatle albums, as with other works of art, are experienced with great diversity. Naively, I held a belief that I had participated in a cultural event that I thought was experienced in roughly the same way by most listeners/fans. To my surprise, I realized I have never even had a serious conversation with anyone about the Beatles’ work, and had assumed quite a bit.

I was shocked by some of the comments on the show. Longing for the innocent and boyish early Beatles seems antithetical to the very idea of what the Beatles represented to me. To me, many of the themes of the White Album seemed to be a response, or at least in the context of, devastating social issues at the time. I assumed, for example, from the first time I heard the song, that “Happiness is a Warm Gun” made mockery of the idea of turning a gun into a companion. I thought “Piggies” referred to the gluttony and self-absorption of the rich and powerful. I felt that the Beatles expressed many of my beliefs as a 17 year old, the notion that these ideas were depressing was no more depressing than reality at the time. In fact it was vindicating at the time to realize that they could be so successful in making their voices heard, as part of a counter-culture—a little like the way people felt that their voices were heard through Obama’s campaign.

I was 12 when the Beatles First Album was released in the U.S. Up until I heard it at my first “teen” party, I had no interest in popular music, only classical. As the Beatles gradually shed their Monkees-like pop persona, starting with Rubber Soul, I was maturing through my teens. I moved from being a starry-eyed Beatles fan of 14 to a serious lover of folk music, Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, while living as an American teenager in London. The Beatles were no longer playing in public anymore by the time I was 16 and when the White Album came out I finally admitted to myself that they were not on a break---they were never going to go on tour again….it felt like their swan song at the time, due to the obvious studio patchwork that made up the album, ---at the same time it felt brilliant, exciting, musically complex, and ground-breaking. The White Album coincided with my senior year high school and all of the alienation that had grown within me being an American in a world wracked by the Viet Nam war, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the riots I could see on TV in American cities. The album’s brilliant discomfort seemed completely in synch with my own discomfort with the times I was growing into an adult in 1969.

I wish this show had interviewed a few women my age, as I think you might have gotten fewer comments about “John’s depressing songs” and “wanting to put them back in the cute suits”---precisely one of the reasons the Beatles broke up---fed up with being propped up by a sugar-coated image for the media---they had made a fortune, and now they could just please themselves instead of being something they were not.-----You can pick up on that could-care-less-what-others-think attitude in the White Album, I believe…it is self-indulgent in places. I think it is worth mentioning to the listeners who commented that at first they found some of the album “scary” and “depressing” -- that The Beatles seemed positively mainstream at the time back in 1969 compared to the edgier Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones and possibly Jefferson Airplane, who had already burst into the teenage public consciousness certainly by the summer before, if not two years before, the White Album came out. I don’t know what to make of comments of people whose responses to the White Album appear predicated on the confusion they felt as a child hearing the album for the first time---perhaps as children, they shouldn’t have been listening after all. Perhaps I am inappropriately longing for a simpler time when people experienced things after the passage of a tender age and with the blessing of abstract reasoning placed within a social/historical context.

I am really happy to know, however, that the Beatles’ albums are still widely appreciated. I always thought they were great and now they continue to be discovered by a new generation. My son and his 20-something friends think the Beatles are brilliant and are even bigger fans than I. It would have been great for John and George to be around for the celebration of their work.



The Revolution mix was really creative. A lot of it was just eye-opening. Some of your people talked about when they heard certain songs for the first time. I heard some of them -- Savoy Truffle. Honeypie, Revolution #9 -- for the first time on your show. (Like one of your guests said) I guess I had never gotten to the bottom of the potato chip bag to eat those crumbs! Ha!



There's been a lot said about that record, but I'm going to try to convey my perceptions from the days when it was new: I remember my first time listening to "White Album" as a whole -- it was also my first quarter at college, and I was driving up to the University of Utah Library on a gray Sunday to study for a Monday exam, when Rock and Roll stalwart KNAK AM Radio announced it would track through the whole four-sided record less than a week after it's official release. I delayed studying for two hours, (KNAK ran news and commercials as well) while DJ Gary Waldron introduced the latest Beatle music to me, and the whole Salt Lake Valley. I wasn't really alone in that car -- many thousands were listening too.

Side One 1. "Back in the U.S.S.R." -- The Beatles were always a good Rock & Roll band. 2. "Dear Prudence" This song is much deeper than the opening cut. 3. "Glass Onion" I enjoyed the various references, but I couldn't figure out if Lennon was saying something or nothing. I often confused this song with Savoy Truffle. 4. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" -- An immediate favorite of mine. I fancied myself a bass player at the time, and played along with this one when I bought my own copy. 5. "Wild Honey Pie" -- The DJ may have skipped this cut too -- it's just filler. 6. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" -- Satire on the Imperial mindset by Lennon. Of course he wasn't pointing out our own society's hypocrisy was he? 7. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" -- George Harrison hit his stride with this song. 8. "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" -- Is it OK to laugh, John? I wasn't really sure.

Side Two 1. "Martha My Dear" -- Sixteenth-inch deep McCartney cuteness. 2. "I'm So Tired" -- Another well-crafted Lennon downer, from the author of Help! 3. "Blackbird" -- McCartney at his best. A very pleasant listening experience. 4. "Piggies" -- Harrison could do satire too, and we'd all read Animal Farm. 5. "Rocky Raccoon" -- Everybody laughed at this one, especially the dig at Dylan. 6. "Don't Pass Me By" -- Ringo seemed to be a fun guy, and his songs were fun too. 7. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" -- The biggest laugh on the album. 8. "I Will" -- When McCartney was good, he was VERY good! 9. "Julia" -- The DJ reminded all of us that Julia was the name of Lennon's mother.

Side Three 1. "Birthday" -- Another big laugher, followed by ... 2. "Yer Blues" -- Merrie Ole John Lennon, inviting us to laugh once more, as he screamed in near-mortal musical agony. (See below) 3. "Mother Nature's Son" -- Never liked this one, sorry Paul. 4. "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" -- I 'got' the drug reference, and was happy to rock-out after McCartney's dull spot, but I thought John Lennon was kidding -- he wasn't. 5. "Sexy Sadie" -- Lennon could be boring too. 6. "Helter Skelter" -- Paul McCartney's turn to ROCK! He outdid himself here. 7. "Long, Long, Long" -- Harrison got stuck behind Helter Skelter.

Side Four 1. "Revolution 1" -- "Wooley" Waldron started with this for some reason. This is a slower, chunkier version of John Lennon's brash single from the summer of '68. 2. "Honey Pie" -- Paul McCartney's music-hall loon-outs were fresh and fun then. 3. "Savoy Truffle" -- George Harrison had a wit about him, and "you are what you eat" was a popular catch-phrase of the time. 4. "Cry Baby Cry" -- is and was unmemorable. I was NOT smoking pot that day. 5. "Revolution 9" -- Waldron skipped this one, but we listeners made him pay by requesting it for the next two years -- a real mish-mash that only seemed to make sense if you were stoned. (What a good excuse!) 6. "Good Night" -- Wooley played it last, although it was only 2 in the afternoon when he finished. ...I went off to study -- Damn if I know which subject it happened to be after all this time, but I've always remembered that Sunday! READ MORE



I caught a pretty cool radio show the other day called "The White Album Listening Party" on NPR and it was an entertaining listen...IMHO, it's simply one of the most stunning musical accomplishments ever. READ MORE



I like ALL of the songs on the White Album! I can't remember when I first listened to it -- I was only 8 when it came out. While I was quite fond of the "boys" who performed on the Ed Sullivan show, their later work is what I gravitate to most strongly. I guess the highest praise I can give this collection is that I own it, and listen to the whole thing straight through!



I heard part of this program on WAMC Thanksgiving day while driving the Mass Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. I was completely drawn in by the show. So much so, that I actually welcomed the traffic slow-downs hoping to hear as much of the program as possible before losing the broadcast signal. I was 13 when The White Album was released and I loved it. It is so mysteriously unfathomable lyrically yet so musically mesmerizing that I've never tired of listening to it. As a teenager, it was like taking your parents car for an illicit joy ride; the familiar mom and dad car and neigborhood roads become suddenly so wildly exhilarating and dangerous. I lost the broadcast signal soon after "Helter-Skelter" but was determined to hear all that I had missed. So I found PRX on line and listened to the whole thing this time without the static and the traffic.



I was 13 when I got the White album for Christmas in 1968. I could not stop listening to it. I feel asleep every night while it played over and over on my automatic record player. To this day I never get tired of hearing it and last night I laid in bed listening to your program on WCVE in Richmond. I felt like I was 13 again and just discovering the White album all over.



I just listened to your White Album Listening Party on Philadelphia's WHYY-FM, and the program brought back memories of my junior year in high school, which is when the album was released. At the time, I had some difficulty in "getting into" some of the tracks, since they were so far ahead of anything the Fab Four had done up to that time (even to this day, I have only listened through "Revolution 9" once!). However, I did realize that this was the beginning of the end as far as The Beatles as a band was concerned, and I knew that the four individual personalities were emerging. I also found that these four young men from Liverpool had a much broader musical scope than was indicated on their earlier recordings. As for "Good Night", it reminded me of a song from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and I have always regarded Lennon and McCartney as their successors to some degree (interestingly, Help! was released almost simultaneously with The Sound of Music in 1965. At the time I first heard the White Album, my high school was preparing a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, and the two have thus been inextricably linked in my mind ever since. My favorite interpretation of "Good Night", however, is not by Ringo with the cloying arrangement by Sir George Martin, but by The Manhattan Transfer on their 1992 Christmas album, with a chart by the fabulous Johnny Mandel (composer of such classic film songs as "Emily", "The Shadow of Your Smile", and "A Time for Love"). This arrangement is in waltz (3/4) tempo and is gorgeous without being saccharine. I have always felt that the Beatles' material frequently benefitted at the hands of superior arrangers.



Your program was interesting enough in filling in the documentary history that I didn't care enough to learn at the time. But I've never owned a copy of this album and I'm not going to get one now. I was amazed that the panel all took this music so seriously. I was 16 when the white album came out. It was just background music. The stuff my friends and I listened to ranged from the Mothers of Invention to Dylan to Dolly Parton to John Dowland. We weren't music students, but we played guitar and piano and tried to learn the songs we liked. The Beatles, even this album, seemed like top 40 pop to us, and much less interesting than some others. Heard at 40 years remove, I still think the same; much of the white album is raw and badly executed, some of it tuneful and pleasant, maybe one or two songs worth preserving (Blackbird).