Two singles were released in 1968, seperately from the White Album. They were the double A-side of "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" (respectively) and "Lady Madonna" b/w "Rain". "Revolution 1" (and, I suppose, "Revolution 9") were added in to the White Album to provide new material, rather than rehashing what they'd already released. (This inclusion of "Revolution 1" was against a few peoples' wishes.) Putting it here as part of the oft-discussed single-LP version of the White Album would presuppose that none of those three songs were released as singles. As this one starts out majestically (and in just one ear), then kicking in hard, it's a great opener.
The beginning of the White Album proper makes sense here, even just in terms of trusting the original sequencing of the album. It's also cool for the album to have two big intros.
Aside from being worthy of inclusion here, "Dear Prudence" is connected to "Back in the USSR", so of course it goes here. It's about Prudence Farrow (sister to Mia) who was with them when they were out at the ashram in India. They were literally asking her to come outside, as she was keeping to her room, as some are wont to do on spiritual retreat. (I know I do that.) One of the songs about that time that reflect the good aspects. "Sexy Sadie" — culled here — reflects the other side. It's about the Maharishi taking advantage of the dewey-eyed female disciples. Switching the gender was just their way of being insulting.
I would have put "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in here, but keeping that song out is a personal choice of mine. I hate it. I hate George Harrison's guitar tone, for the exact reason that he gives for its sound: it's a weeping sound. His guitar tone while in The Beatles, and especially on his 3-LP solo debut, betrays the suffering underneath his poster-child mildness. By the time he'd recorded his debut his wife had started an open affair with Eric Clapton — something Clapton had memorialized in "Layla". While pretending things were okay — for instance by referring to Clapton and himself as co-husbands — George was dying inside, and you could tell from his cloyingly desperate guitar tone. So with that classic out by personal choice, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" pops up in its stead. Thom Yorke once said of this song that he can tell it started out as three different songs, and because of that "stream of consciousness" psychedelic thing, they'd been strung together. I love the song for its honesty and ferocity. It's about heroin, by the way. John was into it. Paul had been doing coke from 1966-67, and had given it up as a pointless habit by then. George had already given up drugs, and Ringo ... who knows, but the man must have lived in a pub with the way his songs always sound like they could be sung along in unison. ... Anyway, as we learned in the movie Trainspotting a "mother superior" is a heroin dealer, named as such for having the longest habit of anyone in the room. What John's saying is, he's starting to come down, so he has to go back to where he was before, uptown, to where he'd left some. His dealer "jumps the gun", meaning sets up the shot for him. It's warm, of course, because it had just been heated up in a spoon. Maybe the only outrè thing they had in common with The Velvet Underground.
"I'm So Tired" is the other personal pick, also meaning it's the other song that wasn't a shoo-in for inclusion. It's because this is the Beatles song I relate to the most. They weren't afraid to go there with songs like this, such as "I'm Down" or "Yer Blues". (Even though it's culled here, "Yer Blues" has my favorite Beatles line: "I feel so suicidal / Just like Dylan's Mr. Jones". It's because I think Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" — which is the reference here — is a cruel song. By singing the line quoted above, John is saying the same thing.) I like "I'm So Tired" because that's how I always feel, being disabled, and so I've sung this song in my head hundreds of times throughout my lifetime.
The only question with "Blackbird" would have been where to put it in the tracklist. A song for troubled people, meant to inspire them to rise up and find their happiness. Interpreted by Charles Manson as a coded message to the black people in the US to start a race war. It may have had that shadow attached to it, but that would be no problem to any blackbird, as we're used to that sort of environment. The American Indian concept of the raven as that which flies into hell and back, in order to tell the story ... to my mind this is really about someone who may be in the darkness, but not by choice. I think that's what defines the blackbird: that need to leave the darkness.
Returning to the singles is a good way to close out the first side. The lyrics may be an ugly chiding of mothers on welfare to stop having babies, but the music is bright and cheering, much along the lines of "Penny Lane". Let's hope Paul was only being classist, and not racist as well.
You have to start side 2 with "Birthday". Of course.
The beautiful "I Will" seems to be about someone Paul met briefly once and never forgot, much like the woman in the white dress from Citizen Kane.
"Julia" is written about John's mother. He and Paul sing together beautifully here. One of their classics. It begins with such a true line: "Half of what I say is meaningless / But I say it just to reach you".
The biggest song on the White Album. Possibly the first heavy metal song. Predates the first Black Sabbath album by two years. One of the songs from the album that helped inspire Charles Manson to coordinate mass murder in an attempt to instigate a race war. Actually a song by Paul about trying to do cocaine with someone who is such a downer that it makes the whole experience unstable. I've been told that the original version of this song is twenty minutes long, which explains the two fades near the end, and Ringo complaining in the final seconds that he has blisters on his fingers.
The greatest Beatles song. One of the all-time greats (and one of the songs consistently voted number one of all time). Let them add a few minutes of coda on to it. It's the band in a zone they'd never achieved before, and never would again. It's one of the last times they'd ever truly cohere. Let them celebrate who they are. It's a celebration of life. It may technically be a song for John's son, but it's really a universal call to open up your heart. A good vote for the song to put on a satellite Veeger-style.