Crate-Digging: The Beatles – The Beatles [The White Album]

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Apple/Capitol, 1968)

What is the most useless thing anyone could ever say? “The Beatles are the greatest rock band ever” comes quickly to mind. Sure, The Beatles may have been the greatest rock band of their time, but when discussing such a subjective piece of information, with virtually no empirical data with which to back up any argument (save record sales, but I think you all know how misleading that is when discussing quality), all you’re really left with is opinion. “I like The Beatles because” or “I don’t like The Beatles because” is ultimately a more worthwhile argument to have with someone, as the discussion will revolve around what each participant values about the music. (Or, to break it down further, and to give me something I’d really like to discuss, how about “I like John’s songs better” or “I like Paul’s songs better.” Nobody likes George’s songs better.) But let’s face it – it’s a lot less fun, and leaves me a lot less red-faced and huffy by the end of it. So I am going to bring something to your attention that should at first cause you to chuckle a bit at its absurdity, but should gradually fill you with outrage at the idea that there is a person out there being paid to put together little exercises like this. I give you, Colin Cowherd’s “Herd Rock Band Bracket.”

For those of you who may live outside of the United States, or, like me, don’t give a crap about hoop dreams, the bracket system is how the college basketball playoff picture shakes out. Colin Cowherd is an ESPN talking head who has a radio show, but other than that, he’s a nonentity in the music world in any form. So of course his attempt at some sort of meta sports/music hybrid conversation has to be met with total skepticism. And I want to you take a look at this bracket one more time. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

I’ve never seen anything so lazy, which is why this bracket should disturb you. This lazy dude is getting paid for this.

Let me highlight the best parts (and I apologize that I’m not going to get into more of how the bracket works, I’ll leave that up to you). Remember that we’re going for the aforementioned “Best Rock Band of All Time” here, according to the introductory text. Some notable inclusions into the first round include Weezer, Blink 182, Oasis, Nickelback(!), Sublime, Styx, The Killers, Korn, 311(!), Creed(!), Stone Temple Pilots, and Living Colour. I’m happy to report that none made it to the second round, as voted upon by Cowherd’s listening audience. (Nope, check that – Sublime did.) So, do you see what we did here? Best Rock Band of All Time, and all of these bands are in the conversation. Some more awesomeness: Lynyrd Skynyrd advanced against The Jackson 5. Sublime advanced against Parliament Funkadelic. The Grateful Dead advanced … period. Pearl Jam advanced against The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Eagles advanced against Soundgarden (yes, this is my subjectivity at its finest, but the point is that neither should be here – actually the point is that this whole thing’s asinine).

But of course, as so many others have posited over the years, The Beatles outlasted first the mighty Aerosmith and then the behemoth Led Zeppelin to emerge victorious, earning the title of Colin Cowherd’s Best Rock Band of All Time. Besides these two finalists, the Fab Four also knocked off Creed, Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, and Guns N’ Roses on the way to the crown. As you can see, heavy, heavy competition here. You may be asking where The Rolling Stones fall in all this, as they and The Beatles duked it out over popularity in the 1960s, and debate over peoples’ favorite rages to this day. But alas, The Stones only made it to the Final Four, losing to eventual runner-up Led Zep. Steamrolled by the juggernaut, as it were.

After letting all this sink in and allowing some of the anger to evaporate, leaving my face and ears a healthy scorched pink as opposed to their former apopleptic purple hue, I have to question Colin Cowherd’s motives for this bracket in the first place. I mean, he obviously hates The Beatles. Why else would he choose to populate the field with a maddengly obtuse and inconsistent collection of talent? Does he like beating up on babies? Because that’s what he’s done here – allowed superior talent to compete with inferior product and watched the inevitable outcome unfurl. And in the end, credit must go to his listeners, as they were the ones who voted on the competition. The fact that anyone cared enough to participate in such a moronic exercise clearly holds a mirror to Cowherd’s fanbase – music is not their forte. As such, this whole thing is Exhibit B as to why jock talking heads should never be allowed to foist their musical taste on anyone. My April Fool’s Day entry is Exhibit A.

So if someone asks you who you think is the greatest rock band of all time, respond instead with a question: “Why is your focus so narrow?” And make sure they’ve never seen Cowherd’s bracket.

* * *

The White Album is my favorite Beatles record – the scattershot nature of it serves it well, and offers new and exciting twists and turns over its four sides. Here are my ten favorite moments on it, in no particular order:

  1. The coda of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (“Bang bang, shoot shoot”), which is essentially half the song
  2. “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
  3. The chorus of “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” and the offbeat leadup (“All the children sing”)
  4. “Rocky Raccoon” (pronounced “ruck-OON”)
  5. The 0:56 mark in “Blackbird”: “Blackbird fly into the line of a dark black night”
  6. “Birthday”
  7. The end of “I’m So Tired” (“I’ll give you everything I got for a little peace of mind”)
  8. The self references in “Glass Onion” (“I Am the Walrus”) and “Savoy Truffle” (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”)
  9. “Helter Skelter”
  10. “Dear Prudence”

Bonus moment: Pixies’ cover of “Wild Honey Pie,” and although it does not appear on The White Album, this is one of my favorite covers of all time, turning the quirky little minute-long acoustic number into a napalm-throated, earth-shaking clusterbomb.

My five least favorite moments on The White Album, in no particular order:

  1. “Mommy”’s line in “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”
  2. “Revolution 9”
  3. The fake ending to “Helter Skelter”
  4. “Piggies”
  5. The titles of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”
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