Oh dear, the double album. A place for acts to stretch their legs and indulge their every creative whim, part diverse buffet of styles, part bloody mess. Dylan and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were the first rock acts out of the gate with their four sides of vinyl each, but once The Beatles had decided that they had pushed psychedelia as far as they could in the studio, and they were going to go back to basics in terms of being a four piece rock act, then their double album was inevitable.
The thing is, live albums can sometimes get away with being a double, if an act has had a long and illustrious career then a best of compilation can stretch to a double. Studio doubles however tend to be self-indulgent, in desperate need of judicious editing, and often guilty of stretching the act’s genius too thinly. Yes, even The Beatles.
‘But it’s so diverse!’ I hear you cry. Yes it is diverse, but not just diverse in terms of material on offer, but in terms of quality also. The Beatles’ self titled effort does admittedly contain a number of their greatest songs, boasting the likes of “Glass Onion”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”, but that really does not absolve them of inflicting “Revolution #9” on the world. The diversity of the material on The Beatles means that the album lurches and changes pace far too often for its own good, and it has far too many weak songs. Sure, later acts would nail the double album format down (Elton John, Pink Floyd and The Clash would each release truly great double albums by the end of the next decade), but for The Beatles, it was still relatively early days in regards to the rock double album, so there were still lessons to be learned, and half a century later, it really sounds like the same person that should have whispered in their ear that Sgt. Pepper would have been better as an EP, should have been there again to encourage a greater amount of quality control.
That said, beyond the aforementioned trio of brilliant songs, The Beatles is home to some absolute gems of pop and rock tunes, with “Back in the U.S.S.R.” being one of their all time great opening tracks, Blackbird being one of their prettiest songs, the playful “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, and the proto-metal of “Helter Skelter”, arguably The Beatles hardest rocking moment and one that became much more famous than it might have done for all the wrong reasons.
As early rock and roll double albums go, The Beatles is not a disaster, but on the other hand it is not the masterpiece some would have you believe either.