For the last year or so, I've been asking groups and individuals which 15 of The White Album's 30 songs they would keep if they had to whittle the double album down to a single disc. And the results are in. I'll consider the group tallies first, then the group votes, and lastly compare the two and draw final conclusions.
First, the group results. Following eight of my presentations on The White Album over the last year, I held group votes, so these numbers are out of eight. The 13 boldface song titles made the cut; the three italicized songs are tied for the remaining two openings.
8 of 8 votes: 8 songs
7 of 8 votes: 2 songs
6 of 8 votes: 1 song
5 of 8 votes: 2 songs
4 of 8 votes: 3 songs
3 of 8 votes: 3 songs
2 of 8 votes: 2 songs
1 of 8 votes: 1 song
0 of 8 votes: 8 songs
There's the group votes. What about the individual results?
The top 15 individual vote-getters are shown in blue; the bottom 15 individual vote-getters are shown in orange.
Total surveys submitted: 124
So how do those results compare to each other?
Counting the three italicized songs that tied for the final two spots in the group vote as "kept", 13 songs were kept in both the individual and group votes:
On the other hand, 12 songs were rejected from both votes:
That leaves five tunes that were kept in one vote but rejected in the other. 3 were kept in the group vote, rejected in the individual vote:
And 2 were kept in the individual vote, but rejected in group vote:
So what does it all mean? What macro conclusions can be drawn from all this data?
The first thing that stands out to me is that every song received at least 7 individual votes (and all but one received at least 19), while no songs received unanimous inclusion (the closest was "Gently Weeps", which scored 95%). In other words, every song is valued by someone, and no song is universally valued.
Building off of that premise, my personal fundamental conclusion is that The White Album really does need to be a double album. As Alan Pollack, author of the hugely popular Notes On... series once told me, "This variety and abundance has been argued pro (it’s a feature) and con (they lacked self-control/criticism to select and discard). If diversity is an asset, then it needs to be a double album; if it's a hindrance, then a single album is better." I fall into the former camp - I find the vast stylistic diversity to be the album's strength, and omitting half the songs undermines that diversity and therefore undermines the album's greatest offering.
That being said, if I had to pick 15 songs to keep based strictly on these results (based on objective statistics, as opposed to my subjective preferences and opinions), here's what it all comes down to.
The 15 keepers:
And the 15 rejects:
Though I have always voted for democrats, I've never considered myself a straight-ticket voter (one who votes for democrats just because they are democrats). I like to think I open-mindedly weighed my options and ended up siding with democratic principles over republican principles each time. But with Donald Trump's rise to power, that seems to be changing. For Tuesday's midterm elections, I find myself leaning towards democrats by default – as a knee-jerk reaction against republicans just because they are republicans. In other words, I feel like any vote for any republican is an implicit vote for Trump – something I refuse to do.
Noticing that change in my own political proclivities concerns me. After all, I should open-mindedly weigh the options before casting any votes, and yet I'm not. And in an effort to address those concerns, I decided to attend Trump's rally in support of republican senate candidate Mike Braun in Indianapolis last Friday night.
I strongly believe that engaging with differing points of view is the best way to develop ideas. If those encounters show new and better ideas, then I leave enlightened; and if I end up disagreeing with the alternative perspectives, then I only strengthen my resolve. Either way, I'm better off after the encounter than was before. So while I regularly watch late night comedians mercilessly lambaste the president, I also watch Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson on Fox news. And I listen to Dennis Prager just as much as I listen to Dan Savage. Their differences, of course, are striking. But I watch/listen because I want both perspectives.
And so it was with Trump's rally yesterday. The president complains almost daily of how the “fake news” deliberately misrepresent him, highlighting his words out of context to make him look as bad as possible and ignoring any good parts. I wanted to see for myself whether or not that was true. Regardless of the answer, discovering that answer in person could prove deeply enlightening. If attending this rally showed me the media are genuinely dishonest in how they portray Trump, then that experience will help me understand his complaints, and thus provide me with a better understanding of his followers. On the other hand, if this rally showed the medias' portrayal as accurate, then it would reinforce my faith in the free press.
One of the best and most challenging questions regarding any conviction is, “What would change your mind?” In other words, what would cause you to reject the principles you currently hold and instead embrace that which is antithetical to your current point of view? If the answer to that question is “nothing”, then you are a fundamentalist – someone who will always make the evidence fit the conviction, no matter how much evidence to the contrary. And so I turn this revealing inquiry on myself: What would it take to get me to support Trump? I'd have to see things from his perspective – I'd have to see the “fake news” liberal media misrepresenting him, as he claims. And attending this rally had the potential to do just that. It's a little bit scary to enter a new experience fully understanding that that experience might dramatically overthrow one's long-standing political thinking. A small part of me wanted to avoid that possibility, but a much greater part of me is dedicated to reality and to the truth – even when it's challenging or downright unpleasant.
When the rally was announced last week, I seized my opportunity. I immediately requested a free ticket from www.DonaldJTrump.com, which I promptly received. (I figured they'd be all claimed, even though I was prompt in my request, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive it.) So with an open mind, I made the half-hour drive from my house in central Indy to the Southport neighborhood. The rally was set for 7pm, with doors opening at 4pm. I arrived shortly after 4, parked 1.2 miles away, and arrived in line about 4:30. By that time there were a few thousand already in front of me. “Do you think we're gonna get in?” the woman ahead of me asked. “I'd better get in,” I replied. “I have a ticket. He shouldn't have given me a ticket if there's no more space!” But after two hours standing in line, an announcement was made that the rally was at capacity. The rest of us could watch the TV broadcast on the giant projection screen set up in the parking lot. I declined that less-than-generous offer, and walked back to my car, more than a little disappointed and upset over how the tickets were handled.
I would not have gone to this rally without a ticket. The only reason I made the trip was because I had a ticket, and so I thought I was going to get in. In Trump's defense, the ticket does say “all tickets are subject to a first come first serve basis”, which I interpreted as “general admission” seating (as opposed to specified seating). But no, the ticket was essentially just a ticket to stand in line. Hundreds of people, including me, had tickets but still couldn't get in. I felt taken advantage of because I was led to believe one thing, only to find out it wasn't true.
Perhaps this is standard practice for all political rallies, conservative and liberal alike. It appears to be the case for all Trump rallies. One online article I found stated, “In January 2016, Trump's campaign issued nearly 20,000 free tickets for a rally at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vt., a venue that holds only 1,400 people." Having never attended a political rally before, I don't know if other politicians do this or not. But I do remember in 2005 I heard Bill Clinton speak, and in 2006 I heard George H. W. Bush. I had tickets to both events, and those tickets guaranteed me a seat (even if they were nose-bleeds). And somehow I doubt people were treated so trivially at Obama's rallies!
So why would Trump do that? It's pretty obvious: Marketing. Had Trump given out only enough tickets to fill the seats, then the line would have been much shorter. But with several thousand extra people in line, it makes the event look a lot bigger and more important than it actually is. Plus, he doesn't care at all if you get in or not because demand is so high - if you don't take a seat, someone else will. Lastly, when registering for tickets, you have to provide your phone number and email, so it's a surreptitious way for Trump to get your contact information. It'll be interesting to see how much propaganda he sends me in the next few years.
As I walked back to my car, it dawned on me: This is Trump! The media frequently uses the term “scam” to describe his many business ventures. The complaints against Trump University, for example, are predicated on false advertising - the school promised one thing, then failed to deliver. And that was exactly my experience last night, albeit on a much less consequential and expensive level.
As I drove home and thought through these connections, I realized that although I didn't get to attend the rally, the experience wasn't a waste of time. The whole point of the evening was for me to learn about Donald Trump through first-hand experience. I wanted to judge for myself, rather than through potentially (sometimes blatantly) biased reporting, if the medias' unflattering coverage of Trump was accurate or not. And through his misleading ticket scheme, he did give me the answer I sought – just not in the way I had expected.
A few weeks back I wrote a review of Brian Hebert's new book Blue Notes and Sad Chords: Color Coded Harmony in The Beatles 27 Number 1 Hits.
Shortly thereafter I asked Brian if he'd be interested in a brief interview to help promote the book. That conversation is below.
Aaron: Hi Brian! Thanks for taking the time to discuss your new book!
Brian: Thanks Aaron for the opportunity to answer questions about the book.
Is this your first book?
It’s actually my second book, the first one is a technical book about Data Profiling, but that’s neither here no there for this chat.
You're a first-generation fan, who grew up listening to Beatles music. Do you have a particular memory or pivotal moment from your formative years that The Beatles helped articulate?
Yes, I have dozens of memories about the Beatles and the time period. The first is of course Ed Sullivan’s show, but after that, I’d have to say seeing A Hard Day’s Night at a local drive-in, hearing their first US album Introducing the Beatles, learning the riff to I Feel Fine on my canary yellow Epiphone Cornet - my first electric guitar - and many other memories that are described in the book.
What's your musical background? I understand you're a performing musician, as well as an analytic one and an author? You're also an expert on Celtic music. How does that expertise inform or influence your understanding of The Beatles? Is there any cross-over between those styles?
I’ve played the guitar since I was 8 years old, so that’s quite a while ago. I’ve also played lots of other instruments and musical styles, blues guitar and harmonica, Appalachian fiddle and clawhammer banjo, classical guitar, keyboards - obsessions with Couperin and Satie - Strumstick, and a whole lot of Irish Session tunes, on fiddle, bouzouki, and tenor banjo, and most recently, acoustic and electric tenor guitar, with arrangements for cello thrown in. And I’ve learned the chords to many a Beatle song, so it’s all mixed in together, and many years of playing music does really help you appreciate how very special the Beatles were. One thing I enjoy doing that brings it all together is arranging what I call ‘morphs’, which are instrumental renditions of Beatles and other rock/pop music, in a Celtic or Americana style, and often with changes in time signature. I’ve put a few CDs of these types of things out over the past 10 years.
What did you find most surprising/enlightening/rewarding as you worked on this book?
I was always so taken with the Beatles’ vocal harmonies – I think combined with their special energy it’s such a defining characteristic of their music – so the book started as totally focused on that, but after a few years, the whole idea of Blue Notes and Sad Chords, the mixing of genres within the same song, and particularly bluesy rock n roll with emotional pop, really became so much clearer. It was always something you’re sort of aware of in the background, but after detailed study, it really stands out. You can hear this style mixing very definitely in early hits like 'Can’t Buy Me Love', 'A Hard Day’s Night', and 'I Feel Fine'. And then it just feels so good to feel like you’ve answered such a basic question – namely What makes the Beatles’ music so incredibly popular and lasting? This contrast between parts of the same song has also been pointed out by Beatles musicologists like O’Grady, but maybe not given a specific name, as I’ve done in the book.
You told me music is your hobby and passion, but not your profession. What's your day job? How does that professional experience inform your musical experiences?
I’m a computer programmer, databases and GIS (computer mapping), by day, with lots of visualization thrown in. It involves a lot of abstract thinking that doesn’t map perfectly to the world of music, but I’m sure I’m influenced by some of those things, in both directions.
It’s also why I really tried to balance the highly simplified color-coded music theory in the book with lots of nostalgic, memory-laden passages – like what else was charting at the time, and my Proustian boyhood memories of being a young guitar player, or for example, recalling my boyhood idol, a rhythm guitar player for a great local band, who had this incredibly beautiful yellow-to-red sunburst Rickenbacker guitar, and lots of things like that.
This book just came out a few months ago. What's next for you? Any more books under construction?
I’m working on a late 60’s coming of age novel – it will be far less filtered then my reminiscing in the Beatles book, but similar in tone, except in third person – with plenty of sex, drugs, and rock n roll – it certainly won’t be allowed on high school reading lists - lots of song descriptions of the Beatles’ music, but also lots of other artists, and it will have many more pages, to describe growing up in those crazy times. I went to high school in a college town, Northampton, Mass., and there was a lot going on in the 1968-70 time period. That book won’t be done for a couple more years. I’ll keep the title under wraps for the time being.
Where can people buy the book?
It’s up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and quite a few other websites.
Great! I hope the book goes platinum!
Thanks again Aaron and hats off to you for all your great work.
Round 6 took place last night in Newton, MA, with fellow Beatles experts Candy Leonard and Dan D'Addio. Here are the results.
The 15 songs voted in:
The 15 voted out:
That brings the cumulative totals to...
6 of 6 votes: eight songs
5 of 6 votes: two songs
4 of 6 votes: four songs
3 of 6 votes: one song
2 of 6 votes: six songs
1 of 6 votes: one song
0 of 6 votes: eight songs
After conducting this "White Album Voting" several times, I started noticing how different individual preferences were compared to the "majority rules" group voting results. With that in mind, a few days ago I created a survey for individuals to submit their personal selections. That poll can be found here:
So far, four people (including myself) have submitted votes. And here are the initial tallys:
4 of 4 votes: four songs
3 of 4 votes: seven songs
2 of 4 votes: ten songs
1 of 4 votes: three songs
0 of 4 votes: six songs
The individual survey will continue at least into November (Nov 22, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of The White Album's release), and the next group vote will take place in Lake Zurich, IL next month:
Wednesday, 8 August 2018, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Ela Area Public Library, 275 Mohawk Trail, Lake Zurich, IL
Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album
The Beatles' only double-album, The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) is the band's most individualized and stylistically diverse work. Many people argue that The White Album should have been released as a single-album, but no two people seem to agree on which half should be kept and which half should be discarded. In this 90-minute program, two Beatles experts (Richard Mills and Aaron Krerowicz) will make the case for why all thirty tracks should be kept, then the audience will vote on which fifteen should be kept and which fifteen should be discarded in order to distill the double-album down to a single disc.
I delivered "Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album" again last night in Princeton, NJ with Ken Womack. We each discussed 15 of the album's 30 tracks, then the audience voted on which songs to keep and which to discard. Here are the results.
The 15 winners:
That means these were the 15 losers:
Last night being the fifth time I've done this program, here are the updated cumulative voting totals.
5 of 5 votes: eight songs
4 of 5 votes: two songs
3 of 5 votes: five songs
2 of 5 votes: five songs
1 of 5 votes: two songs
0 of 5 votes: eight songs
Round 6 will take place on Monday:
Monday, 16 July 2018, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Newton Free Library, 330 Homer St, Newton, MA
Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album
The Beatles' only double-album, The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) is the band's most individualized and stylistically diverse work. Many people argue that The White Album should have been released as a single-album, but no two people seem to agree on which half should be kept and which half should be discarded. In this 2-hour program, three Beatles experts (Candy Leonard, Aaron Krerowicz, and Daniel D'Addio) will make the case for why all 30 tracks should be kept, then the audience will have to discuss and debate the merits of each song in order to distill the double-album down to a single disc.
Here are the 15 keepers:
Which means here are the 15 voted off the island:
This brings the cumulative totals to:
4 of 4 votes: 9 songs
3 of 4 votes: 3 songs
2 of 4 votes: 6 songs
1 of 4 votes: 3 songs
0 of 4 votes: 9 songs
While this concludes the White Album presentations for June, I have two more non-White-album events next week:
Monday, 25 June 2018, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, 1755 E Center Rd, Kokomo, IN
The Beatles & The Rolling Stones
Ask anybody to name two English rock bands from the 1960s and the response will likely be, "The Beatles and The Rolling Stones." This 60-minute multimedia presentation will compare and contrast the two through musical examples and interviews with the band members.
Wednesday, 27 June 2018, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Tippecanoe County Public Library, 627 South St, Lafayette, IN
The Influence of American Rock 'n' Roll on the Beatles
Before the Beatles ever wrote their own songs or performed on stage, they were inspired to do so by American rock 'n' roll records. This 90-minute multimedia program illustrates the influence of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and other American recording artists from the 1950's on the Beatles through side-by-side comparisons and musical analysis of Beatles covers and original recordings.
I delivered Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album last night in Zionsville, IN to an audience of 28. That means a minimum of 15 votes were required to establish a majority when voting which songs to keep and which to disregard.
Here are the 15 tracks that obtained that majority of at least 15 votes:
That means these 15 didn't make the grade:
With these updated votes, here is our running tally:
3 or 3 votes: 9 songs
2 of 3 votes: 7 songs
1 of 3 votes: 4 songs
0 of 3 votes: 10 songs
Round 4, the final round of June, will take place tonight:
Wednesday, 20 June 2018, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Westfield Washington Public Library, 333 W Hoover St, Westfield, IN
Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album
Yesterday I delivered a presentation on The White Album at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, IN. Afterwards, we discussed and voted which songs should be kept and which should be discarded as we whittled the double album down to a single disc.
Yesterday's 15 keepers:
That means these 15 were eliminated:
So here are the cumulative totals after round two:
2 of 2 votes: 12 songs
1 of 2 votes: 6 songs
0 of 2 votes: 12 songs
Rounds three and four will take place later this week:
Tuesday, 19 June 2018, 6:00-8:00 p.m. (NOTE THE START TIME CHANGE FROM 6:30 TO 6:00!)
Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Library, 250 N 5th St, Zionsville, IN
Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album
Wednesday, 20 June 2018, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Westfield Washington Public Library, 333 W Hoover St, Westfield, IN
Carte Blanche: The Beatles' White Album
Though I've presented on The White Album several times, I had never done so collaboratively before yesterday. With its 30 stylistically diverse tracks, it is particularly well-suited to multiple interpretations and perspectives. And last night at the Arthur J. Miller library in Warren, MI, I paired up with Beatles expert Bob Koski to discuss and debate the merits of all 30 songs, before letting the audience decide by vote which half to keep and which half to discard.
When it was all said and done, here are the 15 tracks the audience voted to keep:
That means they threw out these 15:
After the final tally, one audience member said, "I think I'd prefer the album of rejects!" And indeed, that's one of the points of the exercise: In forcing ourselves to throw out half of the music, we come to better understand that The White Album genuinely needs to be a double album - you can't get rid of half the music without fundamentally altering the nature of the album!
Since 2018 is the 50th anniversary of The While Album, I'll be delivering this program several more times this summer. I plan to keep track of each vote, and after the final presentation I'll total up the tallies to see which tracks are the most and least popular.
Meanwhile, however, I'll be presenting a relatively new program tonight in Ortonville...
Wednesday, 6 June 2018, 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Brandon Township Public Library, 8636 304 South St, Ortonville, MI
The History of Popular Music in America
As the United States developed into an international superpower in the mid-Twentieth Century, so too America's music grew into an international force. This 90-minute multimedia presentation will trace the development of popular music in America from the conclusion of World War II to the present. Artists discussed will include Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Eminem, among others.
... and returning to an old favorite I've done a couple hundred times on Saturday in Caro:
Saturday, 9 June 2018, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Caro Area District Library, 840 W Frank St, Caro, MI
The Beatles: Band of the Sixties
Explore the music of the Beatles in this 60-minute multimedia presentation (part history and part musical analysis) spanning the full 1960's: beginning with the band's seminal visits to Hamburg, continuing through Beatlemania, and concluding with Abbey Road. The program will be supplemented with audio clips of music and excerpts from interviews with the band members.
Anybody who has read Days in the Life knows I have a love/hate relationship with academia. As I wrote in that book: “I love its intellectual rigor and depth of research; I hate its politics, egos, and restrictive formal structure. … John Adams (the composer, not the second or sixth US presidents) once described himself as 'a minimalist who is bored with minimalism.' If I may paraphrase his words, I'm an academic who is bored with academia.”
On one hand, my undergraduate study at Butler University was the best four years of my life. I learned so much so quickly, I grew tremendously as a musician and as a person, and I forged lifelong relationships with peers (including my now wife) and faculty. That period is the only time in my life I'd “go back” to, if time travel were possible.
But at the same time, anyone with experience in academia can tell horror stories, and I'm no exception. I found out first hand how inane higher education can be when I submitted my master's thesis. It was rejected because my page numbers were 1.5 inches from the top of the page. Apparently that violated the rule that “page numbers must be no less than 1 inch from the top of the page.” When I pointed out that 1.5 is not less than 1, he replied, “well, that's your interpretation.” UNBELIEVABLE! To this day, I can hardly believe that he actually said that! And that's just one example – there are many, many more.
At some point I realized that my strength as a musician was as a theorist and educator, not as a composer – as an anlyzer and explainer, rather than a creator. And so I quit the composition doctorate I began at the University of Hartford, downgrading instead to a Graduate Artist Diploma (essentially a second master's).
After a few years away from school, I decided to give academia another try by applying for a theory doctorate. I found a professor (who I'll keep anonymous) whose work I respect infinitely, and applied for fall 2014 matriculation to study with him. That prof emailed me on 26 February 2014, saying that to be accepted, “you need more evidence of theory courses such as might be taken during a Master's degree--tonal and atonal analysis, history of theory, pedagogy of theory, and a run of grad history courses. The [music theory] dept recommends an applicant pursue a Masters before applying for the PhD.”
Now, of course a doctoral applicant should complete a master's before applying. And yes, of course that applicant should be well-versed in tonal analysis, atonal analysis, history of music theory, pedagogy, and music history. But the fact is that I had not one but TWO master's, and I had already taken four grad-level tonal analysis courses, four grad-level atonal analysis courses, one session of grad-level history of music theory, one grad-level pedagogy class, and six sessions of grad-level music history. It would've been perfectly understandable to decline my application if I had none of the above; but to turn me down when I have the degree in question, and when I've taken all of the courses mentioned (most of them multiple times) is utter absurdity! I will never know the REAL reason why he turned me down.
Giving up on academia, I decided to go my own way. In June 2015, I upped my Beatles scholarship to a full-time profession. I've done dozens of lecture tours through the US, England, and Canada, delivered over 500 presentations, visited 37 states, and published six books. I basically did the same style of analysis I would have done had I gone back to school, but presented my findings in much more accessible ways (ie with fewer academic buzzwords and technical jargon). And I loved it. It was a ridiculous amount of work, but it was also a lot of fun.
Fast forward to Monday, 14 August 2017. I'm eating breakfast with Beatles author and Monmouth University dean Ken Womack in Chicago following the annual Fest for Beatles Fans. I complained more than a little about how I was struggling to sell books because most potential buyers reward gaudy marketing rather than quality scholarship. I've known that for years, of course, but it always becomes most apparent (and depressing) at large conventions, like The Fest. “I don't understand why you're not pursuing an academic career,” he told me. “Based on your style of work, I'd strongly encourage you to go back to school next fall.”
I had considered the notion many times, but always decided against it. At Ken's encouragement, I started researching my options. I knew I didn't want to move across the country yet again, so that limited me to schools in central Indiana. IU was the obvious choice – it's the biggest music school in the country – but I ruled it out after a conversation with their theory department head, who advised me not to study pop music there.
That left only one option: Ball State University in Muncie. I set up a phone interview with BSU's department head, Dr. Eleanor Trawick. My first question was whether I should apply for a doctorate or a master's. I half expected her to say master's, since that was the answer I got the last time I applied for a doctorate. But instead she said exactly what I wanted to hear: “Why on earth would you do a third master's?” Since she passed that test, I decided to visit the campus in person.
I arranged to sit in on a pop music class taught by Dr. Brett Clement, who has analyzed and written on various rock musicians from Frank Zappa to Yes. Dr. Clement provided me with a copy of the course syllabus, including a large bibliography of books and articles. I had read a few of them, and decided to read more. It took a while to get used to that style of writing, but once I got the hang of it, I found the analysis deeply enlightening.
Cautiously optimistic, I went ahead and applied. And yesterday I received an acceptance letter offering a full scholarship with teaching opportunities for both written theory and ear training, plus an annual stipend. I proudly accepted.
I will continue my lecture tours through the summer (Indiana through May, Abbey Road on the River over Memorial Day weekend, Michigan in June, New England in July, and the Chicago Beatles Fest in August), then recant my status as a “full-time professional Beatles scholar” on August 20, when classes begin.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.