As far as the world of music is concerned, Rick Rubin is an institution in himself. Not only was the American music producer once the co-president of music behemoth Columbia Records but he also founded Def-Jam records, to which many of the biggest names in hip hop would end up signing, helping Rubin to establish hip-hop as one of the defining genres of the final decade of the 20th century.
Rubin’s artist-led production technique has seen him work with a stunning and diverse array of musicians. Johnny Cash, LL Cool J, Slayer, The Beastie Boys – it seems like every musician in his hands turns to gold. It’s fair to assume, then, that when somebody like Rick gives his two cents on one of the most celebrated bands in the history of recorded music, you really ought to pay attention. Well, it just so happens that in a 2008 interview, Rubin was asked to name his favourite Beatles album of all time. The answer, however, may surprise you.
Rubin grew up on a diet of heavy metal and early punk records, his insatiable appetite for guitar-driven sounds being never quite satisfied. As a teen, he travelled from his Long Island home to Manhattan, where he watched The Ramones give a concert in downtown New York. Then, after enrolling as a student of New York University, Rubin developed a passion for hip hop, which had started to radiate out from its Brooklyn birthplace by this time. It’s clear that Rubin’s taste was nothing if not eclectic. And perhaps that explains why he had such a soft spot for The Beatles masterpiece of musical mania, The White Album, released in November 1968.
“This one may not be as polished as some of the other Beatles albums, but I like how personal it feels, and the fact that you can hear the individual styles of each of the guys” Rubins said of the album, which saw The Beatles push their sound towards the avant-garde like never before. “It sounds as much like four separate people, as it does a band,” he continued. “I like seeing their individual personalities coming through in the music and in the playing”.
Being a producer, The White Album feels like an obvious choice for Rubin. But, for some fans, it is one of the Beatles most bewildering records, featuring a cornucopia of stylistically disparate songs which, at times, seem to resist interpretation. However, it cannot be denied that The White Album is one of The Beatles’ most imaginative records, birthed from a period of intense creativity, which saw the Fab Four write everything from Sgt. Pepper’s off-shoot ‘Back In The USSR’ to the beautifully melancholic ‘Julia’.
As Rubins notes, it is a record that seems to contain the perfect balance of John Paul, Harrison and Starr; a state of equilibrium that unfortunately wasn’t to last.