Monday, April 03, 2006

Making The Case AGAINST Sgt. Pepper's

In my previous post about buying Radiohead's THE BENDS, I included a link to a website with streaming audio from nearly all of Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Albums". At the top of that list is SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND by The Beatles. Thinking about that, I'm struggling to understand why this album is so constantly and consistently praised. I've come to the conclusion that it must be based largely on things I, not born until 1970, cannot fully appreciate, such as its "groundbreaking studio techniques" and "tremendous influence" on subsequent albums. Why do I think this? Because, I do not believe it could be based solely on the musical merits of the album itself. Why do I think that? Because, for pure listening satisfaction, I wouldn't rate it all that highly...CERTAINLY NOT # 1.

Haahnster's Top 10 Reasons Sgt. Pepper's is NOT the # 1 Album of All-Time

10. "Within You, Without You"
9. "Lovely Rita"
8. "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Seriously, though, could the # 1 album of ALL-TIME really contain songs as weak as those listed in my aborted Top 10 list above? How about "Fixing A Hole" and "She's Leaving Home"? about WEAK! This is NOT an album that has aged very well. Sometimes I think the only thing connecting this LP to our modern consciouness is the use of Joe Cocker's cover version of "With A Little Help From My Friends" as the theme song of TV's The Wonder Years.

OK, I take that back...partially. "A Day In The Life" is as strong a song as The Beatles ever recorded. And, the use of the title track at the beginning, and then reprised near the very end appears to have been a technique adopted by (or, would it be "adapted by"?) one of my personal favorites, Neil Young. Also, the cover photo was creative.

But, for a groundbreaking album that is consistently excellent song-by-song, and also virtually timeless, give me BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME by Bob Dylan. (Why HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED and BLONDE ON BLONDE are always rated ahead of this one is the subject for another post.) This is the album that bridged the gap to Dylan "going electric", with one side solo acoustic, and the other with electric backing band. It also contains the most dazzling piece of poetry ever put to music, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)". That's probably my # 1, although I've never really thought it all the way through. Suffice it to say, Sgt. Pepper's wouldn't even be my highest-rated Beatles album! I'd probably have to go with ABBEY ROAD, there.

So, what do you think? Is the Haahnster hallucinating again? In any event, there's something about Sgt. Pepper's that just doesn't seem to grab me.


Blogger Rob said...

Revolver, baby...all the pop-experimentation of the White Album at half the running time!

I can't lie, I love Sgt. Pepper's ("Lovely Rita" is not so bad! And picking on "When I'm 64, too...). But the record is canonical because it created this idea of album-as-art-object. That's also why it will always and forever be #1 on lists made by Rolling Stone, which has been reifying this concept for some decades now.

But as someone who is primarily a hip-hop fan, I say the real problem with this musty RS list is that (by design) it can't account for great singles. This means it undervalues singles-driven music like Motown, Stax, disco, and hip-hop. If you notice a trend there that relates to skin-color, well you're not the only one.

3:53 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

I think their attempt at accounting for the impact of singles was their decision to include Greatest Hits albums and other compilations (e.g., Elvis Presley's "Sun Sessions" at #11, Chuck Berry's "The Great 28" at #21), normally a "Top Albums" no-no.

However, your point is well-taken. It does undervalue singles, because the people that make these types of lists obviously aren't used to including greatest hits albums. E.g., why would ANY early Beatles albums (such as "Please Please Me" at #39), which were essentially collections of songs meant to be A/B sides of singles, outrank the 1962-1966 compilation? So, when it came to acts such as The Beatles, they were obviously in the proper-album-only frame of mind. However, they wanted artists such as Presley, Berry, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, etc. represented. Thus, they reached for compilations in those cases.

As for disco and hip-hop, that could partially be explained by the incredibly obvious bias towards albums released pre-1970, especially near the top of the list. However, the color thing is certainly a factor. I can imagine the meetings: "OK, we've got LEGEND by Bob Marley, so that takes care of reggae. And, we'll put ...NATION OF MILLIONS... by Public Enemy in the top 50. That should represent rap."

5:39 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger rabidt said...

Well, you have my support, anyway. Sgt. Pepper's is a piece of shit in my book! I'm no Beatles fan, but based on the tracks you mention, this one seems particularly bad. Even Hendrix couldn't make "Sgt. Pepper's LHCB" sound good when he played it.

I wonder who Rolling Stone sees as their target audience at this point? I would guess that anyone who would rate Sgt Pepper's as #1 is pretty frickin' old at this point. Not that it shouldn't be on the list somewhere, but I agree with Haahnster that time has left it behind to some undeniable degree.

1:49 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

The Sgt. Peppers thing is old. It was groundbreaking in it's day and like all things nostalgic, it's hard to knock it off the top.

But aside from "A Day In The Life", which was the best song John ever wrote in my opinion, it is not a album that is full of memorable things. But when viewed in the context of it's day, it was amazing.

There are thousands of bands that rely on their one breakthrough to carry them for their careers. You just have to remember that the Beatles, the most powerful force in the history of recorded music, reinvented themselves with this LP. And for that one simple reason, it will always be viewed like it is in the poplar world view.

For my own tastes, I always prefered the Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow which was a footnote at that time.

Keep 'em coming. I'm waiting on the Dylan project.

10:05 AM, April 06, 2006  

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