- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Underrating The Beatles
The Beatles are underrated.
Yeah, yeah (yeah), I know--this is not proper form for clickbait. It seems that just about every day you'll see some silly internet post insisting that The Beatles were overrated, or inconsistent, or somehow not all that important. Such claims fall under the general category of bovine dung. The only way The Beatles could be considered overrated is if we fell into the trap of believing they were the only great pop group; fannish worship of all things Beatley has made our lads an inviting target for ornery iconoclasm, and I can't blame Beatle critics for pushing back against that. Hell, I'm a Beatles fan, and even I get annoyed by my fellow fans sometimes.
Nonetheless, The Beatles are far more underrated than overrated. I'm not even talking about their incalculable, prevailing impact on our pop culture; I'm talking about The Beatles as a band, and as a recording act. The Beatles were a tight, happenin' live group, they wrote great songs, and they created a recorded body of work that will stand the test of time. Their legacy doesn't stand alone, and should never go unchallenged--I listen to Pet Sounds, The Village Green Preservation Society, and Ramones (to name a few) more often than I listen to Sgt. Pepper--but its place in history is deservedly secure.
When asked the perennial question What's your all-time favorite album?, my stock answer is Everything The Beatles released from 1963 through 1966. If I had to actually name a favorite album, I guess it would be The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, or maybe Beatles VI (a choice which pisses off many and pleases few), or, I dunno, The Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. But really, that '63 to '66 body of work--"Please Please Me" through "Tomorrow Never Knows"--just knocks me out, floors me even after all these decades. It's not just the singles or other best-known tracks; those are rightfully celebrated, but it's tracks like "Thank You, Girl," and "No Reply," and "The Night Before," and "She Said She Said," and "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party," and so many others that continuously reinforce my ongoing allegiance to The Beatles.
When I was in high school, seeking (and failing) to seem more mature and wordly, I embraced the later period of The Beatles' records, 1967-1970. My favorite album was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and my favorite song was "A Day In The Life;" then my favorite album switched to Abbey Road, and my favorite song became "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." Loved the White Album, too. And I do still love all of these; but as punk hit, and as I grew more and more aware of my tastes and comfortable with my idiosyncrasies, I turned back to the earlier, pre-Pepper Beatles. I had never forsaken that stuff, mind you, but now I more actively and consciously drew a line from fab-era Beatles through Badfinger and The Raspberries and further (if seemingly incongruously) through The Ramones and The Jam. That was my music, and it will likely remain that way.
Every year here in Syracuse, my friend Paul Davie puts on a live show called BeatleCUSE, a gathering of (mostly) local musicians to pay tribute to Johnny, James Paul, our George, and li'l Richard. Next year's production will include a live re-creation of Sgt. Pepper in its entirety, and I'm secure in my conviction that will be...well, a splendid time guaranteed for all. Lovely wife Brenda and I will buy tickets as soon as they're available.
But, as great as Sgt. Pepper is, I would also concede that it's...um, overrated. Not as a cultural phenomenon--no album will ever equal the unique, giddy circumstances of the release of Sgt. Pepper--but it's not the greatest album of all time. It's not even The Beatles' best album. And it's for damned sure not The Beatles' very finest moment.
Look: as contrarian sentiment becomes increasingly commonplace, you could make a legitimate argument that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is both overrated and underrated. I come neither to praise nor bury Sgt. Pepper, but to remind everyone of the sheer magnificence of the transcendent pop music The Beatles created before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. I mean, The Beatles arguably invented power pop with "Please Please Me" in 1963, and went on to craft a simply nonpareil catalog of essential, unforgettable music over the next three years.
The Beatles, 1963-1966--to my ears, that remains the best that's ever been done. And, as if all that weren't enough, The Beatles accomplished one other minor miracle within that time frame: The Beatles recorded and released The Greatest Record Ever Made.
We'll talk about that one tomorrow.