Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sgt. Pepper vs Revolver

M. Duss has a nice post up over at Alter Destiny regarding the ongoing discussion of Sgt. Pepper (it's come up a lot lately due to its 40th anniversary). He discusses the ongoing 'Sgt. Pepper vs Revolver' debate, and he makes a point about George Martin that I'm not sure anybody's explored in great enough least not in any of these magazine articles.

If I have one nit to pick with Rosen's article, it is that while he recognizes Sgt. Pepper's as a nostalgic look back on Old England, he does not go the next step of recognizing the figure in the studio with the Beatles who represented, to some extent, a connection to that England, and who became the midwife, so to speak, of the musical and cultural revolution which the Beatles brought forth: George Martin. Fifteen years older than the Four, the picture of buttoned-down, proper Englishness, Martin was of the generation from whose hands the Beatles and their cohort would wrench the torch. Ironically, perhaps, Martin would help them do it. It was Martin who, after they had been rejected by other London labels, decided to take a chance on the group, recognizing in them the charm and humor that would make them not just musical but cultural icons. It was Martin who, unable to decide which of the four should be featured as the group's leader, made the seminal decision they were best presented as a group. Most importantly, it was Martin whose traditional musical education, and own playful experimentalism, enabled him to realize on tape the sounds that the Beatles heard in their heads. If there's any revisionism which needs to take place here, it's that Martin should be better recognized as a key component to the Beatles' music and moment.
In the middle of leaving a long comment about it in response, I realized that said comment could/should be a post of my own. So here's my (slightly edited) comment:

Sgt. Pepper has always been regarded by the general public as The Beatles' greatest album, and that's fine I guess. I will always prefer Revolver, and my main test of how strong a "Best Albums of All-Time" list is is whether or not they have Sgt. Pepper #1 (I consider ranking it #1 as a major cop-out, and I immediately discount the quality of the rest of the list...but then, I can be a major snob sometimes*)...however, I guess I do need to acknowledge that Sgt. Pepper's cultural impact was unprecedented.

That does mean, though, that as time continues to pass and the number of people who lived with the impact of Sgt. Pepper in the present tense begins to diminish, my guess is that its perception too will diminish, at least slightly. Cultural impact will mean less and less, and pure song quality (and Revolver is far superior in this regard) will matter more.

* As a sometimes major snob, I also feel compelled to mention that I'm slightly dismayed that conventional wisdom (among music nerds and magazines who claim to be written by music nerds, anyway) is beginning to lean towards Revolver. Major snobs enjoy being in the vocal minority. And they are never ever satisfied when they get their way.

Kind of like Republicans.

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