I don't recall the year, but I wrote an ill-advised piece for The Huffington Post claiming that The Hollies' "Butterfly" was a better record than "Sgt. Pepper." I thought it was a mistake from the start, but I knew what I was feeling and went ahead with it. Sure enough, it went over like "Ringo's Rotogravure." If I had thought a bit longer and harder about it, I would have written what I am writing now.
"Pepper" might have better songs, but I still like more songs on "Butterfly," and to my ears, "Butterfly" plays better. If I had to rate The Beatles catalogue from my favorite to least favorite, "Sgt. Pepper" would come in at #8, with only "Please Please Me," "Magical Mystery Tour," "The White Album" and "Let It Be" dragging ass behind it. I play "Butterfly" more than I play "Pepper," even if "Pepper" is far more important to music history.
I like "Pet Sounds." I do. But I am pretty sure I have never listened to "Pet Sounds" without thinking that there are more than a few clunky speed bumps (just like "Sgt. Pepper") on what is widely considered one of the greatest, if not "the" greatest album of all time...you know...after "Sgt. Pepper." Is it sacrilege to think "the greatest album of all time" should not include the completely out of place "Sloop John B," or not one, but two interesting, yet admittedly throwaway instrumentals? Knowing the record's history and the emotional struggles of Brian Wilson certainly changes the way I might listen to "That's Not Me," but ultimately, what I am hearing is always the same, a clumsy tune with very uncomfortable instrumentation. I get a lot more pleasure listening to "Today" or "Summer Days." These records aren't as important as "Pet Sounds," but they play better to my ears.
This is not to say music shouldn't be demanding. I am not campaigning for straighforward over complex. Trust me. I am not here to bury "Pepper" and "Pet Sounds." I'm just questioning why "A Hard Day's Night," featuring 13 Beatles originals, with arguably no weak tracks in the bunch, isn't ever considered monumental the way "Pepper" is. Is it the strings or the horns on "Pepper?" It can't be "When I'm 64" and "Within You, Without You." Is "A Hard Day's Night" too straighforward? Maybe 13 out of 13 killer tracks isn't such a feat after all. Just like actors playing handicapped or dying characters always seem to get the Oscar over the lovable shnooks and nice guys, maybe solid as a rock pop music is too much fun to be taken seriously. Or maybe, it's being at the right place at the right time. Both "Pepper" and "Pet Sounds" were brilliant anomalies in 1966 & 1967, with the artists feeding off each other, doing their best to best the other. I don't believe that means we cannot reassess 50 years later.
Sometimes I think we have been conditioned to feel a certain way about art. We get on that bus and remain, as if our stop never comes. It's not a bad bus. We are riding with exceptional works of art. But there is that other bus, that awful crosstown bus that always seems to come at the wrong time, the one carrying the people who always stay on long after their stop and make statements like "The Stones were never as good after Brian Jones died" and "The Beatles are overrated." I don't believe these people truly feel that way and I don't believe that those gushing their hyperbole over "Pepper" and "Pet Sounds" feel that way, either. Some might. I mean, who am I to question what turns people on? But I think we've all been around friends who sit through painfully long and boring art house crap, say a French documentary about the boiling point of tin, and then force a rave review through their clenched teeth, while refusing to admit they'd much rather be watching "Duck Soup." Somehow it makes more sense to me for people to simply really like "Pet Sounds" and "Sgt. Pepper" and not go into the default setting of "these are the greatest records ever." It seems more honest. I trust it more.
And then of course, there are Neil Young fans. But I digress.
There are many records in the last 50 years that have been groundbreaking and influential, but I don't believe that is the same as being a great record. The Who's "Tommy" is an epic, the "rock opera." It is legendary. It was a first of its kind and years later became a monster success on Broadway. I never feel like listening to it.
"Blonde On Blonde" is my 4th favorite Dylan record. I won't be as brazen as I was when I handed in my Huffington Post piece and state that "Desire" is a better record, but I sure as hell like it more. But I do think "Blood On The Tracks, "Bringing It All Back Home" and "Highway 61 Revisited" are better than "Blonde," but "Blonde" will go down in history, like "Pet" and "Pepper" as the one.
May I ask a personal question? Just between us. Your words will never leave this room, if you are motivated to confess.
Are they any records and artists you've been pretending to love because it's a lot harder to get off the bus at this point?
Frank Zappa has hundreds of records. I think five of them are worth listening to, while much of the rest is a whole lotta smug and unfunny crap. If there is a hell, "Billy The Mountain" will be playing on repeat. I tried for years, sitting around with that frozen smile, while my friends all guffawed over "Joe's Garage." I won't do it anymore.
There. I feel better.