Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Topic: Why we do or do not like The Beatles......Discuss amongst yourselves.

Often times, one of the more difficult tasks is to explain to a person why you like, love, or enjoy something. When music is subject matter at hand, it is always much easier to say “It just sounds good to me” or to just play the song for the other party to hear. What’s even more difficult is to explain why you like an album or band that practically ever other person on the planet has previously weighed in on with his or her opinion. Conversely, I suppose the opposite is true as well. It can be equally as difficult to explain why you dislike something that practically every other person likes, or at least says they like. So, that being said, I took Gerdon’s previous webcast as a challenge of sorts. If you haven't listened to it yet....stop reading this and go listen first....its excellent. I asked myself, "Can I explain why I like The Beatles?" And if you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “Of course I could, this dude is a jackass” then I implore you to think of the question yourselves. And simple responses such as, “Well, they’re just a bunch of good songs” won’t do. Sorry. My response is actually quite long, so grab a soda or a cup of coffee and let’s think about why we like (or dislike) The Beatles.

I once dressed up as John Lennon for Halloween.....i kid you not.

Historical Reasons: Gerdon mentioned that Frank Zappa is considered by many to have put out the first concept album of all-time. Fair enough. Despite Freak Out! being released almost a year ahead of Sgt. Pepper, though, Frank Zappa wasn’t exactly a household name at the time. The Beatles, however, were. I suppose in my mind, the significance of someone much more significant doing something different, makes it more……well, significant. Maybe that’s a simple-minded approach, but its how I feel.

Popular Culture Reasons: Not having grown up in the 60s makes this next concept difficult for me to fathom particularly, but The Beatles made music that appealed to practically everyone. Maybe its due to the oversaturation of practically every type of music there is nowadays, but that just doesn’t happen anymore. The Beatles were the Will Smith of the 60s. People disliked their hair, and things they said, but I get the feeling that most people at least enjoyed their music. I suppose that, at its definition, is what pop music is all about, though. That being said, then The Beatles essentially created pop music as we know it today. Never before had a band been so appreciated and loved worldwide for the music they were creating.

But I suppose if all of my reasons involved “well, they were the first…..” that wouldn’t be very interesting. Plus, it might suggest that I’m that way about all my interests. For example, I hate old, “historical” pioneering television shows and movies. I can’t stand watching I Love Lucy, or The Andy Griffith show or shit like that. And I can’t possibly begin to fathom why Citizen Kane is the greatest movie of all time. So, there has to be more to my liking of The Beatles other than they were the first BIG band.

The Music: I’m always impressed on basically ever album (once they started getting creative) the variety of every song over the course of the album. Taking Sgt. Pepper for instance….you’ve got good ol’ fashioned rock songs (both Sgt. Pepper and the Reprise), you’ve got spaced out psychedelia (Lucy), circus music (Mr. Kite), excellent pop songs (With a Little Help, Getting Better), Indian sitar songs (Within You Without You) and epics such as A Day in the Life. I just don’t think you see this with other bands. Beck is probably the best modern day versatile artist I can think of, and he's not even close to doing what The Beatles did. The vast difference from song to song makes each album listen an experience. But its not JUST this difference, the songs are DAMN good!! Gerdon mentioned that they are considered great simply because they wrote catchy pop tunes, and while that might be true to an extent, it was this universal appeal combined with the quality of the songs that make The Beatles so great.

The reason I think a lot of people don’t like The Beatles is simply because they’ve been overexposed in our society. At this point, every aspect of what The Beatles did has been copied and overplayed to death. Bands have been making modern versions of Beatles songs ever since The Beatles stopped. Even Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds, considered by many to be another of the greatest albums of all time was his attempt to create the perfect Beatles album. They’re just everywhere. And a lot of times, people don’t want to like what everyone else is liking. Its almost cooler to not like something popular. That’s a problem with a lot people in the indie world….everybody loved Death Cab until they joined a major label and had songs appear on The O.C. Then, in the indie world, it became almost more popular to criticize and mock their success rather than talk about that fact that the music was still good.

So, these are reasons why I like The Beatles. Let me know what you think. Feel free to agree with me, or tell me that I’m full of shit (more likely). Let’s keep the discussion going. As for Gerdon’s dislike, he’s completely entitled to his opinion, and it’s very interesting to hear why someone doesn’t like The Beatles. Personally, I think he’s wrong. But, that’s why we’re here and that’s what makes this so fun. So, if you haven’t taken much time to listen to The Beatles, maybe you should…..and pick up Pet Sounds while you’re at it.

Sorry this post was so long, but it just took a lot of words to say what I wanted to say. And I’ll leave with this comment directed at Gerdon….If you were required to pick a best album of all-time what would it be? Don't mean to put you on the spot, but I think these kind of discussions are fun. Personally, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t be #1 on my list and for that matter, no Beatles album would be #1, but I guess the point of my post is that I can understand why someone would put it there. As for my #1…..hmm, well that’s a post for another time. But I’d like to hear your opinions and explanations for those opinions. What is your Best Album of All-Time??

Stay classy RadioKGB.



Bryan said...

Well thought out post once again Rutledge. You make some very compelling arguments to support why The Beatles are great. Just wanted to add my two cents.

1. Historic reasons: To me, The Beatles were the first true magicians in the studio. Hell, these guys quit touring pretty early; they were able to make a living off of just their time in the studio. That's unheard of these days. As you reference, these guys inspired people of their own time, such as Brian Wilson and a band closer to my heart, The Byrds, and guys today, like a Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, others, on how to change the depth of the music through studio production what have yous. This resonates in all music really, rap to indie, electronica, almost anything.

2. Popular culture: I see your point but I tend to side with something you mentioned: it's awfully hard to know the true sentiment of how people felt about The Beatles when we weren't there to experience the things ourselves. Obviously, they were admired and popular in the States and England, as those Ed Sullivan clips would suggest. What about the rest of the world? Not being a smartass, I don't know. Did the French and rest of Europe look at them in the same admiring way? I am guessing that the third world at the time, other than India (with its deep British connection), did not have much to say about The Beatles because, assuming the technology was there, they did not have much in common with the topics The Beatles covered. It was a different time, but I would argue that Marley
was more loved worldwide and more universal than The Beatles, even as a group.

I think that's a little off topic but oh well.

I had more to say but I am tired so I might write additionally later. These are the things that struck me. As for #1 album, I can't put my finger on just one album. Music is such an intimate, evolving thing to me based on my life experiences that, just like feelings and moods, they change. The great thing about this blog to me is that it creates a record of where I was in my life when I wrote and listened to these things. The music biography, as Gerdon's brother suggested. I think that's pretty damn cool.

gerdon said...

Ryan, thanks for the listen and the thought-out response to the questions I was posing in my webcast. (Some one listened to my webcast?!) I think these are all really interesting questions and agree that it can be very difficult to describe why you like or dislike something. Though, if you’re able to do so then you can be much more convincing to yourself and other. So, let’s work our way down your post:

Historically, Frank Zappa was thought to be the first to put together a concept album. Your response to this thought I find really interesting, that the more popular Beatles coming out with Sgt Peppers was more significant that Frank Zappa who did it first, but was maybe less well know. Think about it this way – there’s a scientist, say his name is Ryan, and he works for a little known professor, say his name is David. Ryan and David come up with a ground breaking experiment that really kicks ass and is very new and important. They publish in a good journal – say the Journal of the American Chemical Society – they receive some attention for this. A year latter, a Nobel Prize winner does basically the same experiment and publishes in Science. Who deserves more credit? Who was more innovative? Just because the Beatles were more popular does not mean that their work was more innovative. But this is all a moot point, because Sgt Peppers is not a concept album. If it is a concept album, then what’s the concept? Unfortunately, I’m not intimately familiar with Frank Zappa’s album, but Pet Sounds is the "ultimate love album" (admittedly, Brian Wilson listened to Rubber Soul and took it as a challenge in putting together Pet Sounds…), Bob Marley’s Exodus is about society sticking together to get through tough times – these are concept albums. So, was Sgt Peppers so innovative?

In regards to Bryan’s historical comment – I didn’t realize that they were such recording studio masters, and that that was so rare. I was under the impression that lots of pop bands today record more than they tour – that’s one reason the record companies want to protect album sales. That’s speculation on my part. Surely the Beatles had influence on other bands (Pet Sounds…). Miles Davis was Duane Allman’s main inspiration.

The Beatles were the first BIG band. Maybe they were the first big rock band – at least in the United States. Were they so big internationally (a point Bryan brings up)? I can think of plenty artists preceding the Beatles that were internationally huge and loved and appreciated by their fans. You may laugh, but Mozart is currently better known than the Beatles. Admittedly that may be a bad example. How about Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, even Bob Marley had grand international and American success and their legacy lives on. And let’s not forget about Duke Ellington who was incredibly innovative and wildly popular as well (the big band and swing craze that is still popular today).

The music is pretty good. They have some good poppy songs. The fact that every song is different on the album is pretty cool and I like that. If anything it makes the album less of a concept album though. They are well crafted, good pop songs. I don’t find the songs particularly virtuoso though. I don’t get a feel of any outstanding musicianship. Paul Simon has a terrific voice and can play guitar very well. Jimi Hendrix was a bad ass guitar player and socially inspiring. And, yes, they are over-exposed, which may play some part in why I’m so vocal about the Beatles.

Well, it’s an interesting idea Ryan, and my subtle sarcasm obviously didn’t come through, but I was kind of making fun the RS’s Top 500 Great Albums of All Times. RS’s has been criticized for basically including only albums of the 60’s and 70’s. As you said, I can see why some one would put Sgt Peppers as their number 1 of all time, but I sure wouldn’t. I guess if I were to pick a Top Album of the 60s and 70s I would probably pick something that did have a concept, something with some social statement and that did have a social impact. Something like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I’ve already stated my affinity for Paul Simon, so maybe Sounds of Silence or Bridge Over Troubled Water. It certainly is a difficult question and I don’t mean to give Rolling Stones too much grief. I do hope that this discussion will encourage people to think about why they like certain music and why music is important to each of us and to society.

I’m looking forward to listening to your webcast as well.


Bryan said...

Just to clarify my point about The Beatles and their abilities in the studio. To me, they were the first band to maximize the studio by adding unconventional instruments and effects into the framework of a song. Written, that doesn't make much sense, but break out almost any album you own and you'll probably hear what I mean. The Beatles were the innovators of unconventional instruments in popular music (sitar), sound effects, and that general "sonic layer" as Jay Bennett would say, that gives a song a produced sound. Yes, lots of bands do that today - but The Beatles laid the groundwork IMO.

I can think of no band these days that does not tour. The Beatles quit touring ALTOGETHER.

gerdon said...

Excellent points, sir. I certainly don't want to argue over the details, but the sitar was really the only unusual instrument used on that album. Everything else is pretty standard. Its sweet that they did it though and that they mastered "production", whether that's good or bad. Its a shame that they stopped touring. I think that's an important part in calling oneself a "band".

ryan said...

To continue the nitpicking....Lucy in the Sky uses an instrument called a tamboura (had to look up the name of that one) and an organ made to sound like a harpsichord. I also think that Mr. Kite utilizes a caliope at points. None of those are or were commonplace on pop albums. Those are just two examples without really thinking.

Also, i don't think you have to tour at all to consider yourself a band. They're just two completely different types of bands. Just because you prefer one to the other doesn't make the other one any less so.

Anonymous said...

i would first like to start off this commentary with a: i've always been a huge beatles fan and will always be one. i'm actually suprised you guys are getting in such a hoop-la about sgt. peppers (rolling stone's credibility is not quite what it once was). in my opinion the best beatles album is the white album; not because of it's daring audacious statements but because it represents the true talent of 4 people recording together (songs ranging from pop, 'emo', blues, eastern, etc.) aren, i'm shocked in all you're comments you havent mentioned one thing about the "abbey road" or "let it be" albums. both of which were heavily influenced by blues. both of which are very insightful and mature TRUE beatles.

1./2. historic reasons; pop culture: i was listening to NPR the other day and they were actually running a segment on sgt pepper and how it is over-rated. i tend to agree. that album didn't change the world but it was a milestone in musical history. just as zappa, led zepplin, pink floyd, the doors, bob dylan were. that's indisputable. all are musicians that can open the mind and inspire new directions--all deserve, no more bashing the beatles, please.


Music Moron said...

Well, I guess it is finally about time that i hop into the foray. I have, until this point, remained a quiet observer on the RadioKGB website, often times feeling very inadequate in regards to musical knowledge in general. I have even established an appropriate screen name, so you can easily look down your noses at me from your haughty perches and potentially disregard my comments altogether. I type this response as a casual listener, who could care less about the numerous subtle details involved in musical production. If it is something I like, I'll listen; otherwise I change the station and a lot of times I don't even know the bands involved.

The best comparison I can come up with in describing this blog is that it is exactly like Jack Black's character in Hi Fidelity (Certainly a great movie, and I am fairly certain that Hasselhof has had a dramatic influence in all RadioKGB contributors' collective musical appreciation). So I guess it is my turn to play the part of the old man walking into the record store just trying to buy an album for his daughter. You can feel free to shoot my down and humiliate me out of the store if you want...

I think Sgt. Peppers IS the best album of all time... without a doubt. The album itself has a great sound, the first two tracks are phenomenal, then it takes an entirely different turn towards weird, then to silly finally culminating in Day in the Life. The album (and Day in the Life individually) possesses a psychological progression that is absent from anything before it (as far as I know). On top of all this, they manage to include a hidden reverse track and little tricks like tying the first two tracks together (was that one song or two???) which add to innovation and I find that intriguing. It gives the album a theatrical experience which transcends just the music. Oh and by the way, Day in the Life and With a Little Help from my Friends are two of my favorite songs of all time (Joe Cocker version is a little better thanks to the wonder years). Additionally, the impact it has had on EVERYTHING which follows it cannot be underscored. I for one am happy we don't have to listen to Love Love me Do, Franky Valli sing song shit 24/7. And yes, because they were associated with a big label does mean that it can be considered more important than Frank Zappa (obviously wider audience and therefore greater effect). It not like they weren't taking a chance. They took an enormous risk to completely revamp the music which until then was making them a ton of money, what did Frank Zappa have to loose when he made his album??? Drugs?? (I have never heard it and don't know what a concept album is).

Mainly, and finally, I think you are incapable of claiming Sgt Peppers as the best album simply because you don't want to associate with the rest of us uninformed neophytes. Citing some obscure album, on the other hand, illustrates your immense command of all things musical, and a dumbass like myself cannot speak intelligibly enough to argue. Oh well, I'm a movie person anyhow!

So there it is, tear me apart you elitist bastards...

P.S. The new White stripe song SUCKS Rutledge!!!!

Aren said...

Thanks for the input Moron. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and we appreciate that here at KGB. Bryan, Ryan and I only make fun of each other. I knew I'd be fighting an uphill battle arguing against the Beatles, but that's how I see it.

Ryan - I didn't see the caliope on the list of instruments used on that album. I did see the tamboura and apologize for leaving both out.

I still disagree whole heartedly that Frank Zappa doesn't deserve the credit because he was less known. It doesn't make him any less of a genius. And I'm sure old Franky was not so obscure.

Leila - I apologize for leaving other Beatles albums out. Sgt Peppers was recommended, so that's what I reviewed. And I'm certainly not trying to bash the Beatles, just offer my point of view as to why I think they're a little over-rated.

Thanks for the discussion everybody. KGB is pretty sweet if it lead to this kind of stuff.


Aren said...

Although this post is now off the main page and no one is likely to read this, I return to this line of thought after a conversation with my Dad, who remembers the summer this album came out. He said he did nothing but listen to the album over and over again, because it was so shocking. In his mind, what made the album so interesting was the fact that it didn't sound like the Beatles - they reinvented themselves, which was an enormous risk and I certainly appreciate that. Neil Young has more recently undergone similar changes back and forth.

My Dad also agrees that it would be difficult for someone that did not experience the environment of that summer to really understand the impact of the album. I certainly appreciate that. I realize there's gotta be something I'm missing about this album - context might be it. Of course, I'll say that lends to my theory that it is not the influential long-lasting album that some people make it out to be. If you "had to be there", does it really span the ages?

Well, this has been a difficult journey studying and opposing the Beatles-juggernaut, but a worth while one. I still appreciate any further comments on the matter.