(Pictured: the Beatles pose with the Sgt. Pepper album jacket, May 1967.)
Being for the benefit of your eyeballs in the wake of the weekend:
Thinking about Gregg Allman, it occurs to me that the Allman Brothers Band’s greatest achievement may have been that as Southern rock proliferated in the 70s, nobody else ever successfully pinched their sound. A lot of bands sounded like they were imitating one another (Lynryd Skynryd to .38 Special to Molly Hatchet to the Outlaws to Blackfoot and onward), but the Allmans never sounded like anybody else. Although they could boogie if they chose, being a goodtime boogie band was never their identity the way it was for some of their contemporaries.
The only band in the Allmans’ league as Southern rock innovators was the Marshall Tucker Band. So I shouldn’t really have been surprised when Tucker’s “Can’t You See” checked in at #5 on Sirius/XM’s list of the 100 most influential songs from the first classic rock era (1965-1975), counted down over the weekend. You can guess a lot of what’s on the list without seeing it: “Stairway to Heaven” and “Layla” were #1 and #2, and the top 10 included “All Along the Watchtower,” “Hotel California,” “Gimme Shelter,” “White Room,” and others. I knew going in that I wouldn’t hear anything shocking. (The biggest surprise to me apart from “Can’t You See” was the complete omission of “Like a Rolling Stone.”) But I also knew that there wouldn’t be any clunkers, and it made for a mighty entertaining eight hours of radio on our long weekend car trip.
We also spent some time listening to the new Sirius/XM Beatles channel. My first impression is a weird one: it doesn’t play enough Beatles. It’s playing lots of the members’ solo work, as well as songs produced or inspired by them, and/or featuring one or more of them as sidemen. I could get used to that, I guess, but I’d still like to hear more of them together. One thing that needs to die a swift death, however, is the sprinkling of Beatle-themed novelty records. Their curiosity value is far outweighed by the fact that most of them are horrid, and they trivialize what they’re supposed to celebrate.
Tomorrow (Thursday, June 1), the Beatles Channel will celebrate Pepper Day with the new edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The broadcast will feature commentary from Giles Martin, son of George, who oversaw the 50th anniversary reissue, and will start at 5
:00 PM Eastern time. To be historically accurate, however, S/XM should be airing it continuously all day and for the next several days, because that’s how people listened to it after its release 50 years ago. Rolling Stone critic Langdon Winner famously wrote about taking a cross-country car trip the week after Sgt. Pepper‘s came out, and how he heard it quite literally everywhere; it was he who observed that the consciousness of Western civilization hadn’t been so united since the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which settled the Napoleonic Wars. (That’s debatable, but an impressive bit of erudition all the same.)
For whatever my opinion is worth, I don’t think Sgt. Pepper is the “best” Beatles album, but not because I don’t like it. It’s because Rubber Soul and Revolver are just as innovative and important in their own respective ways. As Winner suggested, Sgt. Pepper‘s greatest impact was as a cultural event—no album release in history was ever more eagerly awaited, and no new album was ever consumed more greedily, more thoroughly, by more people at the same time.
Amanda Marcotte of Salon suggests that Sgt. Pepper was an unfortunate moment in rock history because of the way it re-gendered the Beatles in particular and rock music in general, from an art form driven by the tastes of young people, especially young women, to the tastes of men, especially older men. I don’t agree with everything in the piece—and you should know that Marcotte has written in the past that she’s no fan of the Beatles—but you should read it anyway. The Guardian‘s John Higgs says that Sgt. Pepper‘s inclusive vision of what it meant to be English is badly needed in a nation divided by Brexit and its upcoming election. He observes that because modern conservatism is all about exclusion and division, it can’t produce great art, because a great work like Sgt. Pepper unites people. All of us, no matter who we are, in England or in America.