Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ten Perfect Albums, Part One

Yeah, yeah, I stole the concept from the "Ten Things, Motherfucker" blog.  Sue me.  It's brilliant.

But in all seriousness, it got me thinking.  I was driving round with my 17-yr-old a few days ago, telling her in my oh-so-authoritative way that some song or other was "perfect"--that nothing could ever be done to a particular record to improve it or re-make it. I'm sure she was rolling her eyes at me, thinking I had no fucking idea what I was talking about...but I do, kids, I do!

Think about it: could you really and truly improve "In Between Days" by the Cure?  How about "Hang On, Sloopy" by the McCoys?  "Do You Know What I Mean" by Lee Michaels?  Or many records by the Ramones?  I mean, you could re-record them, but you could never truly surpass the original versions.  You get the drift. 

So how about all that 12" vinyl I cherish so much?  Sure, there's perfection at every turn.  I bet about 10% of my current collection would qualify as such.  I have compiled this list on the basis of quality of songs and production, overall unity of sound and/or concept, as well as sequencing.  So let's examine the evidence, no particular order:

1. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (1967): When Rolling Stone, that former bastion of coolness (they lost me at the Justin Bieber cover), took a huge poll and listed the 100 best albums between 1967 and 1987, this one was at the top.  Why?  Oh, let me count the reasons, dear readers. 

Number one, it's recognized as the first "concept" album, meaning of course that it had a sort of story to tell.  Those that followed in its wake were similar masterpieces like The Who's Tommy and the Moody Blues's Days of Future Past (more on this one later).  Now, in this case, it's not truly a linear story with a beginning, middle and end (MCR pals, see The Black Parade for comparison), but the songs hang together loosely.  The beginning and end of the album are bracketed by the Sgt Pepper theme; but really the "concept" part of it is the unifying sound of the songs, and how they all seem to be part of the whole.

Number two, the songs are fucking brilliant.  Here are the Beatles at the peak of their creativity, and that's putting it mildly.  The songs are among their best, with everyone getting a vocal turn, and even prominently feature the wonderful, long-suffering Ringo Starr.  I bet most people alive today can sing at least one of the songs from Sgt Pepper, even those who weren't even a twinkle in their parents' eyes when the album came out, proving their pervasiveness in modern culture.  As amazing as all the songs are,  the album ends with perhaps the Beatles' greatest achievment, "A Day in the Life." 

And lastly, the production is flawless.  Helmed by the amazing George Martin, aided and abetted by strings, brass and (probably) a boatload of psychedlics, the band went wild with experimentation: adding sounds that nobody'd ever heard before; slowing their vocals or layering them; and showing just about every musical influence all four of them had had up until that point.   I of course own the American version in stereo instead of mono, but still the whole thing makes me sit up and listen.  Anyone who might think Sir George isn't the greatest producer ever is off his fucking rocker.  He took four greasy rocker boys and helped make them into the icons they are today.

Nobody but nobody would have dared before the Fab Four did, and aren't we glad they made the effort?
See also: Rubber Soul, Revolver.