Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Diamond with a Flaw is Better Than a Pebble Without

With my monthly musical journey all but over (I will revisit and revamp some lists later this year) I thought touch upon some of the quirks and foibles of my four years' worth of great listens. This will be the first of such inventories:

Not every song on an album has to be great to make it a strong album overall. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls had their Jack Haley, the 1927 Yankees their Julie Wera. Sometimes the brilliance of the whole allows you to ignore one weak track that either breezes by or fits only in the context of the album's peripheral. You take away that one song and it somehow completes your listening experience. Without being too nitpicky or beating around the bush, what happens when bad songs appear on great albums?

For the sake of not being too wonky, I will use the top of Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, plus a couple personal favorites. Keep in mind, this is their list and not mine I apologize for any inadvertent plagiarism on my part.

1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles. This is a tough call. If you think erstaz children's sing-alongs sung by Ringo are cloying, "A Little Help From My Friends" might be your pick. "She's Leaving Home" has probably the least memorable melody, but it's a fine, tragic story-song. "Sgt. Pepper's (Reprise)" is a truncated encore of the title track and barely a song in its own right, but it segues into the brilliant "A Day in the Life." It's the buffer between the full-length masterpiece you just heard and the individual achievement you're about to hear. In the end, I went with the droning Within You, Without You.
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys. In the context of the album, the title track is fine. Out of context, it feels like intermission music in an old-time movie theater. If you want to nitpick, this is an instrumental credited to the Beach Boys, yet only one member (Brian Wilson) plays on the track; the small army of session players that populate and color this album merely cater to Wilson's whims. It's not filler per se, but the album's namesake feels like a tag-along.
3. Revolver, The Beatles. Another tough pick. "Yellow Submarine" has always been ammo for the Ringo haters, and while it has some annoying qualities, it's hard to not sing along. Of the three druggiest songs on the album, "I'm Only Sleeping" pales next to "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," but only barely. There's too much I love here. No Pick.
4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan. I would choose "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," but that was on Blonde on Blonde. I would choose the icky "Ballad in Plain D," but that was on Another Side of Bob Dylan. The nine tracks on this album are miniature masterstrokes joined together as one breathtaking suite. Again, No Pick.
5. Rubber Soul, The Beatles. I don't want to keep hating on Fab Four, but this is Rolling Stone's top five after all. Sure, "The Word" is kinda sappy, but Wait is a well-written song hindered by a rushed production.

Also, some personal favorites:

Odelay!, Beck. Whenever I listen to this album, I'm naturally inclined to skip over High Five (Rock the Catskills). Even though it maintains the surrealist party-rock aesthetic, "High Five" veers into generic "Jock Jams" territory.
Purple, Stone Temple Pilots. If I didn't hear Interstate Love Song at all for the next six months, I would not miss it. Now that grunge and '90s is seeping its way into classic rock playlists, I hear this song now on twice as many radio stations. For a nearly 20-year-old song, it needs a rest.
#1 Record, Big Star. Remember The India Song? The song with the flutes and allusions to Rudyard Kipling? Yeah, that one.
Purple Rain, Prince. I often wonder if Foo Fighters covered Darling Nikki just to be ironic.
British Steel, Judas Priest. United is quite possibly the greatest soccer --er, football-- anthem nobody wanted. The song's Wikipedia is embarassingly threadbare, which tells you how much Priest fans appreciate this song.

I'm sure I'll think of more, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Of course you know the song "Pet Sounds" was original entitled "Run, James, Run" & was made for a James Bond flick & rejected. If anything, it sounded too trendy/1960s.

    As for Sgt.Pepper, cannot agree with "Within You,Without You". I would probably pick either "When I'm 64", "Good Morning,Good Morning" or "She's Leaving Home", the latter could be a fine sequel (or prequel) to "Elanor Rigby", even if it is not catchy at all.

    Actually, Revolver is full of rubbish. While great rockers, "And Your Bird Can Sing", "She Said She Said" & "Doctor Robert" are total junk and are all birds of the same feather & I never liked the wimpy "Here, There and Everywhere" & "Good Day Sunshine" is basically a sped-up version of the former. I don't view Revolver as the sacred cow most people otherwise do. It's good, but not consistent at all. If anything, "Yellow Submarine" fits the Ringo persona & is actually more interesting than anything he was given yet & only "With A Little Help" being better.

    Rubber Soul: I never liked "Drive My Car", which (see the lyrics) still leads me to be nervous (about myself) & angry. It has a very conceited tone & a song about two bratty & superficial people, which is SO Paul. I always skip it & thought "Norwegian Wood" would had been a much better choice to lead off the album. "Nowhere Man" is one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs & it's fun to interchange the title with something else.

  2. I agree 100% about "Within You Without You"; it's long, tedious, and none of the other Beatles play on it.
    The worst of all-time has to be "Revolution 9". It's not even a song, just a long collection of tape loops. I saw a cover-band perform the entire White Album one night at a club...but they skipped "Revolution 9"...because it's not a song.