[dropcap size=small bg_color=”#ffcb05″]E[/dropcap]veryone knows that the world’s most reliable source for current affairs is the Facebook newsfeed. So imagine my surprise, or more like terror and head-pounding disgust, when I saw “Sgt. Peppers: Keith Richards calls the Beatles album “rubbish”’ on the right-hand corner of my screen. Quickly darting to the Esquire interview in which trans-galactic musical atrocity was committed, I found the offending quotation from Richards himself:
“Meurgh gurgle jlewanjf dajfwpdmaj lkdflja, ya know?”
Roughly translated, Richards stated that “the Beatles sounded great when they were the Beatles. But there’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish.”
My initial reaction to these statements, I must admit, was a kind of primal disgust: “How dare he crap on an album that has shaped the musical landscape!” and “How dare he crap on the Beatles in general!” But then, I calmed down a bit.
Firstly, why should I be bothered by one guy’s opinion in general? I’ve been in plenty of conversations with plenty of people who claim that the Beatles are overrated. For the most part these musical debates have been very fruitful. I think a couple of things irked me beyond reason in Richards’ comments. Firstly, I just have a massive attachment to that album in particular. I am lucky enough to own a first-pressing copy of it, which was handed down to me from a relative. Secondly, I found that Richards’ comments had an interesting parallel with a number of debates going on (mainly on the Internet) in the world of music.
Recently, there seems to be another cycle in music surrounding the tension between progression and revivalism (arguably, this is a cycle that never ends in all art at any time). One particular part of Keith’s comments suggests that his opinion falls somewhere on the revivalist end of the spectrum: “…there’s not a lot of roots in that music.” On this point, perhaps he’s right to criticize. I mean not a lot of bands, other than the Beach Boys with Pet Sounds, within what we now see as the ‘sixties canon’ had done something as daring, conceptual and bold as the Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper’s. As a result of this, perhaps Sgt. Pepper’s was a rather bold red herring for the band to throw out there at the time and maybe it rubbed rock enthusiasts up the wrong way. You can’t really compare the Beatles earlier work to their later stuff in terms of aesthetics and sound.
I can see this point and, to be fair, it’s just his opinion (or preference). However, this opinion strikes me as not too dissimilar to another notorious incident that got a lot of buzz. Neil Lonsdale’s petition to cancel Kanye West’s performance, and thus prevent a “musical injustice”, was littered with debates surrounding what classifies as RAWK (or, pure ‘music’) and what doesn’t. Needless to say, Kanye’s “greatest living rockstar” comments during his performance didn’t help the RAWK flame die out, and Britpop ‘legend’ Liam Gallagher’s branding of Kanye as a “f****** idiot” only cemented this ongoing debacle.
The question seems to remain: what makes a real rockstar (other than cutting your hair and changing your name)? Now that the charts, and the underground, are dominated by electronic music, and hip-hop, and metal, and post-rock etc etc, do we need to redefine what we consider to be the ‘rock n’roll’ aesthetic?
Perhaps a rebrand isn’t entirely what is needed, and I can definitely see the benefits in having a solid grip on your roots. While I love progressive music, and Sgt. Pepper’s can be argued as one of the bedrocks of progressive music in the sixties, there is still an appeal in what people see as extremely ‘raw’ music. If I’m using the Beatles as an example, though I do believe that Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s are probably their masterpieces, my favourite album of theirs is actually Let it Be – an album very roughly recorded compared to their earlier work, which focuses heavily on standard rock instrumentation.
In these debates that litter social media, we need to start acknowledging the importance of both sides of the equation. We need to allow musicians to get “carried away” in order that the talented ones, like the Kanye Wests of the world, explore new dynamics and create progressive sounds. Sometimes progressive sounds come off as revolutionary and sometimes they come off as art farts. At the same time, acknowledging your musical influences and appreciating what really stimulates your creativity works as a catalyst, from which you can leap off. But, then again, artists working with familiar material must be wary in order not to sound irrelevant – have you heard Beady Eye?
By Oliver Thompson