I was reading an interesting debate entitled The Beatles are/were vastly overrated! on The Hibees Bounce forums just recently and couldn’t but help contribute a few thoughts. What brought me into the discussion was the mention of the great Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds in a very worthy comparison with The Beatles great work, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Now Pet Sounds is probably in my ‘top one of a group of one’ albums (as a certain former football manager would have said!) For many years the album wasn’t considered as being a ‘better’ piece of work than Sgt Pepper though – if you can possibly order these things in any meaningful way – but I personally think it has stood up better over the decades than the Fab Four’s platter. It’s always been a slight surprise to me that opinion has changed over time regarding Sgt Pepper though as I always believe it was regarded as The Beatles ‘masterpiece’ for many years.
The debate itself asks the question if The Beatles were overrated. I wouldn’t attempt to change anyone’s mind over what they think about The Beatles but it’s interesting to see some of the reaction to their work these days – one that questions their superiority over other bands. Naturally, this is how it should be and it’s always healthy for things to be questioned. There are two reasons for this I believe – the first one being the natural generational one where people’s tastes move on and observes heroes of their own time. This is seen in all sort of spheres as we know and football is a prime example. Secondly, and more interesting for me is the curiously ‘British’ (and I use that term advisedly!) attitude to the people it initially places on a pedestal. I’d question how people in the US would regard The Beatles if they had been of their own, in comparison to how they’re sometimes disregarded here.
I’ll lay my cards on the table, no problem. The Beatles were the best – no question in my mind and no shadow of a doubt. Their creativity, musicianship and song writing were without equal in any other band. I can go year on year playing music of my own tastes, Northern Soul, Otis Redding and Stax/Atlantic soul generally and bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Who, The Jam, The Clash, Joy Division et al without playing any Beatles tracks at all but I know who the masters were. A band without parallel. One who single-handedly developed and pushed forward popular music more than any other act in my humble opinion. Particularly in the way they wrote their own songs, as few did in their earlier days.
It’s been said before but I think it’s worth reiterating. The Beatles were great innovators of their time and they were ‘first’ in so many ways. These are the kind of creative people I admire in life generally. It’s important to also remember the context and era in which they were writing, recording and performing but I feel that this is often lost a little in debate.
It’s almost a back-handed compliment to see the way some of their songs from all of forty-odd years ago are picked up as a point of debate. It kind of says it all really, one might say…
Regarding Sgt Pepper specifically, from the public’s general conception rather than my own necessarily, it was a wonderful piece of imagination of the day and almost seemed like an axis for the major change in popular music that occurred at that time. Whatever people think about the songs on it now, and there were some absolute classics – She’s Leaving Home, A Day in the Life etc. – it remains at least as important as any other album in the course of popular music in history in my own humble opinion
It’s a question I’ll never be able to answer, Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road, The White Album, Revolver – which was the best album? I don’t think there actually IS an answer to that. They were all wonderful.