Sgt. Pepper & Three Other Bum Albums By Rock Icons
It was 40 (four) years ago today - in the UK, and tomorrow in the U.S. - that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, history stopped, the Summer of Love began, and critics freaked the fuck out. When the Beatles released their LSD-soaked counterpunch to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds in June 1967, Kenneth Tynan of London's The Times greeted it as a "decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation."
Whoa. Settle down there, Kenneth. Even today, because it's "rock's ultimate declaration of change" (huh?), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sits atop Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list. It's one of four Beatles albums in the Top 10... and, without a doubt, Rocks Off's least favorite Beatles album Of All Time.
Rocks Off has no quarrel with the title track, which Jimi Hendrix was playing live within weeks of Sgt. Pepper's release, and we agree that "A Day In the Life" is an undisputed pop masterpiece. But we don't put a whole lot of stock in the studio wizardry that seems to be the main reason a lot of people worship Sgt. Pepper so much.
Yes, the album is quite a technical achievement - and certainly was for 1967 - but when it comes to the songs, we think too many of them are goofy ("When I'm Sixty-Four," "Good Morning Good Morning"), lightweight ("Fixing a Hole," "She's Leaving Home") and just plain forgettable ("Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite").
In other words, except for the first and last songs, Sgt. Pepper just doesn't rock hard enough. It's why every time "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" or "Lovely Rita" comes on the Warren's jukebox, we sigh and wish whoever it was had played Sinatra, Etta James or Delbert McClinton. Give us the White Album or Abbey Road any day.
This got Rocks Off to thinking about albums by some of our other rock heroes that, for one reason or another, just rub us the wrong way. Some, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Ramones and Pink Floyd, we are not familiar enough with their entire canon to have discovered that one sore-thumb record. Others - Nirvana, The Clash, Uncle Tupelo - simply didn't make enough.
Still others like AC/DC seem to be content to make the same album over and over again with a killer single here and there... and that's OK. With or without the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty has never, ever, ever made a bad record in his life. We swear.
But we still managed to come up with a few. What are yours?
Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run (1975): Gasp! Blasphemy, we know. A little like Sgt. Pepper, we always found Springsteen's breakthrough unwieldy and unfocused, especially given the meticulous care that went into its creation. "Jungleland," for one, is just a mess. We're sure this is because we came to The Boss via Born In the USA and The River, well after he stopped trying to be the Allen Ginsberg of Asbury Park and just started saying exactly what he meant. (See also: Nebraska, Tunnel of Love)
This must have happened around Darkness on the Edge of Town, because we love that one too. But we bought Born to Run used at Austin's Waterloo Records many, many years ago, gave it a few spins and have barely touched it since. Oddly enough, though, we've come to prefer the stretched-out live version of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" to the three-minute LP version. Go figure.
Rolling Stone Rank: 18
U2, October (1981): Picking on Bono and the Boys for their "Christ album" seems a little wrong, but even the band has all but disowned this one. (When's the last time they played anything from October in concert?) Confused and grappling with the idea of even continuing as a band while making October - which did not endear them to less-religious bassist Adam Clayton one bit - U2 made the most confusing album of their career, which starts strong with the brilliant "Gloria" but tails off rapidly.
For a hint of what might have been, pick up the Greatest Hits 1980-1990 and skip to the end for a stark, stately solo-piano rendition of "October." Luckily, all that praying paid off on their next album... a righteous little Molotov cocktail called War.
Rolling Stone Rank: Unranked
Rolling Stones, Steel Wheels (1989): You know, we were about to go with Dirty Work here, the album born of the great Mick & Keef solo wars of the mid-'80s. The general opinion is that Dirty Work's song titles ("Had It With You," "Winning Ugly") are more entertaining than the music, but Rocks Off always liked the "Harlem Shuffle" cover - it's the first Stones song we distinctly remember hearing on the radio - and then we went back today and rediscovered that the title track and "One Hit (To the Body)" are not bad at all.
Steel Wheels, on the other hand, may be the least interesting Stones album ever made. "Mixed Emotions" aside, it feels like the band made this record more because they realized they needed to kick-start the great Stones touring beast than because they had anything interesting to say musically. Ironically, here they could have used a lot more of that catty flashpoint chemistry that nearly tore the band asunder around Dirty Work.
The Rolling Stones should never, ever try to play nice, a lesson they had largely learned by 1994's Voodoo Lounge.
Rolling Stone Rank: Unranked
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