Lately there has been an almost endless amount of big and crucial, both commercially and artistically (nearly always a hard one to pull off) albums marking an anniversary. Ignoring that moment when someone did a long and slightly dumfounded article (appropriate, I guess) on a music blog attempting to make the case for that bloated and extraordinarily dull third Oasis LP, some of the rest of the records being looked back on this year are a bit good, actually.
The best, and biggest pair of records being marked of late are, of course, the Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’, and Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’. When the latter came out in 1997 ‘Sgt Pepper’ was only 30 years old. How quickly both time and pop music history passes by. Some people probably find themselves subconsciously marking the passing of time by the records whose anniversaries come up. I know I’ve given that concept serious thought of late.
‘Sgt Pepper’ always had some questioning if it really is the Beatles’ finest selection at all, never mind the best album of all time. Someone tweeted me the other day with the assertion that one must judge Beatles LPs on the quality of the George Harrison songs. In which case, the same tweeterer suggested, ‘Abbey Road’ is the better album.
(It’s surely impossible to list what the best rock and pop albums of all time are. I just don’t get what it is that qualifies, or how the idea can even be anything approaching scientific. I don’t know…. Also, we surely never wanted our pop music to be a thing of science, anyway. Overly studied, even; both as concept or an actual existing thing).
Pop music is meant to be a little throwaway here and there, a little humour never far away. This, I think, is what makes ‘Sgt Pepper’ such a success. It’s the first ever concept album, but from a period before such ideas lapsed into taking-itself-too-seriously bollocks. ‘Pepper’ isn’t math A-level music. There may be puzzles, yes, but one doesn’t need to grasp any hidden agenda in order to enjoy the music within.
(We all know that ‘Pepper”s artwork has been much discussed and gawked over down the years, but I’ve been wondering lately if ‘OK Computer’, and many other albums from the period, had its/their artwork in any way influenced– or, i guess, not influenced– by the fact that vinyl was not as in vogue back at the time it was originally released in ’97. At least compared to today, with almost every chart-bound album pressed on vinyl, in keeping with the much celebrated format’s mainstream renaissance. But that’s going off the beaten track a touch).
‘OK Computer’, by comparison, isn’t very funny or clever at all, at least not in that almost in-joke, theatrical sense like the aforementioned Beatles classic. Its cleverness is in its modern, seamless production, the way it uses sounds and influences from people who came before (from U2 to Verve, Queen to the Smiths), with new touches. Still, it is totally the sound of Radiohead mk II; late nineties Radiohead, raising the bar on their indie cousins.
Again, it’s a conceptual piece of work to an extent, but one that, though taking its art seriously, just about keeps its ego in check. It warns us, but doesn’t preach or aim to take the credit for the fix.
Wether you prefer ‘Sgt Pepper”s just-about-ahead-of-its time carousel theatrics and kitchen sink psychedelia, or the computer age widescreen prog-indie of ‘OK Computer’, one thing is certain, both records marked sea changes for both the protagonists involved, and pop culture itself. Both records remain production success stories, too; complete records of their time that will, one assume, have them forever standing tall.