This time last week, sections of the music media were commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That made me think of a discussion earlier in the year on English author Bridget Whelan’s blog (5000 + followers) that raised the question – “Is it ever appropriate to give one star reviews on Amazon?”
The companion question to this might read – “Are one star reviews really nothing more than an expression of mean-spiritedness that says more about the writer and their prejudices than it does the work being considered?” Mentioned was an article that appeared some time back in THE NEW YORKER that awarded one star reviews to a number of ‘classic’ creations, including the movie THE GODFATHER (1972) and Mark Twain’s celebrated novel HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1884).
Also mentioned was the WHITE ALBUM (1968) by the Beatles. Boasting some 30 songs (it was a double album), it is seen by many as an iconic cultural artefact of its era and a work of inspired genius. It still regularly makes it into respected music industry critic’s all-time Top Ten albums list and has been referred to many times as one of the greatest albums of all time. The White Album reached # 1 on music charts in England and the U.S.
I bought a CD copy (complete with commemorative booklet) about six years ago. In that time I have played the album a total of four times. That should tell you what I think of the ‘genius’ on display amongst its tracks. Having been told to expect the ocean, what I got instead was agitated water in a saucer. Admittedly there are good tracks, even a couple of classics amongst those good tracks –
Back in the U.S.S.R – Dear Prudence – While my Guitar Gently Weeps – Birthday –Helter Skelter
but for the most part, those good songs are buried amongst ceiling-high piles of self-indulgent filler material sung in flat, slightly depressing tones with plodding, uninspired musicianship that, had the record execs at Apple (this is 10 years before the birth of the computer technology company) not opted for a double album, would surely, under ordinary circumstances, never have made it off the cutting room floor. Many of the ‘songs’ bear more resemblance to music hall ditties and the private jokes contained in a lot of the lyrics fall completely flat decades on. Tracks such as –
I’m so Tired
(In a recent issue of MAD Magazine, under an article entitled “Kanye West’s Most Moronic Tweets” was this little gem – # Now playing – Blackbird by The Beatles / Greatest song ever! This underwhelming, wafting little tune also features in the equally underwhelming and wafting BOSS BABY movie.)
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It on the Road
Mother Nature’s Son
Long, Long, Long
Cry Baby Cry
contribute to the reason why The New York Times considered the album “boring beyond belief” and labelled over half the songs “profound mediocrities”. A number of other critics, writing in more modern times and therefore less inclined to be under the sway of the cultural frenzy that surrounded the Beatles at the time, have called the White Album ‘at times unlistenable’.
When I read that most of the songs were written while the Beatles were attending a three-month Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh – India, well.. that explained a lot. The variable quality of musicianship and song writing on the album can also be explained by the fact that, even though the band broke up less than 18 months after the release of this album, at the time, the fab four were still at the height of their popularity and, as was popularly observed at the time – ‘could have sung the phonebook and people would still have listened.’
Wrapped forever as it is in mythology – Charles Manson had the album on endless rotation at his hippie commune in 1969, preaching to his followers that The Beatles were instructing them via messages contained within song lyrics to initiate the ultimate race war known as Helter Skelter which would be the precursor to the end of the world – minus the pot smoking that would have been the standard accompaniment to this music back at the time of its release – this album, to my ears, is overrated in the extreme.
Then again, what do I know?
Opinioning back in the day for a University student newspaper, I wrote of GUNS ‘N ROSES debut album Appetite For Destruction – “I’d rather go clubbing with my nan that have to listen to this putrid earwax again. Destined for the $2 bin within the week.”
Yeah, good one Nostradamus.