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Sep 06

Popular ’68

Popular121 comments • 2,418 views

I AM THE GOD OF POLL-FIRE AND I BRING YOU… tickboxes. 44-year-old tickboxes. Mid-August 68 and the TODALLY bonkers world of Art Brown was here, soon giving way to a string of killer Bs, Beach Boys, Bee Gees and The Beatles Band. The latter clearly warming up their newly-minted Olympic theme song.

So, here’s Tom’s standing orders:

I give a mark out of 10 to every single featured on Popular. This is your chance to indicate which YOU would have given 6 or more to, by whatever standard you wish to impose. And if you have any ‘closing remarks’ on the year to make, the comments box is your place!

Which of the Number Ones of 1968 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

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  1. 61
    Ed on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Poor old Nik Cohn has been taking stick from several people on this thread, including me, and it’s worth remembering he could be brilliant.

    This final chapter of ‘Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom’ is a cracker:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=O9xtRMht6sgC&pg=PA241&lpg=PA241&dq=nik+cohn+superpop+awopbopaloobop+alopbamboom&source=bl&ots=pYEdikizLO&sig=axIRio7a7YpPw2CMMGacdYeoQNI&hl=en#v=onepage&q=nik%20cohn%20superpop%20awopbopaloobop%20alopbamboom&f=false

  2. 62
    Ed on 22 Aug 2012 #

    And there’s Tom’s fave, ‘Rock Dreams’, now going for $50 on eBay, I see. I knew I should have bought the copy they had in the second-hand bookshop in East Street, Epsom, in 1981, but they were asking £3 for it,

  3. 63
    Tommy Mack on 22 Aug 2012 #

    #59: Loads of songs on the White Album seem really sketchpad-y: stylistic experiments and pastiches that wear their influences on their sleeves and never better or transcend them. It’s tempting to believe this is because the Beatles are working more seperately than before, but it could just as easily be fatigue after ten years of graft, five of them spent not just at the very top of the game, but expanding the rules and boundaries of the game at a furious rate – there’s something very potter-y about much of the album; let’s just have a play around and see what happens: nothing wrong with that, but it’s never going to sound as compelling to me as Pepper or Revolver or Rubber Soul. Or Hard Day’s Night, Help or Please Please Me, for that matter.

  4. 64
    wichita lineman on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Nik Cohn could be a lazy writer, he’s admitted it himself a few times. But he’s still my favourite pop writer ever. The fact that he’s “admitted” half the anecdotes in Pop From The Beginning/Awopbopaloobop were invented (I’m guessing the Gene Pitney one for a start) doesn’t bother me at all.

    The White Album was ‘obscure’ enough for me to not have had half of it until 1986, when I was 21. Its rep seemed to be elevated in the 90s, in the wake of Revolver’s reassessment, but now seems to have sunk below Abbey Road again in the pecking order.

    It’s a fascinating document – of the group and the state of pop – but, natch, I think it would’ve made a better single album. No Ob La Di, no Rev 1 or 9, no Honey Pie (but yes Wild Honey Pie), no WDWDIITR, no Yer Blues, no Savoy freakin Truffle. Yes I’m a butcher. But we should give thanks George Martin wasn’t handed the carving knife.

  5. 65
    swanstep on 22 Aug 2012 #

    If anyone’s interested, that Nik Cohn article comes from this NY Times blog which concerns (and links to) a music podcast that (at about 15mins in) interviews Cohn about his 1968 review and elicits his thoughts on the then current release of the remastered White Album. It’s definitely worth a listen. For example, Cohn talks a lot about his speeding and the Beatles being Acid and never the twain shall meet, etc., and he’s very amusing about the hyperbolic esteem in which he felt the Beatles were held in 1968 (‘the sum of all human wisdom’) and which he offers as partial excuse for his intemperately negative review at the time.

  6. 66
    Rory on 22 Aug 2012 #

    The White Album was my first Beatles album after a singles compilation the year before. I loved it with an intense teenage passion, which I imagine would infect any re-listening today (haven’t given it a spin for years; Revolver and Beatles For Sale are my go-to albums now when I’m in a Fab mood). Whenever people would do what-to-cut thought experiments, I would be dismayed at the thought that any of its songs could have ended up unheard (until the anthologies, at least, but they didn’t come out until I was pushing 30). Even “Revolution 9”, which I rarely listened to because it was the obvious track to drop to fit it all on a C90, was worth those rare listens. As for the rest, they all stood up to frequent exposure in my late teens, and I still love every one. Yes, even (or even especially) “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?”, 1:41 of hand-clapping shouty-Paul falsetto-Paul goodness which always reminds me of my Dad’s spontaneous riposte of “You’ll frighten the horses!”

  7. 67
    enitharmon on 22 Aug 2012 #

    wichita @64

    in the wake of Revolver’s reassessment

    Was Revolver reassessed in the 90s? News to me. Who by? And why should that person’s assessment change anything? Who are these people who form their opinions based on what some scribbler writes in some rag? Can’t they make a judgement for themselves?

    Revolver was a brilliant, ground-breaking album in 1966; it is so in 2012 and I can’t see any reason why it would have been anything else in the intervening years.

  8. 68
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2012 #

    One of the reasons things get “reassessed” — by musicians and listeners as much as “scribblers” — is that it’s actually often really hard to hear how something several decades old is “groundbreaking” with your own ears: precisely because it’s entered the language itself, it’s present in everything, it’s become the ground itself — and the ground it was once breaking from is (because it seemed halt and stilted and needing to be broken through) is itself no longer accessible, and lost to the ordinary young listener. It turned routine and was set aside. Scribblers are actually the primary reason I know which records were considered groundbreaking before I was around and listening: because they’re the main people who document the other stuff.

    Often wrongly, of course: much of the 60s and 70s rhetoric about how staid the music of the early 50s and 40s was is, well, rhetoric — this was probably one of the most exciting discoveries of the 80s for me. When you’re told something’s groundbreaking, you have really to go back and check all the stuff it broke from to grasp why, in case the scribbler you’re reading — caught up the fashions of their moment — is just wrong. We aren’t born with a perfect memory and grasp of everything that happened before we were born.

    I have a slightly belated relationship to Revolver, because mum and dad didn’t own it — their devoted fandom started with Pepper — and I bought it for them as a Christmas present when I was at college.

    (I suspect the main “re-assessors” WL is thinking of are actually all-too-regrettably Bunnyable musicians. But there were also huge CD reissue programmes going on then, and several magazines devoted all too many pages to “which classic rock albums you should replace first”, and so on.)

  9. 69
    Jimmy the Swede on 22 Aug 2012 #

    #57 – This is the first time I’ve seen this review of “Not A Second Time” and bloody hell, Doris, bloody hell! We had both “Please Please Me” and “With The Beatles” in our house back in the day and I was thus familiar enough with all the tracks from a very early age. I really like NAST but will be listening to it with a very different set of ears when I next slip the album on again. We also had “She Loves You”, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “I Feel Fine” in our record rack, as well as the Stones’ album “Out Of Our Heads”. All of this wonderful stuff was thus available to me before I toddled off to school aged five. My groover mum was responsible, bless her. My Edwardian father, meanwhile, always regarded it all as “bloody rubbish” and always said so. Indeed, many years later, the old sod came in to my room when I was playing Carole King’s “Tapestry” and cursed that too. Says everything. He was a little more tolerant about the Jim Reeves album we also had in the house, if not “The Unforgetable Nat King Cole”, which I adored and caused me to sing “Straighten Up And Fly Right” in my primary school playground. Probably the start of my problems.

    #64 – I personally think that it is far easier sponsoring the “halving” of “The White Album” than it is to decide what goes in order to accomplish this. I would thus, after mature consideration, leave it alone, even the ridiculous Rev 9, which Lennon insisted on including, despite the others and George Martin recognising it as garbage.

  10. 70
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2012 #

    I am losing it in my dotage obviously, or else huffed too much paint fumes and turps while redecorating the last few weeks, but I was reading only a few days go a technical discussion of why exactly William Mann describes it as an Aeolian Cadence, and why he’s actually wrong!

    But I can’t think where: punctum, it wasn’t you, was it?

  11. 71
    wichita lineman on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Re 67: Revolver was brilliant and groundbreaking from 1966 onwards, that wasn’t in question. But you had to have heard it to know that.

    For a slightly younger generation, too young to have known the Beatles as new, the Red and Blue albums were the Beatles everyone knew, and Revolver barely got a look in (just Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine). Unless you had lots of pocket money, or had hip parents/older brother/sister, Revolver could easily slip through the net.

    The other reason for its 80s/90s ‘reassessment’ was that I think in the seventies it was seen as a brilliant, groundbreaking collection of songs rather than a “brilliant, groundbreaking album”, which Sergeant Pepper certainly was – artwork, concept, segues, slight returns, the works.

    Sergeant Pepper was always ‘the best album ever made’ when I was growing up, it was a given. In the late eighties Pet Sounds and, then, Revolver usurped it in polls.

  12. 72
    enitharmon on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Mark @68

    Ok, so I get what you are saying is that Revolver (and many other things) were actually given a retrospective appraisal by a new generation not previously familiar with them? Is that right? Rather than writers who had dismissed them at the time having a Damascene conversion? I can live with that.

    Having grown up with these things one wants to weep when younger people aver that the Beatles were overrated, rather like people saying that Hamlet is full of clichés.

    But I would still maintain that the proper answer to “what classic rock album should I replace first?” is “the you enjoy listening to most”, and not what somebody else tells you is the best. Talk of Mahlerian harmonic progressions goes way over my head even now but I knew when I was 10 that what the Beatles did was different and more interesting that the other stuff that was around. And of course I’m delighted when new generations learn to love it too.

  13. 73
    tm on 22 Aug 2012 #

    I think it’s hard to know what you’d cut from the White Album: all of it is worth hearing, little of it feels essential to me. Most of the musical ideas (heavy blues, folk pop, sound collage) feel like they’ve been done better by other people before or since or both.
    On my iPod I have: USSR, Prudence, Glass Onion, While my guitar…, Happiness, I’m So Tired, Julia, Sexy Sadie, Helter Skelter, Long Long Long, Rev 1, Cry Baby Cry and Goodnight.

  14. 74
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2012 #

    My kind of reappraisal

  15. 75
    Jimmy the Swede on 22 Aug 2012 #

    #74 – That’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long while.

  16. 76
    tm on 22 Aug 2012 #

    “Now it looks like a very hairy monkey in an ill fitting tunic”

  17. 77
    tm on 22 Aug 2012 #

    WL @ 71: Seems like Pet Sounds got critically downgraded over the last ten yearsn I remember lots of people calling it overrated. It then seemed to be ‘rehabilitated’ in time for last year’s lavish reissues. Personally, I’m a big fan: not my favourite Beach Boys album, but a beautiful sounding, airy, uplifting, almost hymnal set of songs.

  18. 78
    wichita lineman on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Here’s a fun parlour game. Pull a face and have people guess which Beatle you’re meant to be in this Revolver reappraisal.

    TM, that’s a pretty strong Single White Album. I love Mother Nature’s Son, Blackbird, Martha My Dear and I Will, but the end result is mine always ends up a bit Paul heavy. Intrigued to know what you’re fav Beach Boys album is.

  19. 79
    Ed on 23 Aug 2012 #

    As a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s, with no parents or siblings with any interest in music, it was remarkably easy for me not to hear the Beatles. When I finally did, it was the White Album, lent by a friend who had borrowed it from a cool uncle, and it blew me away. “Oh, so that’s what all the fuss is about!”, I thought.

    For me, then, the groundbreaking aspect was every bit as accessible as it would have been to the original listeners in 1968. Maybe even more so, because I hadn’t heard Revolver and Sergeant Pepper to prepare me. And although I have heard most of the others since, and many of them are great, the White Album is still the Beatles record I love best, because of that shock of the new.

    At the time I would have been listening to The Jam and The Beat on the radio, and Rush and AC/DC round at friends’ houses. In that context, it was not really the case that The Beatles had just become part of the landscape. The Who and Led Zeppelin seemed much more known quantities when I discovered them.

    tm @77: Yes, i have been intrigued by the rise and fall of Pet Sounds in the canon. I’d always put it down to the rise and fall of a generation of critics whose tastes were shaped by E’d-up Second Summer of Love culture – something about the bittersweet mood, and the sense of innocence – but maybe that’s wrong.

  20. 80
    swanstep on 23 Aug 2012 #

    @ed. Pet Sounds arrived on cd in 1990, beautifully packaged and mastered to a very high standard. People tend to forget how harsh-sounding ’80s cds were, but at the time of its release Pet Sounds was, by way of contrast, one of the best-sounding things around. It was a revelation to me. Just as (Wichita has it right on) for me, at least until college, the Beatles had been the Red and Blue albums+Sgt Pepper, the Beachboys were down-a-notch from that and so had been boiled down to just a singles/greatest hits compilation (Bowie had covered God Only Knows on Tonight so I knew from the discussion around that that Pet Sounds was special and should be checked out, but I hadn’t done that yet).

    Anyhow, E and the summer of love may have influenced Pet Sounds ascent in polls and general awareness in the early ’90s, but I think it’s the cd release pattern that explains most of it.

    As for The White Album’s length. It’s funny how a whiff of baggy indulgence can sometimes really get ones goat (perhaps especially when it comes from a former fave). I recall being indignant at/incensed by Malick’s Thin Red Line (1998) when it came out because it was as long as Badlands and Days of Heaven *combined* yet seemed to have about half the ideas of either of those. I’ve come round on TRL a bit since but mainly I just can’t quite grasp why I was so exercised by its long-windedness (just skip, chill former-self dude!). Was my time really so precious then? Surely not. But something about my very high expectations for the film combined with the film’s meandering to elicit a toxic response from me at the time. Somewhere out there, there’s someone who penned a poison review of 69 Love Songs on the grounds that only 30 or so tracks are genuinely great.

  21. 81
    wichita lineman on 23 Aug 2012 #

    Regarding the reception Beggars Banquet got in ’68. Not only did Nik Cohn think the Stones had missed their chance, but I just picked up a Disc & Music Echo from Jan ’69 which has Peter Green on the cover and the headline “Fleetwood Mac: the new Stones?” suggesting the old Stones were over.

  22. 82
    Mark G on 23 Aug 2012 #

    .. whereas each successive “New Stones” designate, resembled the “Exile/MainSt” ‘falling over’ Stones

  23. 83
    Tommy Mack on 23 Aug 2012 #

    Ed @ 79 – Good point about hearing the White Album shorn of the Baggage of Revolver/Pepper; much of the critical reaction to it must have come from disappointment that it wasn’t another giant leap forward (more like lots of small moves in many directions: the Beatles’ dandelion has dried out in the sun, but now the seeds scatter and blow hither and thither), whereas The Stones’ Beggars Banquet came after what were seen as two fairly weak albums* and so was seen as a return to form.

    (*Between The Buttons and …Satanic Majesties’… – haven’t heard either all the way through myself so can’t really say if that’s fair, certainly most of the stuff off Satanic Majesties that I’ve heard is interesting and fun enough to deserve better than the ‘OMG, what were they thinking’ mauling that’s been handed out to it over the years, but listening to my Stones Singles Collection, the Satanic Majesties stuff gets weaker and weaker (In Another Land/Lantern being the last – The Stones first double B-side?) until Jumping Jack Flash cuts through like a force of nature and you can understand the critics’ rockist approval of The Stones’ back-to-basics return-to-form)

    Regarding Pet Sounds, I reckon it’s lack of peer probably counts against it: it doesn’t even really sound like other Beach Boys albums. It was the first Beach Boys album I bought (aged 16) and at the time, I was pretty disappointed with what I saw as the lack of pop hooks outside of the singles (which include my favourite Beach Boys song, Wouldn’t It Be Nice). I’ve grown to really love it since, especially after hearing the eight preceeding Beach Boys albums – If the first Miles Davis album you heard was Bitches Brew, I think you’d struggle to make sense of it, but if you listen to the progression of his music throughout the 50s and 60s, it starts to make more sense.

    Also, I figure a lot of critics find Pet Sounds less obviously progressive than Revolver/Pepper with their backwards-taping, Indian instrumentation and phased/compressed/echoed/sped-up/slowed-down bits of production cleverness. A lot of Beach Boys fans, like Keith Moon, probably find it too ponderous and rock/indie fans, I imagine, would go for The Beatles or Stones whose echos they can more readily hear in their favourite bands. As for the chamber-pop music more obviously influenced by Pet Sounds; it’s fans are probably just too indie-hipster to include something so canonical on their faves list!

  24. 84
    Tommy Mack on 23 Aug 2012 #

    WL @ #78: There is a distinct lack of Paul on that list! Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t include Rocky Racoon or John’s Bungalow Bill either!

    My favourite Beach Boys album is probably Today!, Kiss Me Baby, being my joint favourite BBs song with Wouldn’t It Be Nice. All Summer Long is pretty great too, though a couple of filler tracks on there. Probably the only thing that stops Pet Sounds being my favourite now is that on a lot of the tracks, the harmonies seem to be pushed down in the mix; I might one day shell out for the box set that has the a capella version of the album. I’ve not really explored post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, though I reckon I will; I love Dennis’ Pacific Ocean Blue. My Dad had Wild Honey which I found pretty ho-hum, The Beach Boys White Album really: interesting, eclectic, casual, low key and, to these ears, fairly inessential.

  25. 85
    Tommy Mack on 23 Aug 2012 #

    Mark @ #82: yes, if we say something sounds Stones-y now, we mean Tumbling Dice, we don’t mean Get Off Of My Cloud!

  26. 86
    Tommy Mack on 23 Aug 2012 #

    Swanstep @ #80: Personally, I never had a problem with the White Album’s length until the advent of MP3 players (or more specifically, the low capacity iPod nano-type players) where anything you include is to the exclusion of something else. Does anyone else have any former favourites that have suffered from pruning in the iPod-era? I suppose this will become irrelevant in a few years when Wi-Fi is everywhere and you stream either your own music from a cloud service or pay a monthly subscription to a global jukebox like spotify.

  27. 87
    wichita lineman on 23 Aug 2012 #

    Re 82/85: I’m guessing F Mac as the ‘new Stones’wasn’t even Get Off Of My Cloud, more I’m A King Bee. Luckily Peter Green took them somewhere entirely different in ’69, then Jeremy Spencer turned them into Buddy Holly impersonators in ’70, and THEN Danny Kirwan/Bob Welch made them sound like a brisk walk on a windy sunday afternoon beside the sea. Maybe near Fleetwood, Lancs.

    Re 84: You’re in for a treat if you’ve never heard Sunflower, on which all the other B Boys realise they better pull their fingers out as Brian really has gone part time. Beautiful, full production. I’m also very fond of the low-key Friends from ’68, effectively Brian’s private Chill Out.

  28. 88
    wichita lineman on 23 Aug 2012 #

    My Single White Album for what it’s worth, 46 minutes long, slight re-jig of the running order…

    Back In the USSR, Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Blackbird, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, I Will, Julia, Martha My Dear, Wild Honey Pie, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey, Mother Nature’s Son, Sexy Sadie, Helter Skelter, Long Long Long, Good Night.

    The rest of the tracks, in my parallel universe, became the most famous bootleg album in history.

  29. 89
    tm on 23 Aug 2012 #

    I guess nowadays the ‘other’ tracks would be free downloads for signing up to a mailing list or some such. In the 90s they’d have been B-sides on overpriced CD singles.

  30. 90
    Dan Quigley on 23 Aug 2012 #

    Even with all its willful throwaways, is the White Album that much more patchy than any other Beatles LP? Heresy I know, but I think I could quite happily cut Revolver down to an eight-track EP.

    Isn’t it now the done thing to say that Please Please Me is the best?

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