‘The Act You’ve Known For All These Years . . .’

Originally posted June 1, 2007

It was forty years ago today . . .

In the late 1980s, I spent twenty months on staff at St. Cloud State University, working as the news editor in the university’s public information office and teaching one course a quarter in the mass communications department.

My teaching office for some of that time – where I spent two afternoons a week, grading papers, preparing lectures and conferring with students – was a space created by installing a temporary wall – not quite to ceiling height – across a portion of a large room that had once been the university’s business office. On the other side of that partition was the office of the student-run radio station, KVSC-FM, and on occasion, I took part in conversations with the station’s general manager and staff.

One afternoon, I was typing lecture notes when I heard the program director called over the barrier, “Hey, we’ve got a question for you.” I left my typewriter and ducked into the other side of the office. It turned out the station was planning its twentieth anniversary and was discussing how to start the morning programming on that anniversary day: What song should they play?

“Easy,” I said. “Play the opening cut to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Blank stares. Finally, the program director asked, “Why?”

“What’s the opening line?” I prompted him.

“‘It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play,’” he recited, and his face, and those of the others in the office, broke out into smiles as he did so.

I don’t recall if he and the others took my advice for the day’s opening song, but my friendship with the station’s general manager – a professional rather than a student – and with the station’s staff was one of the joys of the remaining months of my time at St. Cloud State. That July, I accepted a teaching position at North Dakota’s Minot State University and headed out of St. Cloud for a two-year stint on the prairie.

This comes to mind now because today – June 1 – is the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an event greeted with glowing reviews, joyous rapture among the burgeoning hippie population and probably a few miracles. Or so I’ve read. I was fourteen at the time and missed it all. In fact, a year or so later, as some friends and I played a board game, my stereo was playing Herb Alpert’s instrumental version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” John and Jerry sang along, and I remember thinking, “There are words to that song?” As I’ve said before, I was utterly unhip at the time.

Since that day forty years ago – it was a Thursday, if anyone cares – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has more often than not been anointed as the best album in the history of rock & roll. Even the most recent list by Rolling Stone magazine to tackle the topic, [published in] the December 11, 2003, edition that listed “The 500 greatest albums of all time,” placed Sgt. Pepper at the top of the list.

Boy, I hate to spoil a party.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good album, actually a great album. It probably belongs somewhere in the top fifty of all time. But as I’ve listened to Sgt. Pepper over the years, it’s sounded more and more mannered and self-conscious, more and more like a collection of diverse songs held together by a very thin thread, and not that much like the concept album it’s been dressed up to be all these years. You want a concept album, put Dark Side of the Moon into the CD player. (Of course, one could point out that without the concept of the concept album, which Sgt. Pepper quite possibly created, there is no Dark Side of the Moon.)

There’s no doubt that Sgt. Pepper was a remarkable achievement, sonically astounding, especially given the limitations of recording technology at the time. But the best of all time? I don’t think it was even the best Beatles’ album. I’d put the trio of Rubber Soul, Revolver and Abbey Road ahead of it (and if forced to pick the Beatles’ best, I’d likely go with Abbey Road, which also happens to be my favorite).

And that conclusion got me to thinking. When anyone – a critic, a fellow musician, a blogger like me – sets about to select his or her list of the best albums in rock history, how can that person set aside likes and dislikes and focus on critical selection rather than personal selection. It’s difficult to do so, and not nearly as much fun. But if one doesn’t ask either “What’s truly the best?” or “Which do I like best?” and stick to one question or the other, then one is comparing the proverbial apples and oranges and winds up with fruit salad.

Listening to as much music as I do, however, I would hope that even a listing of my favorites would be pretty good on the critical level, too. In such a listing, there would be holes. I am not a fan of hip-hop, rap or metal, though I recognize the place those genres have in history. Nor was I much interested in punk or new wave when those two genres rolled around at the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s. So I’m calling this my favorites rather than a “greatest” list. (If it were a “greatest” list I’d have to find room for the Clash and London Calling and for Prince and Sign ‘O’ The Times. I recognize the quality of both but am not truly fond of either.)

So, with that lengthy introduction, here are my thirteen favorite albums, culled from a list of about sixty that I put together over the past few days. The only rules were: one album per performer/group, and no compilations.

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks

Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street

The Band: The Band

Beatles: Abbey Road

Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees

Johnny Rivers: Realization

Bruce Springsteen: Tunnel of Love

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

Moody Blues: Question of Balance

Carole King: Tapestry

Danko, Fjeld, Andersen: Ridin’ On The Blinds

Bonnie Raitt: Nick of Time

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: Motel Shot

Yes, the vast majority of them come from the years 1967-1976, which means either that I’m an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy or those were the best ten years for rock music or both. I imagine if I compiled a similar list in a year, or even in three months, it might be different. This is today’s version of that list.

When I started this, I was hoping that the album I’m sharing today would make the list. It did, but just barely. Motel Shot is an acoustic joy, an informally recorded album from Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, with the friends including Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Keltner, Dave Mason, Leon Russell and more. It’s a delight, and it’s almost impossible to find on CD. Thanks to Mitch Lopate for making it possible.

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – Motel Shot [1971]

Track listing:
Where The Soul Never Dies
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Rock Of Ages
Long Road Ahead
Faded Love
Talkin’ About Jesus
Come On In My Kitchen
Don’t Deceive Me (Please Don’t Go)
Never Ending Song Of Love
Sing My Way Home
Going Down The Road Feeling Bad
Lonesome And A Long Way From Home

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2 Responses to “‘The Act You’ve Known For All These Years . . .’”

  1. Saturday Single No. 72 « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] choices that were personal quirks. I’d once made a similar list here, noting in June last year my thirteen favorite albums (with only one from any one artist). That list […]

  2. ‘Outside, The Rain Begins . . .’ « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] copy of the album. And over the years, it’s an album I go back to time and again. In fact, in a post here in June 2007, I put Silk Degrees on a list of my thirteen favorite albums. Lists like that are […]

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