Saturday, October 18, 2008

Numbskull philosophy, and Concept Albums

By Ted Burke


I have a softness for the numbskull profundity that marked alot of truly awful albums in the 60s. The best is "The Beat Goes On" by Vanilla Fudge there is not one complete song on it, but there is a lot of rapping, sound collages, the history of music and war and what not, and a "rap' session Q and A that where someone asks the keyboardist questions like

Q:What do you think of black power? A:I think its a bad use of some very good energy? Q:What do you think of trips? A:For a quarter you can take one on the subway.. Q:What do you think of Ice
Cream? A:I like ice cream!
It goes on like that, inane , glib patter lamely modeled after the Beatlisms from "A Hard Days' Night", with lots of cheesy organ oscillating in the background. Only Yes, some years later, would equal the pure gall for pretentiousness.

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The Beatles succeeded with "Sgt.Pepper", "Magical Mystery Tour", and, and "Abbey Road" ( easily their most consistent set of material, I think) because they never abandoned the idea that the album needs to be a collection of good songs that sound good in a set: over lapping themes, lyrically, are absent in the Beatles work, unless you consider the reprise of the the Pepper theme song on a leitmotif of any real significance (it's use was cosmetic), although musical ideas did give the feel of conceptual unity track to track, album to album.

Lennon and McCartney and Harrison's greatest contribution to rock music was their dedication to having each one of their songs be the best they could do before slating it for album release. For other bands, the stabs at concept albums were routinely disastorous, witnessed by the Stones attempt to best their competitors with the regrettable 'Satanic Majesties Requests". The Who with "Tommy" and "Whos Next" and the Kinks , best of all, with "Lola", "Muswell Hillbillies" and "Village Green" , both were rare, if visible exceptions to the rule. "Revolver" and "Yesterday and Today" are amazing song collections, united by grand ideas or not. I buy albums , finally, on the hope that the music is good,the songs are good, not the ideas confirm or critique the Western Tradition.