0038: Rock 'n' Roll High School


In the past month, I have had several people, either through email or personal encounters, ask me about starting a rock collection or about investigating rock music for the first time. This new series is particularly for them. I've given them this address, and they will be visiting weekly. I invite anybody else interested to join in as well.

Every week (maybe every other week, depending on the feedback I receive from everyone), I will recommend an album for listening. If you have the money, I strongly recommend purchasing the album from either a regular or used store. Some public libaries also have excellent collections you can check out some albums from. I will write commentary with each album to explain why I chose it and how it fits into the greater rock world. I encourage discussion as people listen to the album; hopefully, people will feel free to share their reactions and thoughts about the album below. I'd love to see some excellent debate and / or discoveries below.

I'm also adding a film article (Film School 101) to serve the same purpose for movies.

Does this idea appeal to anybody other than the people who initially requested it? If so, how often should I recommend a new album? One a week? One every other week? One a month? Let me know.

Album 1: The Beatles - The Beatles One

No big surprise. Whether you are a fan or not, you have to admit that The Beatles certainly belong first on this list. They are an important meter in rock music; they both absorbed and reflected most of what came before them, and they hinted at much of what was to follow. If you want to discover rock music, you do best to first discover The Beatles. To many, the two are nearly the same.

Unfortunately, no perfect introduction to The Beatles exists. Their rapid evolution leaves any particular album inadequate to the task, and yet they were indeed album artists, rendering most compilations woefully misguided. The recently released The Beatles One is as close to a perfect introduction as exists, yet even it is flawed by two major omissions. Both Please Please Me and Strawberry Fields Forever are missing. This is a major oversight, especially when one considers that these two songs in many ways perfectly illustrate by themselves what was wonderful about both the early and later Beatles. A double-sided single with both songs could almost sit in place of this album itself.

What the album does contain, however, are the 27 songs The Beatles released which managed to capture the top spot on the charts in either the states or Britain. Spanning the entire career of the band, the album does paint an accurate and invigorating portrait of the band. In some ways, it is almost too much. With classic following upon classic, it is easy to let the music flow shapelessly and to never realize just how terrific each single was. Luckily, the compilers of this disc left the songs in chronological order, making the band's innovative and important progressions crystal clear over the album's running time and telling something of a story rather than just producing the required hits haphazardly. From the beginning, when the band managed to mix up a magical brew of blues, skiffle, girl band, and pop music into a sound familiar yet utterly new, to the middle days, when the band stretched the pop music form as far as possible with unconventional songwriting, studio wizardry, and a novel approach to the album as a complete art form, to the end, when the band decided to take the lessons learned through their earlier experiments and effortlessly work them into catchy pop songs somewhat like the ones they began with, this album nearly is the story of The Beatles, and that makes it as close as any single album has ever been to being the story of rock itself.

The Beatles were not the perfect band. That band has yet to arrive on the music scene. They are, however, the natural place from which to start exploring rock music, and this compilation, affording an expansive view of the rock world as we know it, is a perfectly pleasant port to set sail from.

One quick note - this really isn't a forum to complain about my choices. This is a forum to discuss reactions to the chosen works. If you hated the proposed album, feel free to say that, but please include some reasons why you felt the album was weak. If you think my choices are poor, feel free to email me personally to discuss that.

I have now posted the first album.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

A great idea as usual Lester. How about we also do a Rock and Roll Ph.D. program? We could pick obscure, underrated, challenging or influential albums and have everyone give feedback!

Johnny Waco

That's a great idea! Email me; we could either do this with our combined efforts, or, if you wish, you can of course do this yourself. Maybe we could even collaborate on writing up each album!

Very intriguing...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

To encourage discussion from everybody, I'm going to throw out a few rules. Forgive the formality.

1. Please, be as forceful with your opinions as you like, but refrain from outright insulting anyone. Try to keep the discussion intellectual rather than personal.

2. To keep from discouraging non rock scholars, let's try to keep the discussion focused on the currently featured album or previous albums we have discussed in this forum. For example, in answering the questions I proposed below, try to refrain from bringing up songs not on the Beatles One album, if possible.

3. Only facts can be wrong; opinions can be challenged and debated, but they cannot be 'proven' wrong. Feel free to jump in, even if you think others may not like what you have to say. Hopefully, everyone will remember that as long as some one is expressing an opinion, they cannot be 'absolutely wrong'. Fact, of course, are facts, and can be contested in terms of absolutes.

That should do for starters!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'll throw out a question to (hopefully) begin some conversation. Please listen to the album three or four times first, and then think about the following.

In the last ten years, the albums from the middle and the later stages of The Beatles' career have been singled out for particular praise. Sales for these albums exceed sales for the earlier albums. Is this fair? Do the later singles strike us as better than the earlier ones? If so, do you believe this to be a matter of convention (say, we are more used to the sound of the later material than the earlier 'Mercy Beat' sound), or are the later singles truly better? Did the band evolve into a better group, or just a different one? Is the earlier material unfairly ignored?

Of course, you can comment without answering any of the above questions. I'm simply trying to start the ball a-rollin'...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs