Happy 50th birthday, BOTW!

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Image used solely to illustrate subject for purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 26 January 1970, BOTW was Simon and Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album, and was almost the next-last album I listened to in this lifetime. I played it the night before my August 2003 car accident, and when I was finally able to sit in a chair by my record player again, that was the first LP I put on the turntable.

Ever since then, hearing any of the songs can set something off in my psyche and give me a feeling akin to body memories, with my throat getting tighter. It’s not a PTSD trigger, but it brings back memories of those almost being among the final songs I ever heard.

S&G’s last album, Bookends, was released in April 1968, and recording for BOTW commenced in November. However, a long delay arose in January 1969—the filming of Catch-22, in which Art plays Nately. (This is a dreadful, dreadful movie, taking way too many liberties with the classic novel!)

When the duo got back to business in the studio, they had to decline a number of invitations, including Woodstock. Crafting their new album was top priority. In the end, they selected eleven songs. Several other songs, among them “Feuilles-O,” “Groundhog,” and “Cuba Si, Nixon No,” were left in the vault.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” (#1 in the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, and New Zealand; #2 in Australia, Ireland, and Spain; #3 in Germany; #4 in Austria and South Africa; #5 in Switzerland and The Netherlands; #7 in Norway; #23 in Belgium)

“El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)” (written by Peruvian commposer Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913) (#1 in Belgium, Australia, Austria, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland; #6, #11, and #18 on different U.S. charts; #14 in New Zealand)

“Cecilia” (my third journal’s namesake song) (#1 in The Netherlands; #2 in Spain, Canada, and Germany; #3 in Belgium and Switzerland; #4, #31, and #1 on different U.S. charts; #6 in Australia and Austria; #9 in Belgium; #19 in Rhodesia)

“Keep the Customer Satisfied” (later covered by Gary Puckett as a solo artist)
“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” (not a fan of the overly long fadeout!)

“The Boxer” (#1 and #3 on different Canadian charts; #2 in Austria and The Netherlands; #3 in South Africa; #4 and #7 on different U.S. charts; #5 in Sweden; #6 in the U.K.; #7 in Ireland; #8 in Australia; #9 in New Zealand and Norway; #10 in Spain; #13 in Zimbabwe; #19 in West Germany)

“Baby Driver”
“The Only Living Boy in New York”
“Why Don’t You Write Me”
“Bye Bye Love” (cover of The Everly Brothers’ original)
“Song for the Asking”
“Feuilles-O” (demo)*
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” (demo take six)*

The album reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Spain, and Norway. In Italy, it was #4.

While I truly enjoy this album, I don’t rank it in the same territory as PSR&T and Bookends. It’s a little too hit and miss. A truly classic album shouldn’t have so much filler!

Besides the four singles, my favorite tracks are “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “Song for the Asking.”

I originally rated it 4.5 on my old Angelfire site, but now I’d honestly give it 4 stars.

The most overrated album of all time

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Just because you like an album doesn’t mean you’re immune from looking at it with critical eyes. Sgt. Pepper is hands-down the singularly most overrated album of all time, bar absolute none. I’m glad more people have come to see it as more hype than substance. The review I gave it at my old Angelfire site was a generous 4 stars, but if I’m being perfectly honest about its faults, I’d downgrade it to 3.5 stars.

There’s FAR too much filler on this album for it to seriously be considered “the greatest album of all time.” Be honest. Are songs like “Fixing a Hole,” “Lovely Rita” (after which I named my fourth journal), “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” “Good Morning Good Morning,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in the same league as songs like “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Come Together,” “In My Life,” “Something,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” and “Eleanor Rigby”? “Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning” in particular are throwaways, which John called out as garbage.

You cannot say this is their strongest, best, most classic album. Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Abbey Road are all way stronger and more substantial than this. Some people criticise AR for how most of Side Two consists of song snippets instead of complete songs, but it wouldn’t be the same album without all those mini-songs blending into one another. It just works for that album. Pepper is extremely disjointed, no cohesive style. Again, some people have leveled that same criticism at The White Album, but that also fits that particular album. Each Beatle has songs in his own style, and it sounds like a solo showcase for each instead of a unified band effort.

People seem to mindlessly heap praises on Pepper for superficial reasons, not because the music is awesome and stands up well to the test of time. It’s got one of the greatest, most iconic album covers of all time, and really helped along the shift from generic band pictures to real artwork. It was also the first widely-known album to include lyrics, and it also came with paper dolls of The Beatles in their psychedelic outfits. All of which are awesome, but have nothing to do with the actual musical content.

There’s an undeniably trippy, psychedelic sound, and perhaps it sounds even better on acid. (Not that I’m going to try psychedelic drugs!) There are layers of sound, new types of sounds, and innovative use of instruments. Again, that has more to do with surface things, NOT the actual musical substance. Coating dross with layers of gold doesn’t change the fact that there’s still dross lurking underneath. As much as I love Sixties music, some songs of this era do sound dated now, because of the overly psychedelic, experimental sounds. They can certainly be enjoyed as period pieces, but let’s not kid ourselves that they’re timeless classics.

The “concept” is laughably simplistic and unoriginal, a band giving a concert. How long did it take to come up with that one, Paul? This “concept” only lasts two songs anyway, and then comes back in the brief “Reprise” near the end. There are far superior concept albums from this era, like The Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake and The Who Sell Out. (Seriously, if you love Sixties music, I highly recommend The Small Faces. Don’t let U.S. oldies stations fool you into believing their only song was “Itchycoo Park.”)

These songs just don’t beg to be listened to over and over again, aren’t the types of songs you particularly need to listen to to understand The Beatles. Looking at it honestly, the strongest tracks are “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life” (a timeless classic), “Getting Better,” and “Within You Without You.” A lot of people like to crap all over George’s contribution, but I’ve always adored it. When I first heard it at age 14, it were like an invisible door to another world opened up and expanded my mind, showed me all these possibilities, introduced me to Indian music. “With a Little Help from My Friends” is also fun, obviously one of Ringo’s most famous Beatles’ songs.

Ultimately, it smacks of drug-induced overindulgence, elevating the art aspect of music over the actual music aspect. Granted, I’d rather listen to The Beatles’ filler songs than the filler songs of most modern artists, but it’s still more filler than substance. I’d recommend Revolver, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, The White Album, Magical Mystery Tour, and even A Hard Day’s Night (my favourite album from their early period) over this bloated exercise in excess.