Off Topic Messages

Sun Jan 08, 2006 9:43 pm

Whilst the music on the “Sun Sessions” is worthy of it’s high ranking, it does surprise me that this title is the one that is normally picked out as Elvis’ best because as others have already stated, it isn’t really a proper album, so in some respects it doesn’t really qualify.

I think BMG must share part of the blame for the absence of titles like “Elvis Is Back” and “Elvis Country”. They are not currently part of the mainstream catalogue and they have never really been pushed as classic titles in the same way as many of the other albums on the list, so the wider public are not really aware of them.

It’s nice to see The Clash up there with “London Calling”. For me this album has really stood the test of time, and I have seen a number of other best album lists where it hasn’t ranked anywhere near the top ten. Maybe the recent Legacy re-issue has had some influence?

Sadly The Beatles are always going to be criticised on this board, but I think “Sergeant Pepper” was chosen not just for the music contained within its grooves, but for the impact and influence that it had. Everything about it was different. The cover, the concept, the songs, the way the tracks were sequenced.

All of this has been copied so many times by other bands now that it almost seems common place, but as Ian MacDonald points out imagine hearing it at the time of its original release and comparing it to the other albums on offer. That’s why it’s held in such high esteem. The Beatles really did move the goalposts in terms of what was possible with an album release and changed popular music forever by doing so.

Mon Jan 09, 2006 11:22 am

But should that be a criteria in evaluating the "greatest" album? If you were to do that then "Sun Sessions" would have to be even higher.

I also don't know if Pepper is a break from everything that had come before or merely the culmination of all the break throughs being made around the same time.

I think Pepper has been #1 for so long it's just in a position where it can't be knocked out.

I think the reason "Sun Sessions" is put forth as an album is that it is a reasonable fascimile of the longplayer Sun would have issued had it been issuing long players at the time.

Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:59 pm

Yes, it's good to see the Clash getting some play and it's a testament that by spotlighting a great album with a "deluxe" edition, such enthusiasm is renewed. The similiar deluxe treatment of "Elvis Is Back" was a wasted opportunity by being minted only for hard-core collectors.

And as a side note to earlier concerns, there is always a borderline sense of tokenism in selecting Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis and even Elvis. There's a certain "obligation" in representing such artists or genres, while the true love (bias) for the Beatles and other '60s rock saints comes shining through.

As interesting and even as great as "What's Going On" may have been, (I like it but find it vaguely indulgent) does that make him a better soulman than say Ray Charles, Joe Tex, Sam Cooke, who never fully became "album artists"? And why all the previleging of "the album" - which in many ways has become shorthand for "best body of work"?

Likewise, Miles Davis' connection to rock is all that matters to these people at Rolling Stone and allows them check off jazz as being noted. Meanwhile, a jazz champ like Count Basie or Duke Ellington figures is apparently of little interest. (There's nothing inherently better about Davis over Basie, who came of age in the 78 rpm heyday.)

Similarly left in the dust is a legendary singer like Bing Crosby or Dean Martin, acts RS will never feel comfortable with.

And for Elvis, as much as I love his Sun work, I'm always a little suspicious when someone barks out his "Sun Sessions" as his best work, as it plays into the false notion that nothing else of worth came later.

These lists exist merely as conversation fodder. But some music fans do indeed take them seriously and actually walk around as if they represent some kind of definite truth. :smt037
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Wed Jan 11, 2006 1:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

Tue Jan 10, 2006 5:36 am

That's a good point about the tokenism. I definitely do get that feel and as a full-fledged black concept album with social themes "What's Goin' On" is used a sop to "cover" Motown, soul and black music on these lists. I don't begrudge it its lofty placing. I would argue that it's grown more than something like say "Pepper" or even "Pet Sounds". "Let's Get it On" from two years later is nearly as good though and Gaye's 60s singles are arguably even better. To me, Gaye was a performer who succeeded in all areas.

On the other hand having a token listing is better than none at all. At least it reminds people that this stuff was out there.

Talk about tokenism how about when RS did a list of the 100 greatest singles and Elvis had one listing "Suspicious Minds" at #47. The list was the ultimate joke as it excluded everything recorded before 1963 for the reason that rock had started to falter a little in the early '60s and this is when it started to kick again. Even if true, that alters the genius of the '50s classics how? Then it turned out the list was fixed. The results were alleged to be the results of the magazine's staff of writers (by then Dave Marsh, Peter Guralnick, Greil Marcus, John Morthland, Lester Bangs hadn't written for the magainze in years but there were still some savvy critics like David McGee on board) but Owner/Publisher Jann Wenner didn't like when they came up with and rearranged the list himself. Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" came in at 10 in the Critics poll. Wenner to make room for another Beatles' track or something moved it down into about the 80s. He also kicked songs off to make room for his buddies Billy Joel and Foreigner.

Ray Charles would probably chafe at your position that he was not an album artist. Nearly all of his albums have some sort of interlocking theme or concept. As an album like "The Genius Hits the Road" though shows being an album artist isn't all it's cracked up to be. The weakness of the piece is in the arbitrary need to stay within the lyrical conceit.

And I agree that it's not fair to tell the story exclusively though albums. It leaves a lot of the good stuff out. The only logical argument could be the difficulty of wading through and selecting the greatest singles of all-time. Still, as Dave Marsh pointed out, people don't go around humming albums.

I agree that is all subjective but a list like this serves a definite purpose. (Sadly for some that purpose ends debate rather than starts it.) The purpose I think is to bring attention to these records. If a person sees a piece on a list like this, it could make them more likely to seek it out.

Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:06 am

Okay, then I'm not alone on such feelings, LTB. Later on, I realized what I wrote may have came off as a dig at the album concept (and I do like the unifying aspects of "the album") but I'm glad the critique made some sense. I never heard the Marsh crack about humming albums. That nails it.

And what a crock that RS singles list was. From what I can tell, the UK's Mojo (and the Europe in general) has a more committed sense of what the '50s rockers brought to bear. Here, it's rather begrudging at times.. Either that, or guys like Chuck Berry were merely a means to an end (he helped bring us the Beatles and Beach Boys!) and Elvis was a "breath of fresh air" in socio-cultural terms but nothing of lasting value musically. LIkewise, it's high time RS made peace with the "lean years" that brought us Sam Cooke, the Four Seasons, girl groups and lots of other vibrant pop of the '60s.

That Ray Charles mention was more accidental and I do have and enjoy his early '60s Lps, even when the concepts are a little thin like the "Road" album.

Another soul artist besides Marvin Gaye that gets obligatory mention at the expense of others is Otis Redding. Because he played that rock/pop festival, he's sort of grandfathered in by RS. There were many other comparable and arguably superior guys like Solomon Burke or James Brown who might well out rank him. Likewise, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson (arguably not of the stature of the other two) forever get the "blues" nod because some British rock gods mentioned them, inadvertantly slighting others who trucked in blues and R&B like Big Joe Turner, Etta James, Roy Brown, Big Maybelle, Jimmy Witherspoon, T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, Little Esther, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and until recently, even BB King, who for years was considered "too slick" and "showbiz" for the RS crowd. And an R&B/Soul/ blues hybrid "stand-up" singer like Bobby "Blue" Bland (no harp or guitar) also gets lost in the mix.

Having enjoyed MOJO and RECORD COLLECTOR from the UK recently, I realize again how much RS has seen better days - and certainly is lacking in the music content.

Still, I'm a sucker for these lists, but I have to hold my nose when i see them.

Thu Jan 12, 2006 3:14 pm

likethebike wrote:But should that [cultural impact] be a criteria in evaluating the "greatest" album? If you were to do that then "Sun Sessions" would have to be even higher.


Ultimately, yes. A creative work can be judged in a number of ways: in relation to the artist or group’s previous and/or future work, it can be reviewed in relation to the genre as a whole, and it can be seen with regards to other art of the time. These things need to be taken into consideration when making a list like “500 Greatest” because if you don’t, what have you got left? Personal taste. The list would be completely different every year if it were compiled by different people, and there would be no discussion or arguments to reason why any song or album should be at the top. Realistically speaking, I think very few people would place Pepper’s as The Beatles’ best album because – at least, musically – it’s simply not their best (when considering lyrics, melodies, the quality of the playing, etc.). I suppose clearer examples in this case are ‘songs’ like “Revolution 9” or “Tomorrow Never Knows.” They may deserve to appear near the top of a list of ‘greatest’ works because of cultural impact, but I would hardly consider them great pieces of music. You’re right in saying that these lists are created not just to create discussion and remind people that it’s out there, and they also serve to show people (from any generation) where (Rock) music came from. And whether we all agree or not on whether Pet Sounds or Revolver are the greatest albums of all time, I suspect most will agree that they are at least great, and lists like these serve to remind those that haven’t heard them that they should.

And in that respect, I do feel the lists succeed, at least they have for me. I was a bit amazed by rockinrebel’s surprise at London Calling’s high placement on the list, since it was precisely its great reputation (AMG calls it “a stunning statement of purpose and one of the greatest rock & roll albums ever recorded,” for example) that inspired me to seek it out sometime early in 2004. (Yes, I did pick up the stellar ‘25th Anniversary Edition,’ but not before I had heard the whole album first.) I had heard about the album’s tremendous stature at least a few years before I ever heard it, and the same is true for Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, for example.

And likethebike and rockinrebel already hinted at this direction, but then clearly the discussion turns back to Elvis. Why isn’t he higher and more prominent on the list, and if he were, which albums should be on there? (And who’s to blame that he’s not?) The music on The Sun Sessions may have had a cultural impact, but the LP itself is hardly notable (being a 1976 release). From Elvis in Memphis is great from start to finish, but it’s gone largely unnoticed – then and now. So how can we decide what should make the cut? I think the solution is not to make a “Greatest Albums” list, but a “Greatest Pieces of Music” list. This would allow creators to include singles artists equally well (and this would make The Sun Sessions a more likely candidate, since the focus is no longer on the LP itself but the music it contains), although the result would be an unusual one. The difficulty is of course that these are then different media that might be hard to compare. How do you convincingly argue that the “Hound Dog”/ “Don’t Be Cruel” single is greater than Sgt. Pepper’s? And if you place the “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” single near the top, does Pepper’s still deserve to be up there? They would be there for many of the same reasons, and perhaps putting them both there would be redundant and slighting to other artists.

[Side Note: Greg, I created this is in the Off-Topic section because the main topic of the post – the list of greatest albums according to Rolling Stone – has little to do with Elvis, regardless of his placement on the list. The discussion is about determining the greatest albums of all time, and this involves all artists, after all.]

Fri Jan 13, 2006 12:52 am

Peter wrote:
" Why isn’t (Elvis) higher and more prominent on the list, and if he were, which albums should be on there? (And who’s to blame that he’s not?) The music on The Sun Sessions may have had a cultural impact, but the LP itself is hardly notable (being a 1976 release). From Elvis in Memphis is great from start to finish, but it’s gone largely unnoticed – then and now. So how can we decide what should make the cut? I think the solution is not to make a “Greatest Albums” list, but a “Greatest Pieces of Music” list. This would allow creators to include singles artists equally well (and this would make The Sun Sessions a more likely candidate, since the focus is no longer on the LP itself but the music it contains), although the result would be an unusual one. The difficulty is of course that these are then different media that might be hard to compare. How do you convincingly argue that the “Hound Dog”/ “Don’t Be Cruel” single is greater than Sgt. Pepper’s? And if you place the “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” single near the top, does Pepper’s still deserve to be up there? They would be there for many of the same reasons, and perhaps putting them both there would be redundant and slighting to other artists."


Good points, Peter. I don't think I want to say Elvis' monster '56 single is better but that it should be better reckoned with, and Lps (dominated by '60s acts for years) should not get the de facto credit for being "the canon" of rock, as many inadvertantly end up reading such Rolling Stone lists.

Re: sidenote: Peter, given how much the "all-Elvis" thread is commonly home to "I'm Leaving / Sayonara" threads and frankly lightweight subjects about Elvis, at least this one has proved to involve Elvis somewhat. Quite a few interesting threads that I started off-topic later ended up discussing Elvis, usually my own doing. I think that anything Elvis-related in anyway gains more viewers on "All-Elvis" and can fairly be posted there.

I noticed Rolling Stone has a hard-cover book version of their "500 Greatest Albums" (or is it "album covers"?) as well as the UK's Q magazine (Feb. '06) , which has it's own Elvis-free :evil: "top 100" album list as voted by their more new wave/punk/ etc (?) influenced readership. I thumbed through it but did not buy it. :wink:

Sat Jan 14, 2006 4:40 pm

The British music press’ appreciation of The Clash has changed significantly since the death of Joe Strummer. When the band were together they were often criticised for exploring new musical genres (the things they are praised for now), and the first Pistols album has always received the majority of the plaudits.

This is what I was thinking of when I said it was nice to see the album getting a high ranking. I had of course forgotten that Rolling Stone is an American magazine, and that they had already hailed the album as the best of the eighties (even though it was actually released in 1979).

Sun Jan 15, 2006 4:04 am

rockinrebel wrote:I had of course forgotten that Rolling Stone is an American magazine, and that they had already hailed the album as the best of the eighties (even though it was actually released in 1979).


You're right. It was released on the 14th of December 1979 in the U.K. It was released in the U.S. in January 1980. I would still consider it a 1979 album. RS don't agree.

Great album, btw.

Wed Jan 18, 2006 2:18 am

Anything released that late in '79 (especially for the decade) probably rightfully is "roled over" into the '80s.

As it is, they say "decades" don't always really end when they say they do, in a cultural sense.