The story goes that, at the height of The Beatles’ fame, when asked by a wide-eyed reporter if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, John Lennon replied that he wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles. Whether it was Lennon who actually said it or not, the quip inevitably came to mind this week as the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was commemorated in the media and, what is undoubtedly an extraordinary piece of work, was both praised and analysed in equal measure. The principal question debated ad nauseum by lots of self-appointed experts has been “Is it the best album ever made?” to which the only sentient reply must surely be “It’s not even the best album by The Beatles.”
Now, before I’m sent sackfuls of hate mail scrawled in green ink by swivel-eyed obsessives in mop top wigs, please let me point out that I think Sergeant Pepper is an excellent record. However, let’s face it, Abbey Road is quite a bit better. Granted, the latter’s got Octopus’s Garden on it but let’s gloss over that; Something is one of the finest love songs ever written and Come Together, Here Comes The Sun and Carry That Weight are each quite glorious in their own way.
There isn’t room here for a song by song analysis of both records but, surely, the better tunes are on Abbey Road. Sergeant Pepper is, of course, remarkably creative when it comes to studio techniques and technological innovations but that just means that it’s The Beatles’ best produced album (undoubtedly), not their best record per se.
Whenever this subject comes up, it reminds me of those blokes (it’s always blokes) who don’t really like music but buy expensive sound systems on the basis of their frequency range and their ability to reproduce sounds only audible to labradors. Before any purchase, they’ll take an unlistenable French avant garde jazz album into the shop to check the crispness of the sound of the drummer’s cymbal brushes and ask the sales assistant technical questions of such mind-numbing complexity that he’ll almost certainly be seen in the car park later that afternoon, dribbling uncontrollably and beating himself about the head with last year’s Bang and Olufsen catalogue.
If, as is only right, we’re to judge albums on the quality of their songs, Abbey Road is considerably better than Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If, on the other hand, we are to gauge a record’s merit on its production values and recording techniques well - mm -how can I put this? Ah, yes - we’re very much mistaken.