In this post, I put the Beach Boys’ masterpiece Pet Sounds into the Thunderdome with the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Two classic rock LPs enter. Only one will leave.
Simple concept, I know. But, I want to tell you how it came about.
Sharon and I have been in self-exile for over five months now. In case someone from the future is reading this (everybody who reads this will be from the future, come to think of it), this was because of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe. When I have too much free time on my hands, my mind tends to wander and begins to consider grandiose projects that will occupy my mind for months, sometimes years. This is one of those projects.
I’ve been writing reviews of albums that have meant something to me for a while now, and will continue to do so. The information I write about in this VERSUS project will not be an in-depth review, and there’s going to be considerable overlap with my music reviews. That’s not what we’re doing here.
Sure, it’s a review of a music album—two albums, really—but it’s more of a compare-and-contrast essay between these albums. Because numbers are a big part of my pathology, I’ve devised a rating system that will help me make decisions down the line. I’m not sharing all of that Inside Baseball information with the reader; that’s just for me. It gives what I’m doing more of an appearance of objective science.
Don’t be fooled. This is all subjective. And my opinion. I don’t have an algorithm that will tell me which album I should like more, and wouldn’t trust it if I did.
I am rating each album in five different categories. I guess I can tell you that. The first, and most important category, is Which is the better album? This is strictly a gut-level reaction. After I listen to both albums again, which one did I like more?
As a self-respecting nerd, I obviously have a complicated scoring system that will assign a numerical value to each album. I haven’t had to put this to the test yet, but I think that any album that doesn’t win the better album decision, the gut-level reaction, is going to have a difficult time winning the deathmatch. It’s conceivable, but unlikely. I mean, look who’s the judge in the contest. The album I clearly like better is going to win. This isn’t science: it’s art.
So, who decides which albums are going head-to-head in the Thunderdome? Again, that’s me. A grandiose plan deserves someone with delusions of grandeur.
I took a semi-scientific approach with it though. I spent some time listing nearly every record album (vinyl, cassette, CD, or MP3, I don’t discriminate) that I’ve ever owned. Turns out that’s a lot. Then I began crossing titles off the list until I had a more manageable number.
I now have 64 albums on my list. I’m not going to list them now, because I keep changing the list, and will probably continue to do so. You’d be surprised what you can forget over time. I’ve paired these into 32 competitive matches. I made the decision on the pairings, of course. I didn’t roll dice or flip a coin. I chose the pairs that looked like the best fight.
It’s kind of a huge championship tree, except I’m still deciding the pairs in each subsequent round, until we get to a final round.
I promise you that it will not be done fairly, and I will engineer things along the way so that I get the results I want. This is a benevolent dictatorship. I will not pretend that there is anything intrinsically fair about me writing my own opinion about anything.
The truth is that I don’t think I have a favorite album at all. As I look at the bouts I have planned on paper, I’m not sure who will emerge as the winner on a significant percentage of them. Sure, some I’m pretty certain, but not all. It’s the subsequent bouts that will be more difficult for me to predict. When a metal album faces off against a folk rock album, that’s comparing apples and oranges.
I like apples and oranges. My favorite changes by the day, and it’s never more than a 51/49 split in either direction.
I’m not writing a post for every bout. I’ve got my list divided up into divisions, and, except for this kickoff post, I’ll probably write about an entire division in each post, with the winner of each division going to the next rounds. I envision the series as no more than ten posts. During the interim, I may continue to fiddle with future matchups, adding and subtracting albums along the way. But, once a bout is published, it’s canon. I can foresee possible wildcard entries to the finals, especially if I think I’ve committed a major injustice to a particular album, but I’ll attempt to remain disciplined about it.
I will make mistakes, I’m sure. I encourage you to disagree with my decisions. That’s why we have been given the gift of opinions. Five years from now, I’ll read some of the things I’ve written and disagree with myself.
Now, it’s time for the Main Event! Ladies and Gentlemen, are you ready to engage in a street fight between criminal gangs or large groups? [For legal reasons, I’m not allowed to use the world “rumble” because Michael Buffer owns the trademark].
Beach Boys Pet Sounds
Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
In this epic bout, the winner is clearly Sgt. Pepper’s.
Let me tell you why I think so. I listened to both albums, and while I enjoyed both of them, I clearly preferred the Beatles in this round.
Pet Sounds is probably a more cohesive work of art, with several of my favorite Beach Boys songs, including “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?,” “God Only Knows,” and “Sloop John B.” Brian Wilson’s musical genius is undeniable. It seems thematically unified, but also contains several tracks that I don’t find memorable at all. I just listened to this album and can’t hum some of these tunes.
It seems almost unfair to pit Pet Sounds against Sgt. Pepper’s. At least in my house. There’s not a single song on this album I couldn’t hum right this moment, including George Harrison’s “Within You Without You,” which is my least favorite song on the album. The songs on the Beatles’ album vary wildly in style, from McCartney’s Music Hall style to a wade into the deep end of psychedelia. The production on this is slick and lush, and you’re acutely aware that you’re hearing a mixture of creative voices. So, while the album may not be artistically cohesive throughout, the wraparound framing device of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band itself creates a canvas where different musical styles are celebrated. Indeed, it is the variety offered on this album, from bouncy ditties like “When I’m 64” and Ringo’s singing on “Little Help from My Friends,” to the psycho calliope music of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” that helps make the album memorable. And, with an ending like “A Day in the Life” . . . I mean, get out of town.
So, a knockout this time. It wasn’t even close.
SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (BEATLES)