Last week Robert Hilburn argued that the "Sgt. Pepper" LP--despite remaining a "landmark work"--is not the Beatles' best album because it is weighted down by seven songs that "represent the longest stretch of mediocre material" the group ever recorded. Calendar letter writers were not pleased--by a 9-1 ratio.
Yes, the record is 20 years old. Twenty years and we have already forgotten how to make good rock 'n' roll albums. The time before the microchip. A time when you needed talent, not some huge advertising firm. A time when youth wanted to hear more than a glorified metronome.
When I listen to "Sgt. Pepper," the question that comes to mind is, What happened? Here comes a perfect album and we plunge straight down in 20 years. Today, when any good computer programmer can cut an album, "Sgt. Pepper" is not only perfect, it bleeds of integrity.
Sure, the Beatles could have continued making pop music. They could have continued making music just for money. They chose, however, to go beyond traditional bounds. They were creative.