Piero Scaruffi and truth

I hadn’t heard of Piero Scaruffi until I came across this TV tropes page on him recently, in which this Italian scientist who also has a website in which he’s reviewed, like, bazillions of albums, was said to have written a ‘controversial’ essay on the Beatles and how overrated they are. Well, I’m always interested in anyone wanting to have a go at the Beatles because so many try and so few do it well, so I googled ‘Piero Scaruffi beatles’, and I found what I take to be his best thoughts on the subject.

This is one of those situations where you dread even wandering into the line of fire, because the guy is obviously so sure that he’s right, and that anyone who disagrees with him is wrong. You can feel the stupidity clinging to you in sticky fronds even as you read. But since what I’ve read of his article is riddled with factually inaccurate assertions stated as if they were true, I can’t let it go unchallenged. I have not gone through his entire essay, which is very long. Just the top several pages.

First off, anyone who’s read this blog can tell what I think of the Beatles, but my opinion is neither here nor there. I am not arguing that Scaruffi is wrong to think that the Beatles are ‘trivial’ and ‘overrated’. He can think whatever he wants. He is, as they say, entitled to his opinion. What he is not entitled to do is insist that his opinion is worth anything, if it’s based on an inaccurate perception of reality. What I am saying — and let there be no ambiguity whatever about this — is that Scaruffi, intentionally or otherwise, and in the extracts that I have quoted, largely misrepresents the facts about the Beatles in an attempt to downplay the nature of their achievement. He may know that he’s doing this, in which case he’s mendacious. I prefer to be charitable, and believe that he doesn’t know he’s doing it; that he is, rather, intellectually inadequate to be a music critic. Nothing else I have read on his site convinces me that he has the intellectual tools that the job requires.

His basic technique is to report as fact something which he assumes that his listeners will be unable to contradict, but which anyone with basic knowledge of the subject knows to be untrue. Here we go:

Jazz critics have long recognized that the greatest jazz musicians of all times are Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, who were not the most famous or richest or best sellers of their times, let alone of all times.

Ellington and Coltrane are supremely important jazz musicians. However, jazz critics in the real world, as opposed to the imaginary jazz critics in Piero Scaruffi’s head, have long recognised that Louis Armstrong is as important, and possibly more so. Here’s Martin Williams in The Jazz Tradition: ‘If we take the most generally agreed-upon aesthetic judgments about jazz music, the first would undoubtedly be the dominant position and influence of Louis Armstrong — and that influence is not only agreed upon, it is easily demonstrable from recordings.’ And here’s Richard Cook in his Jazz Encyclopedia: ‘[…C]ontemporary jazz celebrities such as Wynton Marsalis have insisted on the primacy not only of the universally acknowledged early work but the rest of Armstrong’s oeuvre as a potent and powerful legacy. If the world’s music still swings today, it is in large part because of what he was first doing, eight decades ago.’ Here’s Whitney Balliett, writing in the Fifties: ‘For all that, he [Armstrong] has managed, as the purest of all jazz musicians, to be an infallible definition of just what jazz is.’ Here’s Ted Gioia, in his History of Jazz: ‘Surely no body of work in the jazz idiom has been so loved and admired as the results of these celebrated sessions, the immortal Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. In historical importance and sheer visionary grandeur, only a handful of other recordings — the Ellington band work of the early 40s, the Charlie Parker Savoy and Dial sessions, the Miles Davis recordings of the late 50s come to mind — can compare with them. Certainly none can surpass them.’ And here’s Village Voice jazz critic Gary Giddins, the author of a book-length study of Armstrong, writing in Visions of Jazz: ‘If the twentieth century has proven to be the American era in music — an assessment made with increasing frequency and growing confidence — it can also be characterized as the Armstrong era.’

Why does Scaruffi omits any mention of Armstrong? Because Armstrong was an indisputably great musician who was also wildly popular and commercially successful. Scaruffi’s contempt for the ‘masses’, which we’ll see more of later, means that he cannot accept that any musician who’s been broadly successful with the public has any merit; if the ‘masses’ love it, it can’t be good. The flipside of this is that he will downplay and even misrepresent the popularity of musicians that he likes. The idea that Ellington and Coltrane were in any way unpopular or obscure is completely inane. Ellington during his lifetime became as famous as any jazz musician gets, winning nine Grammies, appearing on the cover of Time magazine and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. Coltrane’s A Love Supreme sold in the hundreds of thousands, and an abridged version of his cover of ‘My Favourite Things’ was even a hit single. But Scaruffi never lets the facts get in the way of what he wants to say. In fact, his contempt for fact is all over this piece.

Classical critics rank the highly controversial Beethoven over classical musicians who were highly popular in courts around Europe.

Who are the musicians that these ‘classical critics’ rank Beethoven ‘over’? Could he mean Haydn, who was enormously popular in Europe and who has been routinely regarded as one of the greatest composers in history? Haydn doesn’t appear in Scaruffi’s remarkably unadventurous list of great classical works. And to what degree was Beethoven ‘controversial’, anyway? His personal behaviour could be controversial; the quality of his music was much less so. He was generally agreed to be a genius, and when he died, thousands followed his coffin.

In passing, let’s take a look at Scaruffi’s list of the greatest pieces of classical music you’ll ever hear:

• Ludwig Van Beethoven: Symphony 9 (1824)

• Franz Schubert: Symphony 9 in C Major “Great” (1828)

• Wolfgang Mozart: Concerto 21 in C K467 (1785)

• Johann Sebastian Bach: Mass in B Minor (1749)

• Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony 15 (1971)

• Gustav Mahler: Symphony 9 (1910)

• Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1859)

• Giuseppe Verdi: Requiem (1874)

• Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburger Concertos (1721)

• Bela Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra (1943)

• Johannes Brahms: Symphony 4

• Franz Schubert: Quintet for 2 Violins, Viola and 2 Cellos in C major, D956 Op. 163

• Bela Bartok: Quartet 4

• Ludwig Van Beethoven: String Quartet No.14 Op.131

• Shostakovich: Quintet in G minor for Piano & String Quartet, Opus 57

• Ludwig Van Beethoven: Triple Concerto C major

• Leos Janacek: Glagolitic Mass (1926)

• Igor Stravinskij: Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

• Antonin Dvorak: Symphony 9 (1893)

• Antonio Vivaldi: Il Cimento dell’Armonia op 8 (1725)

• Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (1829)

• Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps (1940)

* Claude Debussy: Jeux

What’s striking about this list is how amazingly conservative it is. There is nothing earlier than Bach, and nothing later than Bartok. Everything on it could be programmed by the least ambitious director of the least adventurous provincial symphony orchestra, with no fear that subscribers would be frightened away. (If that Vivaldi looks unfamiliar to you, he means the Four Seasons — he’s just using the title of the larger set to which they belong to make himself look like he knows about classical music.)

Scaruffi professes to despise the Beatles for being ‘mainstream’, but this list is mainstream with a vengeance: no Gesualdo, no Schoenberg, no Webern, no Stockhausen, no Babbitt, no Ligeti; but more interestingly, not a single Bach cantata, when the general consensus these days is that Bach’s cantatas are far more central to his achievement and career than something like the Brandenburgs, which, great as they are, are nowadays most often heard as pre-flight music on Ryanair planes. Only one work by Mozart, and that not an opera; nothing by Haydn, Sibelius, Handel, Palestrina, Gabrieli, Victoria, Tallis, Byrd or anyone else from before the 17th century; no Britten, no Berg, no Henze, no Birtwistle, no Partch, Cage, Feldman or even Glass or Reich.

Rock critics are still blinded by commercial success: the Beatles sold more than anyone else (not true, by the way), therefore they must have been the greatest.

Freesheet reviewers might do this when explaining the success of the most recent Beatles compilation, but serious rock criticism, which was invented partly in order to deal with the Beatles, has never made a simple equation of popularity with merit. The Beatles’ popularity is, if anything, something that serious rock criticism has had to explain away. More to the point, if the popularity of popular music has nothing at all to do with its merit, then it doesn’t matter how many records the Beatles sold.

Beatles’ “aryan” music removed any trace of black music from rock and roll: it replaced syncopated african rhythm with linear western melody, and lusty negro attitudes with cute white-kid smiles.

Leaving aside the eye-popping racism and unforgivable inanity of this characterisation of ‘black music’, insofar as it tries to describe what the Beatles did with the styles of black music that the band knew, it’s the reverse of the truth. The Beatles married Western harmonies and melodic techniques to rhythmic foundations learned in part from rock & roll and in part from black American pop music — not ‘african rhythm’, of which they, like most of the black American musicians they admired, knew nothing at all. No British pop musicians before the Beatles had such a grounding in black American pop, and not many white bands since have been able to match the Beatles’ groove — e.g., ‘The Word’, ‘Drive My Car’, ‘She’s A Woman’, ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’.

Contemporary musicians never spoke highly of the Beatles, and for a good reason.

The Rolling Stones disliked the Beatles so much that they begged Lennon and McCartney to write a song for them; went to the Beatles’ parties; attended the Beatles’ recording sessions; appeared on the Beatles’ records and got the Beatles to appear on their own. Eric Clapton, a principled hero of rock, showed his loathing for everything the Beatles stood for by becoming one of Harrison’s best friends and jumping at the chance of playing on a Beatles session. Jimi Hendrix despised the Beatles so much that he was playing the title track of Sgt Pepper within a couple of days of the album being released. In short, the contempt with which the Beatles were regarded by their peers is familiar to nobody who knows anything at all about the history of popular music.

They could not figure out why the Beatles’ songs should be regarded more highly than their own.

Yeah, the stupid ones probably couldn’t.

They knew that the Beatles were simply lucky to become a folk phenomenon (thanks to “Beatlemania”, which had nothing to do with their musical merits). That phenomenon kept alive interest in their (mediocre) musical endeavours to this day.

The meaning isn’t clear, but he seems to be suggesting that people only go on listening to the Beatles because they are historically interested in the phenomenon of Beatlemania. Which is the same reason why Charles Manson’s album continues to sit at the top of the album charts, all these years later.

Not to mention the American musicians who created what the Beatles later sold to the masses.

You can’t accuse the Beatles of selling other people’s music and simultaneously accuse them of changing the same music before they sold it. If they changed the music, then they transformed it into their own music; if they didn’t change it, then in selling it to the masses, they can’t have wrecked it.

The Beatles sold a lot of records not because they were the greatest musicians but simply because their music was easy to sell to the masses: it had no difficult content, it had no technical innovations, it had no creative depth.

While it’s true that difficult (i.e, non-catchy) music is seldom very popular, there is no reason to suppose that the ‘masses’ automatically reject technical innovation; if a record is hot enough, people will buy it, no matter how innovative it is or isn’t, and the truth is that most listeners neither know nor care about the level of technical innovation in a record. In any case, it is demonstrably untrue that the Beatles’ music was not technically innovative. Among the techniques that they pioneered in popular music were: controlled feedback, automatic double-tracking, use of tape loops, use of Indian musical techniques, use of chance techniques, creative use of studio technology (feeding Lennon’s voice through a Leslie speaker on Tomorrow Never Knows), etc. And those are just their innovations in recording technique; their innovations in musical style and songwriting are too numerous to go into.

Among the Beatles’ songs to have no ‘creative depth’ are: Eleanor Rigby, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day In The Life, Hey Jude, Blackbird, I Am The Walrus, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Something, Help!, Ticket To Ride, Long Long Long . . .

They wrote a bunch of catchy 3-minute ditties and they were photogenic. If somebody had not invented “beatlemania” in 1963, you would not have wasted five minutes of your time to read a page about such a trivial band.

Beatlemania was not an invention, but the name given by the media to a real historical phenomenon.

For most of their career the Beatles were four mediocre musicians who sang melodic three-minute tunes at a time when rock music was trying to push itself beyond that format (a format originally confined by the technical limitations of 78 rpm record). They were the quintessence of “mainstream”, assimilating the innovations proposed by rock music, within the format of the melodic song.

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

To be serious, once again Scaruffi has it backwards: later rock music picked up on what the Beatles were doing (unusual harmonies, studio experimentation, serious lyrics, emotional intensity) and continued to do it, but no other band did all of what they did. Prog-rock bands extended the musical range, largely at the expense of emotional intensity; hard rock ramped up the intensity, but at the expense of melody and concision. As Joe Carducci put it, the Beatles were simultaneously the biggest pop group in the world, and the world’s first rock band.

The Beatles were the quintessence of instrumental mediocrity. George Harrison was a pathetic guitarist, compared with the London guitarists of those days (Townshend of the Who, Richards of the Rolling Stones, Davies of the Kinks, Clapton and Beck and Page of the Yardbirds, and many others who were less famous but no less original).

There are no instances in the Beatles’ official recordings of Harrison not being up to the task before him; he wasn’t a virtuoso because he wasn’t required to be one. He understood that his role was to serve the song, something which all of the above, with the possible exception of Richards, forgot from time to time. A guitar hero of the Clapton sort would have had no place in the band. What Dave Davies, of all people, is doing in this company, is anyone’s guess.

The Beatles had completely missed the revolution of rock music (founded on a prominent use of the guitar) and were still trapped in the stereotypes of the easy-listening orchestras.

What this means, if it means anything at all, is not clear. Is he trying to say that he Beatles didn’t use guitars?

Paul McCartney was a singer from the 1950s, who could not have possibly sounded more conventional. As a bassist, he was not worth the last of the rhythm and blues bassists (even though within the world of Merseybeat his style was indeed revolutionary).

This is the same Paul McCartney who sang Long Tall Sally, Helter Skelter and Oh! Darling, in case you were wondering, and the same bass player responsible for the bass parts in Taxman, Rain, Come Together and I Saw Her Standing There. What ‘rhythm and blues bassists’ Scaruffi is talking about, I doubt even he knows; presumably he has some shadowy awareness that people played on Motown records, but I doubt he could tell you Jerry Jemmott from James Jamerson, since they’re all ‘african’ to him.

Ringo Starr played drums the way any kid of that time played it in his garage (even though he may ultimately be the only one of the four who had a bit of technical competence). Overall, the technique of the “fab four” was the same of many other easy-listening groups: sub-standard.

What ‘other easy-listening groups’ is he talking about? Since he can say nothing about Starr’s actual technique as a drummer — such as Starr’s mastery of timbre and tempo — I think we can assume that this faint praise is not in good faith.

Theirs were records of traditional songs crafted as they had been crafted for centuries

I think he’s mistaking the Beatles for Fairport Convention, here.

yet they served an immense audience, far greater than the audience of those who wanted to change the world, the hippies and protesters. Their fans ignored or abhorred the many rockers of the time who were experimenting with the suite format, who were composing long free-form tracks, who were using dissonance, who were radically changing the concept of the musical piece. The Beatles’ fans thought, and some still think, that using trumpets in a rock song was a revolutionary event, that using background noises (although barely noticeable) was an even more revolutionary event, and that only great musical geniuses could vary so many styles in one album, precisely what many rock musicians were doing all over the world, employing much more sophisticated stylistic excursions.

Since the Beatles’ level of fandom was unique precisely because it crossed all boundaries of age, class, sex, nationality, political inclination and race, it’s impossible to lump all their fans together in this manner.

While the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Doors, Pink Floyd and many others were composing long and daring suites worthy of avant garde music, thus elevating rock music to art, the Beatles continued to yield three minute songs built around a chorus. Beatlemania and its myth notwithstanding, Beatles fans went crazy for twenty seconds of trumpet, while the Velvet Underground were composing suites of chaos twenty minutes long.

When the Beatles were sticking baroque trumpet on ‘Penny Lane’, the Velvet Underground’s first album hadn’t even come out yet. By the time the first Velvets album came out, the Beatles were finishing Sgt Pepper. The Velvets album that contains the closest thing to a ‘suite of chaos twenty minutes long’ is White Light/White Heat, whose final track ‘Sister Ray’ is a seventeen-minute jam on one chord, and if Piero Scaruffi seriously thinks that it’s the greatest thing the Velvet Underground ever did as opposed to a juvenile art gesture, he’s got a tin fucking ear. Incidentally, Scaruffi’s earlier crack about how the Beatles removed all traces of ‘black music’ from their music is far more true about the Velvet Underground than it is about the Beatles. Almost alone among great 60s rock bands, the Velvets never, ever swung. They were a white folk-rock band turned up to 10.

Actually, between noise and a trumpet, between twenty seconds and twenty minutes, there was an artistic difference of several degrees of magnitude. They were, musically, sociologically, politically, artistically, and ideologically, on different planets.

Yes, the radical political awareness in the Velvet Underground’s songs is well known to all.

The Beatles had the historical function to delay the impact of the innovations of the 60’s.

Again, this is quite a long way away from meaning anything, but insofar as it reflects a perception that the Beatles were not at the forefront of change in the 1960s, the historical record shows that people at the time felt that the opposite was the case. They might not have liked the change much, but nobody doubted that the Beatles were part of its vanguard.

Between 1966 and 1969, while suites, jams, and long free form tracks (which the Beatles also tried but only toward the end of their career) became the fashion, while the world was full of guitarists, bassist, singers and drummers who played solos and experimented with counterpoint, the Beatles limited themselves to keeping the tempo and following the melody.

Like on A Day In The Life.

Their historic function was also to prepare the more conservative audience for those innovations. Their strength was perhaps being the epitome of mediocrity: never a flash of genius, never a revolutionary thought, never a step away from what was standard, accepting innovations only after they had been accepted by the establishment. And maybe it was that chronic mediocrity that made their fortune: whereas other bands tried to surpass their audiences, to keep two steps ahead of the myopia of their fans, traveling the hard and rocky road, the Beatles took their fans by the hand and walked them along a straight path devoid of curves and slopes.

That’s why they kept touring until the very end, and didn’t spend hours in the studio trying to find new ways of making music.

The Beatles are justly judged for the beautiful melodies they have written. But those melodies were “beautiful” only when compared to the melodies of those who were not trying to write melodies; in other words to the musicians who were trying to rewrite the concept of popular music by implementing suites, jams and noise.

Once again, we’re skirting meaninglessness here, but he seems to be saying that the Beatles’ melodies were only beautiful compared to melodies by musicians who didn’t write melodies.

Many contemporaries of Beethoven wrote better minuets than Beethoven ever wrote, but only because Beethoven was writing something else. In fact, he was trying to write music that went beyond the banality of minuets.

There is nothing intrinsically banal about a minuet, as Beethoven knew perfectly well, writing many of them throughout his career, such as the ones in the third Razumovsky Quartet and in Piano Sonata No 18, to name two off the top of my head. Scaruffi would know this if he’d listened to anything by Beethoven besides the Ninth Symphony. When Scaruffi tries to talk about classical music, he comes across like a pompous twelve-year-old who’s read the liner notes of his dad’s CD collection and thinks that that makes him Donald Tovey.

Moreover, Martin undoubtedly had a taste for unusual sounds. At the beginning of his career he had produced Rolf Harris’ Tie Me Kangaroo with the didjeridoo.

He means Sun Arise (1961). Far from being made at the beginning of Martin’s career, it was made eleven years after he joined EMI.

At the time nobody knew what it was. Between 1959 and 1962 Martin had produced several tracks of British humor with heavy experimentation, inspired by the Californian Stan Freiberg, the first to use the recording studio as an instrument.

He means Stan Freberg, but if he’s trying to suggest that Stan Freberg was the first person ever to muck around in a recording studio, he should take it up with Spike Jones. In any case, the history of experiments in sound recording is as old as the history of recorded sound.

Those of us who write about music in more than a dilettante way believe that writing about music is subject to the same rules as writing any other kind of non-fiction. You should write so that your meaning is clear. You should strive to be consistent. If you have an argument to make, you should base what you have to say on solid evidence. You should avoid writing badly, unclearly or illogically. You should try not to be dull. Piero Scaruffi flouts all these rules, but that wouldn’t matter so much because lots of people break them. But there is one rule in writing music criticism, the breaking of which is the only truly unforgivable error, and it’s the one that I’ve tried to demonstrate Piero Scaruffi breaks all the time, it would seem compulsively, perhaps without even knowing or caring that he does so.

You are not allowed to make shit up.

Piero Scaruffi and truth

107 thoughts on “Piero Scaruffi and truth

  1. I don’t necessarily agree with you on the Velvet Underground, but your critique of his article is still well-researched, and sometimes quite funny.

    What’s so surprising about Piero Scaruffi is that he has listened to so much music and absorbed so much media (he has whole sections for literature, cinema, etc.), yet his most important article — the first one that most people who hear of him online read parts of — also seems to have the most straight-up inaccuracies. I’ve been a frequent visitor to his website for quite some time now, and haven’t really found falsities as blatant as “[The Beatles’ work] had no technical innovations” in any other music articles of his.

    If reading the article gave you a bad first impression of him, I recommend going on his best albums list. Even if his take on rock music is too dismissive, he has still been known to introduce people to lots of great albums that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. He’s listened to lots of great foreign music that the writers for most English-language publications have not. This has, in fact, led some people to coin him as both the worst and the best rock critic around. Even I have to admit that in all likelihood, I wouldn’t know much of anything about Faust or Popol Vuh were it not for him.

    Check out my top 100 albums here. It’s Scaruffi-influenced, but I’m definitely a bigger fan of the Beatles than he is: http://artsandpoliticsblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/my-top-100-albums/

    1. dubravka says:

      Scaruffi or “Fool on the hill”,”SexiSadie”,Dear Prudence”……..

      Lou Reed vs Frank Zappa…..do not forget this quotes “Fool on the Hill/Scaruffi

      Lou Reed on Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention:

      “[Zappa] is the single most untalented person I heard in my life,” .”He’s a two-bit, pretentious academic, and he can’t play rock ‘n’ roll, because he’s a loser. And that’s why he dresses funny. He’s not happy with himself and I think he’s right.”

      Frank Zappa on Velvet Underground:

      “These guys really suck!”

      1. graf says:

        I wrote to Scaruffi couse his my neiber.
        No answer from him.
        Sunburst is from Nothern Ireland and I am from Croatia(ex Yugoslavia).
        Like my friends from Leibach rock band from Sloveniasaid
        “In ex Yugoslavia The Beatles were more popular then marshal Tito!”

    2. graf says:

      “Sexi Sadie” wants to tell us that the Rolling Stones are “The greatest rock and roll band in history!”
      Reading his History it’s obviosly when you see the best songs of ’60 …year by year you will have”complete picture!”.
      Zappa,Velvets and Beefheart are only a” trap for the reader”.
      If he’s really the “master of knowledge” he will put Spooky Tooth and their album..”Spooky Two” from ’69 in the best 100 albums all the time or less the 100 best albums in’60-this.
      Not to mention Spooky Tooth in ’60 this or Stone the Crows or Sawoy Brown Blues Band or Chicken Shack.Oh,NO!
      One more thing about “Sexi Sadie”:he did not say a word about Rory Gallagher and his band Taste.
      Shame on you Scaffati.
      Everybody knows that Rory Gallagher was a candidate to replace Mick Taylor in Rolling Stones.
      What had happened…”Richards rejected Rory because he was afraid of Rory!”
      “Simply…Rory Gallagher was the better guitar player then Keith Richards and it was better to take Ronny Wood!”

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for commenting. ‘Well researched, and sometimes quite funny’, eh? Thanks, I guess.

    I’m afraid that that Beatles article alone was so inept that I can’t be bothered to read the rest of his stuff. I already listen to an extremely wide variety of music, not just 20th century popular music in all its sprawling oddness but a wider variety of Western classical music than he seems to have time for — unlike him I go back to the medieval period and, also unlike him, I listen to composers who aren’t dead. I also love a hell of a lot of jazz, a little bit of Indian classical music, and I’ve dipped my toes in Eastern European folk music; klezmer; various kinds of avant-garde music; country; rembetika; old-time music; Delta blues; various kinds of African music, from traditional Ewe drumming via Afrobeat to Nigerian pop; 20th century electronic music and a whole bunch of other stuff too, and I am aware that there are mountains of stuff out there that I haven’t begun to explore (such as Italian opera, Chinese music, Japanese pop, Indian pop, etc.) so my horizons are already pretty broad. Just because I don’t talk about it here, doesn’t mean I don’t listen to it. (I’m currently really enjoying the most recent Rammstein album.)

    But I also think that nobody can seriously claim that Trout Mask Replica is the greatest rock album ever. To do so is to betray a lack of appreciation for what rock music, and the wider field of 20th century pop music, is good for, and I think that Scaruffi has exactly this lack of appreciation. I don’t mean to suggest that I think Trout Mask Replica is shit; I respect its peculiar integrity, although I don’t personally enjoy it, and I don’t even think it’s Beefheart’s best album (I don’t actually think Beefheart ever made a great album, although he certainly made some great music — most of my favourite cuts are on your No. 33, Safe as Milk.) I think TMR was a deliberately perverse art-gesture on Beefheart’s part, and I think a lot of the credit for it has been unfairly given to him, when it really belonged to his band, who turned his incoherent musical notions into actual music. Remember, Beefheart couldn’t play any instruments and couldn’t write music. He would hum things to his band, literally bully them into turning his hummings into playable music, then take all the credit for himself. I don’t think that that’s what genuinely talented musicians do.

    Thanks for sharing your top 100 albums list. I’m afraid I found it a little bit incoherent. Are these, like, your top 100 albums ever? Because you’d need to find room for, say, Carlos Kleiber’s recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5, to name just one of the many great classical recordings out there. If it’s pop music, what’s John Coltrane doing on there? If it includes jazz, why only one Mingus, two Miles Davis (and really obvious choices, may I say — you really need to hear the Quintet albums with Coltrane, and also ‘Live at the Plugged Nickel’, ‘On the Corner’ and ‘Birth of the Cool’) and no Armstrong, Ellington, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans?

    No Sinatra? No Oum Kalthoum? No Richard Thompson? No jazz singing of any kind?

    Your list struck me as something that Rolling Stone might have published, but I’m afraid that I don’t mean that as a good thing. Not at all.

    I don’t want you to think that I dislike the Velvet Underground; I just don’t like them very much.

    Still, it’s really nice to have intelligent comment. I’m not gonna read Scaruffi. I already read people who’ve gone further into more interesting kinds of music than he’s ever dreamed of. But, you know, keep listening and keep your ears open. You never know what you’ll end up liking. Come back, and we’ll talk again.

  3. iamthewalrus says:

    Hey there guy, nice read though I just have a few gripes. First of all you didn’t really challenge scaruffis ultimate point i.e that the beetles were four okay musicians who receive exaggerated praise for their musicalities innovation where as other artists of the time had already implemented these techniques and were pushing the envelope even more. Also you seem to only single out the velvet underground where as he’s mentioned a good deal of other artists. Speaking of which, I think it’s a fair assertion that The Velvet Undergrounds music was a lot more revolutionary than what the Beatles were doing.

    He doesn’t necessarily hate the beatles (He gave Sgt.Pepper and Abbey Road positive reviews I believe) his argument leans more towards the idea that the Beatles, when compared to other artists of the time, weren’t particularly interesting or at least not nearly as much as they’re made out to be. Thoughts?

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I think that, if you read my post, you’ll find that I did really challenge Scaruffi’s ultimate point. For whatever reason, he wants to make out that the Beatles were a mediocre pop group that had very little impact on the music around them, and whose achievement has been vastly overestimated in retrospect. I, who have actually done a little bit of research on this topic, have found it very easy to demonstrate that the Beatles’ impact on their own time was enormous, and insofar as other, later musicians felt able to push the envelope, it was at least in part because the Beatles had already pushed it.

      Now, this is where it gets tricky: my point of view is not controversial. It is massively supported by the historical record, whereas Scaruffi’s point of view isn’t. I am not trying to deny the weight of historical evidence. Scaruffi is.

      It may seem a bit different to people now, but you just have to do the teeniest bit of poking around in the archives to find that people at the time experienced the Beatles as being enormously influential and revolutionary, whereas the Velvet Underground, at the time, was largely ignored. The Velvet Underground went on to be very influential, but at the time that they were actually making recordings, they were mostly regarded as a shambolic freakshow. Only a few critics, like Lester Bangs, appreciated the Velvets while they were still a going thing, and even he came late to the party.

      Between 1962 and 1966, nobody even came close to the Beatles in terms of what you could do with popular music, and after that point, if people began to draw level with them, it’s because the Beatles led the way. It’s not my fault that people don’t listen to early Beatles in the context of early 60s pop music, and so fail to hear just how innovative and fresh the band was, compared to its peers. (It also helps if you listen to them in mono, because the stereo mixes are eccentric and diminish the impact.)

      It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how revolutionary an artist is, because we’ve so completely absorbed their work that it forms the horizon of how we understand the art form as such. My argument is that the Beatles were that sort of band. Before the Beatles, nobody really thought that bands should write their own music or play their own songs or be taken seriously as artists; pop music was regarded as at worst a scam, and at best a meaningless but cheerful diversion. The Beatles made an entire generation of intellectuals take popular music seriously; you can see it taking place, if you read the popular music criticism of the time. By the time the Velvets came along, there was already a critical industry in place that was primed to take them seriously, or not, as the case may be. I don’t think that the Velvets really got their due until the late 1980s.

      I argue that Scaruffi is completely ignorant of the historical and cultural context of the music he’s listening to, and that alone disqualifies him from being taken seriously about it. You can’t criticise Haydn for not sounding like Wagner; you can’t criticise Charlie Parker for not sounding like Ornette Coleman; you can’t criticise the Beatles for not sounding like the Velvet Underground, because the Beatles weren’t trying to sound like the Velvet Underground. My beef with Scaruffi is that he doesn’t argue, he just asserts. He says that the Beatles wrote nothing but three-minute ditties, in spite of the obvious evidence that they did much more than that. He says that they couldn’t play, but he fails to name a single recording in which they fuck up a song because of their ineptitude, because he hasn’t listened to them enough. (I could name a couple, but he can’t.) He says that their peers didn’t respect them, when they very obviously did. He says that Beatlemania was ‘invented’, when it’s documented fact. He talks drivel about musicians such as Beethoven and Ellington, about whom he clearly knows very little, assuming that his readers will not challenge him. Well, I know a lot more about them than he does, and I have challenged him. The burden of proof is not on me, to prove that I am right. It’s on you and him, to prove that I, and the vast amount of historical evidence that backs me up, are wrong.

      1. absolutley I keep making this point on various sites – Scaruffi (most of the time ) ignores the ‘ contextual ‘ element inherent in popular music and interprets the music’s ‘ meaning’ through his subjective lens. Only he insists ( apparently ) because he came late to Popular Music in his life and that his Musical heroes are Shostakovich and John Coltrane that his take on Rock and Pop is 100 % ‘ objective ‘ . He also does not really care much for Music that gives too much up front ‘ pleasure ‘ ( in the popular field anyway … he prefers that in the Classical realm ) . He’s also not really consistent there even – as he loves Springsteen . Personally I suspect also that in recent years the reviews might even be by other people : they don’t really bear the marks of his syntax a lot of the time ( Just take a look at Travel Schedule and see if you believe someone can listen to that much music and get around as much as he can ! ) .Of course Scaruffi is Italian , as is often forgotten Italy remains Europes most Patrician Culture and to an extent he should be seen as an emanation of that tradition . Mind you his views are getting more and more ‘ biblical ‘ – try arguing that say – Robert Wyatt’s – ‘ Rock Bottom ‘ is not quite ‘one of the supreme masterpieces of Rock ‘ as Scaruffi describes it , with alternative music fans these days and see how they retrench on you ! Also there is a fundamental issue I have with someone who’se heard that many records : how many ‘ growers ‘ – albums you need to hear half a dozen times before their qualities make themselves felt has he missed due to his need to hear virtually everything ? The best thong is I’ve noticed some of my personal favourites like the Penguin Cafe Orchestras debut album going up in his estimation and being given a more fulsome appraisal . So he can change his views . Perhaps he’ll come around to saying great things about Elvis Costello’s ‘ Get Happy ‘ on day or let people know that Olivier Messaiens ‘ Les Corps Glorieux ‘ ( soloist : Jenifer Bate . Grande Orgue Catedrale de Beauvais version please ) is the single greatest thing ever . Why no one knows that last one is beyond me . Pink Floyd fans check it out for goodness sake .

      2. Thanks for the comment! I’ve been saying for some time that I don’t believe he’s really listening to many of the records he professes to be reviewing. It doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t like bands that I do like; what bothers me more are the idiotic ‘reasons’ he offers for why the music that he and I both like is, in his opinion, good. I just don’t get why this guy’s supposed to be some titanic genius of musical appreciation when he comes across like a dorky 19-year-old who thinks that everyone else is stupid.

        I am not myself a fan of Elvis Costello (except for ‘What’s So Funny Bout Peace Love and Understanding’, which I know he didn’t write, and ‘Shipbuilding’, which he did write, but I prefer the Robert Wyatt version), or Messiaen (I know I really should like Messiaen, but there’s some difference of basic spirit there, maybe I’ll come round later in life) or Pink Floyd, who I only thought were good when Syd Barrett was in them, or Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who I’ve never liked at all, ever, and never will like, but what the hell, I know that we don’t all have to like the same music to find each other to be decent people. Music is bigger than all of us, anyway, and nobody can master the whole of it; that’s why it always has more to offer, and why it will always be racing ahead of us.

      3. Hiya Sunburst and much appreciative of you replying to me …. quite OK you’re not a Costello fan ( Simon Frith finds him to be an unmusical singer I know and finds that that is a basic block to his enjoyment even though he recognizes his songwriting skills) : but I will always think of ‘This Years Model ‘ , Get Happy , ‘ Trust ‘ , and ‘ Spike ‘ as amongst pop’s tour de forces . As you can see I have a problem personally with a heck of lot of Robert Wyatt ( Shipbuilding is great ) bar the ‘ Shleep ‘ album and the News from Babel cd’s . My Messaien fixation is specifically on his music of the late 1930’s which is just so far ahead of what anyone was dong in Music at that time anywhere in the world ( and in a world of its own ) . Less keen on the big immediate post war stuff that got so many plaudits at the time . He has his moments after that
        To be frank I find’ Arnold Layne ‘ and the live version of ‘ Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun ‘of off Ummagumma the only bearable residues of Barret era Floyd : and am way less keen as a 50 year old on much of their output overall than I was as a mid teen . The Penguin Cafe Orchestras debut album is once again qualitativley different to their subsequent lushly baroque chamber pop which has terrific moments ( Signs of Life ) and banal ones ( Broadcasting from Home ) . Anyone who likes total ‘ one off ‘ musical efforts should hear it once . But anyway like you say music is bigger than any of us . I’d love to get a list of a few top reccomendations from you if you have the time …

      4. Hey haddock77 – is that a Tintin reference, btw? I love Tintin, been reading Seven Crystal Balls to my eight-year-old as a bedtime book, in spite of the fact that she can read perfectly well – I’m sure you’re right about Messiaen being as advanced as anyone in the 30s, but I make the point somewhere up above, and it’s a point about my own preferences in music, that I don’t think that innovation is necessarily the sole criterion of value in music, not that that’s what you’re saying. I’ve made an effort to enjoy Messiaen but apart from the Turangalila it’s still an effort, and I think what I don’t like about his music is a purely subjective dislike of what I take to be his Catholicism. This is not necessarily an anti-religion thing. I was brought up as a Lutheran (highly unusual in Catholic Ireland) and so Bach’s music speaks straight to a certain part of me, but I also have no problem with Schoenberg’s late music, some of which is very Jewish in inspiration, e.g. A Survivor from Warsaw Op 46, or Dreimal tausend Jahre Op 50a, or Psalm 150 Op 50b. (I also love Webern, and Webern was very Catholic, so there’s that too.) I dunno, maybe it’s just the music itself.

        Recommendations? Jeez. Unlike Signor Scaruffi, I am temperamentally disinclined to make lists of Best Of. I prefer to recommend stuff because I love it, not because I think it’s great. So I would recommend the aforementioned Schoenberg pieces but also his charming little Weihnachtsmusik, which he wrote for his family to perform at Christmas, and which is a little mini psychodrama in the form of Christmas music – it starts out all happy and hymnal and then, because it’s Schoenberg, a big argument breaks out, and finally everyone settles down and grumbles and a kind of peace is restored, like one of those Christmas family arguments where ‘The turkey is overcooked because you ruined my life!’, kind of thing.

        As far as other music is concerned, I’ve barely mentioned on this blog my love of the music of Simon Frith’s brother Fred, but he’s one of my all-time favourite musicians, whether in Henry Cow, or as a composer, bassist-for-hire, improvising guitarist, whatever. I have never really cleaved to the Floyd. My prog-rock taste has always been towards the more abrasive, and they don’t come much more abrasive than ’73/’74 King Crimson. But I also have a deep fondness for the Big Three of English heavy rock: Zep, Purple, Sabbath. Those guys have the power to get me out of a bad bad mood and put me in a good bad mood.

        What else? I’ve talked about jazz elsewhere, but I love Irish traditional music, the more traditional the better. The Irish label Claddagh Records has some of my favourite recordings: pipers Willie Clancy, Liam O’Flynn, Ronan Browne; fiddler Tommy Potts (a unique, weird, wonderful player, only made one album that I know of). Then there’s Bobby Casey, Paddy Keenan (solo and with the Bothy Band), Tommy Peoples. The most stunning Irish piper on record was Johnny Doran, who only made one session, in the late 40s, when he apparently wasn’t at his best. I urge you to check it out. Doran was one of those musicians like Mozart or Hendrix who just seemed to pour music out of himself.

        Probably the most prestigious of all recorded Irish traditional players was the fiddler Michael Coleman, but I’m not crazy about his recordings (which were made for Columbia in the 30s); he was often teamed with a piano player, which is just plain wrong. But I mention him anyway.

        I love a good song and I must write something some day about Sinatra, just for his stunning ability to get inside even a crap song and make you believe in it, and also the way he dealt so well with the change in his own voice. But I’d also make a case for late-career Rosemary Clooney; Julie London (whose version of Come on-a My House was the model for Bernadette Peters’ sensational rendition in Mozart in the Jungle); even Sammy Davis Jr, who was a terrible showbiz guy but I love his version of ‘Rockabye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody’ on Live at the Cocoanut Grove, just for how he reclaims the song by interpreting in the style of about 20 different people, from Billy Eckstine and Dean Martin to Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Hilarious and awesome.

        Yeah, I like Bob Dylan. And Leonard Cohen. I came late to them both, via my wife, who’s a massive fan. It took me years to realise that Dylan wasn’t a great poet but a mediocre musician; that the whole point of his music is that that’s the sound he wants, and he’s always tinkering with it. I now sometimes think of Dylan as a great musician and an occasionally great lyricist.

        In my teens I devoured Talking Heads and American alternative rock, insofar as I could get records of it on summer holiday trips to England, which had better record shops than Ireland. Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, those were the bands that I liked in my late teens but which nobody I knew had even heard of. I would rather discover a forgotten brilliant record than a great new one; other people are better at finding the good new stuff, and I’m glad when I hear anything new that’s great, but I haven’t the talent for keeping an eye out for it.

        Longest comment evarrr. Hope you enjoyed it.

      5. thanks again Sunburst ..I’ll definitley check out those late Schoenberg pieces you reccommend and the trad Irish music you mention which I don’t think we know much about in England ..I’ve got ‘A Handful of Earth ‘ by Dick Gaughan but that’s about it ! ….. yes I’ve got maybe 50 % of Fred Frith’s output ( really like quite a lot of the 80 – 87 or so period , ‘ Gravity ‘ is just so beautifully recorded ….. ) some of the 88-91 stuff … kind of lost touch after ‘ Clearing ‘ …..actually managed to pick up a sealed copy of ‘ French Gigs ‘ on cd two weeks back …. but like Zappa and Peter Hammill I kind of wish he’d been a little less prolific and if pushed would reccommend Tim Hodgkinson’s output with The Work and Lindsay Cooper’s ‘ Music for Other Occassions ‘ as my favorite post Cow solo material . …..admire ‘ Starless and Bible Black ‘ hugeley ,’ Larks Tongues ‘ – considerably less , ‘Red ‘ – just can’t understand it’s high reputation at all – but have a soft spot for the peak points of the ‘ Great Deceiver ‘ box set after 20 years still ( some of it’s amazing…. ) …..it’s the variations which are so great . I still think about The Seven Crystal Balls all the time lol ! Is it Rupac Inca Huaco – the mummifed guy in the galass case ?

      6. I never wish that any musician I like had been less prolific. With the possible exception of Paul McCartney.

        French Gigs – damn, that was the first improv album I ever bought. I have the vinyl framed to go on a wall in my office, but I never get around to putting it up.

        You don’t like Red? Ah well. I think it’s their best for ‘Starless’ alone, but I do love Fracture on Starless and Bible Black.

        Yeah, that Tintin. Funny reading it now when the translation’s pretending it’s set in England, when it’s so obviously Belgium.

    2. alex says:

      let’s say scarufi right about the fact that the Beatles were not among the 100 most important, the most inventive and influential bands in the history of rock and roll.
      Let’s say you do not have an album and song that are most essential in the top 100 albums and songs
      But to say that they are not among the 100 bands that were influential for ’60 years is an offense to rock music in general.

      1. You’re right, of course. The idea that the Beatles have not been massively influential is sheer moonshine. But Scaruffi has his own reality distortion field on this matter, and some of his fans seem to agree. Best to just walk away and leave them to their illusions, because his authority seems to be absolute with some of them.

  4. +factorysunburst What do you think is the greatest work of non-fiction on rock music – particularly regarding the British Invasion?

    I would also appreciate recommendations on the best books about the history of classical music…particularly something more about the Baroque and Classical eras than contemporary such as Ligeti or Stravinsky.

    P.S. No, my all-time 100 albums list does not include classical recordings. Had this been the case, Berliner Philharmoniker’s recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (led by Herbert von Karajan) would rank #1.

    1. Hey gablank,

      Jeez, greatest work of non-fiction on rock music, esp the British Invasion? I’m not sure that book has been written yet, but a good place to start would be Ian Macdonald’s Revolution in the Head: the Beatles’ Records and the Sixties. I disagree with some of Macdonald’s more general points but he’s good about the Beatles’ cultural context. The Norton History of Western Music is a good overview of classical music but it covers all periods; for more detailed coverage of specific periods, you’ll need to be able to read music because otherwise the books will be only semi-intelligible.

      I like Karajan and the Berliners’ recordings of Beethoven 9, but which one do you mean? 1963 kicks 1977, IMO. It’s not my favourite classical recording, or even my favourite Beethoven recording.

  5. Guest says:

    A few comments:

    “To be serious, once again Scaruffi has it backwards: later rock music picked up on what the Beatles were doing (unusual harmonies, studio experimentation, serious lyrics, emotional intensity) and continued to do it, but no other band did all of what they did.”

    I’m pretty sure people used serious lyrics in popular music before the Beatles (Bob Dylan among others).

    “Among the techniques that they pioneered in popular music were: controlled feedback, automatic double-tracking, use of tape loops, use of Indian musical techniques, use of chance techniques, creative use of studio technology (feeding Lennon’s voice through a Leslie speaker on Tomorrow Never Knows), etc.”

    If I’m not mistaken, tape loops were used by Terry Riley before the Beatles ever used that technique (and I think Paul Mccarney has said that he got the idea from Stockhausen’s Gesang der Junglinge). As for indian influences, Sandy Bull incorporated indian playing techniques in his song Blend from 1963.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Bob Dylan’s popular music output didn’t kick in until the Beatles were already the most famous band in the world. Before 1965 or so, he belonged to folk music. Popular songs have been serious forever, but I’m talking about the state of popular music when the Beatles came along. I love Porter, Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Johnny Mercer and all those guys of the classic songbook, and I like music hall too, but those songs belonged to previous generations. The seriousness of Dylan and the Beatles is of a different kind, or at any rate it struck people at the time as being of a different kind.

      As for Terry Riley, I was talking about techniques the use of which in popular music were pioneered by the Beatles. I didn’t say that the Beatles invented tape loops, just that they used them in pop songs before anyone else did. Blend is a great piece of music, but it’s fair to say that it didn’t have quite the cultural impact of Love You To or Within You Without You, nor is it as ambitious; it’s essentially Bull trying to play a raga, whereas those two songs fuse raga and the Western pop song, I think successfully.

      1. Guest says:

        “Blend is a great piece of music, but it’s fair to say that it didn’t have quite the cultural impact of Love You To or Within You Without You, nor is it as ambitious.”

        Blend mixed many different styles from all across the world (both western and eastern), so why would the Beatles mix of western pop and raga be a greater achievment? I think the impact was only bigger because the Beatles were more popular. Also, impact is not the same thing as innovation. Few people would deny that the Beatles were influential, but it is their role as innovators that people question.

  6. Innovation in art is not as important as influence. If I’ve been giving the impression that I think it’s important that the Beatles did things before anyone else did, then please chalk it up to my ineptitude as a writer. The Beatles did some things before anyone else did (such as issue a nine-minute sound collage on a mainstream pop record) but what matters is that they took new techniques — which, such as flanging and ADT, they occasionally invented, or caused to be invented for them — and got great artistic results with them. The first opera ever written, Peri’s Dafne, is lost; the first surviving opera, the same composer’s Euridice, is not very good. The first great opera, Monteverdi’s Orfeo, is a masterpiece and it came seven years after Euridice. Peri is not a better composer than Monteverdi because he wrote opera before Monteverdi did. Monteverdi took what Peri had done and reinvented it, showing what you could really do with it and exploiting the techniques that Peri came up with for maximum emotional and artistic effect. Orfeo is still in the operatic repertoire, but nobody does Euridice. (It gets recorded now and again for educational purposes, but operas are expensive to stage and nobody wants to put on an opera which is of only historical interest.)

    People — namely, you — can question whether or not the Beatles were all that innovative, but the inventors of a specific technique usually don’t know what to do with it. Nothing Terry Riley or Steve Reich did with tape loops is, in my view, as ground-breaking as what the Beatles did with them, a couple of years later, in Tomorrow Never Knows. Riley and Reich were working within avant-garde music contexts where their innovations were received within an avant-garde cultural ghetto; only a few people got to hear about them and they were the kind of people who were already interested and knowledgeable about avant-garde music. The Beatles were taking still-unfamiliar techniques and using them within mass-market pop music, where their impact was shocking because most of the Beatles’ listeners were musically-unschooled teenagers who were still getting their heads around The Dave Clark Five.

    Knowing who did what first is a simple matter of fact-checking, but knowing where a new technique was deployed with maximum effect calls for critical judgement and knowledge of the historical context. You seem to think, with Scaruffi, that being popular is a bad thing. I would argue that the Beatles are exceptional because they are among the very few musicians whose work is at the same time creative, interesting, important, great to listen to, and also incredibly popular. (I think that, among 20th century musicians, the same is true of Ellington, Sinatra, Armstrong and a very few others.)

    Scaruffi clearly believes that the Beatles’ popularity is a sign of how mediocre they are. I think that he has still entirely failed to argue that point. He has merely asserted it, through the lies and misrepresentations that I’ve documented in my post. But I’d like to see you do better.

    1. Guest says:

      I merely wanted to point out that the Beatles get more credit than they deserve (they weren’t as innovative as many people claim they were, even critics), and that makes them overrated. Even if they were the best band in the world it still wouldn’t mean that they can’t be overrated.

      Most people believe that what the Beatles did (or the way they did it) was extremely ground-breaking (the way they popularized the underground for example) while others, myself included, believe the works of other artists were much more so (for example some of the underground artists that the Beatles got many of their ideas from). In the end, maybe it is just a matter of opinion.

      I think it is very difficult to estimate influence in any objective way. If the Beatles influenced more people than any other band, then what does that mean for the people who influenced the Beatles? Innovation, however, is something objective (or at least much more so).

      I never said being popular is bad, but if a popular band plays something “new”, the probability that it will have a large impact is higher than if the band is totally unknown. My point being: THAT shouldn’t matter when objecively criticizing/evaluating a musical act. If the Beatles wrote better and more ground-breaking music than Sandy Bull then that should be true even if the Beatles were (and remained) totally unknown, and vice versa. Of course, the impact also depends on what this “new” thing is, but in the example I gave in the above comment I see no reason to value the Beatles’ work higher than Bull’s. Maybe I’m not explaining what I mean very well.

      Even though it might not matter, just out of curiosity, which track do you mean was the first mainstream sound collage? Revolution 9? As far as I know, the first sound collage in popular music was the song Virgin Forest (11 min) by the Fugs (from their second album) released in March 1966, a few months before the Beatles’ revolver. It might be an exaggeration to say that they were mainstream but the album charted, so I would say that it counts:)

      And why would it matter that this 9-min track you speak of was released on a pop record? The music doesn’t change because it was put on a certain type of record.

      1. OK. There is absolutely no such thing as ‘objectively criticizing/evaluating a musical act’. Never has been, never will be. All criticism, like all artistic creation, comes from a personal place within the critic/artist, and criticism, which is really just a kind of artistic creation anyway, is as much mixed up with personal bias and personal taste as anything else. You cannot criticise from a place of objectivity; there is no such place, when it comes to assessments of value about a work of art. You can criticise someone’s standards of scholarship, which I’ve done w/r/t Scaruffi because I don’t think he has any. But neither you, nor I, nor anyone else, can say that the Beatles were ‘objectively’ better or worse than any other band ever, and I have not done so. As commentators on music, the best we can do is be honest about our own experiences of the music, and as scholars, we are obliged to be honest about how people experienced them at the time, and have experienced them since. I think that the Beatles were better than most of their peers because I find their music, unlike that of all their peers, continually and consistently inspiring and invigorating, but I tried hard not to make this into the kind of stupid non-debate that Scaruffi wanted to stir up, about how ‘good’ the Beatles are, because that’s a subjective matter, even if he doesn’t think so. All I want to do is point out that whether or not any of us like the Beatles’ music, an awful lot of other people have liked it and paid homage to it, some of whom were musicians that Scaruffi appears to rate highly, so that his claims that the Beatles’ peers disliked their music are not based in truth, and his bizarre assertion that the Beatles wrote nothing but ‘3-minute ditties’ is both untrue and beside the point; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a three-minute pop song, and in both my view and the view of many other people, the Beatles proved that.

        To answer what I think you’re saying in your opening sentence, I don’t think that the Beatles got rated so highly because they were innovative. Leaving aside the question of how innovative they were — which is not, to me at any rate, a very interesting one, for reasons I set out in my last reply, with that whole Monteverdi/opera comparison — and at the risk of being subjective for a change, I think that the Beatles are held in such high esteem partly because their music has more than the usual power to move people, however innovative it is or isn’t.

        There are loads of other 60s bands besides the Beatles, and we don’t listen to them today not because we have been bamboozled into believing that the Beatles were better than they actually were, but because most of those bands just weren’t all that great, just like most bands in any period aren’t all that great. If you don’t believe me, go and listen to a bunch of albums by 60s beat groups, and then come back and tell me that Herman’s Hermits, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, the Dave Clark Five (sorry, DC5, you’re getting a kicking in this thread), the Artwoods, Downliners Sect and Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band were just as good as the Beatles. I would defy anyone to argue that point.

      2. Guest says:

        You are right, music is mostly subjective, but when we analyze music we have to TRY to be objective (maybe we don’t accomplish this, but that is another question). Otherwise, music criticism loses a lot of its purpose.

        Scaruffi’s main point, as I see it, is that the Beatles are overrated. It doesn’t matter if most bands were worse than the Beatles or not, what matters is if the Beatles music lives up to the praise it is getting, and IMO, and apparently Scaruffi’s, it doesn’t. I guess we disagree here, but I respect your opinion.

      3. You’re wrong: music does change depending on the context in which you hear it. Rocking out with your friends to The Clash doing I Fought the Law is one thing, but when Manuel Noriega was on the run from US forces during the invasion of Panama and he tried to seek sanctuary in the Vatican’s nunciature, and the US Army played The Clash’s version of I Fought the Law at him at maximum volume in an attempt to flush him out, I think we can say that it’s not quite the same musical experience. You may say that it’s the same recording, but since it only becomes music once it’s played, where does the music stop and the experience of music start? Cage’s 4’33” is the most perfect example of how music changes depending on the context, because the piece itself is only context; the music is whatever you happen to hear while it’s being ‘performed’.

        Once again, the search for innovation is a trainspotters’ game. It’s been said that basically all ‘innovations’ in 20th century music are anticipated in Henry Cowell’s 1913 book New Musical Resources, which I confess I haven’t read; perhaps Cowell did it all first, or at least thought of it all, which comes to the same thing. My point is that doing something first isn’t nearly as difficult, or as important, as doing it in a way that strikes people as brilliant. If innovation were the measure of greatness in a musician, the most overrated musician in Western music is undoubtedly Johann Sebastian Bach, who invented no new techniques and didn’t do anything for the first time. Instead, he brought to perfection many of the existing techniques of his time, and took other people’s innovations and showed what you could really do with them if you happened to be a genius. Even Scaruffi admits Bach onto his list of essential classical works, although he chooses the Brandenburg Concertos, which — great as they are — would not be the first choice of anybody who really knows Bach’s music.

  7. I think you have it the other way around: it’s music that’s objective (it is what it is) and our analyses of it that are subjective, because we all share different ways of making sense of it.

    I disagree with you about what Scaruffi’s main point is. I’m not interested in talking about whether or not the Beatles were overrated; they probably were, but only because of the incredibly intense level of scrutiny, enthusiasm and worship thrown their way, which is unprecedented in the history of music and which we haven’t seen since. I do think their music is good as well as interesting, and that it stands up to repeated attention.

    My problem with Scaruffi is not that he disagrees with my opinion here. My problem is that he is willing to misrepresent the facts, in an attempt to browbeat people into agreeing that the Beatles are bad. He says that they ripped off other people; so does everyone, but the Beatles didn’t pass off other people’s songs as their own, in the manner of Led Zeppelin. He says that they recorded three-minute ditties, implying strongly that they did nothing else; obviously untrue. He says that they were disregarded and held in contempt by their peers: totally untrue, and easy to verify as such. His attempts to talk about music in technical terms are just embarrassing, such as this gem: ‘while the world was full of guitarists, bassist, singers and drummers who played solos and experimented with counterpoint, the Beatles limited themselves to keeping the tempo and following the melody’ – it’s okay to not know how to write counterpoint, but if you’re going to start throwing it around as a word, you need to know what it is. I studied counterpoint and, loosely speaking, every Beatles song contains it because they all contain separate melodic lines happening simultaneously, but even the most doctrinaire theory teacher would admit that songs like Eleanor Rigby and Martha My Dear contain textbook counterpoint — but again, he’s missing the point. It wouldn’t matter if the Beatles didn’t use counterpoint if the resulting music was great. Gregorian chant isn’t contrapuntal.

    He uses vague phrasing and weasel words. He calls the Beatles ‘easy listening’, which they weren’t, and anyway, what’s wrong with easy listening? He says that the Beatles are only still popular because people are interested in Beatlemania. People are interested in the First World War, but they don’t usually go around whistling songs from it.

    So, this is my problem with him. I don’t mind people not finding the Beatles interesting. I think it shows evidence of a partially tin ear, and I feel sorry for them, but I also accept that intelligent and talented people can find the Beatles uninteresting. One of my favourite classical musicians, the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, thought that the Beatles were completely overrated; I don’t understand why he thought so, but I still love his recordings, and at least he didn’t misrepresent the facts. Lester Bangs, one of my favourite music writers, wrote a classic hate piece about the Beatles. I know where Bangs was coming from, so it’s OK. But both Gould and Bangs understood that they were talking about their own personal responses. They didn’t try to tart up their opinions into quasi-objective but fraudulent attempts to prove that the Beatles were just stupid and trivial and nobody really liked them that much at the time and we’ve all been duped.

    Scaruffi is pretending to be a scholar. But he isn’t one. He’s an amateur, and a bad, dishonest one. That’s my problem with him.

  8. Macaw says:

    Hey, I understand Im a bit late to the party but I couldn’t help myself. First off I’d just like to say that I do somewhat enjoy the beatles and can definitely see heir influence. I just have a few questions for you.

    In this rant of yours you mention that the velvet underground’s use of only one chord on sister ray as a detrimental flaw, you act almost as if it was a cop out, or “juvenile attempt at artistic gesture” as you say. First off, they should be applauded for being able to do so much with just one chord during the composition, they used that “one chord” in an extremely proficient and revolutionary way. You also mention how the velvets weren’t “taken seriously” then, I’d like to know what is your point? the white album by your beloved Beatles wasn’t very well received at all either when it was released, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that it’s a bombastic, innovative record. Helter skelter arguably being one of the, if not the first proto-metal song ever recorded. Yet you act as if the fact critics didn’t get it the first time is a weakness, very odd. Starvinsky wasn’t well received when he debuted rite of spring either, and I think we all know/understand what his influence would come to be, why didn’t they take him seriously at first when he premiered the composition?Because it was alien to them, but the extraterrestrial nature of rite of spring would form a deeply-rooted foundation on earth, years later, does that make starvinsky the one at fault here? . You also mention that influence is more important to art than innovation, okay, but weren’t the velvets and beefheart both extremely influential and innovative? Cale and reed were experimenting with drone and alternate turnings in a way that would influence legions of musicians to this day. Beefheart and the Magic Band created something truly mesmerizing with TMR (while I understand you don’t believe beefheart ever made a great record, i’d like to know the reasoning behind such a bold and ignorant claim) which also went on to influence a massive audience- just like the beatles.

    Considering Scaruffi is a fan of pink floyd and the who I don’t think your baseless claims of him not liking something because it’s popular is completely un-warranted.

    P.S. I look forward to hearing from you,seeing as how you seem to enjoy making shit up as much as scaruffi, you guys could get along y’know.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Okay, for the nth time, I am not interested in getting into a contest about how the Beatles are better/worse than anyone else. The point of my original post was that Piero Scaruffi misrepresents the extent to which the Beatles were respected by other musicians, and misrepresents what they actually did, as part of an attempt to downplay their actual achievement and influence. I am not arguing that he is wrong to dislike the Beatles. I am arguing what surely nobody can disagree with: that he is wrong to lie about the extent to which other musicians disliked and were not influenced by the Beatles. The question of whether or not you and I think the Beatles are any good is for you and I to decide, but what is not for us to decide is whether or not other musicians went on record as thinking they were good. That’s a matter of historical scholarship, and historical scholarship is one of the things which I do and which Piero Scaruffi does not do, as I believe I’ve demonstrated, by this point.

      I am not one of those Beatles fans who thinks that every last outtake they ever did is solid gold. I like the White Album, but I certainly don’t think it’s the greatest Beatles album ever and I don’t blame anyone for not liking it. I skip entire tracks of it the same as everyone else. I don’t happen to think that Helter Skelter is ‘proto-metal’. I think it’s an attempt at being heavy, which the band failed at; I Want You (She’s So Heavy), from Abbey Road, is IMO far more convincing in terms of its mood and intensity, even though the guitars are less fuzzy.

      Your account of the reception of the Rite of Spring is a bit garbled, I’m sorry to say. The scandal around the Rite was less to do with Stravinsky’s music and much more to do with Nijinsky’s dancing. The Rite was controversial, but its reception was hampered less by the fact that people didn’t know what to make of it, more by the fact that the First World War got in the way of it being revived. By the 30s, it was already accepted as a classic and it’s been one ever since.

      You think I’m way more intolerant than I am. I quite like Sister Ray. I just reserve the right to stop listening to it after three minutes. It doesn’t get any better after that point, and seventeen minutes seems to me to be taking the piss. I would love, and I mean love, to hear you describe to me exactly how the Velvets’ use of one chord in Sister ray was ‘extremely proficient and revolutionary’. Go on. I dare you. I also dare you to tell me how it’s a better song than All Tomorrow’s Parties, which is a masterpiece.

      I don’t dispute that Beefheart made great recordings. I just don’t like his music very much. I’m prepared to accept that TMR is some sort of masterpiece, if only for the sake of a quiet life; doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it, which I don’t. I also think that the criteria for ‘masterpiece’ in popular music are just as mixed up with charlatanry and bullshit as they are in any other genre. I have already explained my reasoning behind downgrading Beefheart as a genius; I think he was a charlatan who bullied his musicians into writing his music and then stole the credit for himself. They would probably not have written it without him, because they were intimidated into thinking that he was a genius; the fact remains that they did the hard work of actually figuring out what to play, and he didn’t.

      1. Macaw says:

        I’d love, and I mean love for you stop using such a fowl, tastless, smug and condescending tone. Sister ray, to my ear sounds like an all out war the members of the velvets are waging against each other cale’s viola, the guitars and the pounding drums come to together to create an immense build up and a cathartic yet cataclysmic climax. Not to mention the words reed is spewing out while all of this is going, it all creates an extremely freewheeling, unsettling and adrenaline filled experience. That “one chord” is played at varying tempos and with cat-like intricacy, it’s stunning how only “one chord” could be used to create such a marriage of textures and progressions. I never once said it was their best work, all tomorrow’s party is a masterpiece and in my opinion every bit as much as sister ray. Beefheart in fact did compose the bulk of the material, where the magic band was paramount in fully realizing the music was translating beefheart’s ideas.

        Youve got chicken feet and a love, and I mean love to pick at straws, so such so that youv’e got yourself a straw hat. So I was wrong about starvinsky and okay the white album isn’t their best, but you and I both know that every once in a while there comes an artist, in this case a musician, whos watch is isn’t the most accurate in the times theyre living in, some are behind some are ahead, either way they get called out for it or as you stated “not taken seriously”.

        Oh wait, wait, what’s this?! “I don’t mind people who dislike the beatles, I think it shows evidence of a partially tin ear”

        *shiver* he “dared” me!

  9. Well, that’s my tone, buddy, nobody’s forcing you to troll me. To paraphrase the late Bill Hicks, I don’t mean to seem like an insufferably egotistical jerkass, but I am one, so that’s the way I come across.

    I’m gonna pretend you didn’t start resorting to ad hominem abuse, and repeat for I hope the last time that I am not, repeat not, interested in having an argument about which band is better than which or that the Velvet Underground are or aren’t good; that’s for fans to do. I wrote the original post to point out that Piero Scaruffi is either dishonest or incompetent. Since nobody has even bothered to try and refute me on the points that I made, except by arguing against positions that I haven’t taken, I consider the job done. I’ve never claimed that the Velvet Underground weren’t influential or important or incapable of making good music. I’ve just claimed what is historically accurate: that they were not influential at the time that Scaruffi says they were. That doesn’t diminish their importance, it just shows up how untimely they were.

    I seize on one thing. You call me ‘tasteless’. You’re right. Taste harms the listener, in my view, by discouraging people from taking seriously music that they might otherwise like. I will listen to anything and I’ll write about anything and if I don’t like something, I’ll say so. That’s my right as a listener and writer and it’s yours too. One of my favourite composers, Arnold Schoenberg, wrote to the music critic of the NY Times, who had dismissed Mahler’s work with a comment like ‘each to their taste’. Schoenberg wrote that Mahler lived and died for his work, and would have been incensed by the idea that you could dismiss it just because it wasn’t to your ‘taste’. Schoenberg said that he considered the idea of taste to be (I’m quoting from memory here because my copy of his Letters is in a box in a pile in my office) the ‘arrogance and superiority-complex of the mediocre’. That’s how I regard it too.

    1. Macaw says:

      First off, I’d like to thank you for writing me an essay, I’m quite flattered. I never intended to make this a “which band is better” debate because like you, I could care less Your opinion of sister ray makes no sense to me, but that’s alright too even if taste is the superiority complex of the mediocre, right? hehe I also quite enjoy shoenberg by the way. I called you tasteless because of how you were talking to me, nothing more- you quoted bill hicks goddammit youve gotta have taste!

      About Beefheart, it seemed to me like you were completely discrediting him, which is why I said what I did, and please do tell me what language did I use that inferred that it was “slipping away”, you don’t seem like an egotistical jackass, no no you seem more like a nescient miscreant on a self righteous crusade, who loves nothing more than to pick at straws to support your thin skin argument, you could probably start some kind of business with all those straws, make hats or something, leave logging behind, should be good for you.

      While I agree beefheart went overboard, saying people didn’t want to work with him anymore is completely ignorant for some so caught up in historical relevance you sure seem to misguided. He himself was fed up with making music and decided o become a full time painter as one of the curators of his art told him in order to be taken seriously as a painter he’d have to leave music behind, this is what a member from the second incarnation of the magic band said, I think you shouldn’t really post, ell at all, until you know what it is youre talking about. I know what French and Hakerload have said, like I said they were the ones who were paramount in realizing beefheart’s *ideas*, please don’t misquote people.

  10. Also, please don’t misquote people. I didn’t say ‘I don’t mind people who dislike the beatles’, which I think you took me to have said because that’s what you think this conversation is about. What I said was ‘I don’t mind people not finding the Beatles interesting’, which is not the same thing at all. A good friend of mine dislikes the Beatles because her dad used to play nothing but Beatles on endless car trips when she was young, driving her mad. I understand that; if my parents had tried to force the Beatles down my throat the way my peers tried to force U2 down my throat, I’d probably dislike the Beatles as much as I still dislike U2. But I understand why Gould didn’t like the Beatles. It had to do with his deep commitment to old-school classical virtues which the Beatles had never really absorbed and preferred to at best echo, or parody, or suggest, rather than genuinely exhibit. (e.g. the tinkly keyboard solo played by George Martin on In My Life.)

    Lester Bangs disliked the Beatles because he found it hard to love any music which didn’t chime with his own inner rage and aggression, and the Beatles were usually crap at rage and aggression (interestingly, they were better at it in their early years; once they’d ditched Scotch and Coke for pot and acid, they almost completely mellowed out, apart from isolated moments of bad temper such as Piggies and I Am The Walrus.) The Beatles’ best music is highly unlike a lot of the best post-50s popular music because it’s so often characterised by a kind of affection or friendliness. Think of their best songs: Hey Jude is encouraging advice to a friend, and even its flipside Revolution is encouraging advice to a militant, to not be so divisive. We Can Work It Out is a song about wanting to fix a relationship. The whole of Sgt Pepper — apart from A Day In The Life — consists of songs about calming down, feeling better, liking people you wouldn’t normally like (Lovely Rita), making the effort to understand people you wouldn’t normally understand (She’s Leaving Home), lamenting the fact that people don’t connect better (Within You Without You, typical George, can’t resist preaching.) A Day In The Life is a bit different, but still the heart of the song is a wish that the listener could share the same perspective as the singer: ‘I’d love to turn you on’. There’s a reason why the Cirque du Soleil show using the Beatles’ music was called Love. It’s what they were best at. It’s also got to do with why people hated them so much, and still hate them.

    Most other bands run on a different kind of energy, very often aggression, and that’s cool too. I only have one tattoo, and it’s of the Black Flag logo because the Flag meant more to me when I was an adolescent than the Beatles did. (Talking Heads probably meant even more to me, but they didn’t have a cool logo.) The Velvet Underground never meant much to me at all, but Sister Ray sounded when I was a teenager in the 80s like music that only made sense if you were on drugs, because otherwise it just went on so damn long that who could be bothered listening to it? Also, by the time I first heard Sister Ray I was already listening to people like 1973/74 King Crimson and bebop like Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, and so the rather amateurish seventeen-minute one-chord jamming of Sister Ray just sounded boring and uninspired compared to what Robert Fripp & Co could do in eight minutes, or Bud Powell could do in two choruses. Whereas a track like I Heard Her Call My Name crackles with inventiveness, because of that hideously feedback-y but quite brilliant guitar solo, and it’s the length of a standard pop song.

    So yeah, I think you have to be on some serious drugs to find Sister Ray genuinely worth listening to, and since I don’t do drugs like those, I’ve never got the point of it.

    ‘Beefheart in fact did compose the bulk of the material, where the magic band was paramount in fully realizing the music was translating beefheart’s ideas.’

    I think you need to not post stuff so late at night because your language is slipping away from you, but this is not the truth as recorded by Beefheart’s band. Beefheart had ideas for music, but the sources agree that to say that he’d ‘compose[d]’ the music would be to give him too much credit. Both John French and Bill Harkleroad independently report that Beefheart, at least around the time of TMR, had a unique ‘compositional’ method which consisted in thumping a piano keyboard repeatedly, getting his band to figure out how to play what he’d thumped, then going away and leaving them to work out themselves how it might constitute a song and rehearse it over and over until they’d learned it, whereupon he would come back and grab lyrics more or less at random and shout them over the top. He would then give himself sole writing credit. John French compared Beefheart’s method to that of an architect who sketches a building on a napkin, bullies his workmen and contractors into finding some way to convert his crude sketch into a finished building which both resembles his sketch and will not fall down, mainly by coming back every now and again and bellowing at them that they’re doing it wrong and that they’re all idiots and they should do it again, and then when the building’s finally completed, the architect throws a big party to which he invites none of the workmen or contractors, at which he claims that the entire building is all his own work.

    Compare this to how Zappa composed music. Zappa wrote his music down, hired guys who could play what he wrote, paid them a proper wage and liked to yield the spotlight to his own musicians when he felt that they had something interesting, funny or exceptionally musical to offer. That’s what real bandleaders do; that’s what Ellington and Miles did. Compared to them, Beefheart was nothing but a wannabe bandleader and I think that’s why his musical career petered out; he just didn’t have enough ideas and eventually, nobody wanted to work with him anymore.

    1. I considered reading ‘Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic’ but have not gotten the chance yet; what does John French have to say regarding Captain Beefheart’s mental health? I remembered hearing once he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

    2. Macaw says:

      No point in arguing back and forth any further we’d just be doing donuts at an intersection. But like I said before for someone who prides themselves on being knowledgeable about historical relevance you should get your facts straight, beefheart,with the second incarnation of the magic band continued to produce a body of work until the mid 80s, so your “facts” are quite skewed, like I said you and scaruffi should get together at a cafe sometime,it’d be the perfect plae considering you both seem to keep your chin above others to feel a sense of significance, and that is why you can’t even begin to smell your own coffee. Tie up your laces before you decide to run any further, you’ve already tripped many a time.

  11. What you say about the Magic Band’s lineup tends to be countered by the facts. I’m not really sure what you’re talking about here; I think you get a bit lost in your own metaphors. In the meantime I can see that you’re not interested in having a conversation, so I’m not sure what to make of whatever it is you’re attempting to say here. Try posting when you’re sober, maybe?

    1. macaw says:

      Then you know something I don’t, what “facts” are you alluding to? If anything you seem to be the one who is intoxicated here, you can’t even follow your own advice. You were saying beefheart had little to nothing to do with creating the music, yet he continued to compose in the same way with later incarnations of the magic band, I leave you to solve for x, nice attempt at getting on last jab in after your many sidesteps and dodges, it actually seems like you’re the one who’s just blowing air.

      1. By the time there were later incarnations of the Magic Band, they already had the earlier music as a precedent: John French went on to create very Beefheart-like music without Beefheart (with French Frith Kaiser Thompson, for example), suggesting that he didn’t need Beefheart around to be able to create music like that. I’m not saying that Beefheart had nothing to do with creating the music. Clearly, they wouldn’t have created it without him. I would, however, argue that descriptions in the press of him ‘teaching his band to play his songs note-for-note’ are clearly inaccurate, because every account agrees that he just didn’t have the patience or the knowledge to do that. He gave them an impression of what he wanted the music to sound like and they figured out how to make it sound like that. If genius is ‘an infinite capacity for taking pains’, then Beefheart was no genius. Not at music, anyway.

    2. macaw says:

      “Ran out of ideas and no wanted to work with him anymore” this tends to be countered by facts, beef heart was told in order to be taken seriously as a painter he would have to quit his musical endeavors, the second line up of the magic band had no problem with beefheart either, virgin records signed him knowing there wouldn’t much to profit from given the nature of his music but were dedicated to working with him, your turn but given the trajectory of your ranting its safe to assume that once again you’ll excuse your own ignorance.

      1. Look, fine. Since it matters so much to you to believe that Beefheart was such a towering genius that you’re willing to lie about what I wrote (‘You were saying beefheart had little to nothing to do with creating the music’), go ahead, sure. Beefheart was a wonderful bandleader and his musicians were fiercely loyal and his every last recorded semiquaver is genius and I’m mister wrongity-wrong from wrongland. Go ahead and throw personal abuse at me. I don’t come here to vent my surplus aggression on total strangers but if that’s what you want to do, I won’t take it personally. Enjoy.

      2. One last thing: you’ve repeatedly used the word ‘rant’ to describe my replies to your often personally insulting and sometimes incoherent comments, but you’re the one who can’t be bothered to punctuate. You might want to think about that the next time you troll someone.

  12. macaw says:

    Happy new year, have you accepted how very wrong you were now? I don’t feel the need to call beef heart a “genius”, I enjoy his compositions, that’s it, but like you said, you can’t make stuff up, or does that only apply to people who dare to challenge you, and the towering, mighty,archetypal blog that is……FACTORY SUNBURST!?

    Take solace in the fact that you have this miniscule corner of the internet to ball up in every time someone disagrees with you, also take solace in the fact that you’re blog is a completely un-invaded space, no one reads it or has any respect for it. Which quite humurous really, considering how you try to come off as someone very ” in the know”

    1. macaw says:

      John French’s other musical endeavors don’t sound beefhear esque at all,he himself has said that everything on the magics band records came from beefheart and expressed discontent to the fact that many people, like yourself think the magic band created the music. He also has stated that the music he composes has little to no similarities to beffhearts compositions.

      One google search and a few clicks,thats all. For someone who a) runs a blog aa) thinks of themself and their blog as some kind of authority on culture, b) Lampoons others for not being “accurate” enough (this entire, “article” of yours)

      You sure are inept of doing any kind of research whatsoever, its odd skimming over this article and seeing how you talk about being “historically accurate” and “not making stuff up”. Almost comical actually. Thanks for the chuckle, or two , I’m “not sober”, remember?

      1. OK, fine, since you persistently refuse to do the research but only boast about how you’ve done it, here are some quotes:

        ‘but for a long time i thought he was a very vindictive person. now, i think he tried in a lot of ways to give what he had artistically to us, but took claim for everything. he took claim for every line that came out of my fingers, and i was bitter about that.’ (Bill Harkleroad, quoted from http://www.freewebs.com/teejo/argue/billdisc.html)

        ‘Problem was that he claimed to be Stravinski and that he knew every note. Anybody who ever saw him live knew that he didn’t know any of his words or melodies or songs.’ (Harkleroad again, quoted from http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~ovoice/pages/archives/past/TW_Zoothorn.html)

        Finally, Harkleroad again, being amazingly forgiving — my copy of John French’s book is currently in a cardboard box amid a stack of 40 cardboard boxes in an adjacent room, so excuse me if I don’t go and ferret it out:

        ‘-So how did that work, starting with ‘trout mask replica’.

        -80% of it was done by him kind of beating the shit out of a piano, in a rhythmic sense, and having no idea what any of those black and white things were on the piano. And John French, the drummer, transcribed it, notated it all, and would dole out the parts to the players. So he had a concept of being away from tonality, but using rhythm as the main input, because that’s what he had to offer, right, being a non-musician. So John would transcribe it, and then in the process of us working with John to get the parts – you know, when there were seven notes, you’d scratch your head and say, ‘Well, how do I do seven notes with six strings?’ – so then we would invert things and mess around, and try to keep it as close to what he played. For what reason, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure, because he didn’t know what he played after he played it.

        -So when you were working on the parts, was he there, or did he just sort of…

        -No, he would bang the parts out and go to bed and sleep.

        -So you would figure out how to do it, and then he would come back, and then you would all record it?

        No, then we would practice it for nine months.

        -So would he come around and tell you if you were on the right track?

        -Not as clean as that. Again, we’re dealing with a strange person, coming from a place of being a sculptor/painter, using music as this idiom. He was getting more into that part of who he was, as opposed to this blues singer, okay? So you’re asking the right question, but it’s not an easy answer, right? It’s not a normal situation. We would get these parts, and they would string together. Usually the tempo would be consistent, because he would be writing parts to go together, so that the pulse at least, three against four, or whatever the rhythm was, would be similar. I don’t know if you’ve listened to that album enough to know how the parts would go. Like, you would play your part four times, go to the next section, the next may be three, or whatever. Usually, we would figure that out. He was not a part of that process at all; he waited until there was a whole thing there, and then he would kind of sculpt it afterwards. But if my part took three times to repeat and your part took five times until we touched down again, that’s how long you played the part, or you would cut it in half, if it came out cool, or whatever – but he was not a part of that process. The whole band just kind of did whatever, to have it come out right. At that point, then you would go into the next section and work it out. Any of the tunes that had repeats in them, he would go, ‘Oh, that’s cool! Let’s do it here again.’ He might whistle a line – he was an expert whistler. Just awesome. He could sit there and blow smoke rings while he was whistling.’ From http://www.hifimundo.com/?page_id=55

        From this picture, I think we get an image of an authoritarian and slipshod bandleader, which is what I’ve said all along that Beefheart is. I’ve never denied that his records weren’t singular; I’ve just tried to argue that his creative practice was at best amateurish and at worst despicable and dishonest, involving the theft of credit for work that wasn’t his.

        If you really can’t rebut this, if all you can really do is come to my blog and pull your cock out and wave it around and insult me personally, then sorry, but you will no longer be welcome to post your comments here. If you continue to waste my time by just being personally insulting to me, then I will want you to tell me why I shouldn’t just delete all your comments.

        And if you think I don’t know exactly how many people are reading my blog, and where they are, then you know even less about this process than you think I know about it.

        So come on. Grow up, and let’s have a conversation. Show me that you can do that. If you can’t do that, then I’ve explained what will happen next.

  13. retard says:

    I’m sorry, but since you seem to have so much beef with scaruffi, simply after reading a portion of his most popular essay, screams to me that you were just offended at his opinion and screamed out your own. You even say that you refuse to read his other writings and other opinions, simply because of a disagreement. It’s childish, that you think you can make your own assertions about him, when you haven’t even read a fraction of his work. Especially regarding your main point is his own assertions are misinformed, when at the end of the day his writing is indeed an opinion. It’s easy to get tricked into thinking his writing is delivered in objectivity, if you read it with a mindset of “objective truths” regarding your own taste. But at the end of the day, scaruffi’s website is a really a personal way of keeping track of his own opinions; i.e. he made it for himself, not to “assert truths”

    All this being said, I didnt read this whole essay

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      If my comments on Scaruffi ‘scream’ to you that I was ‘just offended at his opinion and screamed out [my] own’, I’m sorry to say that your failure to read my whole essay has led you to a completely wrong impression of it. From the outset, I deliberately chose not to challenge Scaruffi’s obvious opinion that the Beatles suck, precisely because I did not want to start what you believe I did start, namely a pointless fan-debate along the lines of ‘Whoa dude, you hate the Beatles? God you have bad taste.’ Anyone is entitled to have whatever opinion about the Beatles that they want. But just as you misread me, you have misread Scaruffi (by ‘misread’ I mean ‘haven’t read’) because you take his website to be ‘a personal way of keeping track of his own opinions […] not to “assert truths”.’

      There is a very serious problem with that assertion, namely that Scaruffi does indeed “assert truths” about the Beatles, or rather make assertions about them that are factually incorrect. The point of my article was to unpick these assertions and demonstrate not that Scaruffi is wrong to dislike the band, but that he tells lies about what they did, how they were regarded and what they were attempting to do, and that the lies he tells are part of a deliberate and consistent effort to make the Beatles look overrated.

      These are the gist of the lies he tells about them:

      1. That the Beatles’ peers had little respect for the band as musicians, and mostly resented their success;

      2. That the Beatles wrote nothing but ‘catchy three-minute ditties’ and that their fame was due to the (for him) inexplicable media phenomenon called ‘Beatlemania’;

      3. That the Beatles were thoroughly inept as musicians;

      4. That they played, essentially, folk music (‘traditional songs crafted as they had been crafted for centuries’, are his exact words, albeit in translation) and that this is, by implication, a bad thing;

      5. That the Beatles’ fans were exclusively conservative and middle-of-the-road in taste, and were also homogenous;

      6. That the Beatles only ever took what more advanced musicians were doing and simplified it for a popular audience, never daring to challenge or confront their audience in any way.

      He also came out with some minor inaccuracies about George Martin, and wrote about Beethoven in a way that suggests that he knows nothing at all about Beethoven. To show that I am not getting into this because I dislike his taste in music, I too love Beethoven, but I know a little bit about Beethoven, having studied his music but also having read more than one book about him and followed more than one score of his works, whereas the way Scaruffi writes about Beethoven suggests that he knows next to nothing about him.

      So you criticise me for just countering Scaruffi’s opinion with my own. But that’s not what I did. I have not attempted to review all of his work, because who could? What I read of his work is riddled with mistakes of fact. I later read some of his writing about jazz, which he clearly likes more than he likes the Beatles, and I’ve tried to show here that even when he and I share the same basic perspective on the music (e.g. that Charlie Parker is good), he still talks rubbish because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is why I am coming to believe that he hasn’t listened to most of the music he writes about. I am starting to believe that his entire site is based on his assessment of what people consider to be hip music, and his ‘opinions’ are based on what he’s read about the music in question, with a few provocative ones thrown in there for publicity’s sake, like the Beatles essay. If he had ever seriously tried to get to grips with Charlie Parker or Beethoven, he would not write about them the way that he does. Unless he’s just so confident in his opinions that he feels no need to check them against what people actually wrote, or played, or said.

      So, you may think that Scaruffi is just writing his subjective opinion, but he isn’t. He is constantly making counter-factual statements, selling a bill of goods to those of his readers who are ignorant of what he writes about. Those of us who are less ignorant are not deceived.

  14. AbsolutelyPathetic says:

    How does it feel to know that Scaruffi won’t even be aware of this pathetic attempt to contradict him? You’re so small and he is so big.

    1. I’m fine with that. I’m not saying he’s got bad taste in music; as should be quite clear by now, I actually share a lot of his taste in music. I’m not doing this solely for my ego; I see the stats on how many people view this blog and I know that not many do. Having said that, the numbers are steadily rising.

      I’m just pointing out that Scaruffi constantly makes counterfactual assertions, and somebody ought to challenge that, right? It doesn’t matter all that much because we’re talking about music, not about genocide or political crimes, but I happen to be passionate about this music, and I have just enough knowledge about it to recognise when someone’s talking nonsense about it. I was taught that errors need to be corrected, or at any rate pointed out. I keep most of my more serious reservations about his judgment and taste to myself, because they are not relevant to my aim, which is to get people to notice that he writes with great confidence on subjects he knows nothing about, or has not bothered to check, and that as a result he is prone to making glaring errors of fact.

      I would just point out that in the history of this thread, only once has anyone challenged any factual assertion that I have made in response to him. Nearly all the negative comments I get are along the lines of ‘You just haven’t understood what he’s doing’, or ‘That’s just your opinion’. Nobody has tried to argue that Scaruffi is actually right, and I’m wrong. If you’re suggesting that I should shut up just because he’s famous and I’m not, then that’s not much of an argument, is it?

      1. retard says:

        He has stated before the website was made purely to archive his own opinions.
        From the way you speak it’s almost as if you’re jealous of his writings.
        “there’s no way he has listened to all of this, because he IS wrong”
        Stop wasting time on him, and write about your own oh so well informed opinions.

        I mean really why write this article if you aren’t just mad about the beatles being decried
        inb4 “BECAUSE HE’S WRONG!!!” who gives a fuck he’s literally just a crazy italian writing about random shit.

      2. From the way you speak it’s almost as if you’re jealous of his writings.

        Can you read? You have not engaged with a single thing I wrote in rebuttal of your earlier comment. This looks to me like trolling. I have limited tolerance for trolling; I allow everyone one chance, but if they go on trying to bait me I disallow further comments from them.

        Stop wasting time on him, and write about your own oh so well informed opinions.

        If you don’t like his writing and you don’t like mine, then stop wasting my time.

        I mean really why write this article if you aren’t just mad about the beatles being decried

        Because there are a million sites out there where people talk shit about the Beatles, but his is the only one I’ve come across where the author talks shit about everyone else as well.

        Shape up. If you have something to contribute, contribute it. I’ve already addressed that same comment from other people; I already addressed it in my earlier answer to you. If you have something to say which will prove that I’m wrong, say it. But this is one of I think three posts on this blog where I write about the Beatles. This is not a Beatles fan blog and I am not trying to defend the Beatles from attack. I am simply pointing out that Scaruffi makes stuff up. If you think he isn’t making stuff up, then tell me why you think so. If you just want to bait me, please go away.

  15. retard says:

    I’m not even trying to bait you I’m just telling you that you are talking shit about somebody that you know little to nothing about. That’s my main point. And in doing so you discredit yourself. I also never said I dislike Scaruffi’s shit. I do, and I’ve read more of him then you, I’m assuming based on your own quick dismissal.

    also good job on blocking my other comment, which only solidifies you as a shameless internet blog warrior. Go find something more engaging to write about, at least Scaruffi tries to do that.

    and Fuck “engaging your arguements” I’m not trying to defend Scaruffi
    All your doing in response to me is repeating your earlier comments, which don’t have anything to do with what I’m trying to say

    1. You’re right: I don’t know much about Scaruffi himself, but I do know about what he’s writing about, and so I can tell when he’s talking shit. I blocked your earlier comment because it didn’t make any grammatical sense that I could figure out. I’m not going to slog my way through his entire website pointing out factual errors. If there is some way in which what I’ve said about him isn’t true, then point it out.

      ‘Go find something more engaging to write about’ – what the fuck do you think the rest of this blog is about? It’s Scaruffi fans, and people like you, who keep this thread going. Not me.

      I’m still not sure what you’re ‘trying to say’. Maybe you should figure it out before you write it down?

      Cheers, keep ’em coming.

  16. retard says:

    “I’m still not sure what you’re ‘trying to say’.”

    You literally addressed it in your first sentence, I don’t know what other kind of explanation you need from me.

    This is in response to what seems to me to be some sort of jihad on misinformed people ((Scaruffi (whether he is or isn’t lol)) on your part

    Facts and knowledge about a subject, do not justify taste, nor do they strengthen it. Taste in music and other media, cannot be strengthened, or justified at all. It literally means nothing if you bash one persons favorite song, because you know that the song was procedurally generated (this is all fantasy by the way) and the person is ignorant of this. They still like it. Scaruffi still likes what he likes. I understand that your biggest problem with him seems to be that he indeed makes shit up and doesn’t even listen to what he writes about. I disagree with this but that matter can’t really be argued further in any direction So given that he does indeed like what he likes and dislikes what he dislikes, this essay truly won’t triumph over him in any way. The only way I think that it would be worthwhile, and very interesting, is if it was directed at him, and presented in a way that would evoke a personal response. Meaning you would be making him knowledgeable, in subjects you consider him to be ignorant of. At the very least the debate would be set on a very objective basis, which you and Scaruffi both seem to hold music to.

    If you did not understand the above, I apologize, I never claimed to be a good writer.

    Also I can’t argue against the pragmatic purposes of your essay any longer, because you seem very unreceptive to criticism. So this will be my last post (sorry to disappoint lol)

    1. Thanks for that. You make some excellent points: had I written this as an open letter to Scaruffi, perhaps it might have started a dialogue, although I doubt it. I didn’t mean to start any sort of jihad against the guy. I discovered his website and wrote a “Can you believe this fucking guy?” post about it, and then all these Scaruffi fans started popping up all over the place. Who knew he had so many? Not me. Before whenever it was last year that I wrote that post, I’d never heard of him and now I wish I’d still never heard of him, because dealing with the fallout from my original post has not improved my life in any way, nor has browsing the perplexing gumbo that is his website.

      You mention taste. I have very little time for taste. In music I’m mostly an autodidact: I agree with Duke Ellington, who said “If it sounds good to you, it is good.” I wonder that Scaruffi so seldom writes about how the music sounds to him. Obviously he’s listened to Springsteen and Enya but I do wonder what else he’s listened to, because he writes about music in such abstract terms. I’m not interested in defending my taste in music, or in attacking his; so far as I can tell, apart from the Beatles (obviously), he and I like the same stuff. I have the same taste in out-of-the-way free jazz and avant-rock, and while I don’t like some of the things he likes, I’m not interested in holding him (or anybody else) up to ridicule on the grounds of musical taste. What really annoys me about him has something to do with his tone, which (to my eyes) is both arrogant and uninformed. I may be arrogant, but on subjects I know nothing about, I shut up and listen.

      I don’t want to ‘triumph over’ him; it’s hardly likely, anyway. He’s been doing this for decades and I’ve been doing it for a couple of years. I just wanted to point out a few of his mistakes in public, so that anybody who was bothered by his site could have ammunition.

      If I’m unreceptive to criticism it’s because I’m my own worst critic. I rewrite a lot and I have learned the hard way not to make assertions that I can’t back up. This probably comes across as arrogance, but I honestly believe that if you’re going to make critical remarks about something, they have to be grounded in something more than just opinion. You’ve got to be able to point to the thing you’re talking about in such a way that it convinces people that you’re not just bloviating. Scaruffi spent hundreds (thousands, probably) of words trying to convince me that the Beatles are shit. I know the Beatles’ work and career very well, and he made the mistake of trying to back up his opinions about them with statements of ‘fact’ that I knew weren’t true. He can hate the Beatles, I’m fine with that. I’d buy him a beer and enjoy arguing with him about it. But if he claims that his hatred of the Beatles is based not on a purely personal, visceral dislike of their music, but on the ‘fact’ that they wrote nothing but three-minute pop ditties, the only answer is ‘Wait, that’s not true, they didn’t do that.’

      That’s my point. I love arguing with people, but I don’t love people making shit up to support their arguments. I’ve enjoyed arguing with you, too. I’d welcome you back any time to complain about something else I’ve written.

  17. JORMUNGANDER says:

    Hi, In advance, I’m from Spain so sorry if my english is bad.

    I totally agree with you. Well, after all, you just stated some FACTS that I think to be true. But I’d like to say something more about Piero Scaruff’s “thoughts on this subject”

    First of all, I’ve read some of the comments made by other people here and I’d like to point out something about the comment “scaruffi’s website is a really a personal way of keeping track of his own opinions; i.e. he made it for himself”. Honestly, I think that’s ridiculous, if Scaruffi just wants to keep his opinions for himself, then he should write them in a private file on his computer, instead of making a website. From the moment he shares his opinions, he is saying something to the rest of the world, and of course, the rest of the world can show it’s own opinion about what he is saying (this is amazingly obvious to me, but I just realized that it isn’t for some people here…)

    Having explained this, I’ll say what I think about Scaruff’s thoughts. I won’t talk about what you said, because I agree with you in almost everything, I prefer talking about another thing that comes to my mind when I read Scaruffi’s essay

    From his essay, I can tell he wants to state that “unaccessible music” is worse than “accessible music”; obviously, he doesn’t say it directly, cause it will be too ridiculous, but he points out that the Beatles were “easy-listening” as if that was something wrong, as if listening to music should be ¿difficult? or something. The fact that he considers “Trout Mask Replica” the greatest album of history confirms this view. And, of course, he isn’t just speaking about his “personal tastes”, he is stating all this as some kind of “objective” fact (otherwise he should say “my favourite album” instead of “the greatest of history”).

    I just want to crtizise this view of art (even if Scaruffi can like whatever he wants, of course, and I don’t care if he prefers listening to Zappa, to Beefheart or to fart noises), because I personally think that artists make art being recivied and understood by people, they don’t create music just for themselves (just as Scaruffi doesn’t write on a webpage, just for himself), as some kind of masturbation. As George Starostin said (an I personally agree) “If the artist is writing music for himself – music that he is not going to supply the public with – he may produce anything he wants. If the artist is writing for the public, he must take the public’s taste in consideration as well”.

    Of course, I’m not saying music like King Crimson, Beefheart, Zappa, Gentle Giant or Arthur Brown is “bad” for not being so easily accessible. In fact, I like all of them (and I specially love King Crimson), but I think they do NOT ALWAYS care for the listener as much as the Beatles did (and I think they should always care for the listener).

    Finally, I copy what Starostin said about this subject, cause I think he writes way better than me (at least in english) and it totally reflects my opinion:

    When it comes to discussing art, there are usually two positions. The “ivory tower” theory says that true art is the domain of the few; that people should actually work hard to “understand” art, and a single attempt to try and make “art” more accessible to the majority will kill its very essence. Ninety-nine percent of Beatles haters (or even “dislikers”) I’ve had a chance of meeting live at the very top of that ivory tower (and the remaining one percent – IMHO! – were loonies). At best, they might look at the Fab Four with a certain condescension: “they’re okay, but who needs them when we can listen to Captain Beefheart instead?”; at worst, they’re like Internet wiz Piero Scaruffi, blaming them for steering the world away from “true” artistic revolution.

    I, however, never liked that theory, despite understanding and respecting the position of those who share it, and far prefer “the golden middle” – the approach that involves combining gradual evolution and innovation with traditional musical values. Radical revolutions suck, not only in political life, but in art as well; traditions do not appear out of thin air, they reflect certain natural tendencies in people’s minds, and totally discarding traditional forms in favour of something previously unheard before is much like somebody discarding the traditional way of walking down the stret in favour of, say, crawling on all fours – just because this makes him different from the regular “sheep herd”.

    That was all.

    Best regards.

    1. I am certainly a believer of the ivory tower theory – my belief in it particularly strong when discussing the art of film – even though the Beatles are one of my favorite musical groups. But the album I would truly like to talk about for a second, especially in relation to the aforementioned ivory tower theory, is ‘Trout Mask Replica.’

      Back when I was first becoming a Beefheart fan and playing a copy of TMR I had managed to find on eBay (the CD version is out of print), I noticed first takes and sessions from the ‘Grow Fins: Rarities’ set uploaded on YouTube and wished someone had released the real instrumentals. Soon enough, I imported “Dachau Blues” into Audacity. Because of the way the album was recorded, I was able to make a near-instrumental (vocals still vaguely audible) of the album version recording with the following steps:

      1. Split the stereo track
      2. Mono the top channel
      3. Mono the bottom channel
      4. Invert the bottom mono

      I had already picked up on many of the album’s nuances before, but doing this with many of its songs revealed some things – particularly in “Frownland,” “Dachau Blues,” “Pena,” “Hobo Chang Ba,” and “Steal Softly Thru Snow” – that I hadn’t fully noticed before. The Audacity trick only takes about a minute per song, and I do feel one’s appreciation of the album could be somewhat enhanced by this method. I really do think Van Vliet’s vocals, rather than the complex guitar interplay and other instrumentation, are the true reason TMR has been dismissed as cacophony by so many. Maybe it needs a remastering.

      Regarding Scaruffi’s opinions, I don’t think he wants listening to music to actually be difficult; he simply seems to often equate innovation with difficulty, which of course is not a good thing. One example is Royal Trux’s ‘Twin Infinitives’ in his top 10. There is arguably more innovation in only the third, fourth, and 14th tracks of ‘Revolver’ (which he assigns a laughable 5/10) than in the entirety of ‘Twin Infinitives’, especially when considering the release of the Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ 20+ years prior. Another worrying thing is that one would not even think he enjoys ‘Twin Infinitives’ based on his write-up for it. Even though he heralds the album as a “masterpiece” and a “milestone” in rock music, he also calls parts of it “graceless,” “horribly deformed,” and “unpleasant.” TMR on the other hand is often very enjoyable. I think it is perfectly possible he does not have a tin ear, but in reality is simply championing what he thinks is the most innovative music and equating that with the greatest.

      Man, I wish more people didn’t discover the Beatles article on Scaruffi’s site first. There are some great areas of his website.

      1. Thanks for the comment, greatamericanblank. I think your assessment that Scaruffi is making a simple-minded equation of innovation=greatness is spot on, and it explains a good deal about his opinions. But as I have said elsewhere, this equation is also what makes Scaruffi wildly inconsistent. If he really thinks that music is great inasmuch as it is innovative, then there is really no place for JS Bach in any of his top lists of anything; Bach is the exemplar of the great musician who didn’t do anything innovative at all, just took the existing tradition and worked out its implications more thoroughly than anyone else. By the end of his life, Bach was regarded by younger musicians as positively backward-looking.

        Btw, although I don’t like listening to Trout Mask Replica and can only admire it on an intellectual level, I do think it’s scandalous that the music industry has allowed it to fall out of print. I know it’s a brilliant piece of work, even if I deplore the conditions under which it was made, especially the extent to which Beefheart denied credit to the other musicians involved. That Audacity trick sounds like a good idea, but I can’t be bothered to do it to music that I don’t like enough in the first place to want to persuade myself that I should be enjoying it more than I do. When I first took up the guitar as a kid, I was under the impression that the greatest guitarist in the world was Eric Clapton because an older kid had told me that that was so, and so I spent years subjecting myself to dull Clapton albums of the 70s and 80s and telling myself that I ought to be enjoying them. The one beneficial effect it had (apart from schooling me in tasteful vibrato) was to never again distrust my own ears — even if I know that the much-touted ‘ears’ are in fact a complex of visceral response and cultural expectation.

      2. JORMUNGANDER says:

        Hi, Greatamericanblank. Thanks for your message.

        Is curious that you mention the ivory tower in relation to the art of film. Recently I watched an Andy Warhol’s movie, called “Lonesome Cowboys”, and I hated it.

        I don’t know if you have seen any Andy Warhol’s film; but if you haven’t, I’ll just tell you that, next to him, David Lynch looks like Steven Spielberg. Their movies are so ¿deliberately? weird that I can’t enjoy them and I don’t even want to know if he was REALLY trying to say something or if he was just making things as weird as he can just to look different and “intelectual”, so then many people who wants to look “intelectual” would pretend to love his movies. I’m not saying he was fake and pseudo-intelectual, I can’t know if he is actually sincerely trying to say or show something interesting, and since I don’t find his movies enjoyable I don’t even want to lose my time and energy trying to find that out (cause it seems as if he doesn’t really want me to find out anything). I mean, maybe you know “Sleep”, that 8 hour movie about a person who is… sleeping. Yeah, VERY ORIGINAL, I can’t deny that, But I’ll never watch the full movie, of course.

        Even if I don’t like Andy Warhol, I don’t like what MAYBE could be the opposite to him (just in some aspects, not in all of them), someone like Michael Bay. Definitely Michael Bay’s movies are more entertaining than Warhol’s moviles, even if their obvious defects (they are superficial, totally unoriginal, and “commercial” in the bad sense of the word) make that I would never mention that guy among my favourite directors.

        Even saying that, my favourite director is Stanley Kubrick, and I know, for many people, he does NOT represent “the golden middle”. I mean, I love movies like “2001 A Space Odyssey” that (for many people) would definitely be closer to the Warhol’s side than to the Bay’s side. But I guess it is in the golden middle FOR ME. So I can recognize the golden middle is, of course, a very subjective thing.

        As Factorysunburst, I don’t find Trout Mast Replica VERY enjoyable, even if I find it interesting. You said that if you remove Captain’s vocals and listen to the instrumentals you can notice things that are normally hidden, and that sounds really interesting. Though, it’s curious, I also think that some Beatles songs reveal interesting things if you remove the vocals and you listen the instrumentals (She said, She said or And your byrd can sing among others), even if, in the Beatles case, the vocals are nice and catchy melodies.

        As you said, Scaruffi “seems to equate innovation with difficulty, which of course is not a good thing”. I totally agree. And you also said he is “championing what he thinks is the most innovative music and equating that with the greatest”. Personally, I think this is not a good think also. Of course, as I always say, he can like and listen whatever he wants, but having innovation as the only (or even the main) factor to consider doesn’t seems like a good idea to me.

        I think that the most innovative musical composition of history could be maybe “4 33” by John Cage, maybe you know it, 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. All the other compositions have musical notes, or AT LEAST they have sounds (if you consider “Revolution number 9” as a musical composition, but even that “song” has notes), so a composition without any note or sound seems like the most original composition ever made. But I wouldn’t call it the BEST composition ever made.

      3. JORMUNGANDER says:

        By the way, when I said “John Cage’s 4:33” to be the most original composition, of course, other composers like Alphonse Allais also made “silent compositions” before him, so I wouldn’t be right on that. I guess I should have said the most original one would be the first silent composition ever (whoever made it) but you get my point. I was just trying to say that originality shouldn’t be equated with greatness (at least in a suposedly OBJECTIVE way, as Scaruffi does).

      4. While it’s true that Alphonse Allais composed a piece of music which consisted of empty bars, he did it for a laugh: the piece is called Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man so the joke is that there’s no point having any music because a deaf man wouldn’t be able to hear it. However, as jokes go, this is not particularly funny because it’s not true that deaf people hear silence, or can’t experience music. The Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie is the first person to make a career out of being a professional solo percussionist and she’s been deaf since the age of 12. She’s admired because she’s a great musician, period; she’s not a pretty good musician for a deaf person, she’s a world-class virtuoso. So this indeed goes to show that writing the first ‘silent’ composition doesn’t make Allais a great composer. Cage’s 4’33” is a great composition, because it isn’t a joke; Cage’s whole ambition was to change the way we hear, and in that piece, he succeeded more succinctly and beautifully than he did in anything else he wrote. But yes, in the arts in general, just because somebody did something for the first time, doesn’t mean they deserve a pat on the back for it. As I said in an earlier comment, the first operas were composed by Jacobo Peri, and they’re boring. The first great operas were composed just a few years later by Claudio Monteverdi. One of the candidates for the first true novel in English literature is Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: extremely boring.

  18. JORMUNGANDER says:

    SORRY, In my last comment I said this: “(Scaruffi) wants to state that “unaccessible music” is worse than “accessible music”

    Of course, I made a mistake, I wanted to say this: “(Scaruffi) wants to state that “accessible music” is worse than “unaccessible music”.

    1. Hi Jormungander, thanks for the comment. Your English is a lot better than my Spanish. Well, I don’t speak Spanish at all, so that would be why.

      I think you’re right to say that Scaruffi places a higher value on ‘inaccessibility’ than on ‘accessibility’, and it’s one of my gripes with him that he won’t admit it, and explain why this is so. I think that he has an agenda which he is unwilling to admit to, perhaps because he doesn’t really realise it himself. This is one of the reasons why I think he’s not qualified to write about music; I don’t think he really knows what he’s talking about, much of the time, and I think his capacity for saying something that looks superficially intelligible is greater than his ability to think hard about what he’s listening to and work out what he really does and doesn’t like about it.

      If I may say so, I disagree with you about the idea that artists ought to pursue some kind of ‘golden middle’. For a start, such a thing is only visible with hindsight. I think that the composers of the late 17th/early 18th century thought that they were writing true, clear, honest, coherent music, and it was only when Haydn came along and drastically changed the rules of composition that it became clear that most of Haydn’s immediate predecessors were, in fact, incredibly mannered and over-complicated in their approach. To give you an idea of what I mean, before Haydn, composers would state a theme in a piece, and then they would enter the development section, and add new themes to it as part of the development, because they had this idea that the more ideas you used, the better. Haydn didn’t. He stuck to his original theme for the development, with the result that his developments seemed far more connected to the original theme than his predecessors’ developments did, which made Haydn’s music sound much more coherent and intelligible. Haydn’s approach, which was to have a few simple ideas and work them out as thoroughly as you possibly could without adding extraneous new stuff, has remained to this day pretty much the fundamental way to approach classical composition. There are other ways of doing it, but none of them have the prestige of Haydn’s, because when it’s done well it’s the most satisfying way to do it, and from a technical point of view it’s certainly the most impressive way to do it. But Haydn only arrived at this approach because he felt cut off from what was going on in the big urban centres, and so had little access to new ideas, and therefore felt that he had to make the best of what he could come up with himself. Because he was also a very good musician, the result was nothing less than a revolutionary approach, even if it didn’t strike people at the time as being as divisive as a political revolution would be. I’ve noticed that Haydn is very under-represented in Scaruffi’s lists of classical favourites. It would be interesting to speculate about why.

  19. JORMUNGANDER says:

    Hi, thanks for answering

    I’m miles away from being an expert in classical music (even if I love it), but I’ve read a bit about the importance of Haydn in the transition from baroque to classical, and I think you must be right on that. Certainly, sometimes a musical innovation can consist in making music more simple and accessible. That’s what punk music did in the late seventies, when “over-complicated” progressive rock was exahusted (even if comparing Haydn to punk is really weird, I know). I really don’t know if that “golden middle” rule can be applicable to classical music, so maybe you are right on that.

    Anyways, I think the case of the Beatles is different. I’ll try to explain this the best I can. Before the Beatles came, people had Chuck Berry, Elvis and all those fifities rockers who still made rock and roll just “for fun”, not considering it as “serious art”. After the Beatles people had albums like “The Piper At The Gates of Dawn”, “Velvet Underground”, “Thick as a Brick”, “Close to the Edge”, “Larks tongues in aspic”, … I think people from the sixties couldn’t go DIRECTLY from Chuck Berry to one of those albums, they wouldn’t understand what the hell is going on. But if you put the Beatles in between, then it makes sense.

    Of course, because of that I think Scaruffi is wrong when he says “The Beatles represented the quintessential reaction to a musical revolution in the making, and for a few years they managed to run its enthusiasm into the ground”. Metaphorically, he is saying The Beatles built “A WALL” to keep away people from that musical revolution, when they actually did the opposite, they built A BRIDGE for people to get there.

    By saying this, I’m not saying that The Beatles were some kind of “warming up” or “preparation” for the “real thing” (being the “real thing” something like progressive rock or avantgarde music), that would be like saying that in music’s evolution there’s some objective final “goal” (which for Scaruffi would be Trout Mask Replica, I guess), I think music will evolve forever to different things, without arriving nowhere, and that’s great. In my opinion, The Beatles made lots of people understand how popular music could evolve into serious art. And my point is they couldn’t have made that without being so easily ACCESSIBLE. Without their catchy melodies they couldn’t have convinced so many people to cross that bridge and get interested in things they wouldn’t have heard in first place. That’s why, in my opinion, the Beatles were in some kind of “golden middle”, they were “traditional enough” to be understood by people and “original enough” to catch people’s attention and make them move to a “different place” (I use too much quatation marks, I know).

    Finally, I think that even if the Beatles are very easily enjoyable by almost everybody, for many people it’s not so easy to understand their artistic quality and their complexity . They can always enjoy their catchy/beautiful melodies, but they sometimes think there’s nothing beyond that, cause their complexity is subtle; so I can see why some people underrate them (considering them something like the “Backstreet boys of the sixties”) and praise other bands which are “obviously complex” (even if sometimes they aren’t REALLY more complex than them).

    P.S: You said “I’ve noticed that Haydn is very under-represented in Scaruffi’s lists of classical favourites. It would be interesting to speculate about why”. Of course, you know the answer. The worst thing is that he doesn’t even say they are “their personal favourites” (that would be to humble, I guess), in that case he could choose whatever he wants, of course; he says they are the MOST IMPORTANT or THE ESSENTIAL. I got to that list through a link on his page called “Most important compositions of all time”, and he put the title “the essential”, so he wanted (or pretended) to do an OBJECTIVE list, and he doesn’t even mention Haydn, one of the most innovative and revolutionary composers, because he prefers to talk about the most famous ones (and, because of the same reason, as you pointed out, he doesnt mention Carlo Gesualdo, Ligeti and Schoenberg).

    1. Hi again Jormungander,

      Thanks for a most sensible and thoughtful reply.

      I agree with you, but I’d go further than you, and in fact, I’d go further than Scaruffi.

      You said: ‘I think Scaruffi is wrong when he says “The Beatles represented the quintessential reaction to a musical revolution in the making, and for a few years they managed to run its enthusiasm into the ground”. Metaphorically, he is saying The Beatles built “A WALL” to keep away people from that musical revolution, when they actually did the opposite, they built A BRIDGE for people to get there.’

      I agree, in that I think that the Beatles didn’t build a wall, but a bridge; but I disagree, in that I don’t think that the musicians you mentioned, and which Scaruffi doggedly champions (even when, as with Royal Trux, you sense that he doesn’t even like them), constituted the revolution.

      I would argue that the Beatles, precisely because they were the bridge, were the revolution.

      This is a tough argument, but it has to do with the Beatles’ centrality in most discussions about whether or not popular music is a serious art form, or else a sort of folk art and therefore something which you don’t discuss in terms of what the creators may or may not have meant by this or that. One of my favourite books on the Beatles is Devin McKinney’s Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History, in which the author argues that the Beatles’ were stranger and more disturbing than the supposedly tougher and more radical bands that came after them, precisely because they were never content with just being rebels. The Beatles are always simultaneously reassuring and unsettling. Even on their first album, Please Please Me — it might sound quite mild now, but in the context of the popular music around in England and America when it was first released, it’s seriously raw. Please Please Me may not have fuzzed-up guitars and seventeen-minute jams on one chord, but neither did anybody else in 1963. What it did have is human screaming, and a lot of it. ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, Side 1 Track 1, has the first one, 1 minute and 32 seconds in: McCartney gets to the end of the third verse and sings ‘When I saw her stan-ding there — WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH HAAAA HAAA HAAAAAA!’

      Over the course of Please Please Me, pretty much everyone gets to scream (I’m not sure if George does); Ringo pretty much yells ‘Boys’ all the way through, but at 1 minute and 56 seconds he just goes ‘WAAAAAAAAAHHHHH …’ rather than fill in the rest of the line. And of course, ‘Twist and Shout’, delivered by Lennon at the end of the session through a heavy cold, is two and a half minutes of throat-tearing bawling.

      What I’m saying is that people miss the intensity in the Beatles, partly because it’s not often commented on; partly because one of the Beatles’ major flaws was a tendency to be a little too casual and jokey (‘Rocky Raccoon’, ‘Bungalow Bill’, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’) and partly because we forget that the Beatles didn’t dumb down the innovations of other bands; they consistently led the way, and other bands were made bolder and more adventurous because the Beatles had been bold and adventurous in the first place. I defy anyone to convince me that ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ wasn’t the most innovative and most intense music that any British band had made up until that time. Same goes for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘A Day in the Life’.

      The Beatles were as innovative as anyone else, but they also had what other bands lacked: a gift of making it seem natural. That is what Scaruffi can’t forgive them for, I think. He wants his innovation to be unpopular. But I think that that’s a juvenile, teenage attitude. The Rolling Stones, who sounded tougher and harder than the Beatles, were always reacting against the Beatles; the Beatles always had the initiative, and it was only because of the kind of musicians they were that they couldn’t become a convincing rock juggernaut. It wasn’t like they didn’t try (e.g. ‘That Means A Lot’, ‘Helter Skelter’.) They just weren’t about being that aggressive, so their attempts at being aggressive aren’t (to me) very convincing. ‘Please Please Me’, the single from 1963, has far more energy and aggression than ‘Helter Skelter’, the album track from 1968 which was done as a deliberate attempt to out-Who The Who.

  20. Somebody else says:

    You also forgot the whole part about him claiming that this article got several awards as “most serious research article written about the Beatles”, and convinently forget to say anything about who gave these awards or when.
    Same could be said about a lot of dismissed facts on his entire website, bands entirely dismissed as “mediocre” despite some musical or cultural importance (for instance Earth Wind and Fire, even if they made quite a couple redundant albums, they are still widely responsible for spreading the aesthetic of afrofuturism, more so than Sun Ra since unlike him, they could speak to a wide audience. And it only becomes funnier when Scaruffi gives this merit to Janelle Monaé, 40 years later) or sometimes even reviewed music that was never available (such as some Boards of Canada tapes they only sent to their friends and family). It’s impressive to see how someone who apparently is a scientist never even quotes any source when making a claim (which is the very basic of scientific method).

  21. Juan says:

    Scaruffi is just using ideology and no reason or evidence at all. It is truth that writing about music is like writing about non fiction: It requieres reason and clarity. This way of writing, remember me the nonsense style of posmodern academics, like Derrida, Foucault…etc. There is just a fuzzy and unclear repeated argument about making art against what it is supose to be the establishment, but nobody knows what the establishment is at all. Scaruffi confuse the intelligence of undertanding esthetic and art, with the inmature tendency of criticing without a proper understanding.
    Music don´t need a political agenda at all to be great or significant. And, if there is a way to human beings to be more reasonable and ethical people, it is not the close mind type of critic without meaning and clarity.

    1. I think there’s room for a more impressionistic criticism which isn’t claiming to make factual statements about the music, but about the listener’s state of mind when listening to it. I just think that Scaruffi writes impressionistic criticism which he mistakes for analytical/evidence-based criticism. I very much doubt that he knows what musical analysis even is, let alone how to do it. I am not an analytical genius, but I know my Schenker from my Reti. I think that Derrida and Foucault each wrote some useful stuff, but their influence has been very mixed and not entirely positive.

  22. Lucas says:

    Hello, I’d like to ask you for a ranking list, no matter if it is a top 100 or 50 or 20 or 5. I think we have similar tastes but you seem to know far more than me about good music. If you don’t dismiss this please make more than a simple list but 2 or 3 you know, composed by different genres. I mean Rock, Jazz, Blues and anything you like. Sorry for my bad English but I’m still learning.
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hey Lucas,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jeez. I don’t think I can do what you ask. I don’t know if you read my whole article, but part of my point was to argue that Mr Scaruffi was wrong to assert that one musician is ‘better than’ another. So it would be wrong of me to start drawing up lists of who I think are the best. I can only recommend music that I like, and some of the music I like, I don’t think is all that great; for example, I’m fond of the music of 50s/60s English singer Alma Cogan, but a lot of her music is seriously cheesy, by which I mean that it’s silly or trivial but I quite like it anyway. (Alma Cogan would not be in any top 20 or even top 50 of my favourite artists; maybe somewhere around the 130s.)

      You see, I come to music partly as a guitar player and partly from an academic background. Part of the point of this blog is that I absolutely do not want to say that my personal preferences in music have some kind of authority. I don’t think they do, and I don’t think that anyone’s preferences do. I have always disliked any attempt by anyone to rate this or that musical work over any other by some kind of quasi-objective system, be it star ratings or whatever. Basically, I don’t like it when someone tells me that music that I like is shit. I will be the one to decide how ‘good’ it is, because for 40-odd years I have devoted much of my life to listening to music and thinking about it, and I know what gets me excited or enraptured, and what leaves me cold, and I think that, when it comes to recommending things, that’s more important than how ‘innovative’ or ‘subversive’ or ‘revolutionary’ the music is, because I think those words, in the mouths of nearly everyone who uses them bar a few specialists, are code-words for ‘me like’.

      Take just one musician: Johann Sebastian Bach. He was the first classical composer I ever loved, because of Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of his Goldberg Variations. For years, the only Bach I listened to was his instrumental music, but it’s actually a relatively small part of his output. It’s not a minor part of his output at all; some of his greatest works are instrumental, such as the Cello Suites, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Brandenburg Concertos and the organ music. But I’ve come to believe that if you really want to get to grips with Bach as a composer, you have to listen to his cantatas. These were what he composed as part of his day job for most of his career as a church musician, and they are not easy listening because they involve singing in German, and some of the texts are pretty harsh. But Bach’s cantatas contain a lot of his most powerful music, so you have to give them a listen. Trouble is, there are so many of them. Bach only wrote six Cello Suites, and they all survive, but he wrote more than 200 cantatas, and 209 of them survive. That’s a hell of a lot of music, on a par with Handel’s 42 operas and Haydn’s 104 symphonies. (Quite a few people are not even aware that Handel had a long career as an opera composer before he ever wrote the Messiah. Until a few years ago, I was one of them.)

      My point is that music answers a need, and some of us have different needs than others. Morrissey’s music has never met any need that I have, so I don’t like it. But it still catches my ear, and I can’t deny that it’s well-made. (Well, some of it.) But I’m still not going to recommend it to anyone, because I don’t enjoy it.

      So – rock, jazz, blues? All I would say is, go out there and listen, but if you want a roadmap of the artists who are generally held to be the ones worth listening to, there are plenty of them out there.

      Having said that, in jazz, I think that there’s a need for a bit of a roadmap, and Mr Scaruffi’s picture of jazz is, in my view, very skewed. He rates Duke Ellington and John Coltrane as the greatest jazz musicians ever. I would say that they are up there, sharing equal status with four or five other people. But since Ellington is generally underrated, and Scaruffi ignores someone who I would consider to be one of the founders of jazz, I’m going to go out on a limb and make a recommendation as if it were objective.

      I don’t think anyone who really wants to listen to jazz can afford to ignore Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Armstrong is the first great soloist in jazz, Ellington the first great (maybe the greatest) composer. Parker, Gillespie, Mingus, Coltrane, Miles, Ornette, everyone after – yes, sure, absolutely, but the bedrock and the foundation of it all is there in Armstrong and Ellington, for anyone who can hear it. The crucial Armstrong recordings are the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. If you listen to these and they just sound like boring old-style jazz to you, then I would say that you’re missing something. Armstrong is always enjoyable, but these are the recordings that inspired everyone else.

      Ellington’s output is so huge that it’s hard to pin down, but his band in the early 1940s was probably the best he ever had, when he had Jimmie Blanton (the first great jazz bass player) and Ben Webster (one of the first great tenor sax players, after Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.) Having said that, you can dip into Ellington at any point and it’s always great. He was the only musician who could make an album with Louis Armstrong (The Great Summit) and also John Coltrane, and they’re both equally good (although the Coltrane one maybe has the edge.)

      Again, this is not me saying that these recordings are ‘better’ than anything else being made at the time (although Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are undoubtedly more intense, complex, virtuousic and exciting than anything any jazz musician had recorded up until that point), but knowing this music helps you to understand why jazz is the way it is, and why it developed in the way that it did. And knowing that helps you to listen to other jazz, just like listening to pre-1962 pop music helps us listen to the Beatles and everyone who came after them. David Byrne, in his fine book How Music Works, talks about how all music comes to us with a ‘frame’ around it which helps us to hear it, and to hear what it’s doing. Imagine you had only ever listened to death metal, and imagine somebody were to play you, say, the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, or even better, one of Chuck Berry’s original singles. It would sound incredibly lame to the ear of a person who was used to incredibly intense riffage, but in the 1950s, Chuck Berry sounded alarming and revolutionary to adults listening to him, just like in the late 70s, people who’d got used to the slick musicianship of 70s music thought that the Pistols sounded like incompetent fools. Now, of course, we know that that Pistols album was largely produced by Chris Thomas, a veteran studio man who’d learned his trade with the Beatles, and it sounds incredibly well-made and well-played. But in 1977, people literally heard it differently.

      So I’m not going to give lists of top 100 or 20 or 5, because I would prefer you to make up your own. Listen to everything. Read about music, all you can. I’ll happily recommend good jazz writers (Gary Giddins, Dan Morgenstern, Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, Stanley Crouch, LeRoi Jones), good rock writers (Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Simon Frith, Simon Reynolds, Barney Hoskyns, Lloyd Bradley, Joe Carducci, Peter Guralnick, Jon Savage, Michael Azerrad), good jazz/blues historians (Ted Gioia has written fine histories of both jazz and Delta blues), and good writers on classical music (Donald Mitchell, Alex Ross, Joseph Kerman, Donald Tovey, although the last two can be difficult if you can’t read music). As Duke Ellington said, ‘If it sounds good to you, it’s good music’, and he was absolutely right.

  23. NYSPORTSFAN says:

    The problem with Scaruffi essay on The Beatles it’s filled with historical inaccuracies and lack of any knowledge in terms of musical theory. To be honest I don’t know where to start it’s that bad.. For example The Beatles were one of first rock acts who were seriously discussed by classical musicians or critics. It is true not everyone was enthralled with The Beatles however,

    In 1963, classical critic William Mann declared John Lennon and Paul McCartney were “the outstanding English composers of 1963.”

    Leonard Bernstein declared that the Beatles’s best songs were “more adventurous than anything else written in serious music today.”

    Another example:
    Ned Rorem

    “Why are the Beatles superior? It is easy to say that most of their competition (like most everything everywhere) is junk. More important, their superiority is consistent: each of the songs from their last three albums is memorable. The best of these memorable tunes—and the best is a large percentage (Here, There and Everywhere, Good Day Sunshine, Michelle, Norwegian Wood)—compare with those by composers from great eras of song: Monteverdi, Schumann, Poulenc.’’

    I also don’t understand Scaruffi critique regarding their so-called lack of technical ability as compared to Cream. Let’s be honest The Velvet Underground, The Beach Boys who used The Wrecking Crew, The Rolling Stones were actually not great technically either or even better than The Beatles.

    However, The Beatles were progressive musically to have influence the majority of early progressive rock acts. Songs like “’Tomorrow Never Knows’’, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “ I Am The Walrus” for example were clearly distinct from Pet Sounds pop/Phil Spector Wall of Sound type of music.

    Brian Wilson was obsessed with The Beatles. After listening to ”Strawberry Fields Forever” it was over for Smile. Sorry for the some of The Beach Boys obsessed fans on this forum but it’s reality.

    The psychedelic orchestrated ”Strawberry Fields Forever” not present on Pet Sounds just obliterated anything he did previously in terms of innovative soundscapes..

    One of the more interesting approaches in style in music and instrumentation well to me was ”Eleanor Rigby/”She’s Leaving Home”’

    The dark lyrical themes, chamber style orchestration, lack of rock instruments with just vocal backings is almost entirely different genre of music in my opinion.

    Lastly could we stop this it’s utterly ridiculous for Scaruffi to say The Beatles did not write about drugs or anything that may have been politically serious? While The Rolling Stones or The Who were writing teen agnst songs The Beatles were signaling out polticians, drug dealers, hippie type songs, acid trips, religious topics and referencing The Tibetan Book of Dead in 1965-1966. Go ask Brian Wilson or even John Cale about “Norwegian Wood” or “She Said She Said’’.

  24. Thanks Nysportsfan. Sometimes it just needs to be spelled out.

    I am at a loss to explain Mr Scaruffi’s contempt for the Beatles, unless (as I’ve suggested elsewhere) he hasn’t listened to any of the music he writes about, which I don’t really believe is the case. Much of his contempt is directed at professional rock journalists, and he seems to entirely unaware of the vast academic literature on the Beatles. Are all those academics also just corporate hacks? People who admire his work like to say ‘You shouldn’t just judge him on one essay, he’s written very well about other musicians,’ but in the first place, nothing I’ve read by him on other musicians has struck me as anything special, but also, it’s a bit like guests in your home bringing along a friend who, the minute he gets in the door, drops his pants and takes a dump in your hallway, and they excuse this by saying ‘You shouldn’t just judge him based on that one dump. In other people’s houses he always has excellent manners.’

    1. Because I’ve already pointed out his mistakes and I leave it to others to draw his attention to them. Also, he doesn’t understand basic standards of accuracy in musical scholarship so there’s not much point in me trying to get him to adopt them. He’d only dismiss me as a ‘Beatle fan’ and refuse to accept that I can back up what I say with evidence, which he doesn’t do because he can’t.

      I think his opening sentence here is very interesting: ‘I don’t know any more detailed study of their music than my page.’

      Scaruffi is apparently unaware that the critical bibliography on the Beatles is immense. I mean, immense. He wrote an article. I have two entire shelves full of book-length studies of the Beatles’ music. And I don’t mean biographies, although I have some of them too. Some of these are critical writing by musicologists and scholars, which actually engage with what the Beatles did and attempt to assess their work from a musicological and/or sociological point of view. Walter Everett’s two-volume The Beatles as Musicians; Devin McKinney’s Dream Circles (it’s not academic but it’s very erudite and intelligently critical), two collections of academic monographs from the highly respectable academic publisher Ashgate (Every Sound There Is: The Beatles’ Revolver and the Transformation of Rock and Roll, edited by Russell Reising, and Sgt Pepper and the Beatles, edited by Olivier Julien); Allan F Moore’s book-length study of Sgt Pepper for the Cambridge Music Handbooks, and this is just scratching the surface. I’m not saying that these books are automatically great because they’re published by university presses. I have come to academia in the middle of my life and I’m already cynical enough about it to know that not every academic text is automatically authoritative. But the least of them is a sight more informative, and they are all considerably more respectful of the facts, than Scaruffi’s dribbling.

      Scaruffi doesn’t know of any more detailed study of the Beatles than his article because he hasn’t bothered to find out about them. All he knows about are stupid newspaper and rock-mag articles rehashing the same old factoids, so in a way it’s no wonder he’s so cynical, but that’s still no excuse for his complete ignorance of the vast body of good critical writing about them. He is, as Gertrude Stein said of Ezra Pound, a village explainer: fine if you live in a village, but as soon as you move to the city, you have to realise that there are people out there who know more about the subject than the village explainer did, and that the village explainer has only got away with it for so long because there weren’t more knowledgeable people around to correct him. (The village explainer is almost always a ‘him’.)

      Scaruffi is proud of his ‘facts’:

      I receive at least one email a week from someone furious because that page is “full of mistakes” – i simply reply “which mistakes?” – guess what: never an answer (or an answer that simply states his opinion that the Beatles were great). You know why? They begin writing the list of “mistakes”, and check this or that encyclopedia, and sentence after sentence they find out that those are not “mistakes”, they are facts.

      I have demonstrated, by now, that Scaruffi’s mistakes are not facts. They are mistakes. I don’t understand why he thinks that they are facts. I am not inclined to engage with him about this, for the same reason that Richard Dawkins doesn’t bother to engage with creationists. His website is him spouting his own opinions. It is a sticky swamp of egregious stupidity and I am not such a great educator that I am capable of making Scaruffi be more intelligent and intellectually honest than he is capable of being.

      That’s why I am not going to write him a letter. I have had dealings with intelligent people who make honest mistakes, and they usually like having them pointed out. Scaruffi is not, as far as I can tell, such a person. He’s not educationally subnormal, he’s smart, but he has the kind of stupidity that you get with smart people; it’s surrounded with so much ring-fencing and watchtowers and machine-gun nests that you approach at your own risk. If you want to cut and paste my entire article and email it to him, feel free, but I’m not going to engage with the guy. I am not trying to convince anyone that the Beatles are the best thing ever. I don’t even think that they are. My only aim is to demonstrate that, for some reason, Scaruffi is incapable of telling the truth about them.

      Thanks for your comment, though.

      1. I actually wrote Scaruffi an email back in 2001 trying to correct his lies about The Beatles and he actually wrote me back and I was civil to him in my email and he was civil to me back.But you can’t get through to him at all he actually said he thought I am one of the most intelligent Beatles fans because I never mentioned their record sales as to why they were great.

        What band do you consider the greatest if you don’t consider The Beatles,who most people,most rock and other types of music critics,and countless well known,successful musicians still call the greatest band ever.And The Beatles wrote and played like 50 years worth of mostly great( and what wasn’t great was still good) diverse,creative,music in only an amazing 8 year recording career.

  25. NYSORTSFAN says:

    Scaruffi article is filled with musical and historical inaccuracies.

    A couple of the things I would like to point out. I know people would like to say that Sandy Bull was creating pseudo ragas before The Beatles which is true. However, there is huge difference for example in what Sandy Bull was doing as compared to George Harrison was doing with “Love You To” or “Within You Without You”.

    Peter Lavezzoli, author of The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, is among those who credit the part to Harrison. Lavezzoli describes Harrison’s playing as “the most accomplished performance on sitar by any rock musician” and he recognizes “Love You To” as “the first conscious attempt in pop to emulate a non-Western form of music in structure and instrumentation.

    In fact, The Beatles incorporated Indian structures into pop songs, notably ‘Love You To’ and ‘Within You Without You’ which resulted in “a hybrid form, neither entirely Indian nor entirely pop”.

    However, was this more innovative than Zappa who was mixing rock rhythms and sounds with avant-garde classical arrangements and jazz? In my onion yes

    Another one is when Scaruffi describes “Revolution #9” as a jam. The facts are “Revolution #9” is not even a song it’s sound collage with so many layers of found sounds, sampling, tape loops and backward sounds. That track was meant to describe the political unrest of 1968.

    Someone mentioned The Fugs “Virgin Forest”. It’s not really a true sound collage in the purest sense like “Revolution # 9”.

    However, listen to The Fugs “Virgin Forest” to see where Zappa got lot of his ideas for Freak Out.

    Then again listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” which is basically a analog modern techno song.. The Beatles record over a basic track consisting of a driving up-front drum and bass sound and layered it with pre-recorded loops, samples and found sounds.. They manipulated those loops and samples live in the studio much like most artists do in various forms do today.

    However, was this more innovative than Zappa who was mixing rock rhythms and sounds with avant-garde classical arrangements and jazz? Of course so.

    One of my favorites on Scaruffi is regarding intentional guitar feedback. He incorrectly cites ‘A Hard Day’s Night” as having guitar feedback. Well again wrong again. It’s true “I Feel Fine” has guitar feedback. However, Scaruffi again downplays what The Beatles did.

    The Beatles intentionally used guitar feedback and combined it with a GUITAR OSTINATO. Probably the first recorded rock record to combine both concepts. Guess what that concept is all over modern rock.

    A more interesting opinion is maybe what classical musician Howard Goodall says about The Beatles.

    In Howard Goodall 20th-Century Greats, Goodall says that in mixing pop and classical techniques, and cross-fertilising them with Indian and electronic music, The Beatles refreshed and revitalized western harmony. They also transformed the recording studio from a dull box where you recaptured your live sound, into a musical laboratory, of exciting and completely new sounds Leonard Bernstein and George Martin both have stated in calling the Beatles the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century.

    Of course it’s all opinion but I rather hear it from them than Piero Scaruffi who obviously dislikes the Beatles and is clueless about music theory.

  26. Hi NYsportsfan : I love the Beatles passionatley too …but I have to take small issue with the notion that say ‘Within you and Without You ‘ and ‘ Love You To ‘ are really as ‘ innovative ‘ certainly in a formal technical sense as Zappa’s ‘ Uncle Meat ‘ DBL album or ‘ The Little House we Used to Live in ‘ from ‘ Burnt Weeny Sandwich ‘ or the ‘ Father Oblivion ‘ suite as performed ( I think ) by Zappa with ‘ The Petit Wazoo ‘ band ? ( whatever see it complete on you tube Sweden 1973 ) …but those things are so huge and boundary redefining that maybe only a relativeey small number of 20 th century musical works compare to them anyway . Of course the comparison is daft anyway really as those are long through composed musical works .. and The Beatles songs are songs ….maybe excepting possibly ‘ Happiness is a Warm Gun ‘ and a few others which do go somewhere else ( formally ) altogether

  27. Natho says:

    Isn’t it interesting that Scaruffi’s fans react in a similar way to this article as Beatles fans, according to him, react to his? I don’t doubt the dogmatic responses some Beatles fans launch in the direction of Scaruffists – there’s plenty of examples on the internet – but that the irony is lost on them when they re-assert his claims here is pretty telling.

    I will admit, when you’re 19 years old, and you’re confronted with a face-full of assertions that your favourite bands are capitalism-preaching charlatans compared to a bunch of albums and artists you’ve never even heard of, it’s pretty convincing. I’m clearly not the only one who got duped, if somewhat temporarily, to believe in a fact-free alternate musical history.

    It is unfortunate and alarming to see people who both thoroughly believe they can see through the real truth about music, yet have an eerily similar taste to Scaruffi. He is not the only example; Ray Carney is another critic who seems to have developed a cult of personality.

    Anything which unsettles those who take Scaruffi’s assertions as facts can only be a good thing. Thanks for this!

    1. All I’ve tried to do is point out where he asserts some things as facts, which are untrue. I wonder if I shouldn’t just do a follow-up post which would be basically the citations to support my original one. Thanks for the comment!

  28. Excellent rebuttal of Scaruffi’s fallacious nonsense. I recently came across the famous (apparently) “meme” of Scaruffi’s anti-Beatles rant on a Facebook post and was so irritated by its blatant stupidity that I was tempted to write a lengthy point by point rebuttal myself. However, I couldn’t really be arsed and anyhow FB is hardly a suitable forum for lengthy nuanced argument. So I was delighted when Google revealed that you’d already done the work. Anyway, I linked to your piece in the comments section.

    Scaruffi simply cannot be taken seriously. In addition to all the excellent points you’ve made here, a cursory perusal of his site revealed some strange ideas and errant judgment. Eg. am I missing something obvious here but how is Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells listed as one of the best Canterbury albums? How do the first two Velvet’s albums make it into the top 10 of his Best Psychedelic albums when the whole point of the VU was that they were not psychedelic, loathed psychedelia, and were actually a New York arty/avant-garde reaction against psychedelia? It’s similarly odd that Floyd’s Ummagumma makes the prog rock top 5 (not to mention Faust), which I suppose only demonstrates that Scaruffi cannot distinguish between space/acid rock and prog. Dear oh dear.

    Plus, no there appears to be no mentions whatsoever on his site of Microdisney, Fatima Mansions or Cathal Coughlan. Like I said, you can’t take the guy seriously.

    1. Thanks for the comment and for linking me! That blog post is the post that keeps on givin’, in terms of drawing people to my blog. It’s nice to be appreciated.

      You make an excellent point about the Velvets, although I’m maybe more tolerant than you about how people choose to hear music, as opposed to how its makers intended them to hear it. If people want to hear the Velvets as psychedelia, well, you can see where they would be coming from with that. I agree that Reed and Cale & Co loathed psychedelia and were more into heroin (obviously) and probably speed, but it fits with my idea that Scaruffi doesn’t give more than a cursory listen to any of the stuff he writes about, that he would lump the band in with other bands of the same time but belonging to a very different tendency in music. And although I myself have never taken acid, I imagine that some of the Velvets’ prettier songs (e.g. Here She Comes Now) would very likely be a pleasant accompaniment to tripping. I Heard Her Call My Name, probably not so much.

      I also agree that Scaruffi’s omission of the works of Cathal Coughlan is a serious one, although I personally can’t stand the guy’s music. But, unlike Scaruffi, I don’t mistake my personal taste for the objective verdict of history. I try to make it very clear when I’m expressing a personal opinion, and when I’m pointing out an error of fact. Scaruffi likes the things he likes, but he thinks he has some greater, wider justification for liking those things, whereas I would cleave to a more Barthesian take on musical appreciation; X gives me pleasure and Y doesn’t and I am willing to speculate about why that’s so, but unwilling to be a Robespierre about it. If we’re talking about space/acid rock, it’s not one of my favourite genres. I get a certain amount of pleasure from the Grateful Dead but really not much at all from post-Syd Floyd — but I don’t think that people who like Floyd are therefore on the side of the oppression of the masses.

      Oddly enough, one of the results of my grapple with Scaruffi has been that I’ve gone back to musicians I’ve never much liked, such as Springsteen, and have tried to hear what it is people like about them. My wife is an influence here, since she likes Springsteen. I have been reading Dave Marsh’s unashamed hagiography of the man and while I still don’t quite get it (oh, come on, Bruce, you really didn’t earn that first chorus of Born to Run), I see why people do get it. But then, the whole history of me listening to music has been about me widening my own likes and narrowing my own dislikes. I’ve probably listened to too many Bach cantatas lately to ever really get Oasis, though.

      Thanks again for the comment! Sorry this blog is so intermittent. I keep meaning to post more.

  29. Thanks for the reply. I was being slightly facetious about Cathal Coughlan, although I do think the man is a genius and would heartily recommend the Fatima Mansions albums to you (especially Viva Dead Ponies and Valhalla Avenue). I gather you loathe indie rock but those records are more ‘The Doors meets The Who meets Kraftwerk’, without ever really sounding like any of those bands. Very strong songwriting too. Anyway, possibly worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with them. Coughlan is endearingly foul-tempered throughout both, needless to say.

    It seems Signor Scaruffi’s desire to be controversial extends to far more serious matters than The Beatles/music in general. Check out the final quote here: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Piero_Scaruffi
    Not sure how he’s managed to get away with that without being discredited and having his entire life’s work consigned to the dustbin, but there you go. Perhaps the only people paying any attention to him are his rather irritating fanboys, who presumably find nothing objectionable in his deeply unpleasant views.

    1. Thanks for your reply too!

      Thanks for recommending Mr Coughlan. I listened to him a bit the first time around, first with Microdisney, then I caught a bit of the Fatima Mansions but didn’t pay much attention. In your honour, I went and watched a few videos on YouTube.

      Well. I dunno. I disliked Microdisney back in the day, because of what the music press praised them for, namely the combination of radio-friendly music with bad-tempered lyrics. I regarded this, and still regard it, as a cynical attempt to achieve commercial success while patting oneself on the back that one had somehow retained one’s integrity. I didn’t buy it when Microdisney did it, and I didn’t buy it when the Beautiful South made an entire career out of it.

      As for the Fatima Mansions…well, I suppose he at least had the courage of his convictions to nail his rants to equally grumpy music. But the Doors, the Who and Kraftwerk were able to write songs that had form and shape, whereas the FMs just strum furiously. No, I’m sorry, I don’t buy them either. All I hear is a bad-tempered chancer insisting that the world needs to hear whatever the fuck it is that he’s so annoyed about. Like Morrissey, Cathal Coughlan seems to have basically one melodic idea, as far as vocal melodies go, and like Morrissey, it consists in rocking back and forth within the compass of a minor third. The difference between them is that Morrissey’s minor third consists of the interval between the mediant and the dominant, whereas with Cathal Coughlan, it’s the interval between the tonic and the minor third. (The guy from An Emotional Fish had exactly the same inability to come up with actual melodies.) Also, with Cathal Coughlan, he always seems to be pissed off with somebody else, never himself. He never seems to realise that, as Yeats said, out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric, but out of the quarrel with ourselves, we make poetry. Nick Cave’s angriest songs are affecting because you sense that he’s attacking himself as much as, or more than, he’s attacking someone else. Cathal Coughlan just comes across, to me at any rate, like a self-righteous prick.

      I realise that this amounts to a flat-out denial that the guy is a ‘genius’. And John Lee Hooker had a similarly restricted melodic range. But John Lee Hooker was John Lee Hooker, and Cathal Coughlan is no John Lee Hooker. So, I am sorry, but I am not converted and am not likely to be. Still, I would have thought that Mr Coughlan’s contrarianism would have made him a perfect candidate for the praise of Mr Scaruffi.

  30. Hmm, not at all sure which tracks you checked out (I’d probably guess at Ceausescu, Angel’s Delight & maybe Only Losers Take the Bus, possibly Hive) but if you can spare a just a few more minutes at some point I’d urge you to try Behind the Moon, Wilderness On Time, Big Madness/Monday Club Carol, Bertie’s Brochures, or the even the inconsequential but charmingly Satie-esque mini-instrumental More Smack, Vicar. Won’t take long and I genuinely doubt you’d regret it.

    Now, to me, Nick Cave is ok, but like Jarvis Cocker or Jackson Browne, the guy really only has the one tune. It’s a decent enough tune in a way…but still.

    Anyway, at least I’ve given you a good weapon to use against Scaruffi’s apologists (sailing a little close to ad hominem, admittedly, but I think that quote does demonstrate the man’s lack of critical thinking skills if nothing else. There is, after all, a blindingly obvious answer to his rather disturbing question). Cheers.

  31. Thanks Topaz. I feel like you pretty much made your points in this, the first of 39 comments you made on this post, all supporting the Beatles’ status as one if if not the most important and influential bands, so I hope you won’t be offended if I don’t post all the rest. After all, the historical record supports our side, not Scaruffi’s. But thanks again.

    1. …And thanks for all your effort, but I really think you should post it on your own blog, because the comments section of somebody else’s isn’t a prominent enough place. If you do that, I’ll post a link to it. Thanks again.

      1. Yes, I tried to post that I do have a blog with tons of great strong information including by legitimate musicologists and scholars,and countless famous,successful rock and other types of musicians praising them,many calling The Beatles,and John Lennon and Paul McCartney the greatest band ever and two of the greatest song writers of the 20th century,over their own bands and solo selves,and how innovative they,especially John and Paul really were in the recording studio, that totally debunks the lies,falsehoods and distortions that Scaruffi writes about The Beatles.All of this information helps your case a lot.

        My blog is called,The Beatles were *Never* a Boy Band They Were always A Great Rock n Roll,Pop Rock And rock Band From The start! Debunking The Stupid,Ludicrous Myth That The Beatles Were Ever a Boy Band


      2. Hi topaz, I’m posting this last one of your posts because I need to break it to you.

        The Beatles really were a boy band.

        They were also a rock band.

        There’s no shame in being a boy band. They were the most majestic boy band ever, but to a great extent, they do fit the template. They were discovered by a manager who did a good deal to shape their image, and they were initially perceived as being his creation, even though we know now that they weren’t. They were beloved by teenage girls. They had a massive and dedicated fandom. Their every last opinion was solicited by magazines. They were lusted after, speculated about, and endlessly photographed. Unlike most boy bands they were genuinely creative, and they also wrote their own songs, which made them unlike other teen idol musicians of their time, but like every other boy band, when they started out they just wanted to be rich and famous.

        The Beatles, at least when they first became famous, were a boy band. They were truly the boy band that passeth all understanding, and they weren’t one forever – they stopped being one around 1965 – but they were a boy band. I would advise you to get over it, and move on.

  32. graf says:

    Who to believe?
    In the 1967.Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics commented in Village People albums from 1967.
    He said that “The Fool On The Hill” is the worst song ever written by Beatles.
    In 1970. “Stone the Crows” covered same song.
    Maggie Bell explains “I always wanted to do this because it’s got great lyrics. We didn’t really do it like the Beatles but??!!
    So I am asking you “Who to believe?”
    Dean of American Rock Critics or Les Harvey and Maggie Bell.
    I believe to those musicians.

  33. graf says:

    No Red Album,no Blue Album there are the ten best songs by the Beatles!
    1.Happines is a warm gun
    2.Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
    3.”I’ve Got A Feeling”-rooftop concert
    4.Got to get you into my life
    5.And your Bird Can Sing
    7.Tomorrow Never Knows
    8.Hey Bulldog
    9.Oh Darling

  34. graf says:

    I agree with factorysunburst that Beatles were boy band until 1965 (Bubber Soul).
    Whats wrong with this.It is no shame to be a boy band…Listen to those songs..This Boy,Yes,It Is,P.S.I Love You,The Taste of Honey etc..etc you can hear Backstreet Boys,Thake That or One Direction.
    No shame…even Richie Blackmoore said that he admire ABBA.So what?!
    That the Beatles were the most popular band in the history of rock and roll Mick Jagger said:

    The Beatles were so big that it’s hard for people not alive at the time to realize just how big they were. There isn’t a real comparison with anyone now. I suppose Michael Jackson at one point, but it still doesn’t quite seem the same. They were so big that to be competitive with them was impossible. I’m talking about in record sales and tours and all this. They were huge… They certainly were not a great live band. Maybe they were in the days of the Cavern, when they were coming up as a club band. I’m sure they were hilariously funny and all that. And they did have this really good onstage persona. But as far as the modern-day world, they were not a great performing band. But… (t)hey were the Beatles. They were this forerunning, breakthrough item, and that’s hard to overestimate.
    – Mick Jagger, 1995

    Yes,They certainly were not a great live band!!!!
    Listen to those last concerts on Candlestick Stadium in 1966. that was awful and unconvincing!
    Even in those days Ringo says that they stopped performing because they did not hear themselves sounds to me unconvincingly.
    I would believe to Ringo if they only gave me 2 hours of Rooftop concert which was magnificent!
    Because of these facts we have the book “Revolution in the Head” by Ian McDonald(1994).
    John Lennon said that it’s not truth the Rolling Stones were more revolutionary then Beatles among other Mick’s faggy dancing and they are (Rolling Stones) swinging on the stage.
    Lennon said that they swing in they heads and bring revolution from they heads.

    There is no doubt the Beatles were the most popular band in the rock and roll history which does not mean they were the most influential band in the history of rock and roll.

    I follow those comments about Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa,Fugs,Seeds and this guy Piero Scaruffi.
    Who is the most influential group or persona in rock and roll???
    Every music critic has his own story and theory!!!

    What was most impressive to me with the Beatles?!
    Their playing with different styles of music!
    Whatever type of music they entered they did masterpiece!
    From “Kansas City” to “When I am Sixty Four”,and then “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
    From “Within You Without You” to “She so Heavy” or “Because”.
    I have not heard any group did something similar, successful and what is most important … impressive!!

  35. Franz the Kant says:

    FACTORYSUNBURST should note, Scaruffi does mention Stockhausen and Ligeti, in fact he considers some of their works to be the greatest of all time. See down the side of http://www.scaruffi.com/jazz/best100.html a stupid place to put such a list, but you are wrong to criticize him for not mentioning those artists when he’s clearly restricted Classical by time period and is certainly not ignoring modern composers.
    Also he mentions Haydn in 4 or 5 of his lists and Schoenberg and in Quartets Babbit and Webern in Symphonies. Gesuldo’s works are listed in his milestones of classical music too.
    It is incredibly disingenuous of you to take a list titled ” Below is a teaser to make you explore the lists in the right column. ” and call it his list of “All time greatest” then criticize him for lacking composers that he lists on his actual greatest compositions list.
    Maybe you should have put more effort into researching what you were talking about before criticizing him for his somewhat pedestrian list of teaser pieces to start people out with while not claiming they are the best. When he has a page titled best of classical music where the opening line is encouraging you to look at his lists broke up into categories you should probably consider that he isn’t just ignoring composers based on popularity. oh and in his recommended classical discography http://www.scaruffi.com/music/classica.html he lists just as many pieces of Haydn’s as he does Bach.

    Scaruffi is definitely full of himself and I find his arguments ridiculous quite often, but some of these mistakes you made were quite obvious to someone who actually visits the page and unreasonable.
    He has also written on Louis Armstrong and does not downplay that he was highly influential. But he spends most of it praising Armstrong’s innovations in performance, but sees his lasting influence on Jazz as something he personally doesn’t like and felt underwhelmed by Armstrong’s compositions, this explains why he didn’t list Armstrong alongside Coltrane and Ellington despite being one of the most influential musicians.

    1. Nothing you’ve said convinces me that he has listened to most of the music he writes about. Anyone who writes about music the way Scaruffi does is patently unqualified to write about music at all. But thanks for the comment.

  36. Jean Lemonade says:

    I love the Beatles myself and they really made me appreciate music, but let’s face it, many of their songs and albums are pretty overrated once you’ve also discovered other good bands. George was wasn’t a great guitarist, many of Paul’s compositions were boring, John wouldn’t have created his masterpieces if it weren’t for the help he received in production, and Ringo was — at best — an average drummer.

    And most of the so-called inventions attributed to the band members were usually the results of Geoff Emerick’s and George Martin’s experimentations (for instance, the revolutionary guitar and bass sound on Rain/Paperback writer and some of the stuff on Tomorrow Never Knows were Geoff’s and Martin’s “inventions”).

    When other bands experimented and invented things before the Beatles — their stuff was still attributed to the influence of the Beatles. And at the same time the music press attributes everything that ever happened in the music industry to the Beatles and act like the Beatles never had any influences from contemporary musicians themselves.

    And many of the most heralded albums contain boring filler songs (usually written by Mccartney).

    You’re a little unfair to Scaruffi, too, because he actually lists many Beatles’ songs in the “best songs lists” between 1964-1969.

    But other than that, I really do love the Beatles. But to me they are more of a “songs band” than an “albums band” and I like some of their lesser-known songs more than the hyped up boring ones.

    1. I don’t think you’re quite fair on the Beatles here. The ‘inventions’ you attribute to Martin and Emerick were their technical solutions to problems the band set them. Ringo was a far from average drummer, having superb control of tempo and timbre. He wasn’t a technically flashy drummer like Keith Moon, but I don’t know a single Beatle song which vould have been improved by replacing Ringo.

      I don’t agree about McCartney. I think he’s better than you give him credit for being. He did write most of my least favourite of their songs, but also some of their best. And Lennon’s best songs were good songs before they did weird stuff to them in the studio.

      I agree that the Beatles were directly influenced by other musicians but disagree about who those musicians were. For the most part, they weren’t other rock bands or pop groups (much). The Beatles were a conduit through which the influence of classical music, jazz and the avant-garde flowed into pop music (McCartney going to an AMM gig, etc.)

      Yeah, they’re overhyped. They had a narrower range than people think. But overall I think they had better quality control than their peers, at least up until late 1967 or so.

      IMO it is impossible to be unfair to Scaruffi. He deserves every kind of kicking for his sloppiness.

  37. Jean Lemonade says:

    Well, without those innovative studio recording techniques revolutionary songs like Rain or Tomorrow Never Knows would have never sounded as groundbreaking or good as they did (that compressed guitar sound and heavy bass on Rain, combined with Ringo’s excellent drumming, is what makes the song so damn good). The songs would probably still have sounded really good, but not as “revolutionary” (imagine Strawberry Fields Forever without Martin adding all the clever bits).
    And Ringo was a pretty competent drummer (especially on She Said She Said and Rain)… But he wasn’t “great” or anything. He was solid, that’s all.

    I didn’t mean to say that McCartney has only written bad songs or anything, I just think that some of his songs are boring. He did write some good tunes though like I’m Looking Through You, Got To Get You Into My Life, Oh Darling!, etc.

    I think it’s pretty easy to hear influences from contemporary musicians and bands of their times all over their music. Much of Please Please Me and With The Beatles are scrambled songs by Arthur Alexander, Roy Orbison, Smokey Robinson and Motown groups.

    You Can’t Do That is similar to Marvin Gaye’s Hitch Hike. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is Dylanesque. Drive My Car nicked the bass line and groove from Otis Redding’s Respect. Stones release Satisfaction and some months later Beatles release a riff-based song trying to sound as tough as the Stones (Day Tripper). Kinks did the Indian thing before the Beatles with See My Friends (and imo Ray Davies did it ten times better than the Beatles with both See My Friends and Fancy, and it sounded more “European” in a way), and some months later the Beatles release a song with George playing sitar. Kinks do the music hall and later McCartney decides to do a lot of music hall on Sgt. Pepper. Much of the “psychedelic” sounds on Sgt. Pepper were taken from the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday. Ob-la-di Ob-La-Da is similar to the Royal Gurdsmen’s My Airplane. Much of the White Album and Abbey Road are influenced by Cream, Iron Butterfly and other jam rock bands of their era. And so on and so forth.

    So you can definitely hear contemporary influences in their sound and in their songs.

    I certainly don’t agree with everything Scaruffi has to say, but the reason as to why I think you’re a little unfair to him is because he actually lists some of the Beatles songs as the best of the Sixties (Penny Lane, A Day In The Life, etc). He also rates Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper 7/10. I don’t think he really hates the Beatles, he just thinks they’re overrated and therefore writes in a provocative way so he can create a more sober discussion about their songs and albums.

    Just my opinion.

  38. JORMUNGANDER says:

    Hi everybody,

    I’d like to answer the comment by “Jean Lemonade” about George Harrison not being “a great guitarrist” and Ringo being an “average drummer” (he also said something about Paul’s songs being boring, and I strongly disagree on that, since I think Paul’s songs are usually melodic, catchy and entertaining, but I know that this is a totally SUBJECTIVE matter so it would be silly to debate about it).

    About George and Ringo; this is not the first time that I read someone “critizising” the Beatles for not being “virtuosos” with their instruments. I’ve seen other people pointing out that The Who had a better drummer (Moon), Led Zeppelin had a better guitarrist (Page), etc. In this case Jean Lemonade didn’t mention other musicians or bands, so I don’t know if he was really thinking about The Who and Zeppelin (as many other do when they compare the musical chops of The Beatles), but the funny thing is that if we are really talking about musical chops in the technical sense (instrumental virtuosism) we should forget these bands and talk about Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer… or even better, we should forget about ALL the great classic rock bands from the 60’s and the 70’s and talk about Dream Theater, since they are even more talented with their instruments than any of the old prog rock bands (maybe including King Crimson).

    The thing is that, in my humble opinion, virtuosism is not a GOAL, but a TOOL to reach the goal. I evaluate rock bands according to their originality, their diversity, their talent to create emotions in me, etc. But their musical chops is simply something they CAN use if they need to use it. Maybe an example (even if comparing art with sports is not very appropiate) could be a guy saying that a basketball player is good only because he is tall. Being tall definitely is an advantage for a basketball player (as being skilled with an instrument is an advantage to create music), but a tall guy can still be a bad basketball player (as there are skilled instrumentists who aren’t creative composers and CAN’T write original, diverse, resonant, pleasant or intelligent music, IN SPITE of being virtuosos) and a shorter guy can be a good player, even if the lack of height can be considered a “disadvantage” in comparison to others, but his height can be ENOUGH to do what he wants to do and succeed.

    The Beatles had enough instrumental skill to do what they wanted to do, that is, to play the great music they created. They didn’t need to be virtuosos to play their excellent songs, so why should I care about them not being virtuosos? Why should I care about a basketball player not being 7 ft tall if being only 5’11” he SCORES EVERY TIME and he always wins?

    The Beatles wrote melodies that were great, not only because they were “catchy” or “easy to listen” (as Scaruffi could say), but because they were also ORIGINAL and creative compositions, with original chord progressions; and they also added these innovations (strings, sitars, psychedelia, sound collages, flutes, etc); but the important thing about the innovations wasn’t BEING THE FIRST to use a weird instrument or being the first in making a weird experiment. What really matters is that they put this innovations in the context of a great song, with a memorable and unforgetable melody. I don’t really care if “Eleanor Rigby” wasn’t the first pop song to use a string quartet (maybe a totally unknown band did it first, why not?), because the important thing is that Eleanor Rigby has such a great melody that it will be remembered forever (and of course, you can disagree about the song being “great”, but you can’t deny that it’s still remembered, and there’s a reason why).

    Of course, I won’t deny that there are some innovations that belong to other bands. Definitely THE KINKS were a GREAT BAND (I should use even bigger letters to say that), and I love them, they were MAYBE the first to create an “eastern” influenced song with “See my friend” (a great song), even if they didn’t use an actual sitar, like The Beatles did in “Norwegian Wood” and “Love you To”. Saying that The Beatles were the best band doesn’t mean that MANY other bands (The Kinks, The Who, The Doors, etc) weren’t great too, and doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some credit for their own original and creative ideas.

    That’s all for the moment. By the way, sorry for my bad english (I’m from Spain).

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