Monday, May 14, 2012

"Bookends" by Simon & Garfunkel (1968)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Fun Fact: The America record I was supposed to listen to was so grooveworn that the needle slipped straight to the end every time I put it down.

"If your hopes should pass away, simply pretend that you can build them again."

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
REQUIRED LISTENING (4/4 stars).  Seriously, if you haven't heard every song on this record, you owe it to yourself to check them out.  I'm not even gonna link to any songs on this one.  I truly believe you should go find a copy and listen to the whole thing front to back and then listen to it again.

Let's just cut to the chase here...

So, is it an album?  Yes.  I honestly think that whenever people mention "Pet Sounds" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in the context of "an album," they should mention "Bookends" right along with them.

"Bookends" is NOT a concept album.  That phrase gets thrown around and overapplied waaaay too much in my estimation.  To me, a concept album is a linear narrative that tells a single, specific story.  Let me give an example that will probably cost me half my readership.  "The Wall" is a concept album.  It chronicles the rise and fall of an individual character.  However, [he cringes as he writes it] "Dark Side of the Moon" is NOT a concept album.  There, I've said it.  By the way, "Hotel California," and "Pet Sounds" are NOT concept albums either. 

They're all something I enjoy far more.  They're theme albums.  I love theme albums.  Theme albums are not locked into the rigid formula of a specific narrative.  Instead, they explore a few very specific ideas and roll and reinterpret those ideas in different ways on different songs.  Often, they repeat lyrics or musical phrases on several tracks to provide a thread throughout the record.  Theme albums are the most enjoyable kind of dissertation. 

My top-five, all-time favorite theme albums are:

5. "Hotel California" by The Eagles

4. "Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd

3. "American Recordings" by Johnny Cash

2. "Bookends" by Simon & Garfunkel

1. "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen

Despite its poppy sixties sound, "Bookends" is a desperate album.  It's all about isolation and death and the unspoken angst of suburban life and the growing displacement of the American dream.  "Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping is one of the best individual lyrics ever.  Taken in the entire context of "Bookends," it's a spike straight to the heart.

Up next, "Moods by Neil Diamond.

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