What is a Classic Album? That’s the question often asked in gatherings to spark a discussion on music and, although everybody’s interpretation may differ in detail, the best definition is when someone mentions an album title, and everybody else responds ‘Oh yes!’
It is that reaction my new blog section seeks to achieve, by nominating an album on an important anniversary and just giving some basic information, plus some links to it including, where possible, a video of a representative track.
Of course, it is rare to get absolutely 100% approval for a selection: the reaction may change in different parts of the world where an artist was not so popular; there may be one individual who thinks an album is a classic that nobody else has ever heard of; or there may be an individual who just doesn’t like the artist mentioned, and so will defer from making the choice unanimous.
Then there is the choice of anniversary, which was a bit of a debate (with myself as usual) starting with the 50th anniversary of its release. Then I realised that if you are old enough to remember an album release from fifty years ago, then you are highly-unlikely to live long enough to cover all the albums you should! So what are the criteria for inclusion in this new section?
First longevity: when you play an album so many years after first hearing it, it should be as immediately accessible as when you were playing it regularly at the time. As my wife so succinctly put it the other day, it should sound like an old friend has called in for an unexpected visit after too long an absence, and you immediately take-up the conversation as if no time had elapsed at all.
Secondly popularity: not necessarily that it held a high chart position, but that it stayed in the UK charts for ages – meaning it continued to sell regularly as more people got to hear about it, the classic way that the best albums are recommended. And the UK charts because, even in this tiny global world of the 21st Century, that’s where I live, and how the popularity of my music is represented, or not as the case may be.
Third memorability: for me, a classic album has always been one where every track is accessible, and where they flow – ie they work best when played in the order the artist/producer chose for them. If, in our technological world, you reorder the album, or continually tracks that you do not like, then it cannot be Classic Album.
Finally originality: taking my standing criteria for an Album of the Year, it must be a studio album produced as a single project – so no compilations or live albums.
So all that needed to be decided was which anniversary. Taking the point that fifty years was too long as a single basic criteria, especially as it would eliminate many younger generations from the debate a choice might generate, what would be too short? In a way, artists today have decided that for me, because it is not unusual for an album to be ‘re-toured’ for its twentieth anniversary, so that forms the shortest period. And, as a decade is a great target in which to complete this section, the dates recognised will be the 20th, 30th, 40th or 50th aniiversary of the original release in the UK.
So the section starts today with what is probably the first album to be universally-recognised as a ‘Classic’. In 2016, the Official Charts Company published a list of the top-selling albums of all time in the UK. Top of that chart of studio albums, with over five million sales in the UK, was Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, on its fiftieth anniversary today, that is my first choice for a Classic Album.
For more Classic Albums, follow this link