Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No. 127: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

Band: The Mamas And The Papas
Album: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Along with Peter, Paul And Mary, The Mamas And The Papas were the best of the best in the folky pop genre of co-ed singers. They were on the forefront of the "California sound" (whatever that is), as evidenced by the classic song "California Dreamin'."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is not my thing. There's just no way to get around it. I can't hear this without thinking of some dreadlocked idiot in the park playing a beaten guitar. Screw that guy.
Best song: "Monday, Monday" is a pretty classic song, on some level. Certainly, the harmonies in "California Dreamin'" are iconic.
Worst song: No song is worst. They're all just different levels of great.
Is it awesome?: I. Just. Don't. Know.

Because I don't really know anything to say about this record, I'm going to give a little apology on the nature of this project and why I probably shouldn't be writing about this sort of record...

I studied journalism in college and I still consider myself a journalist (even though my job title is "Online Content Producer" and I'm not doing conventional journalist stuff). I'm about to study journalism in graduate school.

While doing this project, I'm continually questioning the nature of criticism in regards to journalism. How hard is it to keep an open mind on a record with which I'm not familiar? It's very hard. How much of a pass do I give artists whose popular work I enjoy (Sly & The Family Stone, for example)? Probably more than I should. How much white guilt is built into some of the black artists? Probably more than I'd like to admit.

And by that nature, it's hard to critique these records from a purely unbiased place. Most journalism ethicists agree that a truly unbiased journalism is impossible (were I a reporter, it would be harder for me to be critical of Illinois/Chicago politicians than to be critical of politicians from, say, Texas), but the nature of criticism is to have strong opinions.

(Quick aside: One of my favorite lines I've written was a very strong music opinion. While reviewing albums for one of my college papers, I wrote "If you think Belle & Sebastian is better pop music than Britney Spears, you're an asshole." It was changed by my editor to "You're wrong," but I still love the strength in the original line.)

The problem is that I have to hedge my opinions on records I just don't enjoy. For example, I'm not a country music fan. When we get to the Hank Williams record later this week, it's going to be hard for me to jump whole hog into it, while something like "Remain In Light" is right in my wheelhouse. For Hank, what you'll see is a very large accumulation of sentences that start like "It's not my thing, but..." and "It's hugely influential..."

Almost all the Dylan pieces are like this. I'm not trying to buck conventional wisdom, I just don't like Dylan that much. Same with Springsteen. I've tried to put my head in the Dylan- and Springsteen-worshippers of the world, but that's not my head. Pink Floyd and the Beatles are my bands.

And so go The Mamas And The Papas. I wasn't even a glimmer in my parents' minds in 1966, so I can't even imagine the impact of a record like "If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears." Allmusic says it was a really new sound, so I'll take that for what it is. I enjoy their version of "Do You Wanna Dance" more than The Ramones', so that's worth something. I think it's really cool that they got in trouble for having a toilet on the cover. Toilets, to be frank, are cool.

But, overall, this isn't for me. It's from a bygone era. I can't be unbiased about that and for that opinion, I'm sorry.

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