In my opinion, the Beatles hit their peak with the 1966 album “Revolver” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the mind-bending track that concluded that masterpiece. I love the way the odd sound effects and distorted vocals blend so well together with a driving beat … in just under 3 minutes! “Tomorrow” was recently used to great effect at the end of a particularly good “Mad Men” episode (“Lady Lazarus”) from season 5.
“Revolver” was their last album that wasn’t a self-conscious mess. Yes, the Beatles had a lot of great songs after 1966, but in my opinion, the ratio of truly great to merely good or worse songs got wider and wider. That period between 1965 and 1966, when they released “Help!,” “Rubber Soul,” and “Revolver” was their best.
I still don’t know why people claim “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (the first post-“Revolver” album) is the Beatles’ best album, let alone “the greatest of all time.” Yes, its mixing and production were revolutionary for its time. But the actual songs (except for “A Day in the Life” which is legitimately great) are mediocre at best. To call “Pepper” a masterpiece for its production value is like saying “Titanic” is a great film because it cost a lot of money and had cool CGI. The cheesiest psychedelia from that period (and that includes The Strawberry Alarm Clock and Iron Butterfly) is way cooler that “Pepper” could ever hope to be. But I digress…
Since the late 1990s, it’s now a cliche to point out that television is more groundbreaking and artistically challenging than motion pictures. Yes, we do get the occasional artistically challenging film (“Black Swan”), but the most artistically challenging subject matter is now on networks such as HBO, AMC, Showtime, etc. Hollywood is more interested in churning out superhero sequels and conservative rom-coms than lead characters who are flawed.
“The Revolution Must Be Televised” by Alan Sepinwall is the first book to analyze these groundbreaking television shows and their impact on culture. Sepinwall starts with the HBO show “Oz” and then devotes extensive analysis to shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Shield,” “The Wire,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad” … among other shows. If you’re a fan of any of these shows, this book is a feast of behind-the-scenes details and cultural analyses. The fact that it’s taken this long to see a book that chronicles and celebrates the late 1990s – new Milenium of artistically audacious series TV is proof enough that the medium is still not taken as seriously as film, which has become way more conservative than anyone could have ever imagined.
One criticism I have of Sepinwall’s book is the lack of focus on comedy. With “Sex and the City,” “Arrested Development,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Louis” in the bloodstream, you wonder why he didn’t give a token shout-out to these revolutionary shows. But what’s there in this book is very, very good. And if you’re a fan of any of these shows … or just a fan of quality drama … this book is a must.