FEATURE: Dorian Gray’s Daughter Wears Concealer: Do the ‘Classic’ Albums Still Influence and Move Musicians Today?



Dorian Gray’s Daughter Wears Concealer  


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Do the ‘Classic’ Albums Still Influence and Move Musicians Today?


I love interviewing various artists…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

from all around the world and like to drop in this question: "What sort of albums are you influenced by?" The reason I ask the question is to gauge responses and see how various people react. I am thinking back to last year when I was invited to be on BBC Radio 5 Live and talked about the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was an interesting day and I got to hear two people go at it regarding the album’s legendary status; whether it was just and exactly HOW important the album is, fifty years down the tracks. I was interested seeing how Steve Lillywhite (against the notion that it deserves its status) and Howard Goodall (in favour of its celebration and acclaim) argued their points. Lillywhite stated the record was a concept piece but had no real concept – bar the title-track and its reprise. He said some of the songs were twee and weak; it was not the best Beatles record and, when you consider the fact Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were left off the record – they appear on Magical Mystery Tour – then is it as strong as it could have been?! Goodall asserted (the record) pushed the limits of the studio and saw the band enter a new phase. The iconic album cover blew minds and the way the guys reacted to what was happening in 1967, and created a perfect album for the times, meant it was always going to get big reviews and love.



I have been listening to the record today and argue that, whilst I stand by the view it is a masterpiece and enormously influential; how many modern-day artists can you link to that record?! We might listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but how many bands have been influenced to an extent where they have pushed boundaries and tried to create their own version? I was asked, at the end of the interview, which album I felt was overrated and not as influential as it is claimed. My choice was The Velvet Underground & Nico. I am a fan of The Velvet Underground but have never really got the record – why do people drool over it and hold it in such high esteem?! From Radiohead’s Ok Computer to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks; how many of these stunning albums do we hear in modern-day music? You can argue that there was an explosion and impact in the years following these albums’ release. We saw changed post-1967 and, after each of these records, there were changed and reverberations. I return to my question regarding my interviews and there are albums that keep cropping up – those big records that artists all seem to agree on. I tend to find, if I had to pick one, Jeff Buckley’s Grace tops the list.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I can understand why many people love that record – it is in my top-five – but I wonder whether we are mixing the word ‘influential’ and ‘favourite’. If a record influences one then, surely, that must link to their own music and relate to how they write – whereas having it as a favourite does not imply you write in order to mirror that album. Of all the artists who have name-checked Grace as the ‘most important’ of their collection, there are very few who remind me of it; make me feel they have absorbed everything and carrying its legacy on. I can hear flickers of Buckley in others but it is more an impression and taste than a full-on purchase. Do we want to hear artists borrowing so heavily from classic albums? I have to ask whether, when we talk of those albums that are most influential, do we mean in terms of what changes they have made to the industry? Grace has opened up the male singer-songwriter market and, whilst it has not made sensitivity ultra-cool; it has made artists less afraid and bolder with their songwriting; putting emotions into the work and appearing more revealing. I scoff at the notion The Velvet Underground & Nico holds must weight but maybe its role was to make taboo subjects – it is like dining with Caligula when you listen to it – more acceptable and less stigmatised. Certainly, there is experimentation in the compositions and in the lyrics; daring and vivid expression that compelled the likes of David Bowie.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I can see how an album’s influence can affect another artist and, because of that, go down as ‘influential’. Do artists, today, look at something like The Velvet Underground & Nico and follow its guidelines? I think more people are moved by David Bowie’s movements – after hearing that record – rather than the original source. I can, maybe, say the same about The Beatles’ masterpiece and musical adventures that came after 1967. Throw in other albums like Patti Smith’s Horses and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. (You can add Joni Mitchell’s Blue into that list). I can see how Smith’s odyssey influenced everyone from R.E.M. and Madonna; The Beach Boys were acknowledged by The Beatles and changed Pop as we know it. These albums have, for sure, altered perceptions and remain faultless to a tee. I am curious whether the influence has stopped or changed drastically since their creation. A lot of these albums we see in the list of the most influential record ever tend to be from the 1960s and 1970s – it is not always the case but these are the decades that feature heavily. Even if we look at a ‘recent’ album like Nirvana’s Nevermind and we have to wonder, today, do we directly link it to another band or album? Maybe there are some Nirvana-like edges here and there but I have not heard anything as immediate, mesmeric and physical as that record since it came out. Maybe a sound-alike record is the only way we can do justice to that 1991 release – that would not be the way to do things and it would put people off.



Even if a big Hip-Hop record like Straight Outta Compton (NWA) or It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Public Enemy) created a wave after its release (both were released in the 1980s) I wonder whether they have aged as well as you’d imagine. Eminem and his peers have picked from those records but he is in a position when his best days are beyond him and his best material seems reserved to the past. I could give you a list of those albums that have started their own revolution but I wonder whether there is enough impetus and preservation intent from the young generation to ensure these titanic records find voice and a role in modern music. You look out at the best albums of the past few years and, whilst they have struck a chord, I do see some missed opportunities. I am not saying a band comes along and replicates Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds. There are strands from each that can be pulled and provided unique and bespoke colouring. The influence so often is hidden and watered-down to an extreme length. I feel music today is really strong and there are so many original artists changing the game. I argue the only way we are going to see these hugely influential records come now – how many world-class game-changers can you name from the past decade?! – is to take more from those influential giants from decades more and do something huge.



It is not lazy or plagiarising to take a lot from these records: they were recorded to influence others and make a difference in the world. Everyone is looking around for something immense to come along that influences future generations. Maybe music is so hectic and vast that we cannot properly slow down and make an album that lives up to such high standard – is it ever going to be possible to unearth a current album that pushes music on the same way as The Beach Boys and David Bowie did?! I think there is enough talent and technology we can see something wondrous happen. It is great accepting certain albums have opened music and led to incredible discoveries. I feel like people either leave it there and do not see how they can move that ball forward – seeing why Pet Sounds changed music and taking it a step further – or are listening to the big-hitting L.P.s and fearful of leaning heavily on them. It is interesting picking apart the argument and seeing if there is a clear answer. I feel there are a lot of albums, from the 1960s especially, that made a big dent when they came out but have diminished in effect after such a long time. It takes me back to a record like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, whilst it moved the 1960s’ listeners and was a mind-blowing move from the world’s greatest band; I have to wonder whether its influence, and many like it, has diminished heavily through the years. Are musicians trying to break away and create something unique? Is the influence translating in hidden ways and less overt than we might imagine? I have some doubts and wonder whether, given we have those records out there and they are free to inspire, artists are really doing enough to…



KEEP their memory and importance right in the forefront.