Soundwaves: The most important albums of the last 50 years

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

By Karlton Tate and Isaac Rosso Klakovich

As music lovers, there are many albums that we would consider to be our favorites. Although we frequently discuss the most recent rap and hip-hop releases of the day, we enjoy all types of music and have a great appreciation for the roots of these genres. While it was difficult to pick one favorite, we have selected two albums that have had the greatest influence on our understanding of music today.

***While it has been clear since the first issue of Soundwaves that we regard Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” as a masterpiece of rap, we will abstain from further spreading the gospel of its excellence even though it is deserving of our incessant praise.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

As the eighth studio album released by The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” represents a critical turning point in the legendary band’s discography. By 1967, The Beatles had fully departed from the family-friendly sound with which they had amassed their fame, and many music listeners were unprepared for the revolutionary record.Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

After permanently retiring from touring in August of 1966, guitarist Paul McCartney had the original idea to record an entire album under an “alter ego” group to The Beatles, unlocking the door for the group’s pioneering creation of what many regard as the first concept album. Drawing on inspiration from guitarist George Harrison’s six-week stay in India, in which he learned how to play the sitar under the direction of the mythical artist Ravi Shankar, the record blends Eastern musical styles with familiar English rock. Reverberating drums and instruments like the sitar characterize tracks like “Within You Without You,” a song that critics have called the album’s “ethical soul.” Meanwhile, lighthearted compositions like “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “With a Little Helps From my Friends” clash with the serious tone of tracks like “A Day in the Life” to create a multi-faceted orchestra of sound.

Groundbreaking studio techniques like pitch shifting and multi track recording created breathtaking new vibrations for audiences in 1967, and the imperishability of the album’s unique sound will leave listeners with the same awe in 2017.

While the record is divisive among some Beatles fans, none can contest the album’s importance to modern music. In 2003, Rolling Stone crowned the record number one in their list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” which was followed by the National Library of Congress placing the record in the National Recording Registry that same year. To truly understand the significance of the modern day concept album, East students must explore “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and will find themselves awash in an ocean of sound.

Late Registration

With each of his albums Kanye West has taken rap in a new direction, and he was never more successful than with his second studio album, “Late Registration.” Despite only being his sophomore effort, West demonstrates his comprehensive understanding of his place in the rap industry and the rest of the world, backed up by his bold and innovative instrumentals. Rejecting common practice in the rap industry, West opts to use live instrumentation for his production and hired a string orchestra for the recording process, which he commanded with hard hitting and more conventional hip-hop beats to create a unique sound that was entirely his own.Late Registration

Innovative production in hand, West created a varied tracklist featuring everything from soulful R&B ballads to politically charged cuts to anthemic bangers. Complementing this varied tracklist is a carefully handpicked set of features, while instrumentals were meticulously crafted to match the subject material of the song. Tracks like “Roses” and “Hey Mama” show West’s tender side as he raps about the importance of his family over delicate and gentle production.

When the album turns political on tracks like “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Crack Music,” West takes a nuanced look at the issues while maintaining his musical excellence. In fact, even the album’s chart topping hits take a rather unconventional path to achieving radio play. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” is a braggadocious track with a bombastic beat and a stellar feature from West’s mentor Jay-Z, yet also takes an intriguing look at the side effects of sporting the extravagant jewelry referenced in many rap songs. Even “Gold Digger,” one of the biggest hip-hop hits of the 21st century, provides a surprisingly nuanced and understanding examination of gender roles.

As memorable as every track on “Late Registration” is, there are two tracks, “Drive Slow” and “Gone,” that are emblematic of the album’s place in music history. “Drive Slow” represents the soft side of West. Detailing his time spent riding around the hood learning about life, the laid back, jazz inspired beat matches West’s mellow flow to create a truly unforgettable and narrative driven track. However, it is the closing track “Gone” that truly defines the album. A lively piano, crisp snares, and intense strings set the stage for an aggressive track that takes the listener on an all encompassing journey through the world of Kanye West. The Chicago native starts the song with a pair of energetic verses followed up by Cam’ron and Consequence who maintain the high energy of the song and finally West closes it out with arguably his greatest verse of all time. He is bold and angry as he examines his fame, declaring himself to be a titan of the industry, and as the verse comes to a close and the album reaches its conclusion, it is difficult not to agree.

Photos courtesy of genius.com

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