I'm sure when you heard the news that Oasis not only managed to take the top TWO spots in a recent poll of "Best UK Albums Of All Time," you assumed it had to come with a qualifying statement like "...in the last 20 years" or "...featuring two drunk brothers" or "...from the summer of 1993 to the fall of 1997." Like me, you joined the rest of the America in a collective "Really? Come on!" But there may be more good in such wild declarations than our narrow-minded world has allowed.
Yes, I wrote "narrow-minded," because the real reason we would feel surprised by this decision has more to do with the list's balls at giving the top slot to anyone but the Beatles. What's more, we aren't really shocked because we truly believe--deep down in the pit of our record collection--that a Beatles album deserves the top spot. Instead, we are surprised because in any list like this, the Beatles are ALWAYS at the top. Always. Every list I can remember from my earliest memories--and I read a LOT of lists--those four faces have all been smiling from the mountaintop. Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums Ever from about three years ago had Sgt. Pepper's at #1 (HMV has it at #6). They also list the group as the greatest performers of all time, as did Entertainment Weekly in 2000. It seems that the legacy of the band is so strong that no one can contest it without rattling cages, but rattling cages is exactly what should happen.
Understand me here: I'm not claiming that the HMV list represents the peak of analytical research. I'm positive that the average age of voters was under 24 and there remains a distinct possibility that thousands of them are, in some way, related to the Gallaghers. But what's encouraging about a coup such as this is that it's different. Institutions are questioned. There is great comfort to be taken in relying on old standbys in pop-culture. In some weird way, it is comforting for me to know that when asked what the greatest television show of my generation was, the winner would most likely be The Simpsons in a walk. The danger in these kinds of declarations--the kind that have kept the Beatles at the top of the world's all-time lists--is that it does not allow for challengers, nor does it encourage exploration. Before this list, if someone owned The White Album, their musical exploration had been complete.
I was a humongous Chicago Bulls fan in the Jordan years. There are few things that get me simultaneously nostalgic and emotionally wrecked, and talking about the Bulls' championship years and the play of Michael Jordan is one of them. When he retired (the first and second time... less the third), many people asked the inevitable and ridiculous questions, "Will we ever see another Michael Jordan?" and "Will anyone ever be as great as he was?" The easy answer for someone like me is, "No. Never," because my memory of Jordan is still so strong that every time I watch LeBron James or Kobe Bryant play, they are not directly competing with Jordan on the court. They have to compete with my romanticized memory of Jordan, which is actually more powerful than fact. It's like the girlfriend you get after your four-year relationship ended with her cheating on you. You might find an even better match, but you still have that lingering memory locked in your memory's top slot.
This is exactly what the last 30 years have done with the Beatles, and it must have caused a little distress for every single band that followed to be constantly compared to them. There aren't millions of dollars at stake exactly, but think of the weird revolution that would have taken place had this happened ten years ago. When something that's taken for granted is called into question, it feels like the world is shaking. Never mind the fact that the Beatles still secured five slots (more than any other band), the lowest of which was #21... and never mind the weird mathematical impossibility of Oasis even existing as a band without the Beatles in the first place, this is exciting news. Just think what will happen when film critics stop automatically placing Citizen Kane at the top of their pointless lists.
Other than that, the inclusion of Be Here Now seems a little weak and I can't believe The Clash's first album and Sticky Fingers didn't make the cut. What is with that country?
Reporting live from my office while listening to OK Computer, this has been an opinion presented as fact.