The reasons why I think ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was great but not the greatest

I know what you’re thinking, how can I come along and open with a title so abrupt and emphatic, about something so widely argued for decades. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has been deemed by many critics as one of the greatest albums in history (if not all-time) and I understand why. At the time it was released, May of 1967, no one had expected that the newest Beatles album was going to be a clever concept sgt-pepperalbum featuring a band-within-a-band theme. The album is about a fictional character – Sargent Pepper of course – who is performing with his band – The Lonely Hearts Club Band – and an orchestra. This make-believe rock band performed to a generated audience which can be heard in the background of certain tracks.

Over half a millennium has passed since the initial release of Sgt. Pepper, yet the debate continues about whether other great albums should have a shot at the number one spot or if Sgt. Pepper should stay unparalleled.

Sgt. Pepper is known for being the first at many things: it was the first to win Best Album at the Grammys, first album to flow seamlessly from start to finish with no pauses, first full length album (LP) to be released without a single (45-rpm), one of the first concept albums ever made, and it was released only nine months after their previous masterpiece that is Revolver. Beatles fans were expecting a legendary album to follow Revolver – because how could The Beatles do otherwise – and that’s exactly what came when Sgt. Pepper hit the record store shelves in May, 1967. Maybe it was the pressure of the time or the closeness of the two masterpieces that just make each and its other seem so much greater. Perhaps to stand alone would be a different story.

However, compared to Revolver, Sgt. Pepper was an entirely different, and distinctly more artistic, approach at creating an album. It was seen as a piece of art; a chronology of songs that told a story together (supposedly). The Beatles had a massively diverse influence including genres such as: theatrical music hall, Eastern and Western classical, rock ‘n’ roll and even the blues.

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The advent of new recording studio technology such as multitrack recording and pitch shifting, which could make tracks faster or slower, and could create the overlay of different sounds.

One of the reasons why I don’t think that it should be the best is because the four-piece band had little connection when writing the songs that compile the album. For example, the three songs that play back-to-back on Sgt. Pepper: “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” “Within You Without You” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” are songs that I know were composed separately by separate Beatles and do not relate to each other whatsoever. Concept albums are supposed to continue telling a story, and I feel as though at times the concept gets lost. “Mr. Kite” was a John Lennon song, while “Within You Without You” a George Harrison, and “When I’m Sixty-Four” a Paul McCartney song. Each features its own theme and style.


Works Cited

Havers, Richard. “50 Facts About The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper Album.” U Discover
Music, 5 May 2017, http://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/
the-beatles-sgt-pepper/.

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Nevermind: how Nirvana sculpted rock culture in the 1990’s

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When American alternative-grunge-rock band, Nirvana, released their second album in September of 1991, it did much more than top music charts and sell 30 million copies; Nevermind screamed out everything that other bands were afraid to say about teenage confusion and emotional turmoil. Nevermind changed rock culture.

The album’s mega-hits “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” were part of the reason why grunge became so popular in the early ’90s. They were catchy enough become as fluent with teenagers as pop songs did, while holding high ranks on music charts. However the other, less popular, songs held deep contributions to the movement as well. Songs like “Drain You”, “Polly” and “On a Plain” are ones that I love listening to that did not reach the same anthem status but still rose with the album as some of the greatest rock songs of the ’90s.

If you were to ask me what I thought best described the lyrics of a Nirvana song, I would tell you that they lie somewhere near the apex of passionately angry and highly sensitive. Some songs make you want to cry while others possess you to kick a hole in the drywall that houses your bedroom. Plugged in, Nirvana was able to rattle bones with just a six string, a head-banging backbeat and a bass guitar to carry the track. Lead singer, Kurt Cobain, contributed his famous aggrieved rasp and desperately agonized vocals which were so recognizable that, almost twenty-seven years later, anyone in the world would still know that special Cobain sound.

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Unplugged, Nirvana told a whole other story with delicate strumming and lyrical sensitivity. They were the only rock band who had Kurt Cobain, a man who could scream for hours to cutting guitar chords (on maxed volume of course) and then tone it down enough to reveal a more vulnerable side of his music. Cobain was a genius when it came to expressing things that were painfully true albeit not at all easy to conjure into a song catchy enough to reach mainstream audiences.

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Not only did the Nevermind album change how bands jumped at opportunities to express their darker emotional artistry, but some might say that it guided the upheaval of grunge rock into the mainstream. As an album, Nevermind changed how rock sounded, and as a band, Nirvana changed rock culture. Ejected from the 1980s, rock saw a messier, less polished (more alternative) side in the 1990s. No longer was it the tacky ‘hair bands’ of heavy metal that held the spotlight, but rather a simpler theme. Three young men standing on stage in cardigans and ripped jeans accompanied by nothing but their instruments, pouring their hearts into their songs. They didn’t desire to have flashy lights, face makeup, or tight leather pants.

nirvana-bandaNevermind was so wrong that it was right.

From the Fires: the potential rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll

Will Greta Van Fleet command the much needed resurrection of the beloved lost genre?

In November of 2017, four young musicians from Frankenmuth, Michigan released the eight song rock album From the Fires. Not very often does a band, whose average age is somewhere between eighteen and twenty-one, put together an album of full blown classic rock, that not only sounds as though it was pulled straight from 1969, but oozes talent. I mean, where does that come from nowadays?

From the gentle ring of “Flower Power” to the driving beat of “Edge of darkness,” Van Fleet shows versatility and connection to their musical talents with From the Fires. They have that coveted blues rock, I miss my lady, nostalgia’s best friend, kind of feel and I must confess that I think their songs catch on just as well as – if not better than – some pop singles do today.

An unexpected gem.

35957429583_42303df537_bBefore I had discovered the freak of nature that is Van Fleet, I flicked on the FM radio in the car one day only to scroll unexpectedly to a voice that closely resembled the outrageous power of Led Zeppelin’s, Robert Plant. The distinct voice was accompanied by a guitar riff that boldly hummed the tune of some age old rhythm and blues song. Not knowing yet who it was by, there was an immediate magnetism about the piece. I read the title on the display, “Highway Tune” and the artist, Greta Van Fleet. I can remember wondering who they were – I mean the name itself demanded intrigue – so I asked my musically-all-knowing friends who have a rock band of their own.

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Greta Van Fleet on stage with Sir Elton John

My friends were inclined to tell me that I wasn’t wrong in thinking that they sound exactly like Zeppelin, and in fact Van Fleet takes musical inspiration from the legendary rock band. In the episode, Can Greta Van Fleet Save Classic Rock?, from Rolling Stone Magazine’s Music Now series, Brian Hiatt interviews the band about their musical influences. I understand the young group’s profound fascination with classic rock and blues; it’s pretty much all that my friends and I listen to as seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year old kids. It’s becoming more and more appreciated within the young generation and I think Van Fleet will be able to amplify the movement even more because of their age and therefore their respectability among youth culture.

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At the closing of “Flower Power,” there is an enchanting organ solo that pipes in, and frankly this is my favourite part of the whole album.


Works Cited

Hiatt, Brian. “Can Greta Van Fleet Save Classic Rock?” Rolling Stone, 9 Jan.
2018, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/
greta-van-fleet-on-led-zeppelin-influence-blues-roots-w515153.

Led Zeppelin: what’s original after all?

Response to Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” Part 1

The fourth-highest-certified music artist in the US, Led Zeppelin, has a knack for sometimes swiping lyrics and melodies from other artists. This very fact certainly worked against them in their attempt to win over a federal court jury in June 2016 for whether their song “Stairway to Heaven” was, in fact, their song. This case was between Zeppelin and the band Spirit, who released the song “Taurus” two years prior to the release of “Stairway.” The two songs just so happen to share a similar chord progression at the very beginning, but nothing else the same.

“The jury eventually decided that there was no [copyright] infringement,” told CBS News.

But how can one be entirely sure that this is the case for the rest of their so-called stolen songs? Should they also be ruled “without infringement” for stealing exact lyrics and melodies from a number of blues singers?

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Nine popular Led Zeppelin albums released between 1969-1982

In Kirby Ferguson’s video, he touches on a multitude of songs by Led Zeppelin that, in order to write, the band would have – undoubtedly – had to take inspiration from legendary singers Willie Dixon, Chester Burnett, Bert Jansch, and more. Ferguson’s first example from the video states, “The opening and closing sections of ‘Bring it On Home’ are lifted from a tune by Willie Dixon entitled (not coincidentally) ‘Bring it On Home.'” I think that this song by Led Zeppelin is a bold transformation of the original song by Dixon, because it takes the distinct lyrics from the very beginning – the entire phrase that is – and they play it to the exact same baseline only more pepped up and faster. The first phrase of both songs go as follows:

“I’m gonna bring it on home to you.
I’ve got my ticket, I’ve got that load. Conducter gone hollered, all aboard.
Take my seat, right way back. ooh yeah. Watch this train roll down the track.
I’m gonna bring it on home, Bring it on home to you.”

Even though Zeppelin has changed a few elements of the original, they still haven’t changed enough of the song to call it their own (even though they did). As Ferguson states in his video, “Many bands knock off bands that came before them, but they tend to emulate the general sound, rather than specific lyrics or melodies.” Zeppelin failed to capture just the “general sound”, instead they have taken the whole sound of many songs.

Not only did Zeppelin transform certain songs from their original version, by adding more lyrics and changing the tempo, but they also downright copied some others. For example, Ferguson mentions that Zeppelin’s song titled “Dazed and Confused” features almost the exact same lyrics, melody and baseline as the song by the same title by artist Jake Holmes. Not only did Zeppelin take all of these things, but they credited themselves as songwriters, without showing acknowledgement to the original blues singer. When this is done by an artist, it is considered against the law, for it is plagiarism.

Led Zeppelin has demonstrated a recombination of lyrics and guitar riff in a song not mentioned in Ferguson’s video titled “Whole Lotta Love.” Guitarist Jimmy Page did in fact write the melody for the song, although Robert Plant, the vocalist, lifted some lyrics from the 1962 song “You Need Love” by Willie Dixon which Plant sang to Page’s tune. By recombining stolen lyric with Page’s creativity, they were able to make a new song that went unnoticed of plagiarism until 1985 (when Dixon sued). When speaking with Rolling Stone Magazine, Robert Plant justified what he had done, “Well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

Considering these examples, I think that Led Zeppelin has failed to create their own content using the copying, transformation and recombination of original songs, for they have stepped outside of the legal boundaries of remixing. They haven’t given credit the the original artists of these songs, nor have they altered the sound enough to take their version from cover to whole new song. However, speaking as a fan of Led Zeppelin, I must defend that these are only a few songs, of many original ones, that just so happened to break these laws. Their talent as a band could have been utilized in a much better way, if only to overcome the temptations they had to copy another artist.

An amazing creator must stay true to the rules of remixing previously described. Only then are they able to share their content confidently without “ripping-off” a fellow artist.


Works Cited

Edwards, Gavin. “Led Zeppelin’s 10 Boldest Rip-Offs.” Rolling Stone, 22 June
2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/
led-zeppelins-10-boldest-rip-offs-20160622.

“Everything is a Remix.” Vimeo, vimeo.com/14912890.

“Jury: No copyright infringement in Led Zeppelin case.” CBS News, 23 June 2016,
http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/jury-no-copyright-infringement-in-led-zeppelin-case.

The Intelligent Hero Against Her Oppressors

Amanita Diallo in The Book of Negroes: Culminating Post

What gives a character the ability to overcome their greatest hardships and prevail with courage? Often the characters who radiate the most bravery and perseverance are also the most knowledgeable. These characters, however, are usually the ones who have been given privilege; a ready a foundation to carry them to where they need to be, a destiny already written that leads them to greatness. These characters foresee their battle before it hits them, so they have a chance to train and learn from a mentor. Is this cheating? No, it’s simply the typical plot of a heroic story.

However, the life of Aminata Diallo is far from typical.

At the age of eleven, she is ripped away from everything in her life she knows is good. It is then that Lawrence Hill begins to paint Aminata’s journey through The Book of Negroes. Beginning in the eyes of a young slave who, in the year 1756, is captured from her homeland in West Africa and brought to the colonies of America to work for white men, this story captures the attention of its audience. Her parents are gone like the innocence she one had. She is 6e5730134e765b5dd841c94334f93af9-black-tv-buffalo-soldierstripped of her culture and religion; forced to begin a new life with absolutely nothing but the company of some two hundred captives and a number of people who, one after another, claim to own her.

Throughout her captivity, Aminata learns how to utilize her surroundings and equip herself with knowledge from the white society. She learns how to manipulate her captors into giving her what she needs to survive above others. Although the first time this happens, it is by accident. When Aminata arrives on the slave ship, which brings her across the Atlantic Ocean from her homeland to America, she shares her experience when she is noticed by the white men. The leader’s assistant asks her about the midwifery skills she has learned from her mother, “‘Are you the one who caught that woman’s baby?’ I wondered how they knew. I wondered what else they knew about me”(Hill 60). Soon after, Aminata is seen as useful. She describes a man offering her water, “The medicine man passed me a calabash of water. ‘You help me.’ he said”(63). Aminata has only been on the ship a few seconds and she already has been noticed by her captors, made a deal with one, and managed to get a cup of water.

Aminata also shows her strength and determination by ignoring harsh words and outrageous situations. She shows just how much dignity she has by simply letting things happen, while keeping her cool, and not upsetting her captors. An example of this is when she is shown a map of her beloved homeland. She had been ripped away from it years prior, and misses it dearly, so when she sees the inaccurate map she is infuriated. She describes it, “In one corner of the map, I saw a sketch of an African child lying beside a lion under a tree. I had never seen  such a ridiculous thing . . . This ‘Map of Africa’ was not my homeland. It was a white man’s fantasy”(212). Aminata simply walks away and hides her anger because she knows the consequences of lashing out, and they were never good.

screen2bshot2b2015-02-192bat2b12-24-032bpmNot only has Aminata shown her strength through having dignity and silence in the right times, but she is also intellectually strong. The entirety of the time she spends in America, she is seeking out a learning opportunity. When she is living at the indigo plantation, she takes English lesson from a man named Mamed and says, “I knew that I had to understand the [white people] in order to survive among them, so I devoured Mamed’s lessons. Soon I could read and write as well as he”(164). Aminata soon becomes very educated and makes a name for herself; she writes an entire account of her story and composes, as an ally with a white man named Lieutenant Malcolm Waters, The Book of Negroes. This document was the book in which all of the black loyalists’ names were written before they were sent away to live in the free lands of Nova Scotia.

From lost slave to powerful, educated leader, Aminata Diallo has had a more than tough life which she has more than survived. She has manipulated oppressive slave owners, turned a blind eye to the disrespect of her culture, all the while learning the ways of white society. I would be lying if I said I expected this to happen when I first started reading this novel. Would you?

If you would like to learn more about Aminata’s strength, here are Lawrence Hill’s and Aunjanue Ellis’ – the actress who portrays her in the CBC series – take on her character.


Works Cited

Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Trade pbk. ed., Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007.

“The Book of Negroes’ Aunjanue Ellis on why Aminata is a modern hero | CBC
Connects.” CBC News, YouTube, 19 Nov. 2014, youtu.be/96DFQYuMr-8. Accessed
31 July 2017.

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Which Type of Literary Criticism Provided the Most Insight?

The Book of Negroes: final analysis

I’ve spent this past month reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and have analyzed it from three different perspectives; reader response, archetypal, and post-colonial. I believe that the category of “historical fiction” doesn’t do the novel justice, for it’s much more than that. It’s riveting. Not only does it follow the journey toward abolition, as other slavery novels do, but at the same time it splits open past wounds only to leave an everlasting impact on the present. It’s an educational novel when received from any point of view nonetheless, but when investigated using specific techniques, more can become uncovered.

I think the perspective which has allowed me to gain the most insight from Hill’s work was post-colonial literary criticism. This is because with this response, I was able to discover a lot about my text and really analyse the motives behind the main theme of the novel. The Book of Negroes pretty much centres around topics of loss, perseverance and courage which all come about because of the oppression of society at the time. Along with this, one of the main themes is that no matter the barriers which slavery and racial discrimination build against them, one must never lose hope that they’ll return back to the culture that was ripped from them. A quote that I find best represents colonial oppression is when Aminata says, “I was rowed out to the George III, inspected  for the Book of Negroes by men who did not know me, and allowed to leave the Thirteen Colonies. I knew that it would be called the United States. But I refused to speak that name. There was nothing united about about a nation that said all men were created equal, but that kept my people in chains”(Hill 311). This, when seen from any point of view, screams colonial oppression.

When doing the post-colonial response, I was able to recognize the ideology of the European society during the transatlantic slave trade and experience the backlash it had on slaves and the African culture. Land and families were ripped away from innocent African people, stolen of their languages and identities — replaced with “white person” names — and they were forced to work for whoever decided to own them. We follow Aminata’s journey throughout all of this while reading the story and are able to identify that the motives which drove the Slave Trade were money and power.

This perspective of the novel, having so many aspects of colonialism present to analyse, allowed me to learn a lot about the derivatives of money and power. I learned that something as simple as the opportunity to make money can cause humans to do inhuman things toward other humans. The saddest part is, is that at the time, treating a whole race as “the other” wasn’t even thought of as a tainted ideology; it was encouraged. With that, another thing that made me think deeper about the texts was that people’s power over each other was tiered. A person like Aminata is owned by an everyday white man and his family. This every day white man, either Jewish or Christian, then responds to his superior or the owner of him and his money. This superior then responds to the owner of a corporation, and then corporations answer to the King. These tiered levels of authority remind me much of today’s society — only without the obvious aspect of slavery — and I feel as though our yearning to succeed and have money will never really go away.


Work Cited

Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Trade pbk. ed., Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007.

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Escaping the Poison of Colonial Oppression

The Book of Negroes: pages 279-470

When analyzing Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes from a post-colonial point of view, I can recognize the problems and repercussions of the explicit colonial oppression that is shown in the story. At the centre of everything is the expansion of European power, through the colonization of new land, and the ideology that white people can control others solely based on skin colour. In the first section of the novel, we follow alongside main character, Aminata’s, journey after the British have taken the lives of her parents and she has been captured. She is taken from the rich culture and safety of her home in West Africa, and is now under the brutal control of the British, working for them as a slave.

Throughout her entire life, up until the end of the novel, Aminata has faced many challenges that have only led her farther and farther away from who she once was. She was a Muslim girl, who spoke no English, and practiced midwifery with her mother. Now, ripped from this reality and told that the only way to live is to embody what the British desire, Africa becomes more than an ocean away from her. The oppression of colonization, however, has made Aminata smarter in some ways. She utilizes her intelligence and learns how to read and write english very well; because of this, she stands out amongst the other captives.

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map of Transatlantic slave trade

Looking back to the first two sections of the novel, the problems of post-colonial identity are introduced to the reader. The slave ship alone — on which Aminata and some two hundred others are carried from Africa to British-colonized North America — is a place where Africans are shown disrespect, humiliation, and have their dignity stolen. For example, Aminata describes about the slave ship, “The men couldn’t stand unless they stooped — chained in pairs — in the narrow corridor where I walked […] They were all shouting for the same things: water, food, air, light”(Hill 64). Moving further to Charles Town, SC, where Aminata works as a personal slave for Solomon Lindo and his family, the reader gets a glimpse of the messy, colonized society in which they live. The centre of everything for white men is money, while the centre of every struggle for a black slave is freedom. In order to have the most maximized income, the white people must exploit the abilities of the black people — who they own — because even these white people are answering to an even higher authority.

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Illustration that depicts nature of slave ship

Are you still with me?

You see, there is no such thing as racial equality in this colonizing society, for there are even struggles for those who practice Judaism. As ironic as it is, even Solomon Lindo does’t consider himself treated equally as a “white man” because he is Jewish. This infuriates Aminata because while she doesn’t have her own freedom, he still walks freely because he has white skin. Aminata says about Lindo, “He had told me that Jews and Africans could understand each other because we were both outsiders, but even though the man preferred the term servant to slave, he owned me”(209). While Aminata’s personal dehumanizations are conducted on the first level by white men, the corruption of society as a whole is conducted by even more powerful authority figures such as the King and Queen of England and owners of large corporations.

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map of Black Loyalist settlements in Nova Scotia

By the final third of the book, Aminata has escaped Lindo and any other white power, and is volunteering to teach English class at a chapel in her community of other free Africans. While she feels a sense of liberation for once in her life, she decides to send out to get herself, her husband, and thousands of other slaves to the “promised land” of the uncolonized Nova Scotia. Aminata says to her husband, “We aren’t far from free, but we aren’t there yet. Not until we leave the Thirteen Colonies”(289). In this story, anyone who doesn’t have white skin or economic power was considered the “other.” If an “other” was brought over to live in a colony, they were under the complete control of some European superior. This displays exactly how race alone was able to shape people’s beliefs and perceptions of themselves and others. This white hegemony seemed to be undermined by intelligent black men and women, which clearly was not what the Europeans had planned.

Aminata becomes a Black Loyalist, sails among 3000 others to Nova Scotia, and is finally considered “free.” Although, at the time of this novel, there really is no such thing as a free black person living on British land, and their freedom comes with some cost. When brought over to Nova Scotia, the slaves are promised by the British that they would have freedom, though soon they find out that they are still under the control of the larger authority. The Book of Negroes reveals overall that there was more to the anti-colonialist resistance than just looking for freedom and finding it, for slavery was a multiple-century-long occurrence. Even when a glimpse of freedom is found for those who are enslaved in the Thirteen Colonies of the Eastern United States, the fight to have full freedom must carry on still.


Works Cited

Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Trade pbk. ed., Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007.

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