Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fun in the Sun With Science and the Beatles

When someone on FaceBook the other day posted a survey on whether the Beatles were the greatest band of all time, it got me thinking about the origins of AM. When I started writing the column years ago and then created the website, the AM moniker was assumed to be the AM from early rock radio days; that AM stood for “Amplitude Modulation” (FM stands for “Frequency Modulation). It did NOT; although the site’s name was left ambiguous. Our intent and purpose, while convoluting the monogram, means "Absolute Magnitude," and is intended as a scale on which one can objectively rate music from 1 to 10. In astronomy, Absolute Magnitude is the actual brightness of a star. The sun above is the brightest object in our sky ("Apparent Magnitude"), but it is a small and dim star in comparison to 100 million others in our galaxy alone; it's proximity commensurate with its brightness. The sun's brightness is, it turns out, merely opinion. And that is the history of our rubric. (The rubric has been reposted below.)
Okay, The Beatles. Like anyone who's ever sung to their children, I appreciate "Octopus's Garden" as much as anyone, and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," I sang to my apparently "misguided" children (misguided on my part); why would anyone sing a song to his children about a serial murderer with a hammer? Those "children's songs" objectively denigrate an otherwise perfect album, Abbey Road. I did a survey years ago to find that the most skipped song in the Beatles' catalog (i.e. everyone's least favorite), was "Within You, Without You." Back in the day, I too skipped it, although now I see its merits as one of the top songs on Sgt. Pepper (for me, the third-best and one of the Beatles' most influential tracks). These little quirks deescalate Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road from AM10s to AM9s. (Yes, it hurts) There are few 9s and fewer 10s – the rubric is that steely. So, the greatest LP of all time is a 9? Yep.
Okay, then, examples of 10s: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Déjà vu, Dark Side of the Moon, Steely Dan’s Aja, The Cure’s Disintegration. Here's the thing, though: as much as the intent of the rubric is to be objective, that goal is not achievable. Your 10s will still be different than mine. Joni Mitchell's Blue, for instance, meets the rubric as a 10, but it's Court and Spark (an AM9) that is my favorite Joni LP. The AM rubric, though, comes as close as one can to finding a numerical system that objectifies rather than subjectifies the music we love.
Check out the rubric and then comment about your 10s. Are your favorites different than your AM10s?

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