In 20 years, we've seen Revolver replace Sgt. Peppers as The Beatles' greatest statement. How long before it gets replaced?
If you grew up in the '80s, you were told Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was the Beatles' best album. One reason for this was the "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" nostalgia factor when the album celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1987. But other more intangible factors also elevated the album to the top. The '80s saw the emergence of the compact disc, a medium that boasted enormous sound quality and enabled bands to record almost twice as much material for an album.
Then Nirvana came.
The movement had been growing. If it wasn't Nirvana, then Pearl Jam would have made the initial splash. If Pearl Jam failed, then Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or the Smashing Pumpkins would have opened the floodgates. But Nirvana was first and Nevermind, despite its six-figure recording budget, helped usher in a more stripped-down approach to recording for many artists. A decade later, bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes would take this renewed appreciation for more stripped-down productions even further with their releases by recording albums with musical equipment that sometimes predated the '60s.
Stranger things have happened. As downloads are overtaking the physical product, more emphasis has been placed on singles than actual albums. This could mean a dark horse like A Hard Day's Night could be considered since it's arguably the strongest collection of singles on an album. An argument can also be made for Abbey Road since it represents one of the hardest accomplishments that any band can achieve: make a final album that stands alongside a band's finest achievements. Or it could be the perpetual fan favorite The White Album, an album that represents the best and worst of unrestrained studio freedom.
The fact that any band could release a library of material that could effortlessly fit into most every change in popular music in the past 40 years is a testament to the brilliance of The Beatles. The fact that after all this time, we still can't make up our minds about which is the best Beatles album is an even greater testament.