The Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” revisited
It Was 50 Years Ago Today
It’s 2017, the year The Beatles masterpiece “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” turns 50. It’s no longer 20 years ago today but 50, and in an ocean of reviews and articles, this is just another one to celebrate the existence of one of the most acclaimed and influential albums of all times, not just in Rock or Pop, but in the whole Pop Culture imaginary.
A Reference for All Times
There aren’t many people that lightly say something against this album or writes a bad review about it, in all honesty, it is indeed a masterpiece and a reference to so many things in the world we live in, it is right there with Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, with Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray Portrait”, with The Pyramids of Giza. Exaggeration? Maybe not so. If we had the chance to compile the cultural history of mankind in just one minute, there is no doubt this album would represent the pop music niche of it. Very few albums are perfect, very few can have that gift of being flawless from the beginning to the end, for me, this album it is not a flawless album, there are tracks that could had been left out of it and it wouldn’t affect a thing on it’s quality and influence. But that doesn’t changes on how we feel about it, because those tracks are part of it, even if not as superior as others, no longer we can imagine a different line up or track listing for “Sgt. Peppers”.
As far as it goes the history of rock or pop music, 1967 was a perfect year. Dozens of influential albums were released from January to December 1967 that became more than just 60’s classics, they became timeless. New bands, new sound experiments, new recording technology that allowed the creativity and imagination to flow like no other year before it. The Doors released their self titled album in January that sounded like no other band, The Velvet Underground & Nico gave birth to alternative/art rock, The Jefferson Airplane crafted the wonderful “Surrealistic Pillow”, The Jimi Hendrix Experience introduced us to new sonic adventures through “Are You Experienced?, just to name a very few. The Beatles released in early 1967 the double A-side single “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane”, a sample of the sound to be presented in “Sgt. Peppers”. I always find unfair that so many great albums from 1967 or even the late 60’s don’t get as much justice as “Sgt. Peppers” does, it is an innovative album, a refreshing sound with concept art work and concept track listing but before it’s release there were also quite a few albums as innovative and refreshing. So why did “Sgt. Peppers” became the chosen one to represent that year in music? Was it because of the popularity of The Beatles back then, being the biggest band in the world? Was it the songs? Was it due to the talent and mastery of producer George Martin? Was it the iconic progressive art work? Or maybe simply because of all those things put together? I’ll pick the latter.
The recording sessions for the album started in 1966, still during the popularity of The Beatles latest album back then “Revolver”, already a successful and fair predecessor to “Sgt. Peppers”. The experimental methods used on “Revolver” in tracks such as “Tomorrow Never Knows” foresaw the coming of the Beatles new sound. Like other bands of the day, it had been happening progressively, from the simple catchy pop songs of their first 2 albums influenced by 1950’s American Rock N’ Roll to 1965 Dylan’s folk influenced “Rubber Soul”. As the 1960’s advanced, Rock music started to change at a speed that was never to be felt again, it was like a bubble of creativity and innovation burst on rock musicians and The Beatles drank from it all. In a way, it shouldn’t had been surprising that “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” was to become their next step. Every album (to the exception of the first two) that they made became more and more different from the previous ones, and even after “Sgt. Peppers” that trend continued. George Martin often referred how he regretted not having included “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” in the album because of those songs having being released as a single earlier, it was how the music industry worked back then, and had those two tracks been included on it, instead of two other tracks such as “Good Morning” or “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)” that doesn’t really adds anything to it, this would had been a flawless album.
“Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released on the 26th May 1967 in the U.K, and it opened with the self titled track, with McCartney on lead vocals and a fuzzy guitar based rock song that is meant to sound like it is being played live. It was the first line we hear the iconic line “It Was 20 Years Ago Today”, the song introduce us to Billy Shears, for those who are not familiar with the “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy theories, this was supposedly the way The Beatles “found” to announce Paul McCartney’s “replacement” in the band, according the conspiracy theorists the real McCartney died back in 1966 in a car crash and his death was hidden from the world, in fact, “Sgt. Peppers” is considered by some of the theorists as the “Mother of All Clues”, lyrically and graphically. One of the most famous stories surrounding the release day is the one of Jimi Hendrix, a fan of the band living in London, learned the chords to the song “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band” and played it live that same day. The second track, sung by Ringo Starr is “With A Little Help From My Friends”, typically every Beatles album has at least one track featuring Starr on lead vocals, this one couldn’t be imagined with any other Beatles member other than Ringo on the lead, a mellow song that also became later a signature song for Joe Cocker when he covered it and mostly remembered by his famous 1969 Woodstock live performance of it. The third track it’s the first deep psychedelic one in the album, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, with Lennon on lead vocals. This song was controversially associated to the initials L.S.D, something the band always denied to have been done on purpose, when asked about it, Lennon always said the song was written based on a drawing by his son Julian. “Getting Better” is the fourth track, a less vibrant psychedelic song with McCartney on the lead vocals, it’s a song about change, a positive change leaving behind all the bad habits of the past. The fifth track is “Fixing A Hole” featuring again McCartney on lead vocals.A very good track though not one of The Beatles most popular songs, it is a well crafted soft psychdelic tune and pleasant to hear. The fifth track is the mellow “She’s Leaving Home”, a McCartney song with string orchestration in the same line as “Eleanor Rigby”. The Side 1 of the album closes with Lennon’s own “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!”. This song was inspired on Pablo Fanque’s 1843 circus poster that Lennon acquired, and all the characters and story of the song revolves around it. George Martin once said that Lennon asked requested him a “fairground production wherein one could smell the sawdust” Martin put all his efforts in making it possible, and this is the best example in Rock music of a Circus converted to an audio experience, due to the many multiple sound effects applied by Martin.
The Side 2 opens with George Harrison’s hindustani “Within You Without You”, an indian influenced song in the same line as “Love You To” from the album “Revolver”. A song that makes use of Indian instruments such as sitar, tabla, dilrubas and tamburas. The album continues with “When I’m Sixty Four” a McCartney song inspired by old time Music Hall, a fusion of ragtime and pop and McCartney’s efforts in classical music. This is not a psychedelic song, however, as said by McCartney it does provides the perfect interlude between the psychedelic tracks. “Lovely Rita” is the fourth track on the Side 2 of “Sgt. Peppers”, this is one of the most psychedelic songs on the album, and as it comes to an end, Martin provided perfect background texture for it that melts into the album’s signature song. “Good Morning Good Morning” it’s perhaps the weakest song on the album, with Lennon’s lead vocals it features a sound collage of several animal sounds and the song structure itself it’s somehow messy. Just before the end there is a reprise of the opening track “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, featuring a drum beat intro this time and instead of lyrical introduction speaks about ending the show. The Beatles wanted with this album to create the concept of touring without them going actually on tour. The whole album is like a full concert itself, however, the reprise of the opening track doesn’t really adds anything new to the album. The final track however it’s a masterpiece on it’s own. “A Day In The Life”, a two part song featuring lead vocals both by Lennon and McCartney. The first part of the song is acoustic and sweet, speaks about the news, car crashes, films, war. As it reaches an end we ca listen to a classical music orchestra playing in a frenzim with multiple layers of sound and noise and Mal Evan’s counting “1…2…3…” then it starts the upbeat second part of the song, paradoxical different from the first part and with McCartney’s on the lead vocals that lasts long enough for an ocean of orchestral sound bring us back to part one. The song ends with another orchestral sound collage. The reason for the song to be split in two parts is actually because it was initially two separate songs, the band and George Martin had the idea to put the two songs together, and though different, matched and mashed perfectly. The album is now over, however, when the needle reaches the dead wax you can listen to a imperceptible loop sound of what seems to be Lennon’s voice, when playing it backwards you will hear something similar to “Paul Will Be Back As Superman”.
Art Work & Packaging
The album artwork was designed by the pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth from an ink drawing by McCartney.It was art-directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper that also shot the photos in the back cover and the inside gatefold. The front of the album includes a colorful collage featuring the Beatles in costume as the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, standing with a group of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of famous people. The collage includes 57 photographs and nine waxworks that depict a diversity of famous people, including actors, sportsmen, scientists and Indian gurus. Some of the names that can be found are Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, Alistair Crowley, Tony Curtis,Oscar Wilde, H.G Wells, Marilyn Monroe among others. Adolph Hitler and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon, but rejected. The Beatles appear with mustaches reflected the growing influence of hippie style trends, while the group’s clothing “spoofed the vogue in Britain for military fashions”. The album’s inner sleeve featured artwork by the Dutch design team the Fool that eschewed for the first time the standard white paper in favor of an abstract pattern of waves of maroon, red, pink and white.Included with the album as a bonus gift was a sheet of cardboard cut-outs designed by Blake and Haworth, a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper based on a statue from Lennon’s house that was used on the front cover, a fake mustache, two sets of sergeant stripes, two lapel badges and a stand-up cut-out of the Beatles in their satin uniforms.This is one of the most acclaimed pop art works of all time and to this day subject of art studies. The art work is as influential as the music on the album.
How To Listen To It?
There’s a common agreement most of the times with fans of the album that this is a record that sounds better in Mono than Stereo, I did listened to several versions of this album both the original U.K releases in mono and stereo as well as many other releases from different countries. There is definitively a difference that can be felt and heard between the first U.K Mono release and all the other releases of this album that I’ve listened to (even if you’re not an audiophile you can feel it) recently the mono release was reissued on The Beatles mono box-sett and it’s more widely available these days, but whatever the release you listen to, you will find something special in this timeless piece of history.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
“With a Little Help from My Friends”
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
“Fixing a Hole”
“She’s Leaving Home”
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
“Within You Without You”
“When I’m Sixty-Four”
“Good Morning Good Morning”
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
“A Day in the Life”
John Lennon: lead, harmony and background vocals; rhythm, acoustic and lead guitars; Hammond organ and final piano E chord; harmonica, tape loops, sound effects, and comb and tissue paper; handclaps, tambourine and maracas
Paul McCartney: lead, harmony and background vocals; bass and lead guitars; electric and acoustic pianos, Lowrey and Hammond organs; handclaps; vocalisations, tape loops, sound effects, and comb and tissue paper
George Harrison: harmony and background vocals; lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars; sitar; tamboura; harmonica and kazoo; handclaps and maracas; lead vocals on “Within You Without You”
Ringo Starr – drums, congas, tambourine, maracas, handclaps and tubular bells; lead vocals on “With a Little Help from My Friends”; harmonica; final piano E chord
Sounds Incorporated: the saxophone sextet on “Good Morning, Good Morning”
Neil Aspinall: tamboura and harmonica
Geoff Emerick: audio engineering; tape loops and sound effects
Mal Evans: counting, harmonica, alarm clock and final piano E chord
George Martin : producer and mixer; tape loops and sound effects; harpsichord on “Fixing a Hole”, harmonium, Lowrey organ and glockenspiel on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, Hammond organ on “With a Little Help from My Friends”, and piano on “Getting Better” and the piano solo in “Lovely Rita”; final harmonium chord.
four French horns on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”: Neill Sanders, James W. Buck, John Burden, Tony Randall,arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney; string section and harp on “She’s Leaving Home”, arranged by Mike Leander and conducted by Martin; tabla, dilrubas, tamboura and swarmandal on “Within You Without You”, played by members of the Asian Music Circle, with eight violins and four cellos arranged and conducted by Harrison and Martin; clarinet trio on “When I’m Sixty-Four”: Robert Burns, Henry MacKenzie, Frank Reidy, arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney; saxophones on “Good Morning, Good Morning”, arranged and conducted by Martin and Lennon; and forty-piece orchestra, including strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion on “A Day in the Life”, arranged by Martin, Lennon and McCartney and conducted by Martin and McCartney.
Recorded during: 24 November 1966 – 21 April 1967 Abbey Road, EMI Studios London
Produced by: George Martin
Release Date: May 26th, 1967
There were no singles taken from the album, however, in some countries there were songs taken from the album released either as singles or included in a 4 Track EP.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “With a Little Help from My Friends”,”Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “Getting Better”, “Fixing a Hole”, “Lovely Rita”, “A Day in the Life”
Listen to “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” in Spotify:
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