On My Record Player Part 17

The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

I have to say it is very intimidating to even attempt to write a review of this album. After it has been declared the number 1 album of all time by Rolling Stone, it is basically the music of which all other music is measured to in a sense. The music created here is magic. 4 talented musicians that wrote brilliant pop music at a wonderful era for great art in the past 50 years. So, as I am writing this, Sgt. Peppers is 42 and a half years old and it is just fascinating that with its level of immense respect and adoration, it can be considered a very young masterpiece with hundreds of years of value to future generations. I love hearing this on vinyl. The sound is perfect and these songs are just so freakin good. Every song, you just wanna sing along too. The melodies are so catchy and brilliant. I especially enjoy “She’s Leaving Home.” I cant imagine how they decided on the concept and theme for the subject matter of each songs and how they all transition together, but it just works. Oh wow, side 2 opens with Within Without You and it sounds magnificent hooked up to good speakers. Great job George! The Indian influence of Ravi Shankar kicks so much ass. Things just work out perfectly at the right time for people and it really did for the Beatles in 1967. It is so fascinating as well that they were no longer performing for audiences and only doing work in the studio for records. This seemed to benefit their creativity, I believe. My favorite song is “A Day in the Life.” These guys were so nurtured in writing pop music compositions and John comes along with a little help from his friends and puts together this great song. They have a song here that truly stands out amongst all the bands and songwriters that were attempting to come close to what the Beatles have been doing. It transcends the concept of psychedelic music and lifestyle into a glimpse of what its like to journey through life as an angel or flirting with the entrance into heaven. The orchestra addition to the song gives so much spirit and you feel so relaxed listening to it. I love it! Close?

Rolling Stone – 5 out of 5 stars.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time. From the title song’s regal blasts of brass and fuzz guitar to the orchestral seizure and long, dying piano chord at the end of “A Day in the Life,” the thirteen tracks on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandare the pinnacle of the Beatles’ eight years as recording artists. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were never more fearless and unified in their pursuit of magic and transcendence.

Issued in Britain on June 1st, 1967, and a day later in America,Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is also rock’s ultimate declaration of change. For the Beatles, it was a decisive goodbye to matching suits, world tours and assembly-line record-making. “We were fed up with being Beatles,” McCartney said decades later, in Many Years From Now, Barry Miles’ McCartney biography. “We were not boys, we were men . . . artists rather than performers.”

At the same time, Sgt. Pepper formally ushered in an unforgettable season of hope, upheaval and achievement: the late 1960s and, in particular, 1967’s Summer of Love. In its iridescent instrumentation, lyric fantasias and eye-popping packaging, Sgt. Pepper defined the opulent revolutionary optimism of psychedelia and instantly spread the gospel of love, acid, Eastern spirituality and electric guitars around the globe. No other pop record of that era, or since, has had such an immediate, titanic impact. This music documents the world’s biggest rock band at the very height of its influence and ambition. “It was a peak,” Lennon confirmed in his 1970 Rolling Stone interview, describing both the album and his collaborative relationship with McCartney. “Paul and I definitely were working together,” Lennon said, and Sgt. Pepper is rich with proof: McCartney’s burst of hot piano and school-days memoir (“Woke up, fell out of bed . . . “) in Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” a reverie on mortality and infinity; Lennon’s impish rejoinder to McCartney’s chorus in “Getting Better” (“It can’t get no worse”).

Sgt. Pepper was our grandest endeavor,” Starr said, looking back, in the 2000 autobiography The Beatles Anthology. “The greatest thing about the band was that whoever had the best idea – it didn’t matter who — that was the one we’d use. No one was standing on their ego, saying, ‘Well, it’s mine,’ and getting possessive.” It was Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ longtime assistant, who suggested they reprise the title track, just before the grand finale of “A Day in the Life,” to complete Sgt. Pepper‘s theatrical conceit: an imaginary concert by a fictional band, played by the Beatles.

The first notes went to tape on December 6th, 1966: two takes of McCartney’s music-hall confection “When I’m Sixty-Four.” (Lennon’s lysergic reflection on his Liverpool childhood, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” was started two weeks earlier but issued in February 1967 as a stand-alone single.) But Sgt. Pepper‘s real birthday is August 29th, 1966, when the Beatles played their last live concert, in San Francisco. Until then, they had made history in the studio — Please Please Me (1963), Rubber Soul(1965), Revolver (1966) — between punishing tours. Off the road for good, the Beatles were free to be a band away from the hysteria of Beatlemania. McCartney went a step further. On a plane to London in November ’66, as he returned from a vacation in Kenya, he came up with the idea of an album by the Beatles in disguise, an alter-ego group that he subsequently dubbed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “We’d pretend to be someone else,” McCartney explained in Anthology. “It liberated you — you could do anything when you got to the mike or on your guitar, because it wasn’t you.”

Only two songs on the final LP, both McCartney’s, had anything to do with the Pepper character: the title track and Starr’s jaunty vocal showcase “With a Little Help From My Friends,” introduced as a number by Sgt. Pepper’s star crooner, Billy Shears. “Every other song could have been on any other album,” Lennon insisted later. Yet it is hard to imagine a more perfect setting for the Victorian jollity of Lennon’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (inspired by an 1843 circus poster) or the sumptuous melancholy of McCartney’s “Fixing a Hole,” with its blend of antique shadows (a harpsichord played by the Beatles’ producer George Martin) and modern sunshine (double-tracked lead guitar executed with ringing precision by Harrison). The Pepper premise was a license to thrill.

It also underscored the real-life cohesion of the music and the group that made it. Of the 700 hours the Beatles spent making Sgt. Pepper (engineer Geoff Emerick actually tallied them) from the end of 1966 until April 1967, the group needed only three days’ worth to complete Lennon’s lavish daydream “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” “A Day in the Life,” the most complex song on the album, was done in just five days. (The oceanic piano chord was three pianos hit simultaneously by ten hands belonging to Lennon, McCartney, Starr, Martin and Beatles roadie Mal Evans.) No other Beatles appear with Harrison on his sitar-perfumed sermon on materialism and fidelity, “Within You Without You,” but the band wisely placed the track at the halfway point of the original vinyl LP, at the beginning of Side Two: a vital meditation break in the middle of the jubilant indulgence.

The Beatles’ exploitation of multitracking on Sgt. Pepper transformed the very act of studio recording (the orchestral overdubs on “A Day in the Life” marked the debut of eight-track recording in Britain: two four-track machines used in sync). And Sgt. Pepper’s visual extravagance officially elevated the rock album cover to a Work of Art. Michael Cooper’s photo of the Beatles in satin marching-band outfits, in front of a cardboard-cutout audience of historical figures, created by artist Peter Blake, is the most enduring image of the psychedelic era. Sgt. Pepper was also the first rock album to incorporate complete lyrics to the songs in its design.

Yet Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the Number One album of the RS 500 not just because of its firsts — it is simply the best of everything the Beatles ever did as musicians, pioneers and pop stars, all in one place. A 1967 British print ad for the album declared, “Remember Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Is the Beatles.” As McCartney put it, the album was “just us doing a good show.”

The show goes on forever.

Pitchfork – 10.0 out of 10

Finally free of touring, the Beatles next sought to be free of themselves, hitting on the rather daft concept of recording as an alias band. The idea held for all of two songs, one coda, and one album sleeve, but was retained as the central organizing and marketing feature of the band’s 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hailed on its release as proof that popular music could be as rich an artistic pursuit as more high-minded media such as jazz and classical, the record’s reputation and sense of ambition ushered in the album era. Its influence was so pervasive and so instructional regarding the way music is crafted and sold to the public that this is still the predominant means of organizing, distributing, and promoting new music four decades later, well after the decline of physical media.

The concept, of course, is that the record was to be recorded by the titular fictional band, a washed-up rock’n’roll group on the comeback trail. (This was actually the second concept earmarked for the Beatles’ next LP; the original, a record of songs about Liverpool, was abandoned when its first two tracks were needed for the group’s next single, “Strawberry Fields Forever”/ “Penny Lane”.) Probably for the best, little of the fictional-band vision for the record made it through; what did last from that conceit are a few tangential ideas– a satirical bent on popular entertainment and a curiosity with nostalgia and the past.

The record opens with a phony live performance by the Lonely Hearts Band, a sort of Vegas act– the sort of thing that, in 1963, people thought the almost certainly soon-to-be-passé Beatles would be doing themselves in 1967. Instead, the Beatles had completed their shattering of the rules of light entertainment, even halting their own live performances, which they’d never again do together for a paid audience.

Even as they mocked this old version of a performing band, ironically Sgt. Pepper’sand its ambitions helped to codify the rock band as artists rather than popular entertainers. In the hands of their followers, the notion of a pop group as a compact, independent entity, responsible for writing, arranging, and performing its own material would be manifested in the opposite way– rather than holing up in the studio and focusing on records, bands were meant to prove in the flesh they could “bring it” live. Notions of authenticity and transparency would become valued over studio output. (To be fair, upstart bands had to gig in order to get attention and a reputation, while the Beatles, of course, could write, break, and rewrite their own rules; they had the luxury and freedom to take advantage of a changing entertainment world and could experiment with different, emerging models of how to function as a rock band in much the same way that Trent Reznor or Radiohead can today.)

The freedom from live performance didn’t necessitate that Beatles songs now sounded practiced or rehearsed, and indeed they weren’t. Instead, they were studio creations assembled in sections and pieces. As the band splintered, this practice would spill over into releasing song sketches on the White Album and inspire, in part through necessity, the lengthy song cycle at the close of Abbey Road. On Sgt. Pepper’s, the most rewarding manifestation of this shift was the record’s most forward-looking piece, “A Day in the Life”. Complex in construction and epic in feel, “A Day in the Life” nevertheless seems enveloping and breezy to listeners. Indeed, the sustained, closing ringing chord of the song comes a mere 4:20 into the track.

“A Day”‘s only best-in-show competitor was McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home”. (As on Revolver, the peaks here were a mold-breaking closer and classically inspired story-song). “A Day in the Life” has only grown in estimation, rightfully becoming one of the most acclaimed Beatles tracks. “She’s Leaving Home”, by contrast, has slid from view– perhaps too maudlin to work on classic rock radio and too MOR for hipster embrace, it was nevertheless the other headline track on Sgt. Peppers when it was released. The story of a runaway teen, it misses as a defiant generational statement in part because it’s actually sympathetic to the parents in the song. In the second verse, McCartney defies expectations by not following the young girl on her adventure but keeping the track set in the home as her parents wake to find her goodbye letter.

In the end, we learn “She” left home for “fun”– a rather churlish reason, and when paired with McCartney’s simplistic sentiments in “When I’m 64” (the aging couple there will be happy to “scrimp and save”), the young girl seems more selfish than trapped. In fact, for a group whose every move was a generational wedge, and for such a modern record, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s is oddly conservative in places: “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” takes inspiration from a Victorian-era carnival; “When I’m 64” is a music-hall parody that fantasizes about what it would be like to be the Beatles’ grandparents’ age; “Fixing a Hole” has a rather mundane domestic setting; the fantasy girl in “Lovely Rita” is a cop.

Lyrically, it’s an atypical way to usher in the Summer of Love, but musically, the record is wildly inventive, built on double-tracking, tape effects, and studio technology. The dream-like haze of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, the fairground, sawdust feel of “Mr. Kite”, and the cavalcade of sound effects at the end of “Good Morning Good Morning” were the most demonstrative sounds on the record, but otherwise benign passages were also steeped in innovation, whether recording from the inside of a brass instrument or plugging instruments directly into the sound board instead of capturing them through mics.

Almost everything done on Sgt. Pepper’s turned out to be new and forward-thinking, from the iconic record sleeve to the totemic ending to “A Day in the Life”. There are very few moments in pop music history in which you can mark a clear before and after, in which almost everything changed. In the UK, it’s arguably happened only five times, and on just four instances in the U.S. (Thriller here; acid house and punk there, and Elvis everywhere, of course); in both nations, the Beatles launched two of those moments.

In retrospect, it almost seems like this time the band itself was taken aback by its own accomplishments, not only shying from directly living up to Revolver via the smoke and mirrors of the Lonely Hearts Club Band but then never again throwing themselves into their work as a collective unit. Sgt. Pepper’s, possibly as a corrective to the hushed tones with which it’s been received for decades, has slipped in estimation behind a few of the band’s other records, but it’s easy to hear how it achieved that reputation in the first place. Even if John, Paul, George, and Ringo would arguably go on to best a handful of its moments, the amazing stretch of music created in 1966-67 was the peak of the Beatles as a working band.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: