The Beatles – Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles – Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released June, 1967

Album not available on spotify or grooveshark. Sorry about that!

1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 0.00
2. With a Little Help from My Friends – 2.02
3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – 4.46
4. Getting Better – 8.15
5. Fixing a Hole – 11.03
6. She’s Leaving Home – 13.39
7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – 17.14
8. Within You Without You – 19.53
9. When I’m Sixty-Four – 24.57
10. Lovely Rita – 27.35
11. Good Morning Good Morning – 30.17
12. Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise) – 33.00
13. A Day in the Life – 34.20

This week’s main review is brought to you by Beatles fan Rosemary. You can find her on twitter here.

It is said that if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t really there. However, the release of “Sgt Pepper” influenced a good many serious musicians to re-evaluate the way music was made, recorded, marketed and remembered. As a marker in the course of musical history, “Sgt Pepper” is arguably unrivalled. Released in Britain on the 1st June, 1967, “Pepper” combined musical experimentation, recording artistry and lyrical allusions that produced a shockwave through the industry, and took the ‘Summer of Love’ into a new phase.

The album introduced a fictional band fronted by Billy Shears (Ringo’s laconic style fit beautifully with the double entendre; ‘What do you when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but i know it’s mine!’). After the opening Sgt Pepper theme and Shears’ ‘With a Little help From my Friends,’ the psychedelic ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ introduced a swirling world of newspaper taxis, tangerine trees and kaleidoscope eyes. The eclectic images reflected in the lyrics led many to assume that the hidden code LSD (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds) meant that the song was written under the influence, a claim that was rejected by both Lennon, his son Julian and the actual inspiration for the song, Lucy Vodden, who was a kindergarten classmate of Julian’s. However, this did not stop the sensitive BBC banning the song – just in case.

Following Lucy was Paul’s upbeat ‘Fixing a Hole’, followed another positive mantra in ‘Getting Better.’ Both Paul and John agree that the differences in outlook between the two of them were very obvious in this track. Paul, blithely warbling ‘It’s getting better all the time!’ is, somewhat cynically, replied to in John’s ‘Couldn’t get much worse!’ It seems odd, then, that the wistful ‘She’s Leaving Home’ should follow such positivity. George Martin, long time Beatles’ musical producer and collaborator, said in his book ‘The Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt Pepper’ (1994), ”She’s Leaving Home’ was a lovely song, but it was a bit downbeat…so I decided to place it after the more upbeat but less worthy ‘Fixing a Hole’ and ‘Getter Better.’ This beautiful juxtaposition took the listener on a journey from the happiest to the hauntingly pleading, in the space of 9 minutes.

The second side starts with George’s Indian classic ‘Within You, Without You.’ The result of his partnership with the legendary Ravi Shankar, this song seemed to fit nowhere within the theme of the album, yet it was crucial as part of the development and acceptance of non-Western musical styles and alternatives to the Judeo-Christian lyrical background. George’s ‘self deprecating’ laugh at the end provided a link into ‘When I’m Sixty Four’, a bubblegum track in the typical Paul style with a twist of sardonic prophecy. From the sublime, to the ridiculous!

George Martin recalls that ‘Lovely Rita’ was not one of his personal favourites, and he suggested it be placed alongside ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’ as a bit of ‘padding’ for the second side. However, the songs together show how wide the breach really was becoming in the way the band were thinking. ‘Rita’ played with the sexiness and naughtiness that was becoming a Sixties motif, whilst ‘Good Morning,’ with the defiant cock crow at the end, segued into the reprise of the album’s title song, bringing the listener back to ‘reality.’

The final song, ‘A Day in the Life’, satirised the traditional 9-5 workday habits – was it really a reefer Paul sang about in the middle? – as well as providing reviewers and conspiracy theorists with enough lyrical material to amuse themselves for decades to come. In fact, much of the song was influenced by newspapers John had been reading, including the death of Guinness heir Tara Brown in a car crash. The final, magical element – the crescendo of sound, based on an E chord, played by musicians wearing silly party hats and red noses and finishing in a note that – allegedly – only dogs could hear, sealed the album once and for all as one of the most adventurous, if not pretentious (Martin’s main worry), album ever to be released.

Some say that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys went mad trying to ‘answer’ Sgt Pepper. How could anyone answer a question that we are yet to fully understand? “Sgt Pepper” remains one of the most influential albums in popular music history, and its influence can be heard today in music from pretty pop to grunge and metal. An eclectic, important and beautiful album.

Regarded by many as one of the first concept albums, “Sgt. Pepper” showed just what could be achieved in the studio. Astoundingly, this was recorded using only a four-track recorder, so a method of editing and mixing several tracks down to one was employed, freeing up the remaining tracks. While not a rock opera or story-based concept album, Paul’s idea of an alternative Beatles band only seems to be present on the titular opening song and the penultimate reprise. The other songs were supposedly either performed by this fictional band or other fictional characters; for instance, Ringo is introduced as Billy Shears before singing the wonderful ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. It can be listened to as though the songs are part of a big concert where Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band open and close the show. There’s not much to link the songs together though, and most of them sound like them could be on any Beatles album. It’s hard to pick a favourite here, but I think I have to go with ‘A Day In The Life’ which finishes with that amazing scale climb by the forty-piece orchestra, followed by the E major chord being triumphantly banged out on the piano. My remaining highlights are ‘Getting Better’, ‘Lovely Rita’ and ‘She’s Leaving Home’. While I prefer other Beatles albums over this one, “Sgt. Pepper” is a remarkable piece of work that no doubt inspired other artists to dabble in studio recording techniques and to explore alter-egos and cohesive concepts.

Just like everyone has their favourite Beatle, everyone also has their favourite Beatles album, which becomes their go to whenever they need some of that Liverpool magic in their day. That go to album for me has always been “Revolver”. So whilst I had heard this album before and knew all of the singles from it, I had never really sat down with the album as a whole. It proved to be an interesting and worthwhile journey. If you look at the progression of albums from “Rubber Soul” through to “Revolver” you can see how The Beatles came to “Sgt Pepper”. All of the experimentation pays off in spades as they created an album that was not only great lyrically, but also musically. They hit the payload if you will! Whilst there are lashings of the Drug Fuelled Nonsense it is easy to forgive them because of the brilliance in the songs that make up “Sgt Pepper”. In this day and age it would be easy to write the album off as not being that special, much like our third week album “Pet Sounds”. It’s only when you really view it in the context of its time that it reveals itself as an album that took chances and as a result changed what was possible in music. All of this with a pop sheen making this style of music accessible to the greater public. By creating their alter egos in ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’, The Beatles were able to break free from the shackles of expectation and take it to the next level. And gee whizz I’m glad they did. Just for the record, “Revolver” is still my favourite Beatles album and George will always be my favourite Beatle.

Ahh, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. I still believe that this is The Beatles’ best album. I love the rocking, jangly guitar intro of the opening track and how it leads in to Billy Shears (who for a long time I thought was a real person… =\) singing ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’. A great song, which unfortunately has been tarnished for mine by Joe Cocker’s slurred version. I can’t pick a favourite song from this album, but ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ would be up there. The vivid imagery paints such an excellent picture of what John Lennon was seeing. The dynamics add a lot to the song too, very soft during the verses and building up to a big chorus. I’ll move on to ‘For the Benefit of Mr Kite’. Just by the by, I love how Wikipedia classes this as Circus Music… I guess it fits though, with the use of crazy carnival organ and chimes. I really dig the use of clarinets during ‘When I’m Sixty Four’. It’s a very simple song, but when you add the clarinets it makes it seem a lot bigger than it actually is. The song is a letter to McCartney’s lover, probably scaring her off with stories of saving for holidays and grandchildren Vera, Chuck and Dave. How oddly specific, given Paul was 16 at the time… I don’t really know what to say about ‘Lovely Rita’, except that he’s attracted to a parking inspector. Yeah. Hey, they’re the Beatles. They can do whatever they want. I’m going to finish as the Beatles did, with ‘A Day in the Life’. A song in three parts, the first and last are melancholy retelling of depressing newspaper stories, contrasting with an upbeat recounting of Paul’s apparently mundane morning. Every song is excellent on this album. It’s one of the few albums on the list that were already on my iPod. And there it shall stay. Love.

I’ve never owned a Beatles album. And for someone who has more than 700 days of music on their laptop, that’s saying something. I know that they are the biggest Pop band ever, but I’ve always rebelled from the Beatles thing. The first thing I learnt from this album happened at the CD shop, when I paid $27 for the digitally remastered EP. This fact woke me up to the fact that a) this album is a timeless classic and b) it’s still in demand 45 years after its debut. My first impression was that it’s beautifully presented – although I was disappointed that it didn’t come with cardboard cut outs of a moustache, picture cards, stripes and badges that were issued in the revolutionary and first ever gate-fold sleeve. Ang is probably having a hard time doing the MS Paint version of this cover – apparently the most imitated album cover and also the most famous of all time. Listening to the album, I really loved the different themes that were explored in the tracks; drug induced states, friendship, love, growing old and more! The thing that makes this album sound so good – for me- is that the they don’t seem like they are trying hard, it just flows effortlessly, it’s melodic and it’s fun. At times the lyrics are nonsensical, but they work, and are far from high school poetry (to borrow a phrase from Ang & Dann), with underlying messages. I can’t believe this album was recorded on just 4 tracks – every track is dense with layers of melodies and counter melodies, unconventional instruments and sound samples of roosters, bold brass, sitars and more. I feel a bit silly for rebelling for so long from something that could be so good. $27 well spent methinks.

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