In the first week of June 1967, The Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. It shook the music world like a sound wave rippling across the boomer universe. It won the Grammy Award for that year, and, with the exception of some American music critics, received praise from reviewers. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named it the “most important album ever made.” We’ve all heard boomers heap such accolades on the record and the group, but rarely do you get to digest succinct reasons why. Mister Boomer didn’t think much of the album when it came out, but here offers his reasoning why he believes the record was definitely a milestone in rock ‘n roll, but was hardly the band’s best.
Words like “innovative” have always been bantered about in rock ‘n roll, but this album had innovative written all over it, starting with the title and cover. The Beatles were exhausted from a grueling four years of touring and had had enough. The last live concert they played was August 26, 1966. They took a break and each went their own way. Most famously, George went to India to study Transcendental Meditation (and learned sitar in the process), and John starred in the movie, How I Won the War. It was directed by Richard Lester, who had previously directed A Hard Days Night and Help! John also met Yoko Ono on one of his many London art gallery visits.
When the band got back together, they had ended touring permanently. Gone were the matching suits and haircuts as the group embraced the counter-culture attire of the time. They found that recording music in a studio that was explicitly designed to be difficult if not impossible to repeat before a live audience was a freeing experience, and it prompted an experimental streak in the Fab Four. Before long talk of an album was raised.
The first two songs the band recorded were Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, both considered candidates for the Sgt. Pepper’s album. Pressured from the record company for a new single after their time off, the band released the songs as a double-A side single in February of 1967. The songs ultimately were not included on the Sgt. Pepper’s album, but were later tracks on the Magical Mystery Tour album.
While the band engaged in recording sessions that could last through the night, Paul had the notion of making a concept album. His idea was to create a fictitious band and band members — alter egos of themselves. As fictitious characters, they would be totally free musically to do whatever they wanted. As they proceeded with the idea, the concept was that the album would be a recording of one of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s live performances.
What resulted was a base of English dance hall music that paid tribute to the genre they had experienced as boys, blended with elements of rock, vaudeville, jazz, blues, circus music, big band, and most notably, psychedelia and Eastern mysticism. It was the latter that, since it was released in June of 1967, rocketed it instantly to become the anthem for the Summer of Love.
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
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
The album was filled with firsts; it was considered the first 8-track recording in Britain. There had been 8-track recordings in the States, but Britain lacked the equipment. The Beatles’ engineers synced two 4-track units to create a virtual 8-track system. They had previously experimented with recording techniques on Revolver and Rubber Soul, and now adapted many for Sgt. Pepper’s, including direct input, where McCartney’s bass was plugged directly into the mixing console’s microphone input; tracks of vocals were recorded at different speeds, then mixed with new vocals for a richer sound; among others. It was also the first record to incorporate song lyrics into the cover design, with the lyrics to every song printed on the back cover.
When it came time to conceptualize the cover, the band members were asked by artist Peter Blake to come up with a list of people they would have liked to play for, living or deceased. The idea was that the group would surround Sgt. Pepper’s band, in satin marching band outfits, as if they were the audience that had listened to the concert. Ultimately 61 people were chosen and represented as cardboard cutouts, including artists, literary figures, musicians, singers, Indian yogis, movie stars, actors, psychologists and comedians. The cover went on to be considered one of the great artworks of album cover design.
Suggestions that some lyrics referred to drug use prompted the BBC to ban the play of A Day in the Life, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Fixing a Hole and Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! The Beatles denied the allegations, but in recent years Paul McCartney confirmed that not only were the references intentionally there, but that the album itself was created with the use of copious amounts of marijuana, among other things.
The record was produced without the usual bands between tracks, so there would be no break between songs in an effort to encourage listening to an entire side at once. Instead, crossover fades led from one track to another, to give the impression of a live show recording. This was so successful that radio stations began to play the record in its entirety, boosting a burgeoning FM radio industry with what was later referred to as album-oriented rock (AOR).
A few years earlier boys adopted The Beatles’ haircut and suit, and now, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, they were free to explore the realm of color and pattern that dominated young people’s attire in the late 1960s. When asked about the cultural influence of the album in the early 2000s, Paul McCartney said he did not accept that The Beatles were leaders in the Cultural Revolution, but rather, reflected the cultural influences of the time.
Mister Boomer remembers when his brother brought home the album. On first listen played on their bedroom record player, Mister B was not impressed. Brother Boomer went on to play A Day in the Life incessantly, and, though Mister B found the juxtaposition of the news story with the bouncier morning wake-up scenario interesting, he ultimately dismissed it. He was much more drawn to a few others, like Fixing A Hole, She’s Leaving Home and With a Little Help From My Friends. Then, as now, Mister B prefers the earlier albums. Sgt. Pepper’s did mark a change in the music of the Fab Four. Some say it was a loss of innocence, but Mister B just missed the backbeat that made him — and many other boomers — want to twist and shout. Mister Boomer feels that if you compare the songs of Sgt. Pepper’s to those of Revolver and Rubber Soul, there is no contest. For that matter, compare it to the White Album.
What did you think of the Sgt. Pepper’s album, boomers, and what do you think now that nearly a half-century has passed since its release?