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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: 50 Years Later

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Today, June 1st, is the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ 1967 album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album is considered by many to be The Beatles’ greatest album, and possibly the greatest album of all time. The album holds the number one slot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums [1]. While I disagree that Sgt. Pepper’s is the greatest album of all time, I do think it is an amazing album and one of the greatest musical achievements of the 1960s. However, the question stands: is it the greatest Beatles’ album? To give an opinion on this, we must first understand the dynamic of the band when the album came out, and what lead to the record’s release.

1966 was a very hectic year for The Beatles. In March, the band came under fire of controversy after John Lennon proclaimed that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. In August amidst the controversy, the group released their seventh studio album titled Revolver. The album continued the experimentation of music styles which the group had utilized on their previous release Rubber Soul. Revolver featured hit songs such as “Taxman”, “Eleanor Rigby”, and “Yellow Submarine” which portrayed the band’s original sound from earlier albums. However, the band experimented with Indian music on “Love You To”, Hard Rock on “She Said She Said”, and Psychedelic music on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. By the end of the month, the group had embarked on another US tour; which would be their last. After touring for eight years, The Beatles had grown tired of touring and dealing with the craziness of “Beatlemania”. This is where Sgt. Pepper’s was born. After performing the final show of the tour at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the fab four were determined to quit touring and focus strictly on musical development and their next project: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sgt. Pepper’s was the band’s first concept album, and centered around the idea that the performing artist wasn’t The Beatles but was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The idea was crafted by Paul McCartney who (like the other three members) was fed up with being a Beatle. The band took their experimentation to its max, and played with Hard Rock, Indian music, Psychedelic music, and included orchestral instrumentation on several songs. One of the album’s strongest elements is its diversity in sound, and how it masterfully captures different musical genres of the era. The album is an accumulation of all the sub genres of rock music from the 1960s, and accurately portrays the decade as a whole. The album kicks off with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which introduces the fictional band to the audience. The song is full of awesome distorted guitar licks, which gives the album the proper introduction. Following this song is the album’s first hit, “With a Little Help From My Friends”. This song was famously one of the few in the Beatles’ catalog to be sung by drummer Ringo Starr. This song is an upbeat pop hit of the Beatles. The third song on the album is one of the band’s most famous, and is called: “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”. This song is the group’s greatest Psychedelic rock song. The song is interwoven with psychedelic lyrics and sounds; and as McCartney admitted later, the band’s psychedelic drug use did influence the song’s composition. The song gained a lot of controversy for its title; which many people believed stood for LSD. Around the period following Revolver, many people began to question the band about their drug use. In the months following, the band admitted to using LSD; and the drug became a major part of John Lennon’s life for years to come. However, the band defended their assertions that the song’s title had nothing to do with LSD. While the album starts off with a defined and great start, I feel that certain songs throughout the album lack the presence and importance of the others on the record. The songs which I feel lack are “Getting Better”, “Fixing a Hole”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Lovely Rita”. These songs are in my opinion average Beatles songs and while they aren’t bad, are not the album’s most significant. The album picks up again with McCartney’s dreamy “She’s Leaving Home” which tells the story of a young girl leaving home. The song featured extensive orchestral instruments, and gave the song a unique sound. One of the album’s most important songs is “Within You Without You”. This five-minute song features the Beatles second attempt at Indian music, which guitarist George Harrison had become immersed in following his studies with the sitar. The song has a psychedelic sound to it, and shows the musical range of the band. The song is followed by “When I’m Sixty-Four” which contains horn instruments and is another upbeat pop hit. “Good Morning Good Morning” is the next great song on the album, and foreshadows where the band would go with its exploration in Hard Rock. The song features defiant horns throughout the song, but most notably contains an awesome and timeless distorted guitar solo. John Lennon would come to have a notable influence on the band’s exploration with distorted guitars, and harder rock songs in the future. While the next song, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” is mostly just a continuation of the first song, I still feel it has important elements. The song’s intro and drum track are far ahead of their time, and capture the futuristic Hard Rock sound in my opinion. The album closes with “A Day in the Life” which I feel is one of the band’s greatest ballads. One of my favorite parts of this song is the structure, and how Lennon sings verses 1 and 3; while McCartney sings verse 2. During Lennon’s sections the sound is primarily taken over by acoustic guitars, while McCartney’s section features him prominently playing the piano.

 

The Beatles in costume as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

 

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is by far one of the Beatles best records, and may be in fact their best. I think it’s an album that’s meant to be left to interpretation. It featured the band at the height of their experimentation period, when they still worked well together. Their next release, The Beatles or better known as The White Album (1968), was released in the following year; and marked the beginning of the band’s downfall. The drama which plagued the record’s production was endless, and caused the band members to resent each other. During the creation of The White Album, John Lennon had gone on to pursue a relationship with Yoko Ono; whom the other band members felt got in the way of the band’s fluency. During this time, Ono and Lennon were also in the height of severe heroin addictions, and the innocent days of the Beatles were over. The album was a massive success, and would also be praised as one of the band’s best. Similar to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it featured an exploration of many different music genres; however, the fluency on the record was not as accomplished as its predecessor. For these reasons, Sgt. Pepper’s may very well be the band’s best album, because it was the last time the group worked together without turmoil. While the album was greatly important back in 1967, 50 years later it is still one of the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: 50 Years Later”

  1. Guy Genest on June 1st, 2017 12:31 pm

    Alec: have you thought about free-lancing for Rolling Stone? College is expensive! Cheers Pal

    [Reply]

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: 50 Years Later