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“It Was 20 (50) years ago today, Sgt. Peppers taught the band to play”

June 1, 2017

Hard to believe that 50 years ago on June 1, 1967, the Beatles Sgt. Peppers album was first released in the US. I remember going to Sam Goody (on 43rd and 3rd ave.) to buy it in early June and the racks were full of Sgt. Pepper albums. It almost seemed like it was the only album they were selling.

The release of Sgt. Pepper was a milestone for rock music. It was the first truly thematic rock album and many of the songs included were ground-breaking,  progressive rock entries. It spawned the beginning of album rock and numerous thematic albums such as Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues later in 1967.

So herewith my review of the extraordinary and precedent setting Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (June 1967) Side 1 – 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, She’s Leaving Home, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Side 2 – Within You Without You, When I’m Sixty-Four, Lovely Rita, Good Morning, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise), A Day in the Life. 

Side 1 begins with the opening “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” setting the tone and theme for the album – about a fictitious band doing a concert. “Sgt. Pepper’s” heralds the beginning and the pattern throughout the album, the seamless blending of rock instruments and rock vocals with orchestration produced brilliantly by George Martin. It quickly segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends” as the fictitious Billy Shears (a.k.a. Ringo) delivers an excellent, upbeat song, definitely the best Ringo lead vocal during his Beatles career. The mood shifts suddenly as we move from the first two songs (composed by Paul), to John’s first entry, the psychedelic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, arguably the best track on the album. The psychedelic mood is altered quickly as Paul takes over with the lively “Getting Better”, where his optimism (“It’s getting better all the time”) is somewhat countered by John’s sarcasm and pessimism (“can’t get no worse”). “Fixing a Hole” is ushered in with harpsichord and is another very good composition. “She’s Leaving Home”, about a teenage runaway, uses orchestration to help cement its somber and sad mood and is one of Paul’s better vocals. The mood shifts suddenly as John (with an assist from Paul) finishes the side with a much more upbeat and superb entry, the psychedelic/carnival-like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. Lacking a manually playable Calliope, George Martin assembled a sixty-foot tape loop of steam organs, cut it in one-foot lengths and randomly reassembled them to get the Calliope sound that dominates the song. It works extremely well and provides a fitting conclusion to Side 1.

Side 2 begins with a too long, albeit still a pretty good, Harrison composition “Within You Without You”. But even this cut is interesting because it is a rare pop song that uses Indian stringed instruments, the sitar and the drub, as well as the unique percussion sound of the tabia. Paul’s next composition “When I’m Sixty-Four” is a nice upbeat melody. The song changes the mood instantly with a tongue in cheek, day-to-day look at aging after Harrison’s somber and mystical “Within You Without You”. (I’ll admit that now that I am sixty-three that 64 no longer seems old to me!). The pace quickens with Paul’s next entry, the lively “Lovely Rita” a nice pop song which is greatly enhanced by a piano intro and piano ending, some great bass playing by Paul and the use of comb and paper to create an interesting high-pitched sound.

The rooster crowing at the beginning of the next song announces John’s “Good Morning” which increases the tempo and greatly benefits from an excellent lead guitar by Paul , the liberal use of a horn section (three saxophones, two trombones and a French horn) and the menagerie of barnyard animal sounds. The clucking chicken fades out and the first sharp chord of  “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” commences a short and very lively reprise which is even better than the opening track. The fading fake audience cheers are gradually replaced by piano notes leading us into the amazing and unique “A Day in the Life”. The song is actually a seamless merging of two songs, John’s ethereal dreamlike sounding “I read the news today oh boy….now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” with Paul’s shorter song about the hum drum of daily life  “Woke up got out of bed, dragged the comb across my head….”. And it works incredibly well. Excellent piano and keyboard work by John, Paul and George Martin as well as sounds of a full orchestra make this a musically unique song. The orchestra crescendo and the final eternal chord ending fading into nothingness make a fitting ending for what many critics consider the best song by the Beatles on their very best album.


From → Music 60s70s

  1. Robert Carey permalink

    I remember the day Sgt Pepper came out. I’d been listening to it for a month or two on WOR FM and could barely wait for it to come out. The day it came out the first place I saw it was in the window of a store in, I think, the Empire State building. They had filled the display with the record. I don’t think I bought it there, though. I think I headed over to Sam Goody, generally where I bought records except for the occasional single picked up at a small store on 23rd street.

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