June 2, 2007

“It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”
– “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, The Beatles

Time passes by, doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe that it was forty years ago yesterday that The Beatles’ landmark album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released. While, looking back with a few years of perspective, most critics would probably agree it wasn’t the greatest album the Fab Four ever released – me, I’m of the opinion their preceding album “Revolver” is a far superior effort – it served as a catalyst for rock music being appreciated as a new, emerging, and serious art form. The psychedelic wave generated by “Sgt. Pepper” washed up against the shores of popular music, art, poetry, and fashion – just to name a few, and paved the way for the transformation forever of this thing once called “rock n’ roll” into, simply, rock. Why was the impact of “Sgt. Pepper” so huge? Well, it was both a product of the times and a combination of things, as Russ Smith of the Wall Street Journal explains:

“Sgt. Pepper,” the group’s first album that wasn’t supported by a world-wide tour, captured, to use a word that didn’t become a cliché for years afterward, the “zeitgeist” then, impeccably in sync with the “Summer of Love,” “flower power,” psychedelia and the youthful lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

When “Sgt. Pepper” appeared, it was as if a massive block party had appeared outside your window. I was nearly 12 years old at the time and when one of my four older brothers came home with the highly anticipated new Beatles record, we listened to it over and over, marveling at the sheer audacity of songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Doug, overwhelmed by enthusiasm and hyperbole, declared, matter-of-factly, “The band has changed its name forever and rock ‘n’ roll will never be the same.”

And it wasn’t just the music. The album cover itself was breathtaking, a puzzling and colorful collage by Peter Blake that showed the band, in gaudy mock-military costumes, presiding over the burial of the “old” Beatles, with scattered mug shots of high and low cultural icons hovering in the background. …The presentation was a triumph of packaging, and included for the first time the printing of lyrics on the back cover. That the group had reached this point a mere three years after the first rush of “Beatlemania” was astonishing, and the songs simply ratcheted up the sense of momentousness provided by the record sleeve.

Relieved from the pressure of performing live, the Beatles were able to record songs that were, even in a relatively primitive studio, filled with overdubs, backward tape loops, snippets of orchestral crescendos, a cowbell here, a tin horn there, creating a sound and style that was quickly, for better or worse, aped by the band’s peers and imitators. Aside from the technical innovations, the 13 songs ushered in yet another phase for the Beatles, one that was far more introspective, grandiose and certainly informed by their recreational use of drugs.

It’s said that Mr. McCartney in particular was inspired by the Beach Boys’ 1966 landmark album “Pet Sounds,” in which leader Brian Wilson labored in the studio to create a unified set of songs that challenged the listener — and his competitors — with its musical complexity. But it was the Beatles, so popular and wealthy that their record label had to cater to what were considered “whims,” who topped Mr. Wilson (artistically and commercially) with “Sgt. Pepper.” It was no longer a given that a rock/pop group would dash off an album as quickly as possible to minimize cost, and talented young men began to exert more control over studio production, a process of increased sophistication.

Of course, not everyone agrees that the music on “Sgt. Pepper” is deserving of deserved all the attention and accolades it has received over the years. And while some might quibble over whether it is, in fact, also one of the most overrated albums of all time, there’s no denying the album’s cultural impact over time and its huge success at the time. It stayed in the number one spot for 15 weeks on the US Billboard chart, 27 weeks on the UK album chart, and a whopping 30 weeks (over 2/3 of a year!) on Australia’s ARIA chart.

To think that The Beatles’ masterpiece has turned 40 is a sobering thing indeed – just another reminder of how quickly the years are passing by, and how much has changed, not just in popular music, but in popular culture as well.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:15 | Comments (4)
  1. NO WAY!!! The BEST album EVER was “Polka Party” by Weird Al Yankovic!

    Comment by David Lafleche — June 2, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  2. I have a copy of Peppers that is in great shape.

    What would it be worth?


    Comment by John — June 2, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

  3. Geez, Dave – you mean it’s not KC and the Sunshine Band’s Greatest Hits? And there’s that William Shatner album of a few years back… Always good to hear from you.

    And John, one thing you might consider is putting it up for auction on eBay. These kinds of things usually have grades like mint (still in plastic wrap, pristine), very good (no damage or wear to the album cover and the LP itself), good (minor blemishes and minimal wear), and fair (the way all my Beatles albums look!). If your album fits the mint or VG vategory, I’ll bet it would get you mid-three figures definitely. You can also look for collectible websites and stores that can give you an appraisal. Great to hear from you, and good luck!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — June 3, 2007 @ 9:02 am

  4. Is there nothing more stirring than listening to William Shatner crooning “Lucy in the sky”? With Diamonds!

    I think not!

    Comment by Dave Richard — June 4, 2007 @ 5:05 am

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