The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. Were you expecting anything else? This album is usually placed in the top two of all-time greatest albums. Not top ten. Not top five. Top two. Let that sink in for a moment. But is it really deserving all of the praise it’s received over the past nearly 50 years? Let’s find out.
Artist Background: Can I really properly describe the best selling musicians in the history of the world with a couple paragraphs? Probably not. I’m just going to cover the basics of the early years for people who aren’t completely familiar with the Beatles so they have a starting point to learn more. The Beatles were formed in 1960 in Liverpool, England. The band consists of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The band was together from 1960 to 1970. They started playing in clubs in the UK and Germany, but ultimately caught the eye of their future manager, Brian Epstein. Brian was eventually able to get them a deal with Parlophone. Through Epstein, the Beatles started working with future producer and long time collaborator, George Martin. Martin is often called the fifth Beatle because of his heavy involvement with their albums. He’s also considered by many to be the greatest producer of all-time. From 1963 to 1970, they released 12 major albums in the UK. If you look at all the internal variations, that number skyrockets to 27 albums. Though Beatlemania started in the UK, it quickly came to the US where the arrival at JFK airport and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show became a part of music history. One in three American households watched the Beatles that night. Beatlemania was definitely in full effect. Obviously, there’s a lot more to this incredibly intriguing story, but I need to stop somewhere.
Album Background: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started out as a concept album as evident by the opening tracks and second to last track featuring the fictional band. It ended up covering many genres including, pop, rock, art rock, psychedelic, and even Indian classical music. It lasts about 40 minutes over 13 tracks. It was an instant commercial and critical success. It was influential in more ways than I can possibly count. It’s been described as a pinnacle moment for western culture. Plain and simple, this is the most important album I can possibly review. Honestly, I can’t think of an album that has spawned more conspiracy theories than this one, which included the death, and look-a-like replacement, of Paul McCartney. It’s worth researching the conspiracies and alleged drug references, if you have the time. It’s a very interesting read.
A big reason why this album is so different is because it was born out of the Beatles frustration with touring. This irritation was obviously showing as the polite and restrained Japanese audiences allowed them to hear, first hand, how terrible their lives shows had become. Normally, the screaming audience masked the poor quality of their performance. The Beatles were hitting a breaking point with their relentless international schedule. Once they quit touring, in addition to the reducing a significant source of stress in their lives, they gained an incredible amount of freedom without having to worry about recreating the music during a live show. They could experiment with music in ways they would have never considered before. Another reason for this album’s significance is due to all of the experimentation the Beatles and George Martin were willing to do in terms of audio engineering. They used techniques nobody ever did before when they recorded Sgt. Pepper. I’m barely scratching the surface here, but I need to move on to the rest of the review.
Favorite Track: I contemplated devising a method that would allow one of my cats to pick my favorite track. That seemed liked a better idea than forcing myself to actually pick one track over another in this timeless album as my favorite. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a good, automated, feline-based favorite track chooser. If I ever do, I’m Kickstarting it and in three or four years after my initial delivery date, reviewers around the world will be able to enjoy having their cats pick their favorite track with little to no effort on their part. Crowdsourcing at it’s finest. Until then, I guess I have to pick it myself. My favorite track… on… Sgt. Pepper’s… Lonely Hearts… Club Band… is… Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite. I’ve listened to this album many times before I started listening to it for Project. Lt. Morning so I’m going with weirdness on this pick. It’s just a really interesting song. Let’s start with the inspiration for the song. It’s based on a circus poster from the mid-1800s. Being based on an actual poster, Mr. Kite is a real person. The lyrics of the songs are not a word-for-word transcription of the poster. Rather the words/names on the poster were included in the lyrics. A significant change is that the horse’s name was changed, but who is going to try to make Zanthus work in a song? Henry is a much better name and, of course, it spawned yet another drug controversy. The song was written by Lennon and McCartney, but Lennon was the one who owned the poster.
The audio engineering that went into this song is also interesting as Lennon really wanted a carnival atmosphere to be heard on the song. This lead to Martin trying many different approaches, but ultimately ended up with samples being cut into pieces, then being randomly reassembled after being tossed into the air for the famous carousel music parts found throughout the song. Besides the odd lyrics, I love the contrast created by Lennon’s very straight delivery of the lyrics and the numerous sets of rolling notes created by the randomly spliced tape. They complement each other so perfectly. Lennon’s voice also lends itself very well to the unique lyrics.
- Yin/Yang One of the most wonderful aspects of this album is how well John Lennon and Paul McCartney complement each other. Though, the duo doesn’t just complement each other on the album level with individual tracks, but also on the song level with individual lyrics. Nowhere is this more evident than in the song, Getting Better. Paul’s bubbling over optimism is wonderfully balanced out with Lennon’s cynicism. As Paul sings out “I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better, a little better all the time”, Lennon counters this so beautifully with “It couldn’t go no worse.” I freaking love it. Another example of where their powers combined make for some of the best music on the planet is A Day in the Life. This song sounds like two songs smashed together because that’s exactly what it is. It is a Lennon song smashed together with a McCartney song, and the resulting piece is far superior then what either one of those songs would have been by themselves. Even after all these years, it still sounds amazing and fresh.
- Sing-Along With a Little Help From My Friends is one of the greatest sing-along songs ever penned. Does it get any better than “Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends, Oh, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends” for a sing-along chorus? I’m not so sure it does. And we all know Oasis’s Champagne Supernova (my generation’s de facto sing-along song) would not exist without the groundwork laid down by the Beatles. Hell, Oasis wouldn’t even exist without the Beatles, for that matter. Let alone that one song.
- Weirdness The end of Good Morning Good Morning ends with a bunch of random animal sounds. Why? I have no idea. However, I do know it’s awesome.
- Quality I listened to the 2009 stereo remastered version of this album for my review. Even if I had an original 1st edition UK pressing on 180 gram vinyl, I can’t really walk around with that in my pocket, now can I? Regardless, I freaking love the sound quality of this album. Every instrument and voice is so distinct. I could pretty much focus on any part of a song and easily tune out the rest of it if I wanted to. The mono version probably sounds better for a traditional hifi setup in your house, but I simply adored the stereo version on my headphones eight days a week.
- Domestic Violence The line “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her, And kept her apart from the things that she loved” bothered me every time I heard it. I don’t care if it was written in a different time or whatever. That line is fucked. The actual reality of that situation is one of the most despicable things you can possibly do to another human being. It’s never going to be okay with me. Never. My mind just cannot put that at the same level as not liking your school. Feel free to disagree with me.
In Conclusion: As long as this review is, I’ve barely scratched the surface with the Beatles or Sgt. Pepper. There is so much more to write. This is such a good album on so many levels for so many reasons. If for some crazy reason, you haven’t listened to it yet, I urge you to listen to the delightfully weird album that changed everything for modern music. On top of that, you should really peruse their discography. It’s so much fun being able to recognize when the Beatles influences pop up in today’s music. And trust me, they are still popping up.
Music Video Links:
When I’m Sixty-Four (Sort of Official Music Video)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Sort of Official Music Video)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Sort of Official Music Video)