Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sgt. Pepper's is 45 Years Old

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1, 1967. I had just turned sixteen and bought it and took it home to play on our horrible mono record player. I had been a musician for a year or so and was just trying to figure out what that was all about. This album confused the heck out of me because I couldn't figure out how to play any of the songs! Canada's National Post has an article up saluting the album, which they call the greatest ever made. Then they have a lot of criticisms of it for weak songs, poor concept and how Revolver, Rubber Soul and the White Album have lots better songs. George Martin himself has commented that the biggest mistake of his career was not including "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" on the album (they were released as a single). The National Post concludes that Sgt. Pepper's is the best album ever for only one reason: the song "A Day in the Life". Here is the complete album. It's only forty minutes of music, so have a listen:

What the album also has is really original cover art--good imagery. In fact, you might argue that with this album the Beatles started that whole emphasis on image and 'branding' that every pop artist cultivates now. They were doing it more for aesthetic than marketing reasons, though. Every new album had to be a progression over the one before. I really don't think they were worried about things like sales figures or competing with other bands. They couldn't even keep track of the money they had already made and were so far out in front of the competition that other bands hearing this album, like the Beach Boys, just gave up. The Rolling Stones tried to do their own psychedelic album, Their Satanic Majesties Request (sic), released on December 8, 1967. After that hideous failure, they sobered up and returned to their rhythm and blues roots with Beggar's Banquet, which is a fine album. They had reached the limits of their creativity. The Beatles had not. Here are the first three songs from Their Satanic Majesties (sic). Listen to them, if you can, it demonstrates what is so good about Sgt. Pepper's:

This is what happens when you listen to Sgt. Pepper's, go see 2001: A Space Odyssey, get drunk, get stoned and then go to the recording studio. What you hear instead on Sgt. Pepper's is a fantastically competent group of musicians who can play anything. They had just done two albums of incredible songs (Rubber Soul and Revolver) and released some even more incredible singles. They were experimenting with some new ideas that didn't quite gel. Sgt. Pepper's is an album with brilliant and novel arrangements of some pretty good songs and a couple of very good ones and one incomparable song.

When you think of it, hardly anyone in pop music has even come close to this...

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