If you like music and you like to write, challenge yourself with this task: Say something fresh about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
When the album’s 40th anniversary was celebrated in 2007, a new, two-part consensus seemed to develop, at least amongst the critics, bloggers, and other gasbags I was reading at the time. Part 1: other Beatles albums provide a more satisfying listening experience than Sgt. Pepper does. (Many votes were cast for the White Album, Rubber Soul, or Revolver; a few, mine included, were marked down for Abbey Road.) Part 2: Sgt. Pepper would nevertheless continue to be considered the greatest Beatles album by a majority of listeners, and therefore, is still the greatest album ever made.
In other words, Sgt. Pepper‘s shadow is so long that we find ourselves acknowledging that it’s greater than any feeble attempt we might make to opine about it.
It’s an album about which stories abound. There’s the story of the run-out groove, a little extra something Paul McCartney put at the end of side two for people who didn’t own automatic turntables. Capturing the endless final chord of “A Day in the Life” required engineers to turn the recording levels up so high that you can hear the hum of the air conditioning at Abbey Road Studios. During the recording of “Getting Better,” John Lennon took a pill that he thought was speed, but it turned out to be LSD. Producer George Martin took him up on the roof of Abbey Road for some air, but Paul and George ran after them, fearing John might get up there and decide he could fly. Paul and roadie Mal Evans took him home, and Paul decided to join him on the trip. It was only the second time McCartney had ever taken LSD.
Thinking about Sgt. Pepper today, it’s not so much the whole experience or individual songs that draw me in—it’s favorite little moments within the songs. The opening notes of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which emerge tentatively, like stars uncertain whether they want to shine. The delicate-yet-confident way Paul plays tag with the orchestra on “When I’m Sixty-Four.” The thundering guitar riff at the beginning of the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise. It’s fitting that such an album, analyzed down to the molecular level in the 45 years since its release, can be appreciated on the molecular level, too.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was officially released in the United States on June 2, 1967. It hit #1 on the Billboard album chart on July 1 and remained there for 15 weeks. Here’s a slightly different taste of it: “She’s Leaving Home” from the mono version of the album. Notice that it’s audibly faster than the more familiar stereo version.
You might also enjoy this selection of one-star reviews of the album at Amazon.com, especially the ones that accuse the Beatles of stealing the whole concept from Dark Side of the Moon and suggest that Elton John, maker of that classic album Victim of Love, might have helped them do a better job.