Friday Night Jazz Classic Rock: ‘Sgt. Pepper’

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released by The Beatles 40 years ago today (well, to be precise, it was 4 decades ago this past Sunday) June 3, 1967 in the US; the UK got the disc 2 days earlier.

I was 6 when Sgt Peppers came out. 

When I was a kid — a teenager — me and my friends had 2 Beatles albums — the Red Album 1962-66 and the Blue 1967-70. Each was a double LP greatest hits of sorts, the early years (red) and the later years (blue).

It was a revelation when I discovered the actual LPs years later — Abbey Road, The White Album, Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt Peppers — were all revelatory muscial experiences for me, as I’m sure they were for other music fans.

In fact, the Beatles ruined alot of of other "marginal" pop music. It was too easy to turn your nose up at so much other crap on the radio when this was your musical frame of reference . . . 

I find this hard to imagine, but prior to Sgt. Pepper, no one thought of rock music as actual art. This was the disc that changed the perception of recorded albums forever — or at least for the ensuing 40 years or so.

There has been so much written about this disc, I am not sure I can add much; all I hope to do is remind of a disc you should already be quite familiar with: The #1 album on The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Writing about certain albums is, to steal a phrase, like dancing about architecture. While I have some small set of skills when it comes to waxing rhapsodically about CPI or NFP, I am in over my head with so important a topic as Sgt Peppers. So rather than risk abject misery and failure, I will opt instead to excerpt the New York Press’ Russ Smith:

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."

Pepper_lpAnd 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. You’d go cross-eyed trying
to figure out just how many notables were depicted — a mass of pop art
that included Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Aldous Huxley, Marlene
Dietrich, Sonny Liston, Laurel and Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Marlon Brando,
Leo Gorcey, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce and Mae West.

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.

Not much more than that needs to be said.

If you are somehow unfamiliar with the album, then go buy it. Get comfortable — pour a glass of Pinot Noir, roll up a fattie, do whatever it is that gets you in the mood to absorb sounds for 45 minutes — then sit back, drop the needle onto the groove — and enjoy.



It Was 40 Years Ago Today
With ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ the Beatles indulged their whims — and changed rock forever
WSJ, May 19, 2007; Page P1

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles
Rolling Stone, Nov 01, 2003 12:00 AM

The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time  (1-500)
Rolling Stone, Nov 18, 2003 12:00 AM

It’s Beatlemania on all-time-best rock album list
Edna Gundersen
USA TODAY, 11/17/2003 4:13 AM

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Eclectic commented on Jun 8

    Excellent, my Son… e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t setup for 1967 discussion by Eclectic!

    The notion in those days that over 5% on the 10-y-T could be or might be considered h-i-s-t-o-r-i-c-a-l-l-y low would’ve been laughable on its face!

    Wanna call me on that?

  2. howard commented on Jun 8

    i myself don’t think it has aged all that well: as a brit critic (i think it was nik cohn) argued at the time, sgt. pepper was an ending of something, not a beginning.

    when i want to reach for a beatles album i reach for revolver or rubber soul.

    when i want to reach for a 1967 album, i reach for the velvet underground’s first.

    which isn’t to say it wasn’t a great album at its moment, pioneering in many respects, and a helluva listen once upon a time, especially in its, uh, preferred auditory mode, namely under the influence of hallucinogens. but it’s been years since i’ve listened….

  3. bob mcmanus commented on Jun 8

    But, howard, it was the Beatles!

    It is pretty low on my 1967 list, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Doors & Strange Days, Love’s Forever Changes are better albums. I could go on. There was certainly plenty of experimenting in song structures and studio techniques. Blonde on Blonde was an earlier double, and I think Highway 61 Revisited more important historically.

    But Sgt Pepper I think validated and legitimized everything else. It provided artistic independence for the musician in the way Easy Rider did for the movie producer/director. Because it was the Beatles.

  4. CES commented on Jun 8

    Sgt. Pepper’s was the first rock/pop album my parents bought, succeeded only by “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

    I recall one summer stretch in the late 60s when I was about 5, playing the title track over and over, several days in a row. That riff does remain in mind.

  5. brion commented on Jun 9

    “when i was a young man it was not HIP to HOP!!!”

    i was 8 when Sgt came out and suddenly it was pleasantly EVERYWHERE.
    Coming out of Rose Stearns bedroom window or splashing out of a passing Impala’s radio as i sat in the sprinklers of June, at the beach etc…

    Psychedelia and boyhood went very well together.
    Sgt Pepper provided a sense of limitless possibility at an age when i was already inclined to believe it…

    Getting Better
    Good morning
    Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
    A Day In The Life
    She’s Leaving home
    Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite
    Lovely Rita
    A Little Help From My Friends….etc

    what’s not to like? And if nik cohn argued at the time, sgt. pepper was an ending of something, not a beginning,…he was not there.

  6. ed commented on Jun 9

    wasn’t the phrase

    ‘talking about music is like fishing about architecture’ – Zappa…

  7. Ross commented on Jun 9

    1967?…….I remember well! Lt. in an F4 looking down on a jungle morass of grunts. Peak of the war,almost. Peak of the markets one year past. Got in the markets as a customer’s man aka stockbroker, aka account exec. aka personal financial consultant because the big brokers were gearing up for 20,000,000 share days. Never liked the Beatles. Decadent “music” at best. But to the previous generation, Glen Miller was also. The cycles continue to spin. Much more liked the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. These musings are but in the windmills of my mind.

  8. cbmc commented on Jun 9

    brion, the guy didn’t say the album wasn’t good. But it was the end of a number of things: the last time the Beatles would work amicably together; a shift in tone – if you look at the other albums coming out in ’67, you’ll note that Sgt Pepper is the odd man out. Things are getting darker in ’67, and music is starting to reflect that.

  9. Douglas Watts commented on Jun 9

    For better worse, Sgt. Pepper did set in motion the “concept album” trend of segueing songs and creating a unified theme to an entire record. Remember that at this time, 45 singles were the sales standard. Albums were notorious for containing the “hits” as song 1 on side A and B, the B-sides of those singles with the rest as inconsequential filler.

    Of value to me is that Sgt. Pepper motivated Zappa to create “We’re Only In It For Money,” one of his very best efforts. As I understand, Sgt. Pepper also motivated Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds.

    More than anything though, Sgt. Pepper legitimized the entire idea of the record album — not the 45 single — being the dominant creative unit.

  10. Douglas Watts commented on Jun 9

    Last note. It is extremely fashionable in hep circles to dismiss the beet-ulls, but i do quite like a bunch of the songs on Pepper. They are very good pop songs. Also, the sonic experimentation was very important since it broke the stranglehold of staid UK producers in which the musicians were considered cute little ignorant bits of “talent” and not allowed to touch the knobs or suggest anything in the way of production ideas. Prior to the beet-ulls, the “talent” was just supposed to sing their parts and go home, often with studio musicians playing all the instruments.

  11. howard commented on Jun 9

    bob! nice to see you over here – who knew you frequented this site?

    funny thing is, i don’t much listen to albums in general nowadays, just playlists. one of mine is what i call “the a list,” primarily rock with some hiphop. I’ve got “7 and 7 is,” and all of blonde on blonde other than “sad eyed lady,” and revolver and rubber soul in that list, but not a track from sgt. pepper; it’s just too sui generis to fit in.

    as for nik cohn (if i’m remembering correctly), he most assuredly, as someone already noted, was not dissing sgt. pepper. what he was noting was that the music hall sensibility that suffused the album, the traditional narrative structure of the lyrics, and the essentially pop nature of the songs (as douglas watts commented) made sgt. pepper more of an ending than a beginning (actually, the kinks are the village green preservation society also fits that bill, but of course, that sold about 25,000 copies or so when it was released).

    but douglas, i suppose it all depends what you mean by “hep,” but as far as i can tell, the beatles are much more in today than they were 5 years ago, especially, believe it or not, in hiphop circles.

  12. DavidB commented on Jun 9

    ’67 must have been the peak of the high for I am old enough to have witness the hangover that was the 70’s.

  13. brion commented on Jun 9

    i didn’t say nik was dissing Sgt pepper just the idea that Pepper was considered anything less than Revolutionary by anyone when it came out.

    Paul and Pepper btw were influenced by Pet Sounds. Not the other way around.

    Personally i dig the White Album but Pepper’s best songs still engage people hearing it for the 1st time a la ’67. peace.

  14. David commented on Jun 10

    I was born on the date of the UK release. Can’t be a bigger fan of Sgt. Pepper than that …

  15. NUREG commented on Jun 10

    Barry – I know this isn’t going to go over well but . . .

    I was 10 when this album came out. I too owned the Red and Blue albums. I listened to Beatles through high school, mostly because I had friends who liked them. But then it hit me; the Beatles are overrated. I haven’t listened to them since.

    The Beatles were an above average band who just happened to hit the sweet spot of a cultural moment. They made good music, but not great music. I think 100 years from now musicologists will be trying to understand what all the fuss was about.

    Now being north of 50, I sometimes reflect on the music from that period that I still find enjoyable. There is Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Who, Jethro Tull and a few others. All of these bands produced more interesting music than the Beatles.

    To each his own.

  16. wunsacon commented on Jun 19

    >> I find this hard to imagine, but prior to Sgt. Pepper, no one thought of rock music as actual art.

    And most people *still* didn’t think of it as art until Insane Clown Posse’s self-entitled debut…

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