The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Honestly, I’m not under any delusion that I can provide anything to the discussion of this album that hasn’t already been said, but my monthly album review postings ARE named after the title track, so I couldn’t let this anniversary pass without a mention and this seemed the most fitting tribute.
Sgt Pepper is one of those very few albums I have purchased on three separate occasions. When I was buying up The Beatles collection, I bought the 1987 edition CD. I then purchased the 2009 stereo remaster, which sounded like a major upgrade. A couple years later, when the mono remastered vinyl was released, that was also a must purchase. I now have 4 separate editions of the album on my Itunes (2009 mono remaster and 2017 super deluxe edition are the others), so yeah, I love this album.
Every track on Sgt Pepper serves its own purpose. Sure, the concept was that they were writing as a fictional band, and that concept only sort of holds up. What has always amazed me about the album, however, is that all of the songs on the album are about mundane, every day events. Meter maids, traveling circus performers, reading the newspaper, getting by with help from your friends, life going on. The Beatles used this album as their vehicle to propel past their mop-top, teeny bopper image and begin recording songs that weren’t so focused on infatuation love (even “When I’m Sixty-Four” has a more grown up feel to it than “I Want to Hold Your Hand”).
Three of the thirteen songs from this album appear on my list of 100 favorite songs. I’ll describe them each in the order they appear on the album. “She’s Leaving Home” tells the story of a young woman who leaves her parents house, with only a note to tell them why she left. The story, though just over 3 minutes, tells such a rich tale of both the freedom felt by the daughter and the grieving experience by the parents. The story also covers the fact that, despite the family being well off, “fun is the one thing that money can’t buy”.
Paul McCartney was always at his best when he was writing silly love songs. There are few as “adult” and “grown up” as “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Legend has it, McCartney wrote the song when he was just sixteen, but who knows if that’s a myth often enough repeated that became fact. The song tells a heart-warming tale of knitting by the fireside, going for a ride on Sundays, scrimping and saving, and having three grandchildren on your knee. Regular, working class lifestyle. Regular, working class desires. From one of the richest people in the UK at the time this was released. Brilliant piece of work.
The album closes with “A Day in the Life”, a song about reading the newspaper and catching the bus, told in four verses (three by John, one by Paul) without a chorus and the longest note in recorded music. By every account, this song should not work, but oh how it does. God, listen to that crescendo from the hired orchestra, how it leads into Paul’s verse about getting ready and heading off to work. The UK versions of the LP had the “Inner Groove”, a fact which I did not know until I bought the mono LP and expected to hear it but not finding it to have been there.
Fifty years after it’s original release, with little warning I might add, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has knocked down all contenders to perch atop many critic’s Greatest Of All Time lists. The only real contenders have been Pet Sounds, Blonde on Blonde, Thriller and OK Computer. Forty-seven years after they no longer existed as a band, The Beatles remain one of the essential bands in the history of music. Not bad for a band the critics were saying were washed up after they took over a year without releasing an album after 1966’s Revolver. Oh how wrong they were all proven to have been.
Seventy years ago today since Sgt Pepper taught the band to play. All those years later, they’re still guaranteed to raise a smile.