Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/19/10.
When the Beatles announced they would no longer tour in late August, it was officially the end of Beatlemania. A turbulent period that saw the band touring non-stop to screaming fans, chaos at the Phillippines, and John Lennon's comments over the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. The band decided that they were officially done with touring as they found the studio to be an escape. After the decision to stop touring, the band went their separate ways to pursue individual projects. John Lennon took a role in Richard Lester's war comedy How I Won the War while Paul McCartney worked with the band's producer George Martin for a film score for the movie The Family Way. Ringo Starr took a low profile to be with family while George Harrison traveled to India with new wife Pattie Boyd where he took sitar lessons with Ravi Shankar.
In early November of 1966, the Beatles reunited to commence recording some new material. Realizing that they had unlimited time to work on their new album and unlimited resources to do anything. The band also felt challenged by the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds along with the non-LP single Good Vibrations as that band's leader Brian Wilson would start work on the group's next album Smile. Realizing that Wilson had upped the ante of what was possible in pop music and in production, the band decided to step up their game as they decided to take on all different musical styles for their next album.
In February of 1967 at the demand of their manager Brian Epstein who wanted a new single, the Beatles released the double A-side single for Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. Upon its release, the single along with the promotional video for the former baffled audiences by the band's new look as they were sporting mustaches and Lennon wearing glasses that he kept from the set of How I Won the War. Still, the double A-side single was a huge hit though it was the first single since Love Me Do to not reach the number one spot in the U.K. single charts due to the popularity of Engelbert Humperdinck's Release Me. The single's popularity would only provide problems for Brian Wilson's mental state as he would end up shelving Smile for nearly 30 years while the Beatles were hard at work on their new album that would be a cultural moment in the history of the world.
Produced by George Martin through recording sessions that spanned 129 days from December of 1966 through April of 1967. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an album where the Beatles take pop music into a new stratosphere of sophistication. Spanning various genres from music hall, jazz, rock, classic, and Indian music. The album has the Beatles taking on themes of life along with the joys of childhood and other elements into a loose concept album where the band performs as a fictitious band known as the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. With twelve songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and one written by George Harrison. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a mesmerizing and sprawling album that truly defines what pop music can do and be more than 40 years since its release.
The album opens with its title track, a bouncy, mid-tempo rocker with Ringo Starr's slow, pummeling drum fills and Paul McCartney's wailing guitar as he sings in a gruff vocal style as he introduces everyone as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Featuring a blazing solo of French horns, the song is followed by McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison singing the song's chorus as McCartney then introduces a member of the band in Billy Shears for the next track. With A Little Help From My Friends which is an upbeat, mid-tempo track that has Ringo Starr singing the song with its bouncy rhythm spurred by Starr's drums and Harrison's slithery guitar. With McCartney on a playful piano melody and the rest of the band joining Starr on backing vocals, it's a powerful song with touching lyrics of friendship that includes George Martin playing a soft organ accompaniment in the background. The song is Starr's best vocal performance as he hits all the right notes for the song's optimistic tone.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds opens with McCartney's haunting keyboard solo and thumping bass line as the instrumentation accompanies Lennon's high-pitch vocals with cosmic lyrics inspired by a drawing made by Lennon's son Julian. With a break that has McCartney's bass line intensifying with Starr's soft drums as Lennon's vocals are mixed on a higher pitch. The song then goes into a driving, bouncy rhythm for its chorus as it moves back forth in structure with dream-like lyrics as it features a crisp, atmospheric production from George Martin with ringing guitars from Lennon and Harrison. Getting Better opens with a swanky guitar riff with bopping drum fills as Lennon and Harrison sing harmony vocals following McCartney as he sings upbeat lyrics filled with optimism despite some dark elements. Featuring a soft, flourishing tambura drone by Harrison with Martin playing a bopping piano track in the background, it's a song that reflects on life's ups and getting back up from its downs.
Fixing A Hole opens with George Martin's ringing harpischord solo with McCartney's atmospheric, double-tracked vocals with Starr's steady, mid-tempo drums and lead guitar swirls from McCartney and Harrison. The song's whimsical lyrics filled with drug references about wandering is one of the richest cuts on the album as it supported by Martin's layered production. The ballad She's Leaving Home is led by an elegant, flourishing harp solo with lush orchestral arrangements created by Mike Leander and conducted by George Martin. Featuring somber yet melancholic lyrics by McCartney who sings the song, the track includes Lennon singing from the perspective of the girl's parents in what is probably the most emotionally devastating track the Beatles ever made as well as one of its sophisticated in terms of its mesh of classical music and pop.
Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite is a strange, circus-style song with flute-style keyboards and wailing organs by George Martin as Lennon sings whimsical, crazy lyrics about a strange circus as Starr plays a tapping, hi-hat cymbal track with pounding bass drum fills. Featuring warbling tape loops from McCartney and engineer Geoff Emerick, the song features twangy notes and rollicking pianos as it also features harmonicas from Lennon, Harrison, and two of the band's associates in Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans. George Harrison's Within You Without You is a hypnotic, Indian-style song with droning sitar flourishes with soft tambura twangs by Aspinall with vibrant, hollow percussions by various Indian session musicians. The song has Harrison singing softly with spiritual-laden lyrics as it is an exotic track filled with amazing string arrangements by George Martin who also gives the song a sprawling, atmospheric production that is truly remarkable.
The playful When I'm Sixty-Four is a music hall-inspired track led by bouncy clarinets from session musicians with McCartney's vocals mixed in a high pitch to sound younger. The song's lyrics has McCartney singing about becoming older and the future of being old with grandchildren named Vera, Chuck, and Dave. Featuring McCartney playing a thumping bass line with Starr's soft, sputtering drum fills as he also plays clanging tubular bells. It is certainly one of McCartney's humorous yet joyful songs that pays tribute to an old musical style. Lovely Rita opens with a washy acoustic guitar track from Lennon who sings opening wailing notes that is followed by Starr's pounding drum fills. With Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney singing the song's chorus, McCartney leads the way with the song's whimsical lyrics about a meter maid. With a playful piano track from McCartney and George Martin, the song features kazoo-like backgrounds performed by the whole band.
Good Morning Good Morning opens with a chicken clucking as it leads to a swirling sound of blazing horns playing around with Starr's sputtering drums as Lennon sings the song's lyrics about starting the day anew. With McCartney's thumping bass line, the song is led by its horn arrangements with animal sound effects provided by engineer Geoff Emerick. Even as it features a wailing guitar solo performed by McCartney and Harrison. The title's track reprise is a faster-paced rocker with a more intense drumming performance from Starr along with Harrison's wailing guitar solo as he, Lennon, and McCartney sing the song as the Sgt. Pepper band saying it's time to go.
The album's closer is A Day In The Life, a song that reflects on life's tragedies sung by Lennon with a washy acoustic guitar track and McCartney's somber piano. During a section in the song, Starr plays a haunting yet powerful drum fill with rumbling bass and snare hits with Harrison accompanying on a soft maracas. The song then goes into a section led by wailing instruments of strings and other orchestral pieces orchestrated by Lennon, McCartney, and George Martin as it goes into an upbeat, mid-tempo section sung by McCartney. In the section, McCartney sings about the day-to-day things that people do in life as it returns to its original section with Lennon singing about another tragic event as the song reaches a powerful coda with a crashing final chord performed by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Mal Evans on piano with George Martin on a harmonium as it closes the album with a bang.
Released on June 1, 1967, the album was a watershed moment in the history of the world. Reviews were enthusiastic as the album soared to the top of the charts proclaiming the period that was the Summer of Love. Days after its release, Jimi Hendrix did a cover of the song's title track that was seen by Paul McCartney and George Harrison as the album was becoming massively popular. The album would win several Grammy Awards including Album of the Year as the Beatles reached a creative peak. After that, the band would never hit that same peak of creativity or personal accomplishment ever again.
Since its release nearly 43 years, the album has often been placed in many lists as the best albums of all-time whether it would reach the top or nearby. The album is still considered by historians, music critics, and musicians as a hallmark in the history of pop music. The album for many would be the prototype of what it takes to create an album that changes the landscape of what is possible. Many claim if it wasn't for this album, there wouldn't be Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon or Radiohead's OK Computer of what is possible in pop and rock music. Yet unlike those albums, Sgt. Pepper remains an album that is still groundbreaking in how pop music can remain sophisticated with unconventional ideas since its release back in June of 1967.
The 2009 remastered edition does add more of a hypnotic yet enchanting element to the production work of George Martin. The sounds of the orchestral arrangements sound more elegant than ever along with a lot of other textures as it is truly a layered album. While it may not beat Revolver in terms of overall quality in the remastering series. It is the best produced record among the Beatles' catalogue as the remastering work is truly superb from start to finish.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is truly a masterpiece that is still an album that reaches a high standard of how great pop records should be. Fans of rock and pop music must have this album for its overall quality and versatility. Notably George Martin's production as it is definitely an album that still holds up as far as a band wanting to reinvent themselves. While it may not have the noisier sound of Revolver, Sgt. Pepper is an album of a different kind as well as something that revels in how a band can take something and turn into art. In the end, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a true, first-class piece of brilliance from the Beatles.
The Beatles Reviews: Please Please Me - With the Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles for Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Magical Mystery Tour - The White Album - Yellow Submarine OST - Abbey Road - Let It Be - (1962-1966) - (1967-1970) - Past Masters - (Live at the BBC) - (Anthology 1) - (Anthology 2) - (Anthology 3) - (Let It Be... Naked) - (Love)
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