The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles 1967 album Sgt Pepper is often cited as the most influential and important album of all time. In what I consider to be a reactionary backlash to this praise Sgt Pepper is also often cited as one of the most over rated albums of all time. This year this monumental album turns 40 years old. So where does it stand now? In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the #1 album of all time. It doesn’t fair quite as well on the popular music rating website Rate Your Music where it ranks #27 of all time which is behind four other Beatles classic albums Revolver (#1), Abbey Road (#2), The White Album (#10), and Rubber Soul (#21). Personally while it’s not my favorite Beatles album (that honor has to go to The White Album) I do believe it is the most important and most influential album of all time and I do rank it above Revolver, Abbey Road, and Rubber Soul.
I’ve heard some people say it doesn’t hold up well with time but I disagree entirely. I think this album is absolutely timeless. I don’t think the songs sound like they are from the 1960s necessarily. They sound like they are from the future and the past simultaneously. I believe all 13 songs from this album to be absolutely essential to the album and this is a very rare thing.
What set this album apart from most of the albums that came before it is that it truly plays like an album. While definitely somewhat in debt to The Beach Boys classic Pet Sounds, Sgt Pepper takes things a big leap forward. In many ways I still feel that Sgt Pepper is the perfect cohesive album. It doesn’t take the “concept” and wear it thin but it also holds together as one work very well despite, and maybe because, the fact that the songs are of such varying styles. Song by Song Breakdown: #1 Sgt Pepper The album starts off with the crowd noise which goes into the first song which shares the same name as the album: “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This is a great song and also sets up the rest of the album as part of this loose concept of watching a band perform. This is all made to come together even more by the later inclusion of the Reprise of this song! Paul McCartney came up with the idea of the Beatles pretending to be this different band. The idea being that they could really branch out into all sorts of different styles with no limitations. They could also break free of their image. There’s quite a few layers to the idea but it’s also a very simple idea that isn’t overbearing unlike some later prog rock attempts at “concept albums.
” #2 With A Little Help From My Friends This track was written by lead songwriters and singers Paul McCartney and John Lennon specifically for the drummer Ringo Starr to sing. This adds another layer to the lyric “I get by with a little help from my friends.” This song was a hit for Joe Cocker (his cover version was used on television program The Wonder Years.) It also contains a reference to marijuana with the line “I get high with a little help from my friends.” #3 Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds This song is inspired by LSD in my opinion although Lennon denied this and said it was merely inspired by his son’s painting. Many years later McCartney admitted the influence of LSD on this track. This song is often cited as a prime example of 1960s psychedelic music. Besides the other worldly fantastical lyrics the song has a dreamy quality to both the music and the vocals. This song uses a flange effect on the drums and the bass is very prominent in the mix. #4 Getting Better There’s so many great things about this track I have a hard time deciding what to talk about first.
One thing that really does stand out for me though is use of sitar in this track. It’s subtle and yet very effective. A great example of the sort of unique tracks on this album that don’t really have any direct comparison to anything else in rock music, even to this day. I think the sharp down stroke style used on the guitars in this track has been extremely influential in rock to this day. #5 Fixing A Hole This is another amazingly unique song that has so many layers and so much to discover. I’m still hearing new things in it now and I must have listened to it over 1000 times. The harmony vocals are absolutely incredible (listen to the right side) #6 She’s Leaving Home This song features McCartney and Lennon on vocals but no Beatles play in the instrumentation. The song was scored for classical musicians. The twists and turns in this album are startling but they somehow all make sense. So much variety.
All beautifully and masterly done. #7 Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite Lennon got all of the lyrics off of an old circus poster he had. A great example of the avante garde attitude of the Beatles at the time. I like to picture this as the wild place she goes after she leaves home. I don’t hear 60s when I listen to this track. I hear another time, another place. A warped distorted but still very relevant version of our own reality. This song is absolute psychedelic weirdness.
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