The odds of an album like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
being released at the very beginning (June 1st, to be precise) of the renowned Summer of Love are similar to the chances all the planets have of aligning tomorrow. Ordinary law dictates that the overwhelming majority of people and/or things will not get what they need right when they need it, and indeed that many people won't get their desired object/results at all. This, of course, is human nature, and as such is usually scrubbed out of the average persons' collective consciousness. Put simply, the things that you need most at a given time will more than likely not come when desired. And yet, when scrutinized in retrospect, all albums regarded as revolutionary and classic came at exactly
the right time and from exactly
the right place. Nevermind
, Nevermind the Bollocks
, A Night At the Opera
, they all arrived right on schedule to change the course of music, and to assert themselves as rightful catalysts. While these occurrences are certainly uncommon, it is far less common for a musical group to do it more than once. It has happened, however. And the group that pulled it off is none other than the Beatles.
While many of the previously mentioned albums made themselves known utilizing some already in-effect scene or movement (in this case, let's say the Summer of Love), the odd thing about Sgt. Pepper
is that it could very well be credited with creating the movement. After the album was released in June of 1967, the public at large suddenly dressed differently, behaved differently, and even thought differently. A valid reason for the albums' gargantuan impact is undeniably that it was a work of the already legendary quartet of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and the ever-cuddly Ringo Starr. However, suggesting that the album was anything short of ground-breaking is damn-near blasphemous. Everything about the album was new; from the supremely reverb-drenched vocals to the half-a
ssed concept. Never before had a rock album featured a marching brass section and rhythm and a blistering guitar solo in the same song, let alone in a time-span of ten seconds, as found in the Lennon-penned classic Good Morning, Good Morning
The case that contains the music is no less innovative and revolutionary than the music itself. Filled with intricate detail and possibly even foreboding clues, no album cover had ever before been so vital and vivacious. By contrast, the next "official" album by the band would feature a plain white sleeve, perhaps to symbolize the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
has often been awarded the coveted title of best opening track to ever grace an album. The band, going on a limb, apparently, breaks the fourth wall within moments of the songs entrance, exclaiming that they are a group putting on a show for your pleasure. Brass instruments and guitars duke it out for prominence, while Paul delivers a ripping vocal performance in the vein of the earlier Beatles hit, Long Tall Sally
. Evidence of a concept is made, well, evident in the seamless segueing into the one Ringo performance, the jaunty and perky With a Little Help From My Friends
Allow me to state the obvious. Anyone who thinks that drugs played a diminished role in the sixties is more than likely on too many themselves. While With a Little Help From My Friends
presents itself as innocent and good-natured, it is made more than plain just what the Beatles were getting up to in their off hours, no pun intended. Evidence? If you insist.
Mmm I get by with a little help from my friends.
Yes, I get high with a little help from my friends.
Oh, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends.
That accursed LSD.
While new fashions and thought patterns were being invented, new musical genres were to go along with it. It is arguable that the entire genre of psychedelic can be summed-up by the Lennon classic Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
. From the ethereal (a word I'll probably use a lot in this review) mellotron intro to the completely spaced-out lyrics, the song can easily be depicted as an audio acid-trip. A notable Lennon characteristic in the song is the 3/4 time-signature for the verses, and the far more common 4/4 signature found in the chorus. Such rhythmic teetering would become a Lennon trademark in the years to come. While the album is notable and revered for its somewhat frightening flow, the CD version of the album does not contain the original track listing. Somehow, the overall vibe and current was preserved when the album was transferred from vinyl to plastic, even though certain tunes were tampered with.
While Jimi Hendrix was utilizing the guitar in an incredibly virtuosic manner, the Beatles were still using it more as a backing tapestry. While the Grateful Dead were inventing Jam Rock, the Beatles were still releasing two-and-a-half minute long songs. So what exactly makes the album so worthwhile to listen
to? This question can be answered in song form. The song that will solve the riddle will be Getting Better
. Simplicity and ingenuity has long been a classic Beatles recipe. While the still new for the times guitar styles and pulsating rhythms captured your ear, the astonishing vocal harmonies and tongue-in-cheek lyrical content blew your mind. Part of the genius of the Beatles was/is the ability to take a simple idea or chord progression and deliver it in a next to impossible manner. Go figure.
While the infamous Sgt. Norman Pilcher was out and about and jailing Rolling Stones members, the "cute" Beatle Paul McCartney was in some hot water of his own. Seemingly thinking he was helping his fallen comrades, who were confined on minor drug charges, McCartney admitted to taking LSD four times to an interviewer. The news was flashed all around the world, and conservatives and yes, Ed Sullivan, were shocked. Fans and members of the still burgeoning counter-culture were probably less than surprised. Why? All you have to do is this: Listen to Fixing A Hole
, and think simultaneously. Lyrically, many accept the theory that the song is about what the title suggests, Paul fixing a hole in his house. Let us scrutinize, shall we?
I'm fixing a hole, where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wondering. Where it will go
Well, okay. Nothing to revealing there.
I'm filling the cracks, that ran through the door, and kept my mind from wondering. Where it will go
Still nothing too obvious. But how about this?
I'm painting the room, in a colorful way. And when my mind is wondering, there I will go.
Bam. Self-explanation for the win.
Musically, the song has often been derided as bland and/or dull. While many hold this belief, I can't honestly see where they're coming from, as I find it to be superb, from the sharp, reverbed guitar jabs to the (once again) magnificent harmonies. While the song does boast a somewhat rag-time feel, a considerable amount of excitement is generated in the lead break, courtesy of melodic master George Harrison, whose guitar skills were already sharp, and who's songwriting knack was under construction.
She's Leaving Home
is without a doubt the counter-part to the 1966 masterpiece Eleanor Rigby
. Never in all my years of album hunting have I ever encountered two songs more similar. I have also yet to stumble across two more different. While both are dominated by classical instruments and arrangements, as well as Mr. McCartney's mellifluous vocals, one is distinctly foreboding and haunting, where as the other is more beautiful and poignant. The lyric contains more example of literary genius, and features more of that call and response type singing from John and Paul.
John: We gave her most of our lives
Paul: Is leaving...
John: Sacrificed most of our lives
John: We gave her everything money could buy
Considerably more tender when set against the backdrop of classical instruments, including a harp, the tune signifies the bands' growing skill for utilizing rather, "abstract" instruments and ideas.
When John Lennon told George Martin that he wanted to "smell the sawdust on the floor", he was referring to the production and birthing of his song Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
. Containing some of the most extraordinary studio manipulation to date, Martin did not fail to deliver the carnival themed atmosphere Lennon desired. While pretty much a standard waltz, the song contains the infamous Lennon witticism in the lyrics, which were for the most part taken from a 19th century circus poster. By contrast, George Harrison's Within You, Without You
is relatively bare in the studio-trickery department. If there is a low point to Sgt. Pepper
, this is undoubtedly it. While the song is one of three Harrison Indian tracks, it is also the longest, and inevitably tends to drag on because of this. While the song can and more than likely will grow on you, the humble listener, the pretentious, "we're all one" lyrical style can admittedly be off-putting.
As shown by songs such as Maxwell's Silver Hammer
off of Abbey Road
, Paul had an obsession with vaudevillian music, stemming from his fathers' musical taste. While the previously mentioned song can be dull, it"s counterpart, When I'm Sixty-Four
is nothing short of charming. The vocals are delivered in a rather high register by McCartney standards, though the cheeky lyrics make up for any problem I have with that.
is a chiming, guitar driven song about a meter maid whom Paul seduces. While considerably more peppy than the previous two tracks, the simplistic drumming by Ringo provides an overall more forceful feel to the song as a whole. Allow me to muse here. The album has already covered multiple different styles of music, some of which hadn't been heard by human ears prior to the release of the album. So it seems rather shocking, to be sure, when a reprise of the first track shows itself.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
is only a minute and fifty-five seconds long. And in that short time period, it "rocks" more than the entire album put together had up until this point. While it is lyrically nothing more than a clever refrain of its predecessor, it's slightly faster beat and the renewed idea of the concept that was previously abandoned gives it a feel all its own. Remarkable for a reprise of the opening track.
Glossing over the already explained Good Morning, Good Morning
, we make our way to the albums' finale and magnum opus, A Day In the Life
. The song not only marks the end of the album, but in a way, the end of the famed Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo, as it would be the last major tune the two conspired on as a pair. Beginning with a simple, piano fueled progression, Lennon provides you, the listener, with a walkthrough of mundane yet oddly surreal events. After proclaiming his desire to "turn you on", Lennon allows a full orchestra to follow George Martin's instructions to "start quiet, finish loud" and blasts out an ascending run. This also provides a gateway for the McCartney portion of the tune, before floating back to John's portion, where he continues as if nothing signifacnt has just happened. But you, dear reader, you will know the truth. Whether or not it registers through your stunned disbelief is really up to you though.
Frankly, the album has obviously secured itself the "classic" title. Honestly, how could it not? While many feel it to be over-rated and pretentious, the impact it had on pop-culture, and the impact it continues to have, is simply massive. It is a fair assumption that there will never be another band like the Beatles, and by extension another album like Sgt. Pepper
. While this is rather sad, it's also for the best. Anyone who loves the album shouldn't have a problem with this fact, as they can simply put on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
; thirty-nine minutes of music that changed the world.
From Me To You
Fixing A Hole
A Day in the Life
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
With a Little Help From My Friends
Good Morning, Good Morning