Beatles (4) -Sgt. Pepper, White Album

First post here:

It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style

But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you
The act you’ve known for all these years
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

It is not enough to say there was popular music before and after the Beatles. But one must also say there were albums before and after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Released on June 1, 1967, it was a worldwide event. People went to listening parties, disc jockeys played it over and over, Jimi Hendrix played the title song live a few days later. (Watch out for your ears!) Interestingly, while Lennon liked the album, he basically dismissed it as being a concept album per se. He said that for the most part, any of the songs could have been on other albums.

An astounding leap forward in popular music, no one had ever heard anything like it before. No one had ever attempted anything like it before. It took them over two months to record the whole album (as opposed to the ONE DAY it took to record their first album). Ringo said he waited around so much he learned how to play chess during the recording.

Wikipedia – An important work of British psychedelia, the album incorporates a range of stylistic influences, including vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde and Western and Indian classical music. Professor Kevin J. Dettmar, writing in the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, described it as “the most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded”.

The most amazing song on the album is the last track, “A Day in the Life.” Snipped together from fragments of different songs by John and Paul, it is dreamy, meditative, stoned. “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” Just out of curiosity, how many does it take? The English Army winning the war mentioned in the song was in reference to a movie (“How I Won the War”) that Lennon acted in.

As to the crescendo in the song, George Martin wrote the lowest possible note for each instrument and then the highest note near the end of the passage. And then had this highly disciplined orchestra – play freely. “Of course,” he said, “they all looked at me as though I were completely mad.”

As to the final piano chord, “Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and road manager Mal Evans shared three different pianos, with Martin on the harmonium, and all played an E-major chord simultaneously. The final chord was made to ring out for over forty seconds by increasing the recording sound level as the vibration faded out. Towards the end of the chord the recording level was so high that listeners can hear the sounds of the studio, including rustling papers and a squeaking chair.”

Over time, I’ve tended to drift away from “Pepper,” coming back to it periodically as I prefer their more rockin’ and less “rock opera” stuff. But it is a tremendous album and is #1 on Rolling Stone’s list of greatest albums of all time. (Fun fact: Pink Floyd were recording their first album one studio over from The Beatles.  They’d drop in and watch sometimes. Did the influence go both ways? Roger Waters admitted to being gobsmacked, speechless when he heard the album.)

The so-called “White Album,” (#10 on Rolling Stone list) which came out just under 1 1/2 years later, marked a sea change for the band. It was in some senses the complete antithesis of “Pepper.” Double album vs. single album, rock n’ roll as opposed to “rock,” a collection of individual songs rather than a band effort. In some senses it signaled the beginning of the end. You could feel the tug in four different directions. Four solo artists with their backing bands.

“Back in the USSR” starts the album off with a bang. I remember later seeing a TV show about how Soviet kids were finding ways to sneak Beatles tunes to each other. And the first time I ever heard of someone playing this live in Russia, it was not the Fab Four but Billy Joel. And the crowd went wild.

“USSR” is actually a tribute to a Chuck Berry song (“Back in the USA”) and, with the woo-ooh-ooh harmonies, the Beach Boys. George Martin said, “Without (Beach Boys’) Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened … Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” (#2 on Rolling Stones 500 greatest albums of all time).

 

George Harrison: “”I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes… The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there’s no such thing as coincidence— every little item that’s going down has a purpose.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book — as it would be relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw ‘gently weeps’, then laid the book down again and started the song.” Guitar solo by (uncredited) Eric Clapton.

If you get a chance, check out Tom Petty and others at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. (The George lookalike over Tom Petty’s left shoulder is George’s son, Dhani). Prince comes on near the end, kills the solo then throws the guitar straight up in the air and strolls off the stage, cool as a block of purple ice. The guitar never comes back down.

An article in the Daily Mail from 1967 noted,” There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain’s roads and 300,000 in London.”

Next – Final Beatles post. The love you make is equal to the love you take. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Mark Lewisohn and The Beatles Bible.

12 thoughts on “Beatles (4) -Sgt. Pepper, White Album

  1. Really excellent blogs on the Beatles. The more you write the more I didn’t know about the Beatles. You mentioned my two favorite songs, “Norwegian Wood “and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. “Norwegian Wood” is an art form in itself. Like a fine wine, a great work of art, this song, for me, is just a song that needs to be savored each time I play it. I can never get enough of John Lennon.

    “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” ,also, is a song I can’t imagine not having in my life and George Harrison will always be one of my favorites. From what I read, he out of all the other Beatles collaborated with the greats like Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. He loved collaborating with other talents whether in music or theater. The following is a good article that outlines Harrison’s collaborations. Although the article is slightly dismissive of McCartney, it highlights Harrison’s collaborations pretty well.

    http://www.riffraf.net/2015/02/top-5-george-harrison-collaborations

    “Rubber Soul” will always be my all-time favorite of the Beatles albums. As I grew up with the Beatles, many of my friends wanted to know what I still saw in them. And then there was “Rubber Soul” and all those people, who dismissed the Beatles, became huge die-hard fans! Yahoo!

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    1. Just read the Harrison collaboration article that you posted. It’s interesting in that Harrison could be ego-less enough that his collaborations were just that – collaborations. Whereas with John and Paul it was each of them and whatever backup band they could pull together. (A very interesting book I recently read is called “Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the ’70’s.” Paul was well and truly lost after the Beatles’s breakup and his wife Linda had to just about drag him out of bed to get him to perform. He’d spent his entire teenage years and adult life in the band and had absolutely no idea what to do next).

      That post mentions the “Concert for George” which if you haven’t seen it is well worth watching. It was pulled together by Clapton and is a nice tribute.

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      1. Thanks for sending George Harrison’s tribute concert. Really loved it! Music was great and loved seeing George’s son, Dhani, play.. He is so much like his father that you really get George’s presence at the concert. The whole concert showed George’s life and his way of bringing people together.

        Thanks for the story on McCartney. I always thought he had the hardest time with the break up of the Beatles. He missed is other half.

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  2. It’s interesting your comment about “Rubber Soul.” That seems to be the real dividing line between the older “Fab Four” Beatles and the more mature studio-oriented artists they later became. I think a lot of younger music fans today have a hard time appreciating the early stuff. Maybe it all seems too primitive by today’s standards. But from “Rubber Soul” onward, everyone seems to get it and/or like these tunes. For me it’s all good and I can enjoy “Abbey Road” one minute and “Meet the Beatles” the next. (Just listened to “From Me to You” and loved it). But I can understand why for a lot of people who didn’t grow up with them the way we did, the later-day Beatles ARE the Beatles.

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    1. This is a reply to your comment on the Harrison tribute. Yes, it was really nice, wasn’t it? (Although that said, try though I might I could not listen to the entire Ravi Shankar intro. I just cannot get into Indian music). I hadn’t thought about it but yes, it does demonstrate George’s skill in pulling people together. Lest we forget, he did the precursor (Concert for Bangla Desh) to all the Live Aid stuff.

      As to McCartney, yeah, the book really goes into how depressed he was until he got into a van (“Helen Wheels”) with whomever was around and starting just showing up and playing at local colleges. His fame and fortune did not prevent him from being subject to the same emotions any of us would have if we lost, basically, our job and our partner. Frankly, the whole thing came as quite a surprise to me.

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      1. Did some fast tracking on the Ravi Shankar music. I picked the moments to slow it down and listen to some of the music until I got to Eric Clapton and other players. I would have to say it was one of the best tributes I’ve seen to date. Look how many people were on stage and no one was hogging the spotlight – just playing their (his) music and missing their good friend, George.

        About McCartney – First, really interesting story about how he went to colleges to perform and get himself out there again. I realized he was probably one of the neediest Beatles after his wife, Linda, died. After her death, McCartney latched onto his kids for company. At one point, his son James, told him to bugger off and get a life. 

        BTW – I’ve been googling Dhani Harrison to see how he is doing. I would say he’s doing pretty good – lives in LA, married someone who looks like Patty Boyd, does music for movies and his net worth is, and wait for it –$275 MILLON FREAKING DOLLARS! Also one of the nicest people around – good karma does work!

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  3. Pet Sounds vs Pepper is an interesting debate, though one that arguably isn’t necessary. Being a wise-ass contrarian, I have to say that Smiley Smile and Wild Honey are almost equally interesting/important when considering revolutions in pop music, and particularly to later ambient music. It’s a shame that the reason they were ignored was because they’re viewed as the failed salvaging of the ‘Smiley Smile’ project which was supposed to 1-up Pet Sounds.

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  4. Sure, those could be equally if not more valid. However, consider that that statement is from the perspective of the Beatles (via Martin) as opposed to us fans. And so there was a lot of back-and-forth one-upmanship going on between bands. So it became, “Oh, yeah? Well, top this” even if not directly spoken. (McCartney has called “God Only Knows” his favorite song of all time. Which I suppose he wishes he had written). The Beatles didn’t just react to the Beach Boys though. “Helter Skelter” was an attempt to be raucous after Pete Townshend said “I Can See For Miles” was their rowdiest-ever song. (For the times of course).

    For me, as a listener, the Beach Boys weren’t even in the equation at the time. I liked, but didn’t love them. For me the envelope-pushers were Dylan, Hendrix, Cream, Who (Tommy), etc. The first three less for album production values and more for pushing blues and rock out past their supposed boundaries.

    Thanks for comments. This is what makes blogging doubly fun!

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  5. Just saw this on youtube. I love this new version of Harrison’s song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. It is on a soundtrack for “Kubo and The Two Strings” , so the song has a nice Japanese overtone. Someone in the comment section said it is shamisen, which in google states is “a traditional Japanese three-stringed lute with a square body, played with a large plectrum.”

    BTW – found a way around to getting back to my account. Reply on a previous post. 🙂

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  6. That’s very cool, thanks. I’ve heard of Regina Spektor, know not much about her.

    BTW, glad you found an old post and commented on it. I think sometimes people believe that the older posts are archives. I leave them open for comment forever. All music is current.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I don’t know much about Regina Spektor either. I was just loving what they did to Harrison’s song for the movie. Glad you like it.

      If I hear something on youtube or read something in the newspaper about an artist that you posted about, I go back and read the post again or give the video you posted a listen. Sadly, sometimes the video is gone but I try to get on youtube and give a listen. I am also way behind in reading your posts and listening to the videos so I may pop up in other past posts. 🙂

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