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.