The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band- 1967
RMR Rating- 10
At the time of its release, the sound of Sgt. Pepper’s was nothing like anything The Beatles or anyone else had ever done; it was completely revolutionary.
Although The Beatles had progressed on every album, their last three albums had pretty much followed the same formula. Each of those albums (Help, Rubber Soul, & Revolver) had a big opening song: “Help,” “You Can Drive My Car,” and then “Taxman” respectfully. Then, each album would continue with a mix of rockers, ballads, and some psychedelic songs mixed in along the way. It’s also important to point out that all of The Beatles’ albums before Sgt. Pepper’s were pretty typical rock albums and used pretty typical rock instruments (guitar, bass, drums, piano, and vocals). Sure, Harrison had messed around with a sitar, and they experimented with some looping techniques on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but for the most part, all those albums were pretty standard rock and roll albums; Sgt. Pepper’s, however, is certainly not a standard rock and roll album. The whole album is structured different, and not only do they get away from the big opening song, but they go for more of an album oriented release, rather than a singles release, which was definitely uncharacteristic of The Beatles at the time.
The instrumentation is also completely different and the biggest change. There’s barely any guitar work anywhere on the album, and all the other traditional instruments are extremely subtle and traded in for a completely unique and orchestrated sound. Don’t get me wrong, The Beatles were certainly playing their instruments, but their list of instruments had grown and diversified immensely. Just take a look:
John Lennon: lead harmony and backing vocals, lead rhythm and acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, piano, handclaps, harmonica, tape loops, sound effects, kazoo, tambourine, maracas
Paul McCartney: lead harmony and backing vocals, lead acoustic and bass guitars, piano, Hammond organ, handclaps, vocalizations, tape loops, sound effects, kazoo
George Harrison: lead rhythm and acoustic guitars, sitar, lead and backing vocals, harmony and backing vocals, tambura, harmonica, kazoo, handclaps, maracas
Ringo Starr: drums, percussion, congas, tambourine, maracas, handclaps, tubular bells, lead and backing vocals, harmonica, kazoo,
All of this new instrumentation had never been used by anyone in rock music, and it really opened the door for what was possible and acceptable. As a result of Sgt. Pepper’s, rock and roll was no longer just simple 4 to 5 piece instrumentation. It now contained complex soundscapes and atmospheric textures. Other bands would follow The Beatles’ lead, but The Beatles were the first, and they were able to do this all while keeping a pop appeal, which is where the true genius of The Beatles really stands. They could be completely innovative and foreign sounding, but completely accessible at the same time.
In terms of songs, they are all complete winners, although I think “When I’m Sixty-Four” could have been left off the album. It’s not a bad song, it’s actually quite catchy, but it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the songs, and it slightly disrupts the flow of the album. But, take your pick of any of the others…
If you want something moving you have “She’s Leaving Home.” (Click here to listen to She’s Leaving Home)
If you want something upbeat you have “With a little Help from My Friends,” and “Getting Better.” (Click here to listen to Getting Better)
If want something trippy, you have “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Within You Without You,” and the Doors inspired “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” (Click here to listen to Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!)
Or, for a more traditional rocker, take your pick of “Lovely Rita” or “Good Morning Good Morning.” (Click here to listen to Lovely Rita).
Then there’s “A Day in the Life”…
“A Day in the Life,” is Sgt. Pepper’s closing track and maybe The Beatles’ finest moment. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the #1 Beatles song of all time, and I tend to agree. What completely blows my mind about this song is how much happens in just under 6-minutes. You have Lennon’s opening verse, which depicts the world as a very sad and dreary place. His lyrics for this section were based on various articles that he read in the daily newspaper while writing the song. Then, he delivers the famous line of “I’d love to turn you on,” as the song shifts to McCartney’s part, which is more upbeat, but it still depicts the typical dreary events in the day of one’s life: alarm clock going off, running late, stressful day at work, and then finally getting to wind down with a smoke. Then the song shifts back again to Lennon for another verse and another delivery of the aforementioned famous line: “I’d love to turn you on,” but this time the whole song builds up in crescendo with a 40-piece orchestra that climaxes with Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Mal Evans all playing an E-major piano note simultaneously on four separate pianos, and they all hold the note for an ear shattering 40-seconds. And, that’s still not the end of the song. After all that, the song finally ends with a looped section of repeating indecipherable vocals. And as I mentioned, this all happens in less than 6-minutes. Most everyone has heard this song, but take another listen, and take into account everything that happens during the course of the song (click here to listen to A Day In The Life).
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is not my favorite album of all time, but I have never grown tired of listening to it; I hear something new every time I spin it, and I always enjoy playing it. I’ll close by saying that Sgt. Pepper’s is absolutely essential listening in every possible way, and it certainly deserves all the praise that it receives.
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