Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the Beatles' eighth studio album. It was recorded late in 1966 and in 1967 through April 21 (700 hours of studio time over 129 days). The release was on June 1, 1967 (UK) and June 2, 1967 (US). It was the first Beatles album to have identical track listings in both markets. It was a "concept" album, in that the song selection and sequence followed, albeit loosely, a unifying idea. It also showed even more experimentation and innovation on the part of the song composers, and continued in the mode of Revolver to implement pioneering ideas in the recording studio. The Beatles had just finished their final tour in August, and could settle in to put together another recording project without the distractions of travel. Lennon and McCartney drew on many musical influences beyond the narrow limits of blues and rock. Elements of jazz, Indian music, classical, and old-fashioned music hall can be heard throughout. The lyrics cover a broad range of subjects, including nostalgia about childhood and images from day-to-day existence. The BBC did not play the album, alleging concerns about references to drug use in some of the songs, particularly "I'd love to turn you on" from A Day in the Life and the implicit LSD reference in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lennon and McCartney denied that they were drug references.
The "concept" of Sgt. Pepper was that the Beatles had organized as this fictitious band with an outlandish name. The use of alter-egos for the "Fab Four" gave them freedom to vent their most creative impulses. The introductory number presented the band to its public, and then the songs followed as if performed by this group. "Billy Shears" is the leader of the band (Ringo), who then sings With a Little Help from My Friends. A reprise of the opening number is on side two, just before the ending, A Day in the Life. The intermediate tracks do not follow so explicitly the concept of a show by alter-egos; yet they fit the concept musically in terms of their variety and creativity. Lennon later denied having written any of his compositions with Paul's "Sgt. Pepper" format in mind.
The concept and the name were McCartney ideas, based on the curious band names that had begun to appear in the mid-1960's. Famous for its cover art, gatefold picture and cutouts of mustaches and other elements of disguise, the album was clearly playful. It also thrust the Beatles' public squarely into the era of psychedelic rock, just in case some fans had been inattentive to the trends in Rubber Soul and Revolver.
It is hard to imagine that the Beatles could have matched the genius of Revolver so quickly after its release. But Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was immediately recognized as a master work. In 1968 it was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, winning four. As Grammy's "Album of the Year," it was the first pop album to be thus recognized. Sgt. Pepper received praise from the music critics as possibly the most influential album to have been released in the history of popular music. It was also a great success commercially, selling millions of copies and topping charts in the UK, the US and other countries for several weeks. Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time placed it in the number 1 spot.
Having given up concert tours, the Beatles chose the Sgt. Pepper format as a kind of virtual tour performance. This idea was enhanced by promotional videos (which the Beatles had been making from time to time) and a planned (but unfinished) TV special of Sgt. Pepper, were to take the place of personal appearances.
During the recording sessions the Beatles created three other songs that did not find their way into the album. Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were released as a double-a-sided single in February of 1967. They were originally thought to fit the nostalgic, childhood theme in Sgt. Pepper, but the decision to release them early, as singles, was probably taken to keep the group before the public eye. The Beatles and George Martin had adopted the policy of not including singles already in circulation on any album. Martin later said it was a position that he would change if he could do it over again. Harrison's Only a Northern Song was also recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, but shelved for two years until the soundtrack Yellow Submarine came out.
More than any previous album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band liberally uses the latest in recording techniques. Abbey Road had four-track equipment, which permitted engineers to "mix down" previous takes into a single, base track, opening up new tracks for additional effects and overdubs. In theory, the process of making reduction mixes could go on indefinitely, so that the Beatles had almost a completely free hand in adding tracks to recordings. The mellotron also was put to great use. It is a keyboard-activated player of tape loops and samples. Added to this were the special audio effects of phasing, flanging, wah-wah pedals, fuzzbox, the Leslie speaker, and other effects like reverberation and echo. Paul's bass was plugged directly into the recording equipment rather than being picked up through an amp. This greatly deepened the bass effect whenever the engineers called upon it.
A noteworthy feature of Sgt. Pepper is the high frequency tone followed by nonsense and laughs, which appears for a couple of seconds at the beginning of the LP (in the "run out groove"). It was carried over to the CD. Lennon just liked it as a teaser and said it was "especially intended to annoy your dog." When played backwards, prurient ears hear an obscene phrase, but the official word is that it is meaningless.
When Paul recorded When She's Leaving Home, George Martin was unavailable to do the string arrangements, so McCartney hired Mike Leander to do them. This was a cause of considerable friction between Martin and McCartney. Harrison at the time also resented Paul's imperious behavior in the studio, especially when Paul took over the lead guitar solos for the opening track on the album. These incidents may have been the first signs of the eventual disenchantment of the group members that led to the band's dissolution.
The cover of Sgt. Pepper is widely-recognized. Robert Fraser, Peter Blake and Jann Hanworth won Grammy Awards for its conception and execution. Noteworthy in the cover are a Shirley Temple doll with a Rolling Stones sweater and over 70 images of famous persons, including movie stars, musical artists, writers, comedians and Indian gurus. The nod to the Stones would be returned with an image of the Beatles hidden in their Satanic Majesties Request album, released later in 1967. The lyrics were reprinted on the back side, another innovation for a pop album.
|Side A||Lead Vocals||Written by||Length|
|Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:02|
|With A Little Help From My Friends||Ringo Starr||Lennon/McCartney||2:44|
|Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds||John Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:28|
|Getting Better||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:47|
|Fixing a Hole||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:36|
|She's Leaving Home||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||3:35|
|Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!||John Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||2:37|
|Within You Without You||George Harrison||Harrison||5:05|
|When I'm Sixty-Four||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:37|
|Lovely Rita||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:42|
|Good Morning Good Morning||John Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||2:41|
|Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)||Paul McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||1:18|
|A Day in the Life||Lennon & McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||5:33|