June 1, 1967 – The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is released. # ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5 (MUST-HAVE!)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by The Beatles, released on June 1, 1967. It topped the Billboard 200 Top LP's chart for 15 weeks, and the UK Albums chart for 27 weeks. In 2003, and again in 2012, the album was placed at number one on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
Nominated for seven Grammys in 1968, it would win four, including Album of the Year, the first rock album to receive this honor.
- 1968 Album of the Year
- 1968 Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts
- 1968 Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical
- 1968 Contemporary Album
"Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band didn’t start out life as a “concept album” but it very soon developed a life of its own. I remember it warmly, as both a tremendous challenge and a highly rewarding experience. For me, it was the most innovative, imaginative and trend-setting record of its time." - George Martin
“The Beatles definitely had an eternal curiosity for doing something different,” says George Martin, producer of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Certainly, this album was entirely different from anything which had gone before, and although it has been much imitated since, it remains today a unique, epochal record one which revolutionized the entire recording industry and caused such vast repercussions that its influence will very probably be felt for as long as the music is written and performed.
The Beatles’ musical ideas progressed in a most tangible way with each album they recorded. Geoff Emerick, the recording engineer who with George Martin formed the imaginative team which translated the Beatles’ requirements onto tape, once totted up the number of hours put into the making of Sgt. Pepper and came up with 700. Please Please Me, the Beatles’ first album, was recorded in 585 minutes.
“The Beatles insisted that everything on Sgt. Pepper had to be different,” said Emerick, “so everything was either distorted, limited, heavily compressed or treated with excessive equalization. We had microphones right down the bells of the brass instruments and headphones turned into microphones attached to violins. We plastered vast amounts of echo on-to vocals and sent them through the circuitry of the revolving Leslie speaker inside a Hammond organ. We used giant primitive oscillators to vary the speed of instruments and vocals and we had tapes chopped to pieces and stuck together upside down and the wrong way round.”
The very end of the album typifies the advanced studio trickery applied throughout Sgt. Pepper. After the last droplets of the crashing piano chord of ‘A Day In The Life’ have evaporated, come a few seconds of 15 kilocycle tone, put there – especially to annoy your dog – at the request of John Lennon. Then, as the coup de grace, there is a few seconds of non-sense Beatle chatter, taped, cut into several pieces and stuck back together at random so that, as George Martin says, purchasers of the vinyl album who did not have an auto-return on their record player would say “What the hell’s that?” and find the curious noise going on and on ad infinitum in the concentric run-out groove. _______________________ THE SONGS
The recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spanned 129 days, perhaps the most creative 129 days in the history of rock music.
The sequence of songs on Pepper is famous in itself, being – on the vinyl version – two continuous sides of music, without pauses between songs, or ‘banding’, to use recording parlance. But the lineup on side one, as first conceived, was different to how it finally evolved and was as follows: ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; “With A Little Help From My Friends”; “Being For the Benefit Of Mr. Kite”; “Fixing A Hole”; “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”; “Getting Better”; “She’s Leaving Home.”
By suitably programming your compact disc hardware you’ll be able to hear the album as it was originally intended. Extracted from The Beatles at Abbey Road, to be published late-1987.
Here, in the order in which the recording was tackled, is a guide to the way the album was made. “When I’m Sixty-Four”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on December 6, 1966. Album version mixed from take four. Writer: Paul. Lead Vocal: Paul. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineer: Phil McDonald. “A Day In The Life”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on January 19, 1967. Working title “In The Life Of…” Album version mixed from takes six and seven. Writers: John with Paul. Lead vocal: John, with Paul. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineers: Richard Lush, Phil McDonald. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on February 1, 1967. Album version mixed from take ten. Writer: Paul. Lead vocal: Paul. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineers: Richard Lush. “Good Morning, Good Morning”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on February 8, 1967. Album version mixed from take eleven. Writer: John. Lead vocal: John. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineers: Richard Lush. “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on February 17, 1967. Album version mixed from take nine. Writer: John. Lead vocal: John. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineers: Richard Lush. “Fixing a Hole”
Recording commenced in Regent Sound Studio, Tottenham Court Road, London, on February 21, 1967, and later completed at Abbey Road. Album version mixed from take three. Writer: Paul. Lead vocal: Paul. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Adrian Ibbetson (Regent Sound), Geoff Emerick (Abbey Road). Second Engineer: Richard Lush. “Lovely Rita”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on February 23, 1967. Album version mixed from take eleven. Writer: Paul. Lead vocal: Paul. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineer: Richard Lush. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on March 1, 1967. Album version mixed from take eight. Writer: John. Lead vocal: John. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineer: Richard Lush. “Getting Better”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on March 9, 1967. Album version mixed from take fifteen. Writer: Paul. Lead Vocal: Paul. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineers: Malcolm Addey, Ken Townsend, Geoff Emerick, Peter Vince. Second Engineers: Gra-ham Kirkby, Richard Lush, Keith Slaughter. “She’s Leaving Home”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on March 17, 1967. Album version mixed from take nine. Writer: Paul. Lead vocal: Paul. Producer: George Martin. Score: Mike Leander. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineers: Richard Lush, Keith Slaughter. “Within You Without You”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on March 22, 1967. Album version mixed from take two. Writer: George. Lead vocal: George. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineer: Richard Lush. “With A Little Help From My Friends”
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on March 29, 1967. Working title “Bad Finger Boogie”. Album version mixed from take eleven. Writers: John and Paul. Lead Vocal: Ringo. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineer: Richard Lush. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
Recording commenced in studio one at Abbey Road on April 1, 1967. Album version mixed from take nine. Writer: John. Lead vocal: John, Paul, and George. Producer: George Martin. Recording Engineer: Geoff Emerick. Second Engineer: Richard Lush.
Three other songs were recorded during the session. The first was taken for release as a single, the third didn’t surface until the Yellow Submarine film soundtrack album. “Strawberry Fields Forever” – Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on December 29, 1966. “Penny Lane” – Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on December 29, 1966. “It’s Only A Northern Song” – Recording commenced in studio two in Abbey Road on February 13, 1967.
_______________________ THE COVER... and inserts
The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was art-directed by Robert Fraser, designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, his wife, and artistic partner, and photographed by Michael Cooper. It featured a colorful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover and lyrics printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a British pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band were dressed in custom-made military-style outfits made of satin dyed in Day-Glo colors. The suits were designed by Manuel Cuevas.
Among the insignia on their uniforms are:
MBE medals on McCartney's and Harrison's jackets. MBEs had been awarded to all four Beatles.
The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, on Lennon's right sleeve.
Ontario Provincial Police flash on McCartney's sleeve.
"This album sleeve was the first to feature printed lyrics and it was one of the first to have a gatefold sleeve. It was also the first to have anything other than a plain inner bag too, the first pressing coming in a slightly psychedelic sleeve designed by Simon and Marijke of the Fool. And we also had a card with the cut-outs, which I had originally intended to be a small packed with badges and pencils and such like. That was stopped because it would have caused EMI big marketing problems.'
The Beatles already had a cover designed by a Dutch group called the Fool, but my gallery dealer, Robert Fraser, said to Paul, “Why don’t you use a ‘fine artist’, a professional, to do the cover instead?” Paul rather liked the idea and I was asked to do it. The concept of the album had already evolved: it would be as though the Beatles were another band, performing a concert. Paul and John said I should imagine that the band had just finished the concert, perhaps in a park. I then thought that we could have a crowd standing behind them, and this developed into the collage idea.
I asked them to make lists of people they’d most like to have in the audience at this imaginary concert. John’s was interesting because it included Jesus and Gandhi and, more cynically, Hitler. But this was just a few months after the US furor about his “Jesus” statement, so they were left out. George’s list was all gurus. Ringo said, “Whatever the others say is fine with me,” because he really didn’t want to be bothered. Robert Fraser and I also made lists. We then got all the photographs together and had life-sized cut-outs made onto head-board.
EMI realized that because many of the people we were depicting were still alive, we might be sued for not seeking their permission. So the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, who was very wary of all the complications in the first place, had his assistant write to everyone. Mae West replied, “No, I won’t be on it. What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?” So the Beatles wrote her a personal letter and she changed her mind.
Robert Fraser was a business partner of Michael Cooper, an excellent photographer, so he was commissioned to do the shoot. I worked in his studio for a fortnight constructing the collage, fixing the top row to the back wall and putting the next about six inches in front and so on, so that we got a tiered effect. Then we put in the palm tree and the other little objects. I wanted to have the waxworks of the Beatles because I thought that they might be looking at St. Pepper’s band too. The boy who delivered the floral display asked if he could contribute by making a guitar out of hyacinths, and the little girl wearing the ‘Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys’ sweatshirt was a cloth figure of Shirley Temple, the shirt coming from Michael Cooper’s young son, Adam. The Beatles arrived during the evening of March 30. We had a drink, they got dressed and we did the session. It took about three hours in all, including the shots for the center-fold out and back cover. I’m not sure how much it all cost. One reads exaggerated figures. I think Robert Fraser was paid 1500 pounds by EMI, and I got about 200. People say to me, “You must have made a lot of money on it,” but I didn’t because Robert signed away the copyright. But it has never mattered too much because it was such a wonderful thing to have done.
~ Peter Blake COLLAGE
The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars, and (at Harrison's request) a number of Indian gurus. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, Carl Gustav Jung, W.C. Fields, Diana Dors, James Dean, Bob Dylan, Issy Bonn, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, William S. Burroughs, Marlon Brando, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles' bassist, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Pete Best said in a later NPR interview that Lennon borrowed family medals from his (Best's) mother Mona for the shoot, on condition that he did not lose them. Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon, but ultimately they were left out. A photo also exists of a rejected cardboard printout with a cloth draped over its head; its identity is unknown. Even now, co-creator Jann Haworth regrets that so few women were included.
The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has a widely-recognized album cover which depicts several dozen celebrities and other images.
This album cover was created by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake. They won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts in 1967 for their work on this cover.
The celebrities and items featured on the front cover are (by row, left to right):
- Sri Yukteswar Giri (Hindu guru)
- Aleister Crowley (occultist)
- Mae West (actress)
- Lenny Bruce (comedian)
- Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer)
- W. C. Fields (comedian/actor)
- Carl Gustav Jung (psychiatrist)
- Edgar Allan Poe (writer)
- Fred Astaire (actodancer)
- Richard Merkin (artist)
- The Vargas Girl (by artist Alberto Vargas)
- Huntz Hall (actor)
- Simon Rodia (designer and builder of the Watts Towers)
- Bob Dylan (singesongwriter)
- Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
- Sir Robert Peel (19th century British Prime Minister)
- Aldous Huxley (writer)
- Dylan Thomas (poet)
- Terry Southern (writer)
- Dion (singer)
- Tony Curtis (actor)
- Wallace Berman (artist)
- Tommy Handley (comedian)
- Marilyn Monroe (actress)
- William S. Burroughs (writer)
- Sri Mahavatar Babaji (Hindu guru)
- Stan Laurel (actocomedian)
- Richard Lindner (artist)
- Oliver Hardy (actocomedian)
- Karl Marx (political philosopher)
- H. G. Wells (writer)
- Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (Hindu guru)
- Sigmund Freud (psychiatrist) - barely visible below Bob Dylan
- Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
- Stuart Sutcliffe (artist/former Beatle)
- Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
- Max Miller (comedian)
- A "Petty Girl" (by artist George Petty)
- Marlon Brando (actor)
- Tom Mix (actor)
- Oscar Wilde (writer)
- Tyrone Power (actor)
- Larry Bell (artist)
- Dr. David Livingstone (missionary/explorer)
- Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmeTarzan actor)
- Stephen Crane (writer) - barely visible between Issy Bonn's head and raised arm
- Issy Bonn (comedian)
- George Bernard Shaw (playwright)
- H. C. Westermann (sculptor)
- Albert Stubbins (football player)
- Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
- Lewis Carroll (writer)
- T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia")
- Wax model of Sonny Liston (boxer)
- A "Petty Girl" (by George Petty)
- Wax model of George Harrison
- Wax model of John Lennon
- Shirley Temple (child actress) - barely visible, first of three appearances on the cover
- Wax model of Ringo Starr
- Wax model of Paul McCartney
- Albert Einstein (physicist) - largely obscured
- John Lennon holding a French horn
- Ringo Starr holding a trumpet
- Paul McCartney holding a Cor Anglais
- George Harrison holding a piccolo
- Bobby Breen (singer)
- Marlene Dietrich (actress/singer)
- An American legionnaire
- Diana Dors (actress)
- Shirley Temple (child actress) - second appearance on the cover
Other objects within the group include:
- Cloth grandmother-figure by Jann Haworth
- Cloth doll by Haworth of Shirley Temple wearing a sweater that reads "Welcome The Rolling Stones Good Guys"
- A ceramic Mexican craft known as a Tree of Life from Metepec
- A 9-inch Sony television set, apparently owned by Paul McCartney - the receipt, bearing McCartney's signature, is owned by a curator of a museum dedicated to The Beatles in Japan.
- A stone figure of a girl
- Another stone figure
- A statue brought over from John Lennon's house
- A trophy
- A doll of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi
- A drum skin, designed by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave
- A hookah (water pipe)
- A velvet snake
- A Fukusuke, Japanese china figure
- A stone figure of Snow White
- A garden gnome
- A euphonium/baritone horn
People who were originally intended for the front cover but were ultimately excluded:
- Leo Gorcey - was modeled and originally included to the left of Huntz Hall, but was subsequently removed when a fee of $400 was requested for the use of the actor's likeness.
- Mohandas Gandhi - was modeled and originally included to the right of Lewis Carroll, but was subsequently removed. According to McCartney, "Gandhi also had to go because the head of EMI, Sir Joe Lockwood, said that in India they wouldn't allow the record to be printed"
- Jesus Christ - was requested by Lennon, but not modeled because the LP would be released only a few months after Lennon's Jesus statement.
- Adolf Hitler - was modeled and was visible in early photographs of the montage, positioned to the right of Larry Bell, but was eventually obscured by Johnny Weissmuller in the final image.
- Germán Valdés - was considered to appear in the first row, but he declined the offer and suggested to replace his image by a Mexican craftsmanship known as "Tree of Life". Ringo Starr agreed and placed it in the lower right corner of the cover
In the center of the scene, The Beatles stand behind a drum on which are painted the words of the album's title; the drum was painted by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave.
The final bill for the cover was £2,868 5s 3d (equivalent to £38,823 today), a staggering sum for the time. It has been estimated that this was 100 times the average cost for an al-bum cover in those days
_______________________ THE INNER SLEEVE
The album's inner sleeve featured artwork by the Dutch design team the Fool that eschewed for the first time the standard white paper in favor of an abstract pattern of waves of maroon, red, pink and white.
__________ NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS (UK) May 27, 1967
JACK HUTTON VISITS A …
THE Beatles, innovators as always, last week bestowed a new experience on the pop scene -. the LISTEN- IN. They commandeered Brian Epstein's luxurious townhouse in Chapel Street, London, SW1, played their new LP, "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," at full volume and shouted pleasantly at their guests for several hours. Downstairs, a long genuine antique table groaned, as they say, under huge dishes of cold meats and vegetables served by white-jacketed waiters. To drink there was a choice of gazpacho, a cold soup, or champers. The cham-pers won handsomely.
The " boys." as they are affectionately known by their management, were in fine fettle. Lennon won the sartorial stakes with a green, flower-patterned shirt, red cord trousers, yellow socks, and what looked like cord shoes.
His ensemble was completed by a sporran. With his bushy sideboards and National Health specs, he resembled an animated Victorian watchmaker.
Paul McCartney, sans mustache, wore a loosely tied scarf shirt, a striped double-breasted jacket, and looked like someone out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel.
They both spoke volubly about many things, such as the BBC ban on "A Day In The Life," one of the LP tracks.
Said Paul: "John woke up one morning and read the Daily Mail. The news stories gave him the ideas for the song. The man goes upstairs on a bus for a smoke. Everybody does that kind of thing. But what does the BBC say? Smoking? SMOKING? S-M -0 -K -I -N-G? "
Well, BBC, he was actually smoking Park Drive! Even people at the BBC do these things. So, face it, BBC!
"You can read a double meaning into anything if you want to. But we don't care if they ban our songs. It might help the LP. They'll play the other tracks. "It's exciting to see the way an LP goes. To see how many different things can be taken from it."
Both Paul and John laughed off the suggestion that "Sgt Pepper" might be their last LP as a group. "Rubbish." said Lennon, but he went on to confirm that their touring days were over.
"No more tours, no more mop tops. We could never hear ourselves playing properly. Anyway, what more could we do after playing to 56,000 people? What next? More fame? More money?
"We were traveling all over the world and couldn't move outside our hotel." Now they feel they still give themselves, via albums, to their public, but they don't have to pay so much.
Says Paul. "I even went on a bus from Liverpool to Chester the other day without much trouble. There was just a mustache involved.
"And nearly every morning I take my dog for a walk in Regents Park.
The musical ideas of Lennon and McCartney seem to be expanding all the time. These ideas encompass a whole spectrum of sounds - mechanIcal, orchestral, electronic, animal, vegetable, Mineral.
They are becoming less and less concerned with their own playing. "I don't practise," says John. "I only played guitar to accompany myself singing You could study all your life and become the best bassoonist in Israel. So what? I like producing records. I want to do it all. I want a machine that produces all sounds. Studying music was like learning French.
If there was a new method of learning music-yeah. But the present method is archaic."
"We were never musicians," agreed Paul "In Hamburg, we got a lot of practice. But reading music for us was unnecessary."
Paul conducted the 41-piece band heard on the banned track "A Day In The Life" and he felt initially embarrassed facing that sea of sessioners.
"So I decided to treat them like human beings and not professional musicians. I tried to give myself to them. We chatted and drank champagne."
John dislikes what he calls "factory musicians"
"Classical players are best on record. They can play anything. Jazzmen are the worst. They can only play from there to there." He placed his open palms two inches apart... and they all want to sound like Ronnie Scott or somebody else "
Lennon 's views are equally trenchant about jazz styles. He doesn't dig Dixieland and mainstream. " It's dying man - like the Black And White Minstrels.
"I like John Coltrane but I don't get to the clubs much because it's embarrassing. The so-called experts laugh at you - 'there's a Beatle in the audience folks. It's probably my blame, but that's what I feel."
However, he promised the MM he would go to hear Charles Lloyd's quartet when they play London in June 17.
And to prove It Lennon borrowed a pen and wrote CHARLES LLOYD in big letters on the back of his sporran.
__________ MELODY MAKER (UK), June 3, 1967 "A hundred different directions at once" The Maker takes the "jolly approach" of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. by Chris Welch
Now let boring controversy begin!
WHO are the Beatles' greatest influences? Some might consider them to be William Byrd, Richard Strauss and Ravi Shankar. We humbly guess at George Formby, Lonnie Donegan and an elderly lady schoolteacher image, locked deep in the Beatles' collective childhood memory. The Beatles have always loved telling a tale, sometimes sadly, sometimes with wry humour, often mixing depressing sentiments with a chirpy bounce in the grand music hall tradition. And odd women constantly crop up in Beatle song themes. It was Eleanor Rigby on the classic "Revolver" album.
This time it's "Lovely Rita " on "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Rita is a female traffic warden or "meter maid" for whom Paul McCartney (bass) expresses the desire to take out for tea. Rita is obviously one of those iron-lipped, jack-booted Femmes Fatale who stalk unwary motorists, and whose very iciness contains a sensual allure.
The novelty of an ode to a lady traffic warden is typical of the whole jolly approach of "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
Whatever the influences at work on the Beatles band, the lads have brought forth yet another saga of entertainment and achievement so solid and inspired that it should keep the British pop industry ticking over securely for another six months at least.
Already several of the tracks on this 13-song album are being feverishly covered by other artists, from Bernard Cribbins to David and Jonathan.
It's all presented like one of those phoney "live" LIN with dubbed applause and laughter coming in at the oddest moments, the effect is used with subtlety and is not allowed to spoil the musical content.
Some astute listeners have concluded that the faintly self-mocking undercurrent that runs throughout might indi-cate this is the Beatles' last album. indicate
We ran only hope that phrases heard on the album like "we hope you enjoyed the show" are simply references to the work in hand.
From the title track, which has Paul blasting away some James Brown soul through to the final "A Day In The Life" which features John, Paul and a 41 -piece orchestra, song after song prove the Beatles - creatively speaking - are bursting into a hundred different directions at once.
Yet all the music retains the Beetle stamp of humour, sorrow, sympathy and cynicism.
For example, Ringo sings a deadpan vocal "With A Little Help From My Friends." "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite" is a tale about a trampoline expert.
George entertains with some hot sitar music. and Paul does his George Formby bit on " When I'm 64."
'Goodmorning, Goodmorning" by John is an observation on the ritual conversation gambits of those who have nothing to say.
The Beatles' new album is a remarkable and worthwhile contribution to music. Now let the boring controversies begin!
__________ DECEMBER, 1967 COLUMN (Robert Christgau) Esquire
In case you've been in New Guinea or something, you ought to be told that the Beatles have a new album out. It is called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and even before its release on June 2 it was the subject of all kinds of published and unpublished rumors. Afterward, the information barrage was overwhelming. Capitol Records sent out an extraordinary feature, spiced with terms like "modals," "atonality," and--egad!--"bowels" and casting aspersions upon the "Tin Pan Alley-spawned lyrical cliché." There were stories in Life (in which Paul McCartney, to the surprise of no one and the shock of quite a few, revealed that he had sampled the dreaded lysergic acid diethylamide; he was seconded quickly by John and George, but Ringo, lovely Ringo, has remained silent), Time (in which George Martin, the group's producer, who has a degree in music and is thus permitted to be a genius, was singled out as the brains of the operation), and Newsweek (in which the former kings of rock and roll were compared, unperjoratively and in order, to Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edith Sitwell, Charlie Chaplin, Donald Barthelme, Harold Pinter, and T.S. Eliot--and not to Elvis Presley or even Bob Dylan). The trades bristled with exciting little pieces that always seemed to contain the word "artistic." And in The New York Times, Richard Goldstein put the album down and was almost lynched.
Goldstein, who has had his own story in Newsweek, is the best-known critic of pop in the country. Like any rising star, he engendered the inevitable ressentiment, always masquerading, of course, as contempt for the phony, the sellout, etc.. I often disagree with Gold-stein, but a sellout he is not. He is unfailingly honest and about as malevolent as Winnie-the-Pooh. There are very few "pop critics" who can match him even occasionally for incisiveness, perspective, and wit. Goldstein was disappointed with Sgt. Pepper. After an initial moment of panic, I wasn't. In fact, I was exalted by it, although a little of that has worn off. Which is just the point? Goldstein may have been wrong, but he wasn't that wrong. Sgt. Pepper is not the world's most perfect work of art. But that is what the Beatles' fans have come to assume their idols must produce.
It all started in December 1965, when they released Rubber Soul, an album that for innovation, tightness, and lyrical intelligence was about twice as good as anything they or anyone else (except maybe the Stones) had done previously. In June 1966, Capitol followed with The Beatles--"Yesterday" . . . and Today, comprising both sides of three singes plus extra cuts from the English versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Beatles (perhaps as a metaphor for this hodgepodge, which was not released in England) provided a cover that depicted Our Boys in bloody butcher aprons, surrounded by hunks of meat and dismembered doll. The powers yowled, the cover was replaced as a reported cost of $250,000, and then in August the American Revolver went on sale. That did it. Revolver was twice as good and four times as startling as Rubber Soul, with sound effects, Oriental drones, jazz bands, transcendentalist lyrics, all kinds of rhythmic and harmonic surprises, and a filter that made John Lennon sound like God singing through a foghorn.
Partly because the ten-month gap between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper was so unprecedented, the album was awaited in much the same spirit as installments of Dickens must have been a century ago. Everyone was a little edgy: Could they do it again? The answer: yes and no. Sgt. Pepper is a consolidation, more intricate than Revolver but not more substantial. Part of Goldstein's mistake, I think, has been to allow all the filters and reverbs and orchestral effects and overdubs to deafen him to the stuff underneath, which was pretty nice, and to fall victim to over anticipation. Although Goldstein still insists he was right, I attribute his review to a failure of nerve.
Plus, perhaps, a predilection for folk music. Sgt. Pepper, four months in gestation, is the epitome of studio rock, and Goldstein wasn't entirely wrong when he accused it of being "busy, hip and cluttered." It contains nothing as lovely as "In My Life" on Rubber Soul or "Here, There and Everywhere" on Revolver. But no one seems to care. The week after Goldstein's review appeared, Cash Box listed Sgt. Pepper as the best-selling album in the country, a position it has occupied all summer.
Meanwhile, Goldstein himself has become a storm center. The Voice, his home base, published a rebuttal by a guy named Tom Phillips, who works for the Times. (Now who's square?) Goldstein responded with a Voice defense of his review. (Title: "I Lost My Cool Through the New York Times.") Paul Williams, of Crawdaddy, complained that Goldstein "got hung up on his own integrity and attempted to judge what he admittedly [sic] did not understand." (What have you done for rock this week?) And the Times was deluged with letters, many abusive and every last one in disagreement, the largest response to a music review in its history.
The letters are a fascinating testimony to what the Beatles mean to their fans. The correspondents are divided about equally between adolescents and young adults, with age often volunteered as a credential. Needless to say, Goldstein is frequently accused of being Old. (For the record, he is twenty-three. And I am twenty-five.) One common complaint was that Goldstein missed the acronymic implications of a lush little fantasy called "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." (Singers on a trip with pretensions?) Even more common is the indignant avowal that George Harrison's "Within You Without You" did not, as Goldstein averred, "resurrect the very clichés the Beatles helped bury," and that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," as Sherry Brody, of Brooklyn, put it, "is not like other songs by stupid groups that say I love you and junk like that." (I hope I don't sound condescending. Miss Brody's letter is not only charming--she signs, "Please write back!"--but every bit as perceptive as many of its more ambitious competitors.) Of course, the clichés in "WYWY" to which Goldstein was referring were not "I love you and junk like that." They were "self-discovery" and "universal love," the kind of homilies that used to make the Beatles giggle, but that Harrison now seems to take seriously.
"WYWY" provides the most convenient launching pad for the textual analyses that almost everyone felt compelled to send off. One writer claimed that a book by William R. Shears (Ringo's persona on the record is "Billy Shears"), called Here It Is, is full of illuminating cross-references. A high-school freshman invoked the album as an example of "tmesis--the appearance of a poem to do credit to its words." Many saw the album as "an attack on middle-class values." Some writers were sure the Beatles had arrived at their current syn-thesis because, to quote a Juilliard student, "they have refused to prostitute themselves for their fans." But others insisted that Sgt. Pepper was "for the people."
The genius of the Beatles can be found in those last two contradictory suggestions because both are true. Few of their old fans could have anticipated their present course or wished for it. Yet the Beatles have continued to please more of the old-timers than anyone but they--and the old-timers themselves--could have hoped. They really started the whole long-haired hippie business four years ago, and who knows whether they developed with it or it developed with them? All those pages of analysis are a gauge of how important the Beatles have become to . . . us.
One song on Sgt. Pepper, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," seems to me deliberately one-dimensional, nothing more than a description of a traveling circus. It fits beautifully into the album, which is a kind of long vaudeville show, but I feel almost certain it has no "meaning." Yet one girl, "age fifteen," writes that it presents "life as an eerie perverted circus." Is that sad? silly? horrifying? contemptible? From an adult, it might be all four, but from a fifteen-year-old, it is simply moving. A good Lennon-McCartney song is sufficiently cryptic to speak to the needs of whoever listens. If a fifteen-year-old finds life "an eerie perverted circus"--and for a fifteen-year-old that is an important perception--then that's what "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" can just as well be about. If you've just discovered universal love, you have reason to find "Within You Without You" "great poetry." It really doesn't matter; if you're wrong, you're right.
One of the nice things the Beatles do for those of us who love them is charging commonplace English with meaning. I want to hold your hand. It's getting better all the time. Yeah, yeah, yeah. "Fixing a Hole," to which I alluded just above, is full of just such suggestive phrases. I'll resist temptation and quote only five lines: "And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right/ Where I belong I'm right/ Where I belong./ See the people standing there who disagree and never win/ And wonder why they don't get in my door." This passage not only indicates the interesting things the Beatles are doing with rhyme, skewing their stanzas and dispensing almost completely with traditional song form. It also serves as a gnomic re-minder of the limitations of criticism. Allow me to fall into its trap by providing my own paraphrase, viz.: "In matters of interpretation, the important thing is not whether you're `wrong' or `right' but whether you are faithful to your own peculiar stance in the world. Those who insist upon the absolute rectitude of their opinions will never attain a state of enlightenment."
Well, there it is; I've finally done it. Pompous, right? Sorry, I'm just not John Lennon. But like everyone else, I feel compelled to make Our Boys My Boys. The first thirty times I heard "Fixing a Hole," I just listened and enjoyed it, keeping time, singing along, confident that it was obscure beyond my powers to investigate. Then I noticed that all the interpreters were shying away from that song, or making an obvious botch of it, and I couldn't resist the challenge. Now, after several false starts that had me convinced for a while, I think I've got it. It's not surprising that their ideas are so much like my own. That's what they're saying, isn't it?
For, just like Sherry Brody, I have my own Beatles. As far as I'm concerned, "Fixing a Hole" is not like other songs by stupid groups that say I am alienated and junk like that. And I have other prejudices. I can't believe that the Beatles indulge in the simplistic kind of symbolism that turns a yellow submarine into a Nembutal or a banana--it is just a yellow submarine, damn it, an obvious elaboration of John's submarine fixation, first revealed in A Hard Day's Night. I think they want their meanings to be absorbed on an instinctual level, just as their new, complex music can be absorbed on a sensual level. I don't think they much care whether Sgt. Pepper is Great Art or some other moldy fig. And I think they are inordinately fond (in a rather recondite way) of what I call the real world. They want to turn us on, all right--to everything in that world and in ourselves.
What else could a journalist think?
All songs written and composed by Lennon–McCartney except where noted.
Side one 1 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - 2:02 2 With a Little Help from My Friends - 2:44 3 Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - 3:28 4 Getting Better - 2:48 5 Fixing a Hole - 2:36 6 She's Leaving Home - 3:35 7 Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! - 2:37
Side two 1 Within You Without You (George Harrison) - 5:04 2 When I'm Sixty-Four - 2:37 3 Lovely Rita - 2:42 4 Good Morning Good Morning - 2:41 5 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - 1:19 6 A Day in the Life – 5:39