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The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band CD (album) cover

SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

The Beatles

 

Proto-Prog

4.34 | 1036 ratings

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iluvmarillion
5 stars Paul McCartney has been in the media lately criticizing the Rolling Stones for borrowing from the Sgt. Peppers album, both from the album cover and musical themes (psychedelic rock). I don't know why he chooses to criticize The Rolling Stones? Their Satanic Majesties Request was one of the least successful Stones albums. I would have thought that Mick Jagger's charismatic appeal combined with America's love for rhythm & blues and Keith Richard's innate ability to invent new riffs, is the reason that the Rolling Stones were so successful (although it seems that Paul has some support from Ginger Baker who is critical of the Stones musical abilities).

For proggers like myself, it all started with ITCOTCK, but in terms of influence, was ITCOTCK (incredible album that it was) more influential on other progressive rock bands than Sgt. Peppers, which is not regarded as a progressive rock album? The debut Emerson Lake and Palmer album shows obvious influence from ITCOTCK, but then Keith Emerson did steal Greg Lake from King Crimson. Other than that (as far as I can tell), heavyweight bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis were all established bands around the time of ITCOTCK.

Without the influence of The Beatles, I can't imagine bands like The Moody Blues, Electric Light Orchestra or Barclay James Harvest would have existed (at least not in the forms they did). Genesis may never have formed as a rock band. What do the early Beatles albums have in common with the post Beatles solo albums? In my opinion, those early albums (as well as the post Beatles solo works) are not particularly good. Paul wrote some fantastic tunes in 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Yesterday' and John Lennon wrote some great love songs, but George Harrison gets to be pushed out of writing anything in the early albums. Admittedly they did write great singles. However, their albums are also littered with a lot of deadwood.

Then along comes Rubber Soul and a paradigm shift occurs within the entire world wide music landscape. Suddenly, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Mamas and Papas and The Byrds are all writing great albums in the wake of Rubber Soul. So what sets Rubber Soul apart from everything that came before it? In my humble opinion it's the influence of George Martin. George Martin is often referred to as the fifth Beatle, but I don't see him that way. He comes from a different generation of ecliptic tastes including classical, jazz and comedy, which is far removed from the skiffle music that The Beatles were raised on (although John Lennon and George Martin shared a great love for The Goon show). I may be wrong, but I see George Martin as a pioneer of the progressive rock scene of the seventies. I think when Genesis wrote From Genesis to Revelation, they were trying to be another version of The Beatles and then thought it would be better to try to be another version of George Martin instead and wrote Trespass.

Of all the great albums The Beatles made from Rubber Soul to Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band represents the pinnacle of their career and is their most personal effort. According to Pete Townsend, Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds redefined music in the 20th century, so who am I to disagree with Pete Townsend? The album is innovative in every regard, from the gatefold album cover to the lyrics on the inside sleeve and cover art featuring iconic movie stars and other famous people with the Beatles dressed in their band costumes. This isn't message music (Bob Dylan) but it's personal and autobiographical. All the songs are linked by common threads ' being in a band, growing up in Liverpool, mundane chores around the house, being with friends, leaving home, finding spiritual fulfillment and happiness. The album begins with the brass instruments tuning up (birth) and concludes with a full orchestra tuning down (death). The album lyrics are full of double meanings. Contrary to what a lot of people think, Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds is not a drug song, but is based on a drawing that Julian Lennon brought home from nursery. Lennon could have called the song Lucy in the Sky of Stars, but chose Diamonds instead, maybe because the stars in the drawing do look like diamonds, or maybe because it rhymes well, or just maybe because the words form the letters LSD. All it is is a double meaning, just like his favorite radio program, The Goon Show is full of double meanings. Lennon is not making any comment about LSD here.

Song for song, I think The Beatles wrote better individual songs on Revolver and The White Album then Sgt. Peppers (with the exception of 'A Day In The Life'), but the appeal of Sgt. Peppers is in the way the songs effortlessly support each other. When we listen to a progressive rock album we like to listen to the album from start to finish. We usually don't cut across tracks unless we don't like the music and are trying to focus on some random track we might happen to like (and then we rarely play the album again). Sgt. Peppers makes its impact when you play it start to finish. People who think the album is weak draw that conclusion by comparing songs like Getting Better, Fixing a Hole, Within You, Without You and Good Morning Good Morning to songs on The White Album and Revolver.

The influence of Sgt. Peppers on the progressive rock movement extends past rock heavy weight bands Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, to a lot of contemporary progressive rock bands today. The biographical elements of Big Big Train's English Electric parts 1 and 2 and use of brass instruments on these albums hacks back to the Sgt. Peppers album. The Flower Kings suite, Garden of Dreams, on the album Flower Power, has an orchestral intro at the start and then is reprised near the end of the suite. The silence at the end of A Day in the Life followed by the voice loop just when you think the song is finished inspired many bands to use voices, as effects, in their songs.

Some of my thoughts on the following tracks from the album:

'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/ With A little Help From My Friends' The band tunes up and then the alto ego personalities of The Beatles strut their stuff and the heavy guitars take over. The chorus comes in and then the music transitions into the one song sung on every Beatles album by Ringo Starr. It has a great melody line by Paul McCartney. Great lyric: 'I get high with a little help from my friends'. Ok. I get a buzz by having my friends around me. Interpret it any way you want to.

'Lucy In The Sky Of Diamonds' This is a song I often mix up with 'Strawberry Fields Forever' from Magical Mystery Tour. Both clock in at similar times and share biographical elements in John Lennon's life. The Beatles are into Indian Mysticism so Tamboura and Sitar are the order of the day here. Celeste and organ add to the effects of the song. Not sure whether psychedelic rock originated with The Beatles or groups from San Francisco, but the genre peaks with these two songs.

'Getting Better' Always regarded Getting Better as a bridging song between LITSOD and the more meatier songs, She's Leaving Home and Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite. It has the weakest lyrics of any song on the album, but it has a beautiful base line from Paul McCartney, who is such an underrated base player.

'Fixing A Hole' Another Paul McCartney song, which is introduced by harpsichord and breaks in with electric guitars in the main chorus. Love Ringo's playing on this track. The 'hole' in the lyric line is a not so subtle double meaning about the emptiness in some peoples' minds.

'She's Leaving Home' Sounds like a John Lennon song to me, but Paul McCartney sings the main verse and John Lennon comes in only during the chorus. Unusual for a Paul McCartney song to be fully stringed.

'Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite' Within the same album, we see the range of Paul McCartney's lyric writing from weak (Getting Better), to solid effort (Fixing A Hole) to brilliant (She's Leaving Home). And then along comes John Lennon who raises the ante and writes a simple circus song based on a newspaper article. This is John Lennon at the height of his powers. Was there such a person as Mr. Kite or is he a fictional character? Does it matter? 'Mr. Kite', 'The Hendersons', 'Bishops gate'. The words match perfectly, like butter melting in your mouth. This is a song you can hum for hours on end in your head.

'Within You Without You' Paul Harrison's contribution to the album is a spiritual piece seeped in Maharishi Transcendental Meditation. A little long I think but a perfect prelude into the next song.

'When I'm Sixty-Four' An early Paul McCartney composition that he wrote when he was sixteen. John Lennon must have approved of the lyrics because I can hear him in the background singing. Typical McCartney song in the style of music hall simply orchestrated.

'Lovely Rita' Another Paul McCartney song at his rockiest best with a strong piano line and backing vocals from Lennon.

'Good Morning, Good Morning' I don't know whether animal noises became fashionable after Brian Wilson's aborted efforts on the Smile album, but here we are with roosters waking us up in this John Lennon song just before the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band reprise.

'A Day In The Life' And now we come to last and best track on the album. The first verse by Lennon is an account of an incident involving a friend of Lennon, who wiped himself out in a car accident. The second verse is autobiographical containing the quote, 'I'd love to turn you on'. No double meaning here I guess. Paul McCartney provides the middle section of the song and Lennon the last. The two orchestral crescendos link the sections together. For all I know this is the last time that Paul McCartney and John collaborated on a song together. After this album the two spouses came in the way of Lennon and McCartney appearing in the studio together. It's a miracle that George Martin was able to produce two further gems in 'The White Album' and 'Abbey Road' and a credit to Lennon and McCartney that they could put their differences to one side and continue to write great songs within the framework of 'The Beatles'.

iluvmarillion | 5/5 |

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