What Would You Think?

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The release of Sgt Pepper’s was a huge cultural event; “The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815“. It created the album as a coherent artform, created modern rock and set a new benchmark. Unlike, say, The Velvet Underground and Nico, it was listened to endlessly and stayed in the album charts til well after The Beatles split up three years later. It’s release on June 1st 1967 had been set up by the wonderful Liverpool dyptych of Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, a mini Sgt. Pepper’s in a single.

It was very much a conceptual album in that it had the conceit of being a release by Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you can see them on the cover, and NOT by The Beatles; thus removing expectations of what the album should be. Even so they opened with a rock track, a rock overture, before opening with Ringo’s song, the first of many unusual moves. The film Yellow Submarine captured much of the faux-Edwardiana of the album. It should be noted that many of us were wearing faux-Edwardiana at the time so Pepper felt both surreal and contemporary.

Admittedly the one and only Billy Shear’s track was With A Little Help from My Friends, sounding simultaneously as though it was a hit from twenty tears ago today and one waiting to happen. It was a great song and Joe Cocker eventually made it a hit, but it gained huge airplay at the time.

The Beatles had a tradition of hooking you in to their albums with three killer opening tracks, so having flirted with Pepper and us they really slapped in a big one at track three; Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, inspired of course by Julian Lennon’s drawing of Lucy and Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. A huge summer tune we listened to it a lot, despite the BBC banning it at the time, mistakenly assuming it was about drugs; the Goons!

The track sequencing is interesting and next is Getting Better, featuring great hi-hat work from Ringo, sounded great in stereo at the time, with that catchy happy choral work the Beatles specialised in and a hypnotic fade. I have a musician friend for whom this is the best track on the album, but I think that Lucy in the Sky is such a climactic tune you need something  light and cheerful to follow it.

Fixing a Hole was both a comment on the poor housing stock in the UK, well Scotland, and Macca on wacky backy. A lovely tune with great guitar from George and a gentle closing section, it works well on the album as a bridge to the next sadly beautiful tune.

She’s Leaving Home was also the recipient of huge radio play at the time, and debate in the chattering classed as to whether kids really were running away from home. Another string section piece, this time arranged by Mike Leander, my parents actually discussed the meaning of the song with me. It made me feel grown up, but I can only listen to it now as part of this sequence on Pepper’s. So here is an interesting video inspired by the song by Katz.

Side One ends with Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, a customary bit of Lennonalia, being inspired by a circus poster he bought in Sevenoaks after they finished filming the video for Strawberry Fields nearby. I certainly found the calliope fascinating, which was how we listened to Pepper; fascinated. Here is a interesting video based on outtakes but featuring the original poster that inspired Lennon. You only need to listen from 1.17 in, really!

I’ve always liked George’s Indian songs and Within You Without You is probably the best; as a sixteen year-old it seemed to be wrestling with the meaning of life and, as we started wearing kaftans then, all things Indian felt profound because it offered fresh perspectives to us on many things. Several people started listening to Ravi Shankar, and the drones help with meditation, especially in the middle section. As a track this set’s up side two well but I’m not sure if it works as a YouTube tune. Anyway here’s a video which makes a good tribute to George.  

And then musical hall has it’s greatest influence generating much radio play then, on Radio One, and now on Radio Two. When I’m Sixty Four still bemuses me as a song, Paul claims to have written it when he was fifteen, but it works brilliantly well in the album as it contributes to the flow of styles. You can hear your beard growing in this video.

When I’ Sixty Four garnered lots of airplay but the newspapers wanted to know who Lovely Rita, Meter Maid was. Well Meta patrolled the Abbey Road streets and to those of us non-Londoners, a Meter Maid seemed a faboulously modern version of a Milk Maid; Capital stuff. Here’s One True Media with a McCartney “work song”. 

And so we come to the quotidien part of the album and we start off with the early morning Cornflakes inspired Good Morning Good Morning. When McCartney came over to John’s house in Weybridge to work on their songs he would sometimes have Cornflakes, or Ham and Scambled Eggs, even in the late afternoon. John Harris in Mojo picks this as one of the highlights of the remasters but I loved it at the time and use to play in my dorm to wake up my mates back in 1967, but it is the closing carnival of the animals that makes it fun on the album.

Sgt Pepper often gets identified as the best album of all time and Day in the Life is often selected as the best Beatles track of all time, in fact Mojo have just done it in September 2009, so this is pretty special. Big, clever, unique and banned at the time Day in the Life has grown in stature since as it captures the full range of Beatles innovation from falling out of bed to catching a bus; rooted in the everyday it lets us know that the planet is turning and we can change and make a difference. And it ends with as big a closing chord as Hard Days Night started with one. Most importantly it is a huge finish to a big album; just listen. thanks to cdiamond for the video edit. 

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3 Responses to “What Would You Think?”

  1. […] is a YouTube version of this post on A Beatles YouTube Album if you want to look at videos of the songs before voting. View This Pollanswers Possibly related […]

  2. Thanks so much for this! I was immediately floated downstream in a lovely haze of warm nostalgia. I know exactly where I was when I first heard Sergeant Pepper’s LHCB.
    The O levels had finished and we were let loose to entertain ourselves – in a decorous way as befitted young ladies from QAGS of course. That meant that weedling access to the school gym on the grounds of dancing was a legitimate act but – little would they know – that my best friend, newly returned from the USA had bought in with her this amazingly sleeved album. Dance we would – but not to some prescribed ballroom dance but to this proscribed, wondrous mix of magic. There, the heady smell of QT (quick tan) wafting through the air as we whirled our little orange streaked limbs around, our Mary Quanted white lips parted in ecstasy, our ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ darkened with kohl!
    Each track had its own style of dance that we choreographed but it was Within You, Without You that affected me most as the little proto hippy that I was ☺ Lots of head rolling and hair flailing called for!
    …and was it always sunny then?

  3. Thanks Jennie, it was a memorable and long summer wasn’t it?

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