1001 Albums: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

#78

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Artist: The Beatles

Album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Year: 1967

Length: 39:52

Genre: Pop Rock / Psychedelia

“We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
We hope you will enjoy the show
We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sit back and let the evening go”

 

I think I delayed writing this post for far too long. I initially listened to this album about two weeks ago and from then on have been trying to gather my thoughts about it and really put into words how I felt, which honestly has so far been the toughest out of every album I’ve listened to. It required me listening to the album a second time and discussing it with a good friend of mine who is a bit of a music connoisseur just to see if my thoughts could really fall into something decent and coherent.

Well… no more delaying, time to sit down and just crank this out for what it is, with the goal to not repeat myself from previous Beatles posts. Can’t promise anything.

So… this album… is a doozy of an album. It’s a big album and I don’t mean the music itself, I mean culturally. This album had such a huge impact on the culture at the time, being cited as painting a picture of the current trends and moods, considered one of the most influential and important albums of all time, seen as a sign of a clear maturation of the Beatles artistically, being one of the first albums to influence both art rock and progressive rock and single-handedly starting the album era and hanging rock music as we know it (for better or for worse depending what your feelings to the roots of rock n roll are). This was a lot to take in and probably heavily influenced my first reaction to the whole album, which was rather sour and negative. I mean it’s hard to really feel the full power of an album when all you’ve had were people yelling in your ear about how amazing it is, all you have left to really go is down. Too much hype always sets you up for disappointment. But I’ve been trying to keep an open mind. So I set my initial reaction to the side and decided to listen to it a second time without any of that pre-existing hype, which helped.

Here’s a interesting thing about this album. There’s no denying that it definitely had a significant cultural impact when it first came out. People loved it and were taking it in, soaking up Beatlemania like never before. This was it, The Beatles were peaking and getting better and better for the population. This was the greatest thing around… or was it? It’s really easy to get lost in all the positive reviews of the album that you might not realise that critics at the time were really torn about it. Either they loved it or hated it and there seemed to be no in between. Richard Goldstein at the time wrote a scathing review of this album in the New York Times calling it “Ultimately Fraudulent” and was met with an onslaught of letters and hate mail, aggressive, abusive and even down-right scary, responding in disagreement to his review (Considered one of the biggest responses to a musical review ever). Even the retrospectives don’t seem sure about this album’s legacy, claiming that people’s reasoning stands more on the side of it’s cultural impact rather than it’s actual music. (I realise I’m only sharing the negative reviews, but come on, you all already know all the positive criticism said about it that I feel I don’t need to say it). So what’s the truth? Is this really the most influential and greatest rock record of music history or is it incredibly overrated?

To be honest, who knows. There’s no truth to the matter, that’s the beauty of art critiques, it really boils down to subjective feelings explained in smart and nuanced ways as to why their opinion is what it is. So whether you believe one side or the other, that’s a perfectly valid opinion of this record because… it really is a tough one to crack, leaving people very divided but with no real answer.

Ok, that was a bit of a cop out on my part. Enough of all that… what do I think of the album? Which side of the fence do I sit?

I think it’s going to come as no surprise that I do feel this album is incredibly overrated. I’m just going to say that right away so I’m not beating around the bush. That being said, do I think it’s horrible? Absolutely not. If anything this might have been the Beatles Album I enjoyed the most. And here in lies the problem. The big issue I had when gathering my thoughts. How could I feel so negatively towards an album I really enjoyed? Why is it I found myself loving the music and enjoying every moment yet still left it feeling dissatisfied? It didn’t make any sense to me and I had to figure this out.

So, the positive. There’s no denying that The Beatles were artistically at their most mature and grounded in this album. They managed to finally create an album that was incredibly cohesive and flowed beautifully from one song to another. The concept of the album definitely helped with that. Creating the fictitious Sgt Pepper band and treating this album as if it were a live performance by said fictitious band allowed for the Beatles to create a steady flow and even experiment musically and evolve even more from their last album. The sitar is back and better before, they take on influences from vaudeville and circus themes (most apparent in “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” which breaks out into a delicious circus tune that I think I enjoyed a little too much) and work with special effects (for example backwards tapes in “Day in the Life”). They continued to grow their psychedelic sound and managed to create a solid album that had a uniform sound but still managed to make each song it’s own unique entity. You can distinguish between each one very easily.

There’s no denying that The Beatles are incredibly talented. There’s no denying that they really showed off that talent on this album. There’s no denying that the music on this album is very well-crafted and played.

So what’s the problem?

It took me awhile to figure this out. That feeling that something… just… wasn’t right. Talking to my friend I grew to realise what didn’t sit well with me despite my enjoyment. The album felt fake to me. It felt shallow and hollow. At the surface we experience the artistic integrity of The Beatles but with nothing under the depths. It’s pure show and razzle-dazzle, The Beatles showing off how well they can play music and take you in without really putting any soul into it (With the exception of “A Day in the Life”). When Frank Zappa critiqued this album as saying The Beatles were only in it for the money… he wasn’t really that wrong. You have to remember to, concept albums like Freak Out! were very alienating to the population. It was music made for the musician himself, music he believed in and felt and wanted to create with a message to be told. Sgt. Pepper is a concept album made for the masses, easily accessible and digestible, an album that literally anyone can put on and enjoy… but that’s all it is, just a show that they’re performing for your pure entertainment. Music that is heavy in artistic integrity minus any of the transcendence, almost like they created an illusion to trick you into thinking there was more. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, not at all. Music is entertainment and a lot of great bands create music with that in mind. They don’t want you to think, they just want you to have a great time. and that’s what this album is. A fun time for the whole family.

Obviously a lot of people are going to disagree with me and that’s good, that means you have your own opinion and won’t be influenced by mine. However, I do feel I’ve been a little hard on The Beatles and it does sort of boil down to I just don’t get it. So, I decided to do something a little different this time around. I got someone who does get and love The Beatles to write out their opinion of their favourite album to hear the voice of the other side of the metaphorical Beatles fence.

Here is my good friend, Luis:

“I never thought The Beatles could be a polarizing subject. No, not for a beatlemaniac. I just assumed that not everyone love them as much as I and other millions of die-hard fans. But for a long time I was under the impression that everyone at least liked them. And it’s good to encounter those rare people that not necessarily dislike them (which would be fine too), but just don’t see them as the most exciting music phenomenon ever, like I do.

Why is it good? Because it’s different. Because if it is especial for everyone, then there’s nothing truly especial about it. And the other reason is that for the longest I can remember, I hadn’t had to explain to another person why do I feel that way about The Beatles. Until I made a new friend: Jonathan P. Bosco (who claims that just doesn’t see them as greatest, but it’s not a dislike).

And that what’s great about diverging opinions. ‘Cause that conversation got me here, guest writing for his very well written music journey experience. And here I am for a big one, the legendary ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

Deemed by many (like yours truly) to be the best album by the best band in the history of music. Like my good friend Bosco, I don’t see any of what I’m writing here as the final word, for I’m just a music lover. Not a connoisseur of music history, theory, metric and etc. And even if I was, I find it music to be such a subjective matter, that in the end, no one has the final saying of what it’s best. We just know what’s best for ourselves.

But saying that, I for long believed (and still kinda do) that The Beatles are, if not the most important, at least the most accomplished band that have ever been. This album is no different. If you go after lists of best albums ever, best rock albums, most sold albums, most well reviewed albums, 1001 albums to hear before you die (nudge nudge wink wink), you’ll definitely find Sgt Pepper’s among them. And often in the first positions, if the list happens to be ranked.

And as a die-hard Beatles fan, I just agreed, and saw no error whatsoever on placing this masterpiece “virtually”everywhere as the no.1 album, by the no.1 band. I believed that wholeheartedly. Until Bosco got me thinking, with a simple “Why?”.

When you love something so much, you never bother to ask why. You just do. And The Beatles have always been in that untouched pedestal for me. Until my man Jonathan got me thinking. And I’m not saying I’ve changed my opinion, I don’t think I have. But try and analyze just why I think ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ is the best of the best actually made me even more in touch with the album and with what it means to me.

I apologize in advance, for you won’t find in this text factual reasons of why The Beatles are the greatest and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ is their piece de resistance. No theory, no long lectures on sound designing, instruments usage, notes, chords, singing, tempo. Nothing technical that guarantees The Beatles are truly above all.

Because as I said firstly, I face music as subjective. It evokes emotions, memories, sensations. It’s a personal journey, so it has a personal impact on each of us. For example: The Beatles remind me of a simple time; car trips with my family; singing drunk with my dad; rehearsing with my band. They’ve always been with me for those moments and others. Their music calm me, and almost bring me back to that happy place. Or a sad memory, we all got those bittersweet ones, but The Beatles been there for me too.

They speak to me, like my dad does. I share this whenever I can. That I inherited my taste for music from my dad. The Beatles are his favorite band, and Sgt. Pepper’s is his favorite album. So, what a surprise! You must be thinking I can’t think for myself. But, see, when it comes to music it’s not about thinking at all, it’s about feeling.

And I feel everything in all of Sgt. Pepper’s songs, because it’s part of my history, like I said. It’s one of the only LP’s I own, which I got from my father. And I used to listen it with him all the time. So much, even my mom got sick of The Beatles for a while. We sang all the songs together, in particular ‘She’s Leaving Home’, from this album. One of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and also my dad’s favorite.

I love everything in it. The Sgt Pepper’s themes, full of energy, like a concert opener. The ode to friends sang beautifully by Ringo in ‘With A Little Help from my Friends’ (Shout out to my friend Bosco here). The well acclaimed ‘LSD’. The perfect circus song that is ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’. George’s spiritual take on ‘Within You Without You’, with the brilliant incorporation of the sitar.

That’s just to say a few about my favorites. But I even love the seemingly generic tune which is ‘Getting Better’. The not-so clever ones: ‘Lovely Rita’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. And the ever forgotten, but not by me, ‘Fixing A Hole’. All of them hold a very special place in my heart.

I haven’t heard the album cover to cover in a long time. Why? I don’t know. But the feelings are still the same now that I’m hearing it again. So thanks Bosco, for the invite, and to reaffirm my faith and love in the lads of Liverpool. Did that explain to anyone of you that the Beatles are indeed the greatest and so is Sgt. Pepper’s? I doubt it (I warned it wouldn’t). But it makes perfect sense to me.

P.S.: My dad just conveniently called me by the end of ‘A Day in The Life’ (of course it’s a masterpiece, and no I didn’t forget to put it there among the others, I was just saving it for this post-scriptum), just to talk about his day, how much he misses me and loves me. So yeah, I haven’t changed my mind. Except for one small word. I don’t think The Beatles are the best band ever. I feel The Beatles are the best band ever and that Sgt. Pepper’s rule.”

 

Song of Choice: Fixing A Hole

-Bosco

P.s. Lennon says “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is NOT about LSD. I am willing to believe it isn’t but I’m sure LSD had a huge part to play in creating the song.