Sgt. Pepper turns fifty

Fifty years ago this month, what is regarded by Rolling Stone Magazine as the greatest album of all time was released – The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Airing on PBS is a BBC produced show called “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution,” hosted by musician Howard Goodall.

The show is worth the watch as Goodall highlights the innovation and storytelling behind the album. Being a musician, he demonstrates a few items of note and highlights what then was truly cutting edge. In essence, The Beatles had grown tired of touring where they and their fans could not hear their music over their screaming fans. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr wanted to get their creative juices flowing back in the studio and, boy, did they ever.

Working with record producer George Martin, The Beatles told a series of stories about their youth and observations about current life. They blended instruments such as the harmonium, which was a small organ for churches, with piccolo trumpets with sitars with nine pianos playing at once.

I don’t want to steal the thunder of the show, but let me highlight two items . To me, the most avant grade song is “A Day in the Life,” which blends a McCartney song about daily routine with a Lennon song about select news of the day. But, to blend these two songs together, they needed a bridge. So, they used a concept called accidental music and had fourteen orchestra members start at the lowest note possible and build slowly to a certain common level giving the musician the option of being just below, at or above that level. It was pure genius.

The second item is the song “Within you, without you,” by George Harrison. He actually played and orchestrated Indian musicians to play in a somewhat Western style. Goodall had some musicians play the song in an Eastern style, which produces a different sound, But, he notes Harrison wanted to blend two cultures together introducing Indian music to westerners. ย He felt westerners were not ready for a total immersion. It is fascinating.

There are many surprising observations that show how cutting edge this album was. The fact that some history and actual people and places are recurring themes makes the music live even more. “Penny Lane” is an actual place, “When I’m 64,” was about McCartney’s father, “Lovely Rita,” was an actual meter maid, and “Strawberry Field Forever,” was an actual park where Lennon played when he was young. It should be noted that while recorded at the same time, “Strawberry Field Forever” and “Penny Lane,” were released as a two A-sided single as Brian Epstein, their manager, did not want too much time to elapse since their previous release, so they were not on Sgt. Pepper.

Please give the album a listen again or for the first time. And, do watch the PBS special either here or on the BBC. “We’re Sgt. Pepper’s one and only lonely hearts club band,” they sang toward the end.

40 thoughts on “Sgt. Pepper turns fifty

  1. My mom has a complete Beatles albums/cds . I play them in my car almost everyday. And she actually was in a Beatles concert when she was in 6th grade. ( her parents paid top money for an in front spot, ….only a chicken coop separated her from the band, about 2 meters. )

    • What a cool Mom! I am delighted you enjoy her collection. My brother is an even bigger fan than I am, naming his son Sean after Lennon’s second son.

    • Janis, I guess with no internet and limited TV exposure, seeing your favorite band up close caused hysteria, even if on Ed Sullivan. Keith

    • The screaming didn’t puzzle me near as much as the passing out! Now, I think I understand it … with all those people, oxygen was in short supply! I think the screaming was just … excitement, chain reaction …

      • Yes, I am a fan of The Beatles (I have a huge floor to ceiling Hard Days Night canvas plus JL’s Imagine lyrics on my walls. Thank you again for visiting my site ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Lana, very cool. I wrote a post about “Imagine” a few years back. I think it may be the finest song ever written given its powerful message. Please do come by again and never hesitate to opine. All the best, Keith

  2. Note to Readers: One of the biggest songs of the album is “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” a song whose key initials defined their experimental drug of choice. I have seen an interview with Lennon where he tells the interviewer that it was about a drawing a child did. But, he liked to play around with interviewers, so that story is most likely a ruse. Back then, the British airways would not play songs that may have been related to drugs. I recall later a McCartney song with Wings that did not get played because of its title – “High, high, high.” Of course, we should not forget that Mick Jagger and Keith Richard got arrested for drug possession, that was quite dicey for a several days.

    • “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is one of my favorite songs. The name, and the song, had nothing to do with drugs. Lennon, his son, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney all claim that the song and its name came from the painting his son Julian brought home.

      According to wikipedia, “According to both Lennon and Ringo Starr, who witnessed the moment, Julian first uttered the song’s title upon returning home from nursery school. Lennon later recalled of the painting and the phrase, “I thought that [it was] beautiful. I immediately wrote a song about it.”

      Paul McCartney confirmed Lennon’s claim on several occasions, the earliest in 1968: When you write a song and you mean it one way, and someone comes up and says something about it that you didn’t think ofโ€”you can’t deny it. Like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” people came up and said, cunningly, “Right, I get it. L-S-D,” and it was when [news]papers were talking about LSD, but we never thought about it.”


      • Roseylinn, I have seen that literature and when I was younger believed what you said in full. I even mentioned it as rebuttal in a Humanities class. Yet, that may have all been true, but I also believe the initials are more than a coincidence. Keith

  3. I’ll be looking for โ€œSgt. Pepperโ€™s Musical Revolution.โ€ Based on your review, Keith, I’m sure it’s well-done, and fascinating. The comments on this post? Highly entertaining. Everyone loves the Beatles. They were spokespersons for my generation — wrapped in a certain Destiny, which went beyond their musical abilities.

  4. Note to Readers: One of the better songs on the album, in my view, is sung by Ringo Starr, the apropos, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” What is interesting about this song, is Joe Cocker takes it to an even higher level with his unique style. To me, that reveals how good a song it is. Yet, the point of the song is Ringo rarely sung, so it was important that he sang that song.

  5. I was recently researching something on the internet when, as is often my habit, I got side-tracked onto some vaguely relevant but interesting subject matter. Somehow I started following the “432hz” trail (supposedly a frequency more ‘intuned’ with the universe). Somewhere out on that trail, I read that the Beatles tuned all their music to 432hz as opposed to the more common tuning of 440hz (or thereabouts).

    I don’t know how I feel about that fact but, it was interesting nonetheless.

  6. Now THIS brings back memories and I suspect that I will be singing Beatles songs for the next several days. Just as well … I’ve had Delilah stuck in my head for a few days now! ๐Ÿ™‚ I will definitely try to catch the special, though … sounds quite interesting! Thanks for the memories … and the earworms ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Dear Keith,

    I and my buddies are all Beatles fans. I still have great memories regarding this group. Do you know that when they first started becoming popular in the USA, IT COST ABOUT $4.00 TO ATTEND A CONCERT.

    About 3 years ago, I and 2 buddies stayed at the Las Vegas hotel, the Mirage where “The Beatles LOVE” by Cirque du Soleil, was playing and yes, the show was outstading.

    Thanks for the heads-up. I will definitely be watching the PBS show.

    Ciao, Gronda

    • Gronda, that sounds like fun. $4 a ticket is nice. Now, it would be $200 for a bad seat. My brother is an even bigger fan than I am and I am a pretty big fan. My favorite song is “Eleanor Rigby.” Yours? Keith

  8. Note to Readers: A hard song on the album to listen to is “She’s Leaving Home.” It is written largely from the parent’s perspective of their daughter leaving home, leaving only a note. It does track where the daughter is at various points in the parent’s anguish. It is beautifully written and is the most melancholy song on the album.

  9. Hi Keith! It’s great to bump into your blog posts again! I have always enjoyed Sgt. Pepper but the PBS documentary made me appreciate the work to a whole new level. Learning how the songs were created was incredible. I too was amazed by the perfect blending of instruments. Nine pianos!!!

    • Thanks for stopping by. It was amazing to see a musician show us how cutting edge and painstaking they were. I also thought that accidental music idea in A Day in the Life was amazingly creative.
      And, I had a much better appreciation for what George Harrison accomplished with his eastern/ western mix. Please do stop by again. Keith

      • Agreed. By the way, have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” about successful people. One of his early chapters is on The Beatles and their going to Hamburg at the suggestion of a record executive. Gladwell said The Beatles put in the 10,000 hours of practice to become skilled musicians by playing seven shows a day, six nights a week. Gladwell noted they had to play different songs or they would have driven themselves crazy through repetition. This made them better. Thanks again for Beatles’ chat. Keith

      • I haven’t! I will have to check it out. I bet their early performance experiences shaped a lot of their talent and style! Cheers, friend!

      • They did. Paul’s best friend Stu Sutcliffe was in the band was not a very good musician. When they went to Hamburg, he met someone and dropped out. Stu’s wife took many of the early photogrsphs of the band.

      • Let me amend the Stu Sutcliffe story. I think the photographer I am thinking of was the wife of Klaus Voorman, a bassist who loved The Beatles work and befriended then. Voorman played bass at George Harrison’s Bangaldesh concert.

  10. Note to Readers: I am a huge Beatles fan, but the biggest fan in my family is my brother. We shared a bedroom and turntable. His stack of Beatles and post-Beatles’ albums was taller than his stack of non-Beatles’ albums. He and his best friend Charles would argue over who was the most important Beatle, with my brother siding with John Lennon. While I never got to see John perform, my wife and I were lucky enough to see Paul. What a treat.

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