Sgt. Peppers Much Maligned Lonley Hearts Club Band
When this album came out in 1967 it was blaring from every soundsystem from London to San Diego and it blew the doors off everything that came before it. Albums were thought of as a collection of singles and this…this was meant to be absorbed as a whole. Chopping it up into little bite size bits was not the intent of it’s authors.
For 10 or 15 years Sgt. Peppers was honored with the #1 spot on all time greatest albums lists around the globe. It was universally hailed as a masterpiece and nothing could top it’s magnificence, be it with the fans or the critics. But something happened and it’s stature has fallen significantly. The power pop of Revolver and the eclectisism of The White Album have eclipsed it, perhaps rightfully so, in the hearts and minds of musos around the globe.
I listened again to the album as a whole the other day, the first time in a long time, and I must admit that it has probably dated more than those two aforementioned releases. I am a fan of production (and all the little effects that Martin, McCartney, etc threw in for effect) and grand symphonic musical gestures, but some of these songs sound a little like window dressing to me now, lacking substance. Lovely Rita, Good Morning Good Morning and even When I’m 64 just don’t do it for me anymore.
It does, of bloody course, contain some of the most astounding musical ideas of the last 20o years in A Day In The Life, With A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Harrison’s excellent Within You Without you. Oddly enough my favorite track de jour off this album as of late would have to be Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. It sounds so psychotic and State Fair nightmarish with one of Lennon’s most compellingly bizarre vocals during his tenure with the Beatles. And compared to anything being released today it’s still a giant, dwarfing anything that dares to compete.
The influence can still be heard in anything that calls itself “concept”, and it is charged with creating Prog. You really think Dark Side Of The Moon, Selling England By The Pound, Tommy, A Night At The Opera, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots or even Vampire Weekend would have been created if not for Peppers? Any band that aspires to a grand, theatrical sound owes a massive debt of gratitude to The Sgt. The irony of this is that the influence of this is so ingrained in our society that a lot of the newer bands who are using it’s sonic template have never even heard the album. An English music magazine recently did a nifty poll of some bands who claimed to have never heard the album (Pepper virgins), played it in it’s entirety for them then asked them for their honest opinions. Most thought it derivitive and not very compelling, one even going so far as suggesting that it sounded very “unoriginal, nothing earth shattering”.
Granted, they weren’t of age when it came out (neither was I, for that matter-I was negative ONE), so they can’t be blamed for this, but it still makes me cringe and even a little bit sad that they never will be able to enjoy this as it was intended.
Yes Revolver, The White Album, Abbey Road and even Rubber Soul are better albums. But none come close to the impact that this record had on the musical landscape of the time and it changed the course of history. It may not top the lists anymore but it certainly deserves more respect.