A Little Help From Their Friends
From 1967 to about 1982 Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band took the #1 spot on all time greatest albums lists around the globe. It was universally hailed as THE Beatles masterpiece among Beatles masterpieces. But something weird happened and it’s stature with both fans and critics have fallen significantly. The power pop of Revolver and the eclecticism of The White Album have eclipsed it, perhaps rightfully so perhaps not, in the hearts and minds of musos around the globe.
I listened to the album again the other day, the first time in a long time, and I must admit that it has probably dated a tad more than those two aforementioned releases. I am a fan of production (and all the little effects and extras that Martin, McCartney implement) and grand symphonic gestures; and to these ears they still seem to add to the overall ambiance of the record.
It does, of bloody course, contain some of the most astounding musical ideas of the last 20o years: A Day In The Life, With A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and the terribly underrated She’s Leaving Home. My favorite track remains Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. It sounds so psychotic and State Fair nightmarish and contains one of Lennon’s most compellingly bizarre vocals of all time. It seems to me that legions of so-called ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’ bands have made a living off of copying this song and it’s vibes.
The influence of Pepper’s can still be heard in anything that calls itself “concept”. 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 existed if not for this album? 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 is so ingrained in our society that a lot of 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 derivative 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 their ignorance.
Yes Revolver, The White Album, Abbey Road and even Rubber Soul are better albums, song-wise, I suppose. But none come close to the impact that this record had on the musical landscape of the time and, love it or loathe it, it changed the course of musical history. It may not top the lists anymore but it certainly deserves more respect.