10.07.2009

Let's review the Beatles: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart's Club Band


Album:
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart's Club Band (1967)
Purchased: Freshman Year, College
One-liner: Having completely shed their mop-top image, the Beatles revolutionize music with this critically-acclaimed pop masterpiece.



Review:
When I first got to college, I still considered myself a casual Beatles fan. With Sgt. Pepper's, I felt a sort of ending. This was the last of the Beatles' albums with which I was familiar, and I made the decision that this was where I'd stop. I mean, why would I buy those old-timey Beatles albums? Well, more on that later.

Though I dropped down cash for it, I didn't really like Sgt. Pepper's as much as the previous albums I had purchased. My theory about buying up the back catalog of old groups that have long disbanded is that, like any band you love, you start to crave "new material." So "new to you" ends up being good enough; you just want to hear a variation of that group's sound again. Hey, that's why I own Bossanova. Of course, these days you can download an entire career of an artist in a heartbeat. Though I have a theory about why you shouldn't do that. In short, I have a lot of theories.

For me, an equally powerful appeal to the Beatles was their album artwork. As an amateur artist, I was more drawn to the art than the music initially, and that's especially the case with Sgt. Pepper's. I was so obsessed with the album's surreal crowd scene that one high school summer, I created a poster-sized parody using a cast of comic strip characters I was drawing at the time. Seeing it today is a little daunting, it's a shrine to myself as a teenager, with the caricatures of my favorite celebrities rounding out the cast of onlookers. And, seriously, this was an album I heard maybe three times in high school.

I shouldn't neglect the music on Sgt. P, because it grew on me. I would nominate "A Day In The Life" if we were having one of those college, "best song ever" types of conversations and I'd say it's difficult to find a better example of the John/Paul collaboration in practice. John's in top form throughout, Paul includes a couple of his best songs ("Fixing a Hole," "Lovely Rita") George and Ringo's contributions are slight, but valuable. George Martin gets crazy. It's an album that has none of the "Beatle hits" and yet still holds up well. After Sgt. Peppers, I became less a listener to singles and more a listener of albums. No more greatest hits albums for me. ...OK, fewer greatest hits albums.

Capitol must've considered this the most important of their CD releases, because they actually made an effort to include a mini booklet about the making of the album, including a "who's who on the cover" key. I got wrapped up in this tiny, jewelcase-sized book. Outside of their music, I didn't know much about this Beatles band, and this would be my introduction to them as individuals. It wouldn't be long before I started reading anything I could get my hands on. The casual fan would transition into the fanatic: By the time I graduated, I would buy 7 more Beatles albums.

Rating: Classic. It's true because important people say so. I dare you to dub it not classic. You will be shunned. Oh, and minus 50 points for the grating "When I'm Sixty Four."

Final Word: I love John Lennon's take on the "theme album" aspect of this record. Essentially, his take is that it's crap. And I agree. Beyond the opening, "A Little Help From My Friends" and the reprise, I challenge you to come up with how these and the other songs on the album tie together. Points for creativity.

Next up: Let It Be and Pastmasters, Vol. 2

5 comments:

Mark said...

I was in grade school and I was obsessed with the song, "When I'm Sixty-Four," (yeah, the grating one). I would go upstairs to my brothers' room and play that ONE song. When it ended, sometimes I would pick up the needle and put it at the beginning again.

Then it happened. I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I was too lazy to lift the needle up at the end of the song. I let it drift into "Lovely Rita." I was amazed. I listened to the entire album that day. Probably several times. Nothing has really been the same for me since.

Ronson said...

Ha ha - I caught a lot of flak on Facebook for calling "When I'm Sixty-Four" grating - I guess it's a more polarizing song than I initially thought.

I think maybe it's another one of those gateway Beatles songs. Esp. on Sgt. Peppers, which is one of those albums where the best songs are never played on the radio. For whatever reason it appeals to you when you're a kid.

Anyway, I think that's a great way to discover an album. That's only happened to me a few times...

Mark said...

I read an interview with John Lennon years and years ago. It was interesting, as he was being asked about his role in a lot of Beatles' songs. They got to "When I'm 64" and John's response was something like, "That was all Paul. God, I'd never write a song like that." That response amused me to no end. In Paul's defense, I think I remember him saying that that particular tune was written by him when he was very young, maybe one of his first efforts. I still sort of like it. It's fun to sing along with, anyway.

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