The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The greatest album ever? The best Beatles album? Well that’s all subjective, and we’re all entitled to our own opinion, but in mine, it is neither. I would argue that Revolver is a better album, as is Abbey Road. But that’s just my view and one thing is for sure, Sgt. Pepper is undoubtedly one of the greatest albums of all time and saw The Beatles rising to new peaks of songwriting. Sgt. Peppers blew our minds when released in June of 1967; it captured British culture, flower power and the feelings of a young and exited generation.
So, what can be said about Pepper that hasn’t been said before? Lets dig deep and see if we can unearth some of the lesser-known facts that helped make-up this masterpiece.
The songs: “When I’m 64” became the first track to be recorded for the album, with the first session taking place on 6th Dec 1966. The song which was first hatched during The Beatles days in Hamburg was supposedly reworked that autumn by Paul because his father was approaching – 64.
Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by a drawing his 3 year-old son Julian returned home from school with one day. The picture, which was of a little girl with lots of stars, was his classmate – Lucy O’Donnell, who also lived in Weybridge, and attended the same school as Julian. When the album was released, both the press and fans insisted the song was instead about Lennon’s many LSD trips, after all the title gave it away.
George Harrison has only one song on the album, “Within Without You”, but there should have been a second. The quiet one’s “Only a Northern Song”, was intended for inclusion right up to the moment that McCartney decided to reprise the title track. One of Harrison’s bitterest Beatle songs, it was a dig at the band’s publishing company, and the ostensible concept (an album of ‘northern songs’) McCartney hoped to impose on the project.
The lyrics for Lennon‘s song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, were inspired and re-worked from a Victorian circus poster for Pablo Fanque’s circus, which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in Kent when he was taking a break from filming the promotional clip for “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
And what of the closing track, “A Day in the Life”. The thunderous piano chord that concludes the album, was produced by assembling three grand pianos in the studio and playing an E chord on each simultaneously. Together, John, Paul and Ringo with the help of assistant Mal Evans hammered the keys on the pianos to create the effect.
The orchestral recording sessions for “A Day in the Life”, was filmed by six cameramen, the footage was planned to be used for a Sgt. Pepper television special. The idea was to included all the songs from the album set to music in video style scenes, again The Beatles were well ahead of their time, but the plans were shelved and the footage eventually surfaced in The Beatles Anthology documentary.
Another hard to believe fact is that the album was mixed in mono because very few people in 1967 had stereo record players, (stereo was strictly for hi-fi nuts) and to prove the point, none of the Beatles attended the sessions for the stereo mixes. (On certain versions of vinyl and even CD pressings, if you listen with the balance turned to just one speaker, you hear ‘Pepper’ like you’ve never heard it before, missing backing vocals, no drums and guitars missing from the mix).
You could write an article on the sleeve itself! The cover was created by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake who won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, in 1968. Over 60 famous figures feature on the cover, from musicians, actors, politicians and writers. A model of Jesus was planned for inclusion but didn’t make it, (the LP was released only a few months after Lennon’s Jesus statement, and they didn’t want to stir that one up again). There are nine Beatles on the cover including ex Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe.
And what of that bit of gibberish that we all found ourselves listening to over an over again as the needle was stuck in the groove at the end of side two? (You see we miss all this fun in the digital age). According to the June 1967 Beatles Monthly, this tape-loop was ‘just a bit of jabbering conversation by the lads themselves which was speeded up. When curiosity got the better of some fans, they decided to play their LP backwards – and found it appeared to say, ‘We’ll fuck you like Superman.’
And all this magic was recorded over 129 days using 4-track recording machines. The fabs, laid down their parts on what was then becoming outdated studio equipment, (some studios in the US already had 8-track machines), guided and encouraged by the fifth Beatle, producer George Martin. New techniques were used and invented during these sessions. ADT, (automatic double tracking) was used because Lennon hated having to ‘track’ his vocal, (ADT then became a universal studio feature). They slowed and speeded up the tapes using varispeed to give them a thicker and unique sound.
And just to prove how prolific these Northern lads were, the first fruits of this exercise, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, didn’t even make it on to the album but instead were released as the double A-sided single in February 1967 after EMI had pressured The Beatles for a single release.
There is no other way to describe Sgt. Pepper but as a masterpiece.
We have a book! The Beatles – I Was There which contains over 400 eyewitness accounts from fans who saw The Beatles live in concert. Available in print and all digital formats.
March 15, 2019 at 12:32 pm
Of course it is a masterpiece, no question
April 6, 2019 at 2:51 pm
If you were 13 years old struggling on mysteries without any clues, then Veejays “The Beatles” might be the Beatles most important album to you..for the next 3 years each album helped you grow through another step of adolescence. At 16 years old Sgt. Peppers would be your most significant Beatles album introducing a new world of youthful experimentation, growth, granting Beatle approval to the new age of Rock. At 17 Abbey Road would be your Greatest of All Beatles Albums, and yet become the saddest and most melancholy when you realize that this was the end, and the love you take, is equal to the love you make.
July 1, 2019 at 11:34 am
The quite one? Did you mean quiet?
July 1, 2019 at 9:08 pm
We did and well spotted. The proof reader will now have a buy a round a drinks for all the team!
February 11, 2020 at 7:31 am
My Graphics Design Teacher at Ole Miss from, way back, in my 1985-1989 days there, she told us she made the sweater on the cover and sent to radio station contest for the Rolling Stones and she won!!!!
And only later noticed just became of her sweater. How cool is that?
February 3, 2021 at 7:22 am
There’s no end to the interesting stories I find about the Beatles. The first time I saw them was on the Ed Sullivan show. I then saw them in Chicago with my older sisters- I was the tag-along 9 year old. It’s funny how powerful their music was for just that brief time.
February 18, 2021 at 12:44 am
Excelente artículo sobre Sargent Pepper y su descripción canciones por canciones …Gracias a This day in music. Com por esta entrega…….bienvenido Olivier.
Andrew H. Masset III
February 18, 2021 at 10:54 am
In those ancient times bands recording was entirely up to the artists. A/R did not have jurisdiction on anything. Great music was created.
May 20, 2021 at 6:21 am
This album got so much spin time and airplay, millions of Beatles fans could sing along with all the songs. Interestingly – and unlike earlier Beatles albums – there was hardly a danceable cut in the whole album. 50 years later, sometimes I break into “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head” in the shower, though these days I don’t have enough hair fir a comb.
August 31, 2021 at 4:14 pm
A great album but varispeed and ADT were used before Pepper on Revolver, which I agree is my favorite album. There’s no denying that Pepper got the most out of the existing recording technology of the time and showed you what talent can create. The English Mono versions of The Beatles albums were far superior to the Stereo versions because this was what the Fabs wanted you to hear.
April 22, 2022 at 9:34 pm
I’m afraid a large part of the original success of the album had to do with BEING THERE. Being in that era as a teenager just as you had finally become a Beatles Fan due to emersion in the Revolver album, then drifting back into Rubber Soul and album by album, all the way back to “Meet The Beatles”, was a journey of anticipation in the 10 months between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. That it is a work of several geniuses certainly cannot be questioned, and use of the term “masterpiece” is appropriate even in retrospect. But no one who wasn’t there can truly understand the IMPACT of that album at the beginning of the Summer of 1967. It FUELED the great “HIPPY Era” all the way up to Woodstock. As George once admitted, “There was definitely a vibe” during that period. The profusion of drugs and all the negative culture they brought with them eventually brought the excitement, hope, and eagerness for the new generation to take over to a fairly abrupt end. That and the reality of the oligarchic nature of our well-controlled society which still has a strangle hold on us in the face of so many issues capitalism refuses to address and has caused the destruction of our environment and all of the various injustices in the world. But we can still sit back and play Sgt. Pepper to remind ourselves how joyous a movement can be, or to simply enjoy the music and stories as you inspect the album cover and read the lyrics along with it. We – even of the LATE Boomer generation (OK, just SOME of “We”) – can still remember the wonderful feeling of putting that needle down to the vinyl, hearing the orchestra tuning up, then the unexpected guitar intro, then the intro backstory of the Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the song heavily peppered with horns, Paul’s best rocking voice, Ringo’s great drumming, SOMEBODY’s great lead guitar licks and other contributions, and boom, being transported to the “After Sgt. Pepper Era” where things were a LOT cooler! The Beatles totally changed the world and any lesser acknowledgement is an insult to actual history. This album was the biggest change-booster.