This is my second attempt at this post. There was a back up in the tubes this morning when I wrote the first version and it got flushed out into the waste dump. Pity. I thought it was pretty good. Here’s my best try at repeating it.
On June 1st 1967 The Beatles changed music forever. This wasn’t the first time they did this. February 9th 1964 in the David Letterman Theatre they ushered in a new age of music, and closed the door forever on the way things used to be. 40 years ago today, they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Books have been written about the Beatles, and this album, so I’ll try to keep this brief.
When I finally got my own CD player in 1991, at the ripe old age of 15, and began buying music for myself with some intent and forethought I decided I needed to get some Beatles. I’d grown up in a house filled with music from the 50s and 60s. Motown, Doo Wop, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis. The radio was pretty much always tuned to the oldies station. Listening to it this way I had heard every hit Beatles song ever recorded and liked them all, a lot. I knew I couldn’t get all of those songs on one album, and if I wanted a greatest hits I could just turn on the radio. I wanted to see what else they had done, and why I’d been told they were the greatest band ever. I decided to pick one album and start there. As I had heard countless times how Sgt. Pepper’s was probably the greatest, most influential albums ever recorded, I chose this as my starting point.
From the moment I heard the orchestra tune up and the audience take their seats I was hooked. I listened over and over to these songs. My knowledge of who sang which songs was negligible and I knew very little of the history of the band. I know a lot more now and this album still amazes me. It’s an amazing snapshot of where the band was going and where each member was going. This is not an album that could have been made the year before when they had still been touring. Paul’s theatrical side takes center stage in the concept of an alter-ego band who greets the audience, plays a show, and then plays a reprise followed by an encore. John really steps up his use of scatological writing, with the bright mental images painted in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and his ability to take inspiration from a simple circus poster. George puts his studies with the Sitar to use and makes a beautiful contribution and Ringo plays the role of everyone’s favorite lead singer, Billy Shears. You can really begin to hear the differences in style within the group and the different directions they were all heading, but you also get a wonderful collaboration between Paul and John on Getting Better. Paul’s optimism (It’s getting better all the time) and John’s cynicism (It couldn’t get much worse.) Point, counter-point. Fantastic.
This is not my favorite Beatles album, that award goes to either Rubber Soul or Revolver, depending on my mood, but there’s little doubt that this album is nothing short of magic. I’m listening to it as I write this. It’s still alive and new. I’ve heard each of these songs hundreds of times since I first listened to them on my discman in the back seat of the minivan on the way home from Grandma’s house, and I still get chills.
Do yourself a favor. Sit down and listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band this weekend. Look at the album cover. really listen to what’s going on. You’ll be happy you did.