It was fifty years ago when Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.
Yes, the Beatles’ famous album is now half a century.
Released on May 26, 1967 in the UK (June 2 in US), Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band broke new ground as a record. It combines rock, pop, music hall, and psychedelia. Nor does it feel like a Beatles album, because the eclectic style makes it unique.
Despite being seen as the “first concept album”, the record is anything but that. The idea of a concept doesn’t last more than three songs. “All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with this idea of Sgt. Pepper and his band, but it works, because we said it worked, and that’s how the album appeared,” John Lennon would say “But it was not put together as it sounds. Except for Sgt. Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise, every other song could have been on any other album.”
The Beatles kick things off with the title track, which is a pumping good intro to work people up. This is Paul McCartney’s baby, and he tackles the song with gusto. The addition of horns makes for a nice, old time feel like an old-time brass band.
As the song ends, it leads into “With A Little Help From My Friends.” This is Ringo Starr’s solo spot, and he does a good job on lead vocals. From here, the Beatles showcase their various styles for the 39 minute running time.
Lennon follows up with “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, which remains a classic Beatles tune. Contrary to popular belief, the song is not about LSD but rather a homage to the works of Lewis Carroll.
“Fixing A Hole” is one of Paul’s best compositions. It feels like an upbeat pop song, but the lyrics focus on how to keep your mind from wandering. Producer George Martin adds in a harpsichord solo, which gives it a baroque feel.
“She’s Leaving Home” continues the baroque pop sound of the album. John and Paul are the only Beatles playing on this song, as well as an orchestra. This sets the scene for “The White Album”, in which each band member would work separately.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” goes into music hall territory. Lennon and Mccartney incorporate Hammond organs and calliopes on the track. Interestingly enough, this one got a ban from airing on the BBC, because censors felt “Henry the Horse” was a reference to heroin. How they came to that conclusion is ridiculous.
Although he doesn’t have many songs, George Harrison does prove his versatility as a member of the Beatles. “Within You Without You” is a great track with the use of a sitar. Harrison’s songwriting also shows maturation and growth.
Finally, the album concludes with “A Day In The Life.” It consists of two song fragments by Lennon and McCartney. This is the one that ends with the famous piano chord which lasts for one minute. Turn up your volume- you just might hear papers rustling and whispers in the background.
As the record winds down, fans can hear a secret message of sound effects, nonsensical babble and laughter. This comes at 15 kilohertz frequency. There is said to be a dog whistle in here somewhere. No doubt dogs have been reacting to it for years now.
Some say, if you listen careful, there is an obscene message hidden within the words. Yet there is no secret meaning- it’s just a rumour. Sort of like the urban myth of Paul dying and a lookalike taking his place.
Overall, Sergeant Pepper is an important piece of rock music canon. The Beatles succeed in branching out, and the final product is a sight to behold or listen to. Maybe, if you haven’t heard it, the album will “turn you on” to the Beatles.