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Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles – Classic Album Review

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist... Published author ( & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published April 6th 2020
The greatest ever? Quite possibly

"Why no Beatles in your classic albums?"
"Racey but not the Beatles?"
How can you like music if you don't like the Beatles?"

Where are the Beatles?"
Come on! Give us a Beatles CD!"

All right! All right already! I give in! To all those on Twitter, here it is! The Beatles' classic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)! Happy?
beatles, sgt pepper, john lennon, paul mccartney, george harrison, ringo starr, cover

Now, here's my issue. It's not that I don't like the Beatles – I own nearly everything released by the band over the years – it's just that every critic has written everything about the band and their music that could be written and discussed and examined and whatever-else and I simply did not think I could add to that. But, considering I have done over a dozen of these classic albums thus far and have not brought up the Beatles yet is probably something that I really should rectify.

It is hard to comprehend, but the Beatles really changed music. Starting from their first album, they recorded and released their own works, not songs given to them by the house writers. They played their own instruments without the need for session musicians. They were articulate and intelligent and had a charm and appeal about them that crossed age barriers. As time went on, they grew more adventurous. They recorded some of the first experimental rock music, one of the first proto-heavy metal songs, the first sounds of prog rock… everything. They were also, for a while, one of the most covered bands in the world.

And on this album, their biggest seller, regarded as one of the very best albums in the history of rock music, they presented art rock in a form that everyone could listen to and not be alienated by. Some say it is a concept album, but it's not really. Still, the tracks merging one into another was something that was rare at the time as well. And that cover - so iconic. This broke barriers in music. There has been nothing like it since.

However, the less said about the film of the same name, based on the music of the Beatles, starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, the better.

Before I start looking at the songs, I will say that I do like every song on this album. There is one that leaves me a little "meh" but if I hear it on my autoplay list, I do not skip it. But this album is best listened to from beginning to end, as a singular whole. And I am taking this from the vinyl version. While not the original (it was released 3 years before I was born), it was a re-release in 1987, with everything as it was. Which reminds me that it was also one of the first albums to include the lyrics in the gatefold sleeve. Stuff we take for granted to day, it started here.

'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' We open with the title track. Starting with the sound of a crowd and an orchestra tuning up, then we hit the guitar underpinned by a driving drum-beat from Ringo, sounding like a harder rock song before suddenly hitting something different in the chorus and the brass bits playing almost musical hall stuff. This was a rock fusion before there was such a thing as rock fusion. This should not have worked, but it does.

'With A Little Help From My Friends' Track one merges straight into track two (by "Billy Shears"), one of the many very well-known Beatles songs, and this one sung by Ringo. Joe Cocker took this song but even he could not make it his own. Ringo does a great job and the call and response stylings make the track feel like not just a regular song. A true classic.

'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' One of the many controversial songs in the Beatles' canon, this song is not about drugs (LSD, to be specific), but is based on a picture John's son Julian drew at school. But there is no denying the trippy, psychedelic music and lyrics. With organ at the forefront of the music and Lennon's vocals sounding like they're in a dream, it was the first song I remembered hearing that was not the standard music I had grown up with. I loved it from the word go.

Quick diversion – my dad liked the Beatles… up to 1966. So, growing up, Rubber Soul (though not Revolver) was where the Beatles ended for me. Then, after dad passed away, I borrowed a copy of this album and I recorded it onto cassette (this was before I could afford to buy the album) and I had never heard anything like it. And this song I played to death. It was brand new to me, and the psychedelic trappings entranced me from the word go. This was when I knew the Beatles were more than just 'She Loves You'. Wow…

'Getting Better' From trippy to staccato guitars and quite deep lyrics about improving your life. The vocal harmonies in the chorus are glorious, and Lennon's rejoinders to McCartney's statements in the verses are like a subverted call and response. Quite the under-rated track here.

'Fixing A Hole' A pleasant track that has more incredible lyrics and a strange organ or harpsichord sound throughout. It is verging on the trippy, but with music hall sensibilities. A strange mix for a pop-rock song, and fascinating to listen to.

'She's Leaving Home' One of my favourite tracks on the album. The vocal harmonies are just stunning, and the story it tells is actually quite depressing, about a girl running away from home and her parents not really understanding why. Also, there are no drums in this track, but a lot of strings, akin to 'Yesterday'. It has a pseudo-classical feel about it, especially in the sustained notes of the vocals. This is a beautiful song and yet one I do not listen to very often; it really quite well-written lyrically and it is genuinely thought-provoking and sad. Lennon-McCartney were a great song-writing team; tracks like this demonstrate exactly why.

'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite' This is the track on the album that, to me, is just 'meh'. Apparently based on the words of a Victorian-era circus poster, it just does nothing for me, really. The music I find intriguing, though – those sounds of a fairground are done well and are quite mesmerising. But the lyrics just leave me flat.

'Within You Without You' Side two starts with the George Harrison contribution to the album, a mystical Indian piece that is a piece of sitar work with more really deep lyrics. When I first recorded the album onto cassette, I didn't get this song, but when I bought the album in 1987 I was stunned by it. It made me seek out more sitar stuff, which led me to buying a second-hand cassette version of the Concert For Bangladesh. I still enjoy a good bit of sitar playing. And this is the full Indian instrumentation. I love this song. The laughter at the end, by the way, contrary to popular belief, is not the rest of the band making fun of George, but George wanting to return the album to its lighter tone.

'When I'm Sixty-Four' Another of the better known of Beatles' songs. While I liked the song, I did not get its stylings until I was much older, in my 20s, and I discovered George Formby and music hall (and this could also be about other tracks, but this is the one that it really affected, in my opinion). This is a direct take on that music hall style but with 1960s' pop sensibilities. And this song really is timeless; both my children even learnt it in school music lessons some fifty years after the album's release, and both really liked it. Maybe it's the lyrics – they are also timeless, a couple early in their relationship who want to be together for a long time to come. A sentiment that never seems trite.

'Lovely Rita' The Beatles released a number of songs about specific people (one only has to think about 'Eleanor Rigby') and this is one of those tracks, although the singer does fall in love with her. It's a bit of a throwback to the simpler music of the Beatles' past, but is no the less for that. Just a cheery, pleasant song, really.

'Good Morning, Good Morning' A song about the boredom of domestic life, this track is held together by a fine drumming performance by Ringo and a fuzz-tone guitar. Rockier than most other tracks here, the addition of animal noises is an interesting one, but that does lead it into melding very nicely into the next track.

'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)' A quick reprise of the opening track, just over a minute in length, is a nice way to transition from the previous track into the last, adding to that vague feel of a concept album that was probably initially considered but abandoned somewhere along the way.

'A Day In The Life' And we finish with my favourite track on the album. This has been widely acknowledged as two songs rammed together, but the resulting track is superb, and one of the very best the Beatles ever produced. Another song that is depressing lyrically, with the opening about death, am orchestral crescendo, then the middle bit where McCartney gets "out of bed/ Dragged a comb across my head" before stepping outside into a drug-dream after his "smoke", and then finishing with an orchestral freak-out that builds and builds until it finally comes to that single note that just lasts forever. This track was designed to be played through headphones, I am sure, because that is the best way to get the full effect of that ending.

And then there's a strange little sound in the run-off groove.


What an album. There is a reason why it keeps on appearing in the top ten of greatest albums of all time, if not topping those polls. Again, modern audiences might be hard-pressed to understand why it is regarded as such (despite the frankly awesome music), but the changes this one album wrought on the world of rock and pop music are incalculable. So many things we take for granted now can trace their lineage back to this one, single album.

Yes, it is that important. But, more importantly, it is that good. Really, really good.

So, seriously, do yourself a favour and track this one down if you don't already own a copy, and have a listen through the headphones and let yourself float away on the genius that is Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – The Beatles.
beatles, sgt pepper, john lennon, paul mccartney, george harrison, ringo starr

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Why? Because it is one of the very best albums ever
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