The Most Important Album Of The Rock Area

June 6th, 2007

Pepper-A
This is a few days after the anniversary, but hey, what’s a few days to forty years?

Forty years ago, on June 1st, 1967, The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (well, in the U.K. – here in the states it came out on June 3rd). It’s hard to tell if it’s their best album – about a half dozen of their albums are among the best rock albums ever – but the influence of this album on popular music is massive. Its timing was perfect; although everyone nowadays thinks June of ’67 was the height of the psychedelic era, but it really peaked months earlier. However, by that summer, the effects of the free-whelling social experimentation, drug experimentation, and honest belief in peace had permeated the youth culture. Students who had been waiting for classes to end to come to San Francisco finally could come (and therefore ruin the truly peaceful hippy movement that had been existing.

Nevermind the hippies. This period was most important for liberalizing Western culture and allowing for the multi-culture, mainstream-less society we enjoy today, where people can join what ever sub-, sub-sub-, and sub-sub-sub-culture they choose without ridicule.

Back to the album. There’s the gorgeous cover, the innovative inclusion of album lyrics (apparently a first), the pervasive artiness of the package (how about that cut-out mustache?). Sadly, that great sleeve and its contents are no longer available. Notice I haven’t said anything about the music yet? Sgt. Pepper is one big art project.

The songs on the album, however, are what makes this such an important release. It’s a rock album through-and-through, yet few songs can be classified as rock. It’s also a one of the best examples of a “concept album,” yet only three songs are in any way related to the ‘concept.’ There are thirteen songs on the album, but they’re all really compositions. Quite a few songs are slight in the sense that they can easily be throwaways, yet they fit perfectly with the rest of the songs. Finally, every song has a different style to it – even the title songs are different – and yet every song flows into the next. Chamber music to Indian raga to rag-top-insane-organ-whatever-you-could-call-it.

After Sgt. Pepper, the rock album was never quite the same. Artists really began to treat it as an art form in itself.

As for myself, my feelings for Sgt. Pepper are somewhat complex. The same time I listened to the album every night I was also reading The Catcher In The Rye, so my memories of both are intertwined. Also, while I enjoy the album as a whole the one song that really stands out is “A Day In The Life.” It belongs with the other classic songs from this period of The Beatles: “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” and “I Am The Walrus.” From the standpoint of technical mastery these four songs cannot be matched. More was innovated and there was more imagination involved than in almost all other pop songs ever produced. These songs are great for reasons almost entirely different from all of the other Beatles’ great songs: stuff like “Yesterday,” “Something,” and “She Loves You” will be remembered for their lyrics and musical tightness as songs.

Now that I’ve spent 565 words and said little of any weight, I still love The Beatles, their music, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.



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