Peter Takes on History
July 1, 1967
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Hashtag “know your audience.”
This week’s story will definitely be enjoyed more by folks who meet a couple of tests.
First, you know who the Beatles are. Admittedly, that’s a wide net. Even if you’ve not a Beatles fan, you’re probably aware of their story.
Second, you’re old enough to understand the concept of owning albums. Not streaming. Owning. Hearing that an album by a favorite group is going to drop on a certain day. Then standing in line at that store waiting for it to open. Then listening to it in the car on the way home (extra points if you listened on an 8-Track or cassette). And then rushing through dinner so you can listen forty more times before breakfast so when you meet your friends the next morning before school you have an opinion; you know where the album ranks in their discography and probably know most of the words.
If you’re old enough to be an album person, maybe you are already aware that on this day, July 1st, 1967- 53 years ago today - a Beatles album shot to the top of the US charts and stayed there for three months. It was a breakthrough album that won six Grammys including Best pop album, Album of the Year (the first rock LP to receive the honor) and Best Album Cover; a cover that included pictures of Karl Marx, Shirley Temple and Lawrence of Arabia. Of course. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Every fan remembers that cover. It was Paul McCartney’s idea and when the question of copyrights came up, he said everyone “would love it!” and gladly consent. He was mostly right. Fred Astair and Bob Dylan loved it. Shirley Temple said, “Maybe.” She wanted to hear the album first. Mae West made all four Beatles write to her for permission.
Sgt. Pepper’s was what we now call “a concept album.” They created an imaginary space for the performance of an imaginary band. The songs were filled with stories and innovative music mixes that mixed guitars and drums with barnyard sounds and a bellowing elephant. There’s Indian sitar, a harpsichord solo and even a circus harmonium. It was an album of overdubs rather than performances.
There was a lot riding on this effort. At this point in 1966, the Fab Four were slipping. They were bored with being Beatles. There had been drug arrests and it didn’t help when John Lennon said the band was more popular than Jesus. In America that prompted boycotts, protests and a sudden end to stadiums filled to capacity with screaming teenage girls. They stopped touring and Capitol, the Beatles record label, was pressuring them for a big hit.
The songs Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever were the first two songs written for Sgt Pepper’s but never made it into the album. Instead, they were released as the A and B sides of a single, just to get the record label off their backs.
The recording at Abbey Road Studio took 700 hours; 30 times longer than their debut album. Reports are John Lennon was never happier, Paul McCartney was confident and enthusiastic, George Harrison was, mentally at least, still with his yogi in the mountains of India and Ringo was bored; later saying that his best memory of those studio sessions was that in the time between recordings he learned to play chess.
The morning they finished the album, they took it to their friend Mama Cass Elliot’s flat in London (remember Mama Cass from the Mama’s and the Pappas?) They played it for her … out her windows with speakers at full blast! Within a week, the whole world had heard the album. One critic called it “the most ... influential rock and roll album ever recorded”. Time magazine called it “a historic departure in the progress of music”. And the praise has never let up. It’s on almost all “BEST ALBUM” lists. Rolling Stone Magazine named it the number one album of all time. For the benefit of Mr. Kite, Lucy, lovely Rita, John, Paul, George and RIngo things appears to getting better.
1. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" McCartney 2:00
2. "With a Little Help from My Friends" Starr 2:42
3. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" Lennon 3:28
4. "Getting Better" McCartney with Lennon 2:48
5. "Fixing a Hole" McCartney 2:36
6. "She's Leaving Home" McCartney with Lennon 3:25
7. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" Lennon 2:37
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Within You Without You" Harrison 5:05
2. "When I'm Sixty-Four" McCartney 2:37
3. "Lovely Rita" McCartney 2:42
4. "Good Morning Good Morning" Lennon 2:42
5. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" All Four Beatles 1:18
6. "A Day in the Life" Lennon with McCartney 5:38
Total length: 19:34