Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 29: The Beatles, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Artist: The Beatles
Album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Year: 1967
Label: Capitol

There are some bands that defy definition, so huge and so massively impactful, that their names alone bring with them countless preconceived notions. Across genres, artists of this caliber command the utmost respect, because regardless of musical preference, their influence on the world of music is simply undeniable. Among these indispensable groups stands the band that kicked the rock and roll movement into high gear, the one and only Beatles. Whether or not you actually like the music of The Beatles is irrelevant, as one simply cannot make the argument that modern music would be in its current form without their presence. Though there were a number of bands to come out of the British Invasion, none of them were as heavily and widely marketed as "The Fab Four," and this played a major role in why they were ultimately more successful then their counterparts. The other major factor was that the band was able to change with the times (or perhaps simply "change the times") and play a diverse range of music, as well as standing today as some of the most well respected music and lyric writers in history. So on this, the eight year anniversary of the tragic passing of George Harrison, it is only fitting that we discuss the album that stands as the album with which The Beatles kick-started a new movement, as well as proved that they possessed never before heard musical vision and sophistication. While many might argue that such a billing can be fairly given to a number of records from the band, there has simply never been another record with as wide-ranging and long lasting impact as The Beatles 1967 masterpiece, the unmistakable Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Somewhat ignoring the enormous impact that the music of The Beatles has had over the years, I will attempt to keep this review focused on the post-pop years of the band. The previous release from The Beatles, Revolver, is where the band began to break away from their "friendly" pop song format and they started to explore their music with an almost reckless abandon. By the time they were ready to record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were pulling from influences as wide ranging as Indian sitar music and the after effects of obvious drug experimentation. Similarly, while the band certainly had more psychedelic and experimental records AFTER this album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band represents the "formal" transition of the bands' sound. Along with the music found on the record, the album also possesses one of the most recognizable covers in music history. First off, the cover with which most people are familiar is in fact the SECOND cover to this record. A very limited number of first pressings actually contain the original cover which was a psychedelic painting by artist, The Fool as the inner gatefold. The cover that was chosen is a photograph of cut-outs for more than seventy personalities ranging from spiritual gurus to political leaders to artists to a pair of renditions of the band members themselves. Containing a mind-boggling number of people and items that have been discussed and debated since the albums' release, in many ways, the cover is just as much of a statement and piece of music history as the music found inside.

Though the album's cover is fantastic, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band also contains some of the most iconic and unforgettable music that has ever been written. From beginning to end, every song on the album is a true classic, and both the lyrics and music are absolutely unforgettable. The iconic title track kicks off the record and the opening notes stand as one of the greatest guitar riffs in history. The riff is one of the most powerful that Paul McCartney has ever written, and it remains just as potent more than forty years after it was first heard. Another rather interesting guitar riff comes on the title tracks' reprise, as the core chord progression is played in the same key and aggressive style of that found on Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Cris-crossing their musical abilities, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has something for everyone; from the gorgeous ballad, "She's Leaving Home" to the all out rock and roll of "Getting Better" to the mystical "Within You Without You." Then of course there is the absolutely iconic "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." Standing as one of the most unsubtle drug references ever, the song is by far one of the wildest and most daring songs ever written, and it was years ahead of its time to say the least. Though for some time, John Lennon claimed the song was inspired by a drawing by his son Julian, in recent years, the surviving band members have been more open about the drug reference. Regardless of the source of inspiration, the song became the very definition of the entire psychedelic movement, and it remains one of the most important songs in music history.

While the music is absolutely fantastic, and it forever changed the landscape of music, the vocals by each of the band members helps to give the album even greater diversity in both sound and style. The fact that each band member has a distinctive voice was always a key to the sound of The Beatles, as they were able to fit the best vocal style to each song. While McCartney fits best with the more fast paced, rock songs, the more relaxed sounds of Lennon and Harrison make songs like "She's Leaving Home" and "Within You Without You" pure delight. Even Ringo Starr takes primary vocal duties on what is perhaps the most covered song on the record, "With A Little Help From My Friends." Regardless of who is singing, the vocals on every song are equally fantastic, and this variety in vocal sounds is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the record. Along with the sensational music and superb singing, the lyrics throughout Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band run the gamut from the absurd to some of the most touching words that the band has ever penned. By far one of the most simple, yet endearingly endearing lyrics to ever come from the Lennon/McCartney team can be found on the song, "When I'm Sixty-Four." A simple song asking whether a lover will still be in love once the couple reaches old age, the song is truly timeless and remains relevant and fresh to this day. One of the more interesting lyrics on the record is the simple, yet complex wording found on "Getting Better." Full of juxtapositions as well as a few rather questionable lines, one can argue at length whether it is a song of "glass half full" or if it is actually a song of frustration on the futility of life. Adding fantastic vocals and brilliant lyrics on top of the groundbreaking music, there has rarely been an able as powerful as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Simply say the name "The Beatles" anywhere on the planet, and one will quickly discover that they may in fact be, as Lennon once commented, "...more popular than Jesus." With countless timeless songs, each band member, as well as the band as a whole remain some of the most highly regarded musicians of any genre from any point in history. Largely responsible for the "British Invasion," the group began to expand their horizons as the 1960's came to a close. It was during this time that the group began another musical revolution, and the catalyst for the psychedelic music movement can be found in their landmark recording, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album blends the more popular, more traditional sounds of rock music at the time with seemingly absurd lyrics and heavily experimental music for the time. Infusing a wide range of influences from all over the globe, the album also in many ways marks the beginning of the end for the band, as each band members' individual musical desires begin to come more clearly into focus. There is not a note out of place anywhere on the record, and the music, vocals, and lyrics are all perfect in every sense of the word. While The Beatles certainly had their fair share of memorable records, they were never as flawless and musically stunning as they were for their absolutely unrivaled 1967 record, the unequaled and indispensable Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Standout tracks: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and "A Day In The Life."

1 comment:

rockandrollguru said...

Fantastic post about a brilliant album. I absolutely love it!