This Day in History: June 1st- Sgt. Pepper
This Day In History: June 1, 1967
After years of touring and relentless media attention, the Beatles felt frustrated creatively. They were tired of wearing matching suits in front of throngs of screaming girls. None of them came to hear the music. They could listen to their Beatles’ records at home. They went to a Beatles concert to worship their heroes and shriek at the highest decibel level possible, and sometimes throw Jelly Beans at them.
By the fall of 1966, the Beatles decided to focus their efforts on writing and recording. They entered Abbey Road studios with producer George Martin in November. Freed from the pressures of the road, the band’s creativity hit even loftier heights, and they urged George Martin to challenge the accepted limits along with them. What they managed to achieve using four-track equipment should shame the Pro-Tools generation of today.
It wasn’t just the music that was colorful, fresh and innovative. The way it was presented was also groundbreaking and inventive, which raised the bar for every other band’s album artwork for decades to come. The cover by Michael Cooper featured the now-iconic gathering of cardboard cut-out characters posing class picture-style, with the group dressed in old-timey band uniforms standing in the forefront. The Beatles had morphed into Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Still the Beatles, only – trippier.
Sgt. Pepper’s was the first concept album. As the orchestra tunes up and the audience hushes, we’re introduced to the band. They then take us through a musical journey spanning from English vaudeville to Indian mysticism until the band bids us farewell, and we’re left with the closing masterpiece “A Day in the Life”. You’re left mesmerized by “the chord that lasts forever” and you’re left wishing the whole album would do the same.
It’s no exaggeration to say this record changed people’s lives and changed the way their fellow artists approached the art of album making. After Sgt. Pepper, everybody and their brother had a go at making a concept album. The Stones were one of the first to follow with “Their Satanic Majesties Request”. (They wisely returned to roots rock with their next album.)
Paul McCartney plays down the Beatles as the “Pied Pipers of a generation” theory insisting that “the mood of the album was in the spirit of the age, because we ourselves were fitting into the mood of the time” and “the Beatles weren’t the leaders of the generation, but the spokesmen.”
Even almost half a century later, fans still remember the effect Sgt. Pepper’s had on them during that long ago summer of love.
NPR’s “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen said, “What I remember most about that first listen and that first look was how mysterious it all was. The artful montage on the front, the Sgt. Pepper cut outs that came inside, there was the cut-out mustache, the stripes and badges of the Sgt. Pepper uniform and of course there were the lyrics. To this day it’s my favorite album not just because I love the songs, but because it was, for me, the first album that held mystery, whose cuts flowed effortlessly from song to song — and those songs changed each time I heard them. They still do.”
His words echo the experience of million of Beatles fans, whether they first heard Sgt. Pepper in 1967, or six months ago.
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