Track by Track: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band

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It was 1966, The Beatles were the biggest group in the entire history of music. This group, having been around for 9 years at this point, were the biggest in the world. Beatlemania was the rage. Liverpool no longer was the New York of Europe, but ‘That city The Beatles come from’. In 1966, The Beatles were tired of touring, so after one last tour of America, they stopped. The group were tired of touring, they finished recording Revolver, and then two days later, out they went to Germany. Stopping touring allowed the group to focus on the music, and the final stage of a sound evolution which begun in 1964. Without touring, the band could put more layers in their music, they could create their masterpiece. And Sgt. Pepper was born.

That’s the romantic version, anyway, but Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band,¬†at 50 years old, is a very timeless album…but it is not perfect, so I think it is time for an appraisal, an overview. A review, if you will. Sgt. Pepper is a concept album, like The Wall, Time, or Pinball Wizard. Pinball Wizard and Sgt. Pepper has a lot in common, in that they’re both albums released by their respective band, The Who and The Beatles. It could be said that The Beatles are not the band recording the album, like The Who, and are the vessels which are delivering a story or a concept. My interpretation of the album is that it is a live album, recorded by a band of the same name as the album. Enough talking, however. This is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

TRACK ONE- SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEART’S CLUB BAND

The opening song of this ‘concert’, and I call it that because it does start with the band tuning up, and audience chatter. This song is a classic, there is no doubting that. Paul McCartney does a good job opening this album. I am critical of him as a person, as I am most of the Beatles, but he is still a good singer. The mixture of hard rock, brass, and group chorus makes this one of the best ever opening songs for any album. What I love is the live feel, despite it being a studio recording. I feel like I am in a crowd. This is a great opener, and it feels like you are in for a thrill ride. The best live concert you’ve ever been to.

TRACK TWO- WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

My readers know about my love of segues in songs, and you can view Track One and Two as one long intro and the first actual song. In a lazy timeline, I could call all these songs classics, and gush about them as much as I did on the first one, but then it wouldn’t be a good review. Personally, I am not fond of Ringo’s singing in general, but strangely, this is not the worst song on the album (in my opinion). I think they give him good support with this song when he is an average singer. I do feel that after the excellent opener, this song is a bit average, but I give kudos to the song for the message and the support that Ringo has in this.

TRACK THREE- LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS

A psychedelic treat. This album could be viewed as a pure LSD-laden fever dream. The first Lennon song on this album, and a step up from Track Two. Lennon claimed that this song was inspired by a drawing his son had drawn, though many people seem to view this as a song about tripping on LSD. I am inclined to believe that both stories are true. As a song, it is very imaginative, and the use of sitars and weird noises that could only be made in the LSD expanded minds of The Beatles and the high-tech studio do make this a classic because this song is so ahead of its time.

TRACK FOUR/FIVE- GETTING BETTER AND FIXING A HOLE

Not much to say about these two songs, they are both album filler to my ears. Both are Paul McCartney songs, both of them are fairly straightforward, though Sitars are used in the former. I find both songs quite boring really, though they’re both solid.

TRACK SIX- SHE’S LEAVING HOME

She’s Leaving Home is a beautiful song, in my opinion, and one of the most complex song stories ever, in my opinion. I consider this to be Paul McCartney’s best Beatles song, and I think most would agree with me. The instruments are lush, with a harp and strings making this a lovely piece of music to listen. What brings me back to it is the story that this song tells. A girl runs away from home, upsetting her parents, and she goes travelling- what is complex about it?

It actually doesn’t make either party come across as bad. As a young boy, I saw the parents were bad, but as I listen again, is the girl being selfish? She left to have fun, as her parents worked hard to give her a comfortable life, with toys, and other treats, but the parents never gave her attention. It is an interesting story to consider, and one I’d talk to Paul McCartney about if I ever had the chance because it is very interesting to consider.

TRACK SEVEN- BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE

My personal favourite song on this album is this one because it adds to the live feel of this album. It’s a weird song to listen, the cymbals have a very weird reversed sound, which I love, and the effects give the harmonica and organ and harmonium sounds interesting echoes. I love it, because it is very eccentric, and it paints a picture of one of the best circus shows ever. While the album version is good, I have to give mention to the version found on the LOVE Soundtrack album, because it turns the chaotic sound up to 11, it is truly insane, and creative, as this version is.

TRACK EIGHT- WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU

The first George Harrison song on here, and I love it…to a point. It’s honestly the worst song on the album, but not because of how it sounds, or the singing. As a song, it is very good, with eastern instruments and eastern philosophy…but it is too long. At 5:05, it feels like a minute should be cut off, because of the drum/sitar solo, while beautiful, feels very drawn out for me. And I love George Harrison, but this one feels too long for me. If it were a minute shorter, I think it would be much better. The LOVE Soundtrack version, mashed up with Tomorrow Never Knows, is an absolutely brilliant piece, better than the original.

TRACK NINE- WHEN I’M 64

Absolute classic. It is in a Music Hall sound, which just works with the theme. The old style, easy listening piece makes it a joy to listen to, the theme notwithstanding. It manages to turn a rather scary idea into a lovely piece of easy listening. I consider this song to be important in another aspect, I consider this song to be where the Paul is Dead conspiracy began. For a split second in the song, Paul does sound kind of Scottish. The whole Paul is Dead conspiracy is not for this particular blog to talk about though. I think it is rubbish if you want my opinion.

TRACK TEN- LOVELY RITA

You will notice a lot of discussion on this review regarding Paul McCartney because he was very hands-on with this album. Another important factor is that this album was when Paul really was beginning took over the group. This would not be fully realised until after Brian Epstein’s untimely death in 1967. There’s a lot of Paul songs here, and the whole album is a Paul idea. Lovely Rita is a good love song, but it has a weird ending, that makes me not like it much.

TRACK ELEVEN- GOOD MORNING, GOOD MORNING

I used to walk to school with this song on my iPod. It is a very Harrisonesque song, but it is a Lennon song, which actually fooled me. If Harrison sang this, and not his sole effort on this album, then it would be awesome. This song is great though, gets me in a good mood whenever I listen to it.

TRACK TWELVE/THIRTEEN- SGT. PEPPER REPRISE/A DAY IN THE LIFE

The last three songs on the album are a sort of suite, leading up to the final song, A Day in the Life, which could be considered the encore of the ‘concert’. I love the reprise, but A Day in the Life is one of the best songs ever made by The Beatles because it is a perfect, crystallised, condensed reason why quitting touring was best for the band. This song is one of the most complex, most elaborate, most out of the box songs the band recorded, much like the songs on this album.

I will break it down It starts off simple, with piano, drums, bass, and it works, because it just builds up as it goes on, and as John sings about the newspaper, ‘turning us on’, and the music swelling, until a segue with Paul talking about getting ready for work, on the top of this music mountain, the music then goes back down to Lennon’s level, with the orchestra harkening us back to the beginning of the song, when it was so simple.

John sings about the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, before the music begins to build up again, but it keeps building up, and the sound builds up, it’s like a train coming towards you, getting closer, getting louder, a composite of noise about to hit you and, BANG, final, 40-second note brings the song and album to its end. Damn. That is how you end an album. On the vinyl, this then leads to a locked loop, where you hear a bizarre collection of noises from the band and white noise. I thought that was worth mentioning.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Why has this album stayed relevant this long? Because it is a triumph in album recording, songwriting, and production, with some of the greatest minds in the industry. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is timeless. When my Grandad died, we were given his vinyl records and an original Sgt. Pepper Vinyl was one of them. And from 8 Track, Cassette, CD, MP3, the album just keeps selling.

It is one of the most influential albums in music, and a lot of bands (including Oasis, sadly) were created and influenced by Sgt. Pepper. But I didn’t grow up with this album, at least in the way that others did. I was not born when it was released so I cannot say I grew up with it. It is a classic, but not flawless. It was very dominated by one man, Paul McCartney, but that isn’t something one can hold against it. The Wall by Pink Floyd, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Alone in the Universe by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, all dominated by one person. That doesn’t mean it isn’t great music, though I admit some songs on Sgt. Pepper are very average, and one goes on too long. I’d tell you to buy it, but you likely already have a copy.

 

Addendum: Fun fact about Sgt. Pepper, on the cover, Hitler was meant to be amongst the images used but was not included. It’s my theory this is how Vivian Stanshall, who was a friend of The Beatles and appeared on The Magical Mystery Tour Movie, met Hitler and got him to play Vibes on the song The Intro and The Outro. Give it a listen, it is great.

 

About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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