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The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

2009-01-20 16:51
Without the weighty history and public interest this album precipitated, there would be no use discussing it today, but I can’t help but feel that the burden of “best album ever” is one too great for any work of art to bear, whatever the strength of its claim. The theatre of my relationship with Sgt. Peppers was a living room, and the so-called “importance” of the project, which I learned of much later, seems to pull at the edges of its revered space in my upbringing. In the end, there’s no use planting any flags for the Beatles' place in history, or styling them as architects of the Summer of Love. It’s been done before.

But what an album. Never intending to perform it live, The Beatles experimented with thick layers of sound that couldn’t possibly be recreated outside the studio. Cellos, alarm clocks, even a live rooster were cut into the mix. It was brain food: every time I zoned out on the couch, just listening to the album, I could pick out something new I hadn’t heard before, perhaps some kind of organ, perhaps a message playing backwards.

For all its psychedelic swagger and so-called “drug references”, Sgt. Pepper’s is actually quite the sentimental creature. Who knew that the trippy hippy anthem of a decade, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, could find a home on the same record as “When I’m Sixty Four”, a naked homage to domesticity? My Sgt. Pepper’s experience thrived on this flip-flop between quiet “days in the life” and overwhelming auditory hallucination: the one I could relate to, the other was a daunting apparatus that stretched my imagination.
When I first heard the album, the only acid I knew about was on the Periodic table. To me, psychedelic anthems like “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” translated directly into escapism, an innocent sonic alternative to Tolkien and Asimov. More than anything I’d ever heard (or read) before, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” invited my mind to wander, seeing clearly the “newspaper taxis appear on the shore, waiting to take you away”.

Sgt. Pepper’s is a classic, but it’s hard to say why. Despite being one of the first “concept” albums, there’s a separateness within the track list that prevents me from saying “it’s beautiful because it fits together”. What does stand out is the irrepressible quality of each and every bar of music. "A Day In The Life" and Harrison's solo jam "Within You Without You" describe the very fabric of being human; "Good Morning Good Morning" is the opposite of spiritual; yet all these songs are fixed to the same giant scale of ambition.

In my living room, a fictional version of The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, had created a fictional version of what music should sound like. It used to be the only version I knew, just "plain old music". Post-Madonna, post-Nirvana, I now realise just how unique it really was.

- Niel Bekker
I grew up with some remarkably unhip sounds blaring from our living room stereo. Applying selective memory, you might call it a bit of an Afro-Saxon mess: a playlist from hell spanning Schubert to Leon Schuster. What’s a kid to do with that? But on the occasional Sunday, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would waft comfortably in the air with scent of newspapers, coffee and pancakes.

What to read next: Kalahari

Marvin 2008/09/01 9:41 AM
Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band I nearly bought this until I saw that it was a cover version. Dissapointing. Who are the artists then as Kalahari says "The Beatles"??
marshall 2008/09/01 10:56 AM
Peppers and Salt There are several reasons why Sgt Pep's could and should be considered a classic. Niel correctly points out the 'scale of ambition'. Considering that Paul was bent on out-doing Brian Wilson's last effort (Pet Sounds) and that The Beatles had just finished a miserable tour of the US and decided to never tour again, this album became the sole artistic focus of the most famous band in the world. To deliver a record so wildly out of sync with everything that had gone before was very courageous. And their obvious talent as songwriters was given a whole new universe to explore. This album is the first to demonstrate that the Beatles as individuals were going into irreconcilably different directions. The spaces this created within the songs is fascinating to decode... and makes SGT Peppers the Beatles second-best album ever! Cool story, Niel.
Niel Bekker 2008/09/01 12:04 PM
@ Marvin Hi Marvin, as far as we know, the album you saw on Kalahari is the correct version. It's possible the "cover reference has something to do with sleeve covers vs plastic covers, but maybe you should give them a call. In case there's any confusion, the album itself is most definitely not a "cover version". Glad you were curious enough to buy it!
Peter 2008/09/01 12:27 PM
Sergeant Pepper Marvin has apoint - Why call it a Cover version, Kalahari?? Can't be a cover version. The art looks like the original, and Niel's review is excellent..mirrors my own, except I am taken back to my student days..a trillion years ago...1967. Wow those were the days. Marvin go for it.
mike hunt 2008/09/01 3:36 PM
sargent major peppers band..that was the oriniginal title.. well its a sonic masterpiece..and its really in mono..i can tell you things from that time that would make you pee..when im 64 sure came back to bite paul in the kite was originally mr. kike...and they were pissed at their fag manager brian...revolver is the better of the two..but what the [obscenity deleted] do i not know...
peter mitchell 2008/09/01 6:46 PM
mr I have always believed that Sgt. pepper could be released any time and be an instant hit , it is ageless, a bit like me ( im 65 ) . An incredible album, will be heard for centuries to come.
Gavin K 2008/09/01 9:33 PM
Will we ever see a band like them again......? SPLHCB is an album that defined a generation. The cover alone is a masterpiece to match the musical content that was way ahead of its time. The Beatles will be remembered as the classical pop band by future generations just like Bach and Beethoven are revered in the world of classical symphony's. Their White Album is another one to have in your collection.
Vusi 2008/09/02 7:34 AM
A defining moment in music history Sergeant Peppers was indeed a defining moment not only for the Beatles but also for the entire direction of music. It spawned a complete genre of new bands and introduced new eastern influences in the music. I still listen the CD about once a month month. I still have the original LP with the £ 3.99 price sticker from HMV store in London (he said smugly).
doug 2008/09/02 10:12 AM
Memories, memories.... Ah, I remember it well. Was staying in the Rissik Street YMCA at the time and at the Rand Easter Show (then held next to Empire Road in town) I had a few beers too many and bought a terrific hi-fi with massive Kef Concord speakers at the Rave stand. The sound was way too big for the 'Y' and resulted in my moving into a commune in Randburg. Then came the Sgt Pepper album, and I can still feel the reverberations in my soul as the waves of sound from 33 rpm came crashing through those big Kef speakers in our lounge. It's...Sergeant...Pepper's...LONELY...HEART'S...CLUB......BAND.....Lifechanging, it was, and my memories at 67 (yes, 'When I'm 64' is behind me) are still unchanged. Thanks for the great review.
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