|Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band|
|Studio album by|
|Released||26 May 1967|
|Recorded||6 December 1966 – 21 April 1967|
|Studio||EMI and Regent Sound, London|
|The Beatles chronology|
|The Beatles North American chronology|
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. Released on 26 May 1967 in the United Kingdom[nb 1] and 2 June 1967 in the United States, it spent 27 weeks at number one on the UK Albums Chart and 15 weeks at number one on the Billboard Top LPs chart in the US. It was lauded by critics for its innovations in production, songwriting and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and high art, and for reflecting the interests of contemporary youth and the counterculture. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968, including Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this honour.
In August 1966, the Beatles permanently retired from touring and began a three-month holiday. During a return flight to London in November, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian military band that formed the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. Sessions began on 24 November at EMI Studios with two compositions inspired by the Beatles' youth, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", but after pressure from EMI, the songs were released as a double A-side single and left off the album.
In February 1967, after recording the title track, McCartney suggested that the album represent a performance by the fictional Sgt. Pepper band. This alter ego group further inspired the band to experiment artistically. During the recording sessions, there was no thought of reproducing the songs in concert, and the band were free to continue the technological experimentation marked by their previous album Revolver, this time without an absolute deadline for completion. With producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, the group approached the studio as an instrument, colouring much of the recordings with sound effects and tape manipulation, as exemplified on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and "A Day in the Life". Recording was completed on 21 April 1967. The cover, which depicts the Beatles posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.
Sgt. Pepper is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the use of extended form in popular music while continuing the artistic maturation seen on the Beatles' preceding releases. An important work of British psychedelia, the album incorporates a range of stylistic influences, including vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music. It is described as one of the first art rock LPs, a progenitor to progressive rock, and the starting point of the album era. In 2003, the Library of Congress placed Sgt. Pepper in the National Recording Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Rolling Stone ranked it as the greatest album of all time. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with more than 32 million copies sold worldwide as of 2011, and remains the UK's best-selling studio album. Professor Kevin Dettmar, writing in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, described it as "the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded".
By 1966, the Beatles had grown weary of live performance. In John Lennon's opinion, they could "send out four waxworks ... and that would satisfy the crowds. Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music anymore. They're just bloody tribal rites." In June that year, two days after finishing the album Revolver, the group set off for a tour that started in West Germany. While in Hamburg they received an anonymous telegram stating: "Do not go to Tokyo. Your life is in danger." The threat was taken seriously in light of the controversy surrounding the tour among Japan's religious and conservative groups, with particular opposition to the Beatles' planned performances at the sacred Nippon Budokan arena. As an added precaution, 35,000 police were mobilised and tasked with protecting the group, who were transported from hotels to concert venues in armoured vehicles. The Beatles then performed in the Philippines, where they were threatened and manhandled by its citizens for not visiting First Lady Imelda Marcos. The group were angry with their manager, Brian Epstein, for insisting on what they regarded as an exhausting and demoralising itinerary.
The publication in the US of Lennon's remarks about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus" then embroiled the band in controversy and protest in America's Bible Belt. A public apology eased tensions, but a US tour in August that was marked by reduced ticket sales, relative to the group's record attendances in 1965, and subpar performances proved to be their last. The author Nicholas Schaffner writes:
To the Beatles, playing such concerts had become a charade so remote from the new directions they were pursuing that not a single tune was attempted from the just-released Revolver LP, whose arrangements were for the most part impossible to reproduce with the limitations imposed by their two-guitars-bass-and-drums stage lineup.
On the Beatles' return to England, rumours began to circulate that they had decided to break up. George Harrison informed Epstein that he was leaving the band, but was persuaded to stay on the assurance that there would be no more tours. The group took a three-month break, during which they focused on individual interests. Harrison travelled to India for six weeks to study the sitar under the instruction of Ravi Shankar and develop his interest in Hindu philosophy. Having been the last of the Beatles to concede that their live performances had become futile, Paul McCartney collaborated with Beatles producer George Martin on the soundtrack for the film The Family Way and holidayed in Kenya with Mal Evans, one of the Beatles' tour managers. Lennon acted in the film How I Won the War and attended art showings, such as one at the Indica Gallery where he met his future wife Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr used the break to spend time with his wife Maureen and son Zak.
While in London without his bandmates, McCartney took the hallucinogenic drug LSD (or "acid") for the first time, having long resisted Lennon and Harrison's insistence that he join them and Starr in experiencing its perception-heightening effects. According to author Jonathan Gould, this initiation into LSD afforded McCartney the "expansive new sense of possibility" that defined the group's next project, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Gould adds that McCartney's succumbing to peer pressure allowed Lennon "to play the role of psychedelic guide" to his songwriting partner, thereby facilitating a closer collaboration between the two than had been evident since early in the Beatles' career. For his part, Lennon had turned deeply introspective during the filming of How I Won the War in southern Spain in September 1966. His anxiety over his and the Beatles' future was reflected in "Strawberry Fields Forever", a song that provided the initial theme, regarding a Liverpool childhood, of the new album. On his return to London, Lennon embraced the city's arts culture, of which McCartney was a part, and shared his bandmate's interest in avant-garde and electronic-music composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Luciano Berio.
In November, during his and Evans' return flight from Kenya, McCartney had an idea for a song that eventually formed the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. His idea involved an Edwardian-era military band, for which Evans invented a name in the style of contemporary San Francisco-based groups such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service.[nb 2] In February 1967, McCartney suggested that the new album should represent a performance by the fictional band. This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically by releasing them from their image as Beatles. Martin recalled that the concept was not discussed at the start of the sessions, but it subsequently gave the album "a life of its own".
Portions of Sgt. Pepper reflect the Beatles' general immersion in the blues, Motown and other American popular musical traditions. The author Ian MacDonald writes that when reviewing their rivals' recent work in late 1966, the Beatles identified the most significant LP as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which Brian Wilson, the band's leader, had created in response to the Beatles' Rubber Soul. McCartney was highly impressed with the "harmonic structures" and choice of instruments used on Pet Sounds, and said that these elements encouraged him to think the Beatles could "get further out" than the Beach Boys had. He identified Pet Sounds as his main musical inspiration for Sgt. Pepper, adding that "[we] nicked a few ideas", although he felt it lacked the avant-garde quality he was seeking. Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention has also been cited as having influenced Sgt. Pepper. According to the biographer Philip Norman, during the recording sessions McCartney repeatedly stated: "This is our Freak Out!" The music journalist Chet Flippo stated that McCartney was inspired to record a concept album after hearing Freak Out!
Indian music was another touchstone on Sgt. Pepper, principally for Lennon and Harrison. In a 1967 interview, Harrison said that the Beatles' ongoing success had encouraged them to continue developing musically and that, given their standing, "We can do things that please us without conforming to the standard pop idea. We are not only involved in pop music, but all music." McCartney envisioned the Beatles' alter egos being able to "do a bit of B.B. King, a bit of Stockhausen, a bit of Albert Ayler, a bit of Ravi Shankar, a bit of Pet Sounds, a bit of the Doors". He saw the group as "pushing frontiers" similar to other composers of the time, even though the Beatles did not "necessarily like what, say, Berio was doing".
Sessions began on 24 November 1966 in Studio Two at EMI Studios (subsequently Abbey Road Studios), marking the first time that the Beatles had come together since September. Afforded the luxury of a nearly limitless recording budget, and with no absolute deadline for completion, the band booked open-ended sessions that started at 7 pm and allowed them to work as late as they wanted. They began with "Strawberry Fields Forever", followed by two other songs that were thematically linked to their childhoods: "When I'm Sixty-Four", the first session for which took place on 6 December, and "Penny Lane". "Strawberry Fields Forever" made prominent use of Mellotron, a keyboard instrument on which the keys triggered tape-recordings of a variety of instruments, enabling its user to play keyboard parts using those voices.
"Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were subsequently released as a double A-side in February 1967 after EMI and Epstein pressured Martin for a single. When it failed to reach number one in the UK, British press agencies speculated that the group's run of success might have ended, with headlines such as "Beatles Fail to Reach the Top", "First Time in Four Years" and "Has the Bubble Burst?" In keeping with the band's approach to their previously issued singles, the songs were then excluded from Sgt. Pepper. Martin later described the decision to drop these two songs as "the biggest mistake of my professional life". In his judgment, "Strawberry Fields Forever", which he and the band spent an unprecedented 55 hours of studio time recording, "set the agenda for the whole album". He explained: "It was going to be a record ... [with songs that] couldn't be performed live: they were designed to be studio productions and that was the difference." McCartney declared: "Now our performance is that record."
According to the musicologist Walter Everett, Sgt. Pepper marks the beginning of McCartney's ascendancy as the Beatles' dominant creative force. He wrote more than half of the album's material while asserting increasing control over the recording of his compositions.[nb 3] In an effort to get the right sound, the Beatles attempted numerous re-takes of McCartney's song "Getting Better". When the decision was made to re-record the basic track, Starr was summoned to the studio, but called off soon afterwards as the focus switched from rhythm to vocal tracking. Much of the bass guitar on the album was mixed upfront. Preferring to overdub his bass part last, McCartney tended to play other instruments when recording a song's backing track. This approach afforded him the time to devise bass lines that were melodically adventurous – one of the qualities he especially admired in Wilson's work on Pet Sounds – and complemented the song's final arrangement. McCartney played a grand piano on "A Day in the Life" and a Lowrey organ on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", while Martin played a Hohner Pianet on "Getting Better", a harpsichord on "Fixing a Hole" and a harmonium on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"
Although Harrison's role as lead guitarist was limited during the sessions, Everett considers that "his contribution to the album is strong in several ways." In addition to providing sitar and tambura on his composition "Within You Without You", and swarmandal on "Strawberry Fields Forever", Harrison played tambura on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Getting Better".[nb 4] As on Revolver, the Beatles also increasingly used session musicians, particularly for classical-inspired arrangements. Norman comments that Lennon's prominent vocal on some of McCartney's songs "hugely enhanced their atmosphere", particularly "Lovely Rita".
Within an hour of completing the last overdubs on the album's songs, on 20 April 1967, the group returned to Harrison's "Only a Northern Song", the basic track of which they had taped in February. The Beatles overdubbed random sounds and instrumentation before submitting it as the first of four new songs they were contracted to supply to United Artists for inclusion in the animated film Yellow Submarine. In author Mark Lewisohn's description, it was a "curious" session, but one that demonstrated the Beatles' "tremendous appetite for recording". During the Sgt. Pepper sessions, the band also recorded "Carnival of Light", a McCartney-led experimental piece created for the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, held at the Roundhouse Theatre on 28 January and 4 February.[nb 5]
The album was completed on 21 April with the recording of random noises and voices that were included on the run-out groove, preceded by a high-pitched tone that could be heard by dogs but was inaudible to most human ears. The Beatles took an acetate disc of the album to the American singer Cass Elliot's flat off King's Road in Chelsea, where at six in the morning they played it at full volume with speakers set in open window frames. The group's friend and former press agent, Derek Taylor, remembered that residents of the neighbourhood opened their windows and listened without complaint to what they understood to be unreleased Beatles music.
In his book on ambient music, The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Moby, Mark Prendergast views Sgt. Pepper as the Beatles' "homage" to Stockhausen and Cage, adding that its "rich, tape-manipulated sound" shows the influence of electronic and experimental composer Pierre Schaeffer. Martin recalled that Sgt. Pepper "grew naturally out of Revolver", marking "an era of almost continuous technological experimentation". The album was recorded using four-track equipment, since eight-track tape recorders were not operational in commercial studios in London until late 1967. As with previous Beatles albums, the Sgt. Pepper recordings made extensive use of reduction mixing, a technique in which one to four tracks from one recorder are mixed and dubbed down onto a master four-track machine, enabling the engineers to give the group a virtual multitrack studio. EMI's Studer J37 four-track machines were well suited to reduction mixing, as the high quality of the recordings that they produced minimised the increased noise associated with the process. When recording the orchestra for "A Day in the Life", Martin synchronised a four-track recorder playing the Beatles' backing track to another one taping the orchestral overdub. The engineer Ken Townsend devised a method for accomplishing this by using a 50 Hz control signal between the two machines.
– Hunter Davies, 1968
The production on "Strawberry Fields Forever" was especially complex, involving the innovative splicing of two takes that were recorded in different tempos and pitches. Emerick remembers that during the recording of Revolver, "we had got used to being asked to do the impossible, and we knew that the word 'no' didn't exist in the Beatles' vocabulary." A key feature of Sgt. Pepper is Martin and Emerick's liberal use of signal processing to shape the sound of the recording, which included the application of dynamic range compression, reverberation and signal limiting. Relatively new modular effects units were used, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Several innovative production techniques feature prominently on the recordings, including direct injection, pitch control and ambiophonics. The bass part on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was the first example of the Beatles recording via direct injection (DI), which Townsend devised as a method for plugging electric guitars directly into the recording console. In Womack's opinion, the use of DI on the album's title track "afforded McCartney's bass with richer textures and tonal clarity".
Some of the mixing employed automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that uses tape recorders to create a simultaneous doubling of a sound. ADT was invented by Townsend during the Revolver sessions in 1966 especially for the Beatles, who regularly expressed a desire for a technical alternative to having to record doubled lead vocals. Another important effect was varispeeding, a technique that the Beatles used extensively on Revolver. Martin cites "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" as having the most variations of tape speed on Sgt. Pepper. During the recording of Lennon's vocals, the tape speed was reduced from 50 cycles per second to 45, which produced a higher and thinner-sounding track when played back at the normal speed. For the album's title track, the recording of Starr's drum kit was enhanced by the use of damping and close-miking. MacDonald credits the new recording technique with creating a "three-dimensional" sound that, along with other Beatles innovations, engineers in the US would soon adopt as standard practice.
Artistic experimentation, such as the placement of random gibberish in the run-out groove, became one of the album's defining features. Sgt. Pepper was the first pop album to be mastered without the momentary gaps that are typically placed between tracks as a point of demarcation. It made use of two crossfades that blended songs together, giving the impression of a continuous live performance.[nb 6] Although both stereo and monaural mixes of the album were prepared, the Beatles were minimally involved in what they regarded as the less important stereo mix sessions, leaving the task to Martin and Emerick. Emerick recalls: "We spent three weeks on the mono mixes and maybe three days on the stereo." Most listeners ultimately only heard the stereo version. He estimates that the group spent 700 hours on the LP, more than 30 times that of the first Beatles album, Please Please Me, which cost £400 to produce. The final cost of Sgt. Pepper was approximately £25,000 (equivalent to £457,000 in 2019).
Author Robert Rodriguez writes that while Lennon, Harrison and Starr embraced the creative freedom afforded by McCartney's band-within-a-band idea, they "went along with the concept with varying degrees of enthusiasm". According to Barry Miles, Lennon resented McCartney's direction of the band as well as how, aside from "Strawberry Fields Forever", he himself was now supplying "songs to order" rather than "writing from the heart" as he had on Revolver. Everett describes Starr as having been "largely bored" during the sessions, with the drummer later lamenting: "The biggest memory I have of Sgt. Pepper ... is I learned to play chess". Speaking in 2000, Harrison said he had little interest in McCartney's concept of a fictitious group and that, after his experiences in India, "my heart was still out there … I was losing interest in being 'fab' at that point." Harrison added that, having enjoyed recording Rubber Soul and Revolver, he disliked how the group's approach on Sgt. Pepper became "an assembly process" whereby, "A lot of the time it ended up with just Paul playing the piano and Ringo keeping the tempo, and we weren't allowed to play as a band as much."
In Lewisohn's opinion, Sgt. Pepper represents the group's last unified effort, displaying a cohesion that deteriorated immediately following the album's completion and entirely disappeared by the release of The Beatles in 1968. Martin recalled in 1987 that throughout the making of Sgt. Pepper, "There was a very good spirit at that time between all the Beatles and ourselves. We were all conscious that we were doing something that was great." He said that while McCartney effectively led the project, and sometimes annoyed his bandmates, "Paul appreciated John's contribution on Pepper. In terms of quantity, it wasn't great, but in terms of quality, it was enormous."
Sgt. Pepper, according to American musicologist Allan F. Moore, is composed mainly of rock and pop music, while Michael Hannan and Naphtali Wagner both believed it is an album of various genres; Hannan said it features "a broad variety of musical and theatrical genres". According to Hannan and Wagner, the music incorporates the stylistic influences of rock and roll, vaudeville, big band, piano jazz, blues, chamber, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music. Wagner felt the album's music reconciles the "diametrically opposed aesthetic ideals" of classical and psychedelia, achieving a "psycheclassical synthesis" of the two forms. Musicologist John Covach describes Sgt. Pepper as "proto-progressive".
– John Lennon, 1968
Concerns that some of the lyrics in Sgt. Pepper refer to recreational drug use led to the BBC banning several songs from British radio, such as "A Day in the Life" because of the phrase "I'd love to turn you on", with the BBC claiming that it could "encourage a permissive attitude towards drug-taking." Although Lennon and McCartney denied any drug-related interpretation of the song at the time, McCartney later suggested that the line referred to either drugs or sex. The meaning of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" became the subject of speculation, as many believed that the title was code for LSD. The song was banned by the BBC, as was "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", for its reference to "Henry the Horse", a phrase that contains two common slang terms for heroin. Fans speculated that Henry the Horse was a drug dealer and "Fixing a Hole" was a reference to heroin use. Others noted lyrics such as "I get high" from "With a Little Help from My Friends", "take some tea" – slang for cannabis use – from "Lovely Rita" and "digging the weeds" from "When I'm Sixty-Four".
The author Sheila Whiteley attributes Sgt. Pepper's underlying philosophy not only to the drug culture, but also to metaphysics and the non-violent approach of the flower power movement. The musicologist Oliver Julien views the album as an embodiment of "the social, the musical, and more generally, the cultural changes of the 1960s". The album's primary value, according to Moore, is its ability to "capture, more vividly than almost anything contemporaneous, its own time and place". Whiteley agrees, crediting the album with "provid[ing] a historical snapshot of England during the run-up to the Summer of Love". Several scholars have applied a hermeneutic strategy to their analysis of Sgt. Pepper's lyrics, identifying loss of innocence and the dangers of overindulgence in fantasies or illusions as the most prominent themes.
Sgt. Pepper opens with the title track, starting with 10 seconds of the combined sounds of a pit orchestra warming up and an audience waiting for a concert, creating the illusion of the album as a live performance.[nb 7] Womack describes the lyric as "a revolutionary moment in the creative life of the Beatles" that bridges the gap – sometimes referred to as the fourth wall – between the audience and the artist. He argues that, paradoxically, the lyrics "exemplify the mindless rhetoric of rock concert banter" while "mock[ing] the very notion of a pop album's capacity for engendering authentic interconnection between artist and audience". In his view, the mixed message ironically serves to distance the group from their fans while simultaneously "gesturing toward" them as alter egos, an authorial quality that he considers to be "the song's most salient feature".
Womack credits the recording's use of a brass ensemble with distorted electric guitars as an early example of rock fusion. MacDonald agrees, describing the track as an overture rather than a song, and a "shrewd fusion of Edwardian variety orchestra" and contemporary hard rock. The musicologist Michael Hannan describes the track's unorthodox stereo mix as "typical of the album", with the lead vocal in the right speaker during the verses, but in the left during the chorus and middle eight. The song's arrangement utilises a rock and roll oriented Lydian mode chord progression during the introduction and verses that is built on parallel sevenths, which Everett describes as "the song's strength". The five-bar bridge is filled by an Edwardian horn quartet that Martin arranged from a McCartney vocal melody. The track turns to the pentatonic scale for the chorus, where its blues rock progression is augmented by the use of electric guitar power chords played in consecutive fifths.[nb 8]
McCartney acts as the master of ceremonies near the end of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" track, introducing Starr as an alter ego named Billy Shears. The song then segues into "With a Little Help from My Friends" amid a moment of crowd cheer that Martin had recorded during a Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Womack credits Starr's baritone lead vocals with imparting an element of "earnestness in sharp contrast with the ironic distance of the title track". Lennon and McCartney's call-and-response backing vocals ask Starr questions about the meaning of friendship and true love.[nb 9] In the final verse, the question and answer relationship is reversed, as the backing singers ask leading questions and Starr provides unequivocal answers. In MacDonald's opinion, the lyric is "at once communal and personal ... [and] meant as a gesture of inclusivity; everyone could join in." Womack agrees, identifying "necessity of community" as the song's "central ethical tenet", a theme that he ascribes to the album as a whole. Everett notes the track's use of a major key double-plagal cadence that would become commonplace in pop music following the release of Sgt. Pepper. The song ends on a vocal high note that McCartney, Harrison and Lennon encouraged Starr to achieve despite his lack of confidence as a singer.
Despite widespread suspicion that the title of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" contained a hidden reference to LSD, Lennon insisted that it was derived from a pastel drawing by his four-year-old son Julian. A hallucinatory chapter from Lewis Carroll's 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, a favourite of Lennon's, inspired the song's atmosphere. McCartney later commented that although the title's apparent drug reference was unintentional, the lyrics were purposely written for a psychedelic song.
The first verse begins with what Womack characterises as "an invitation in the form of an imperative" through the line: "Picture yourself in a boat on a river", and continues with imaginative imagery, including "tangerine trees", "rocking horse people" and "newspaper taxis". In Womack's view, with the merging of Lennon's lyrics and McCartney's Lowrey organ introduction "the Beatles achieve their most vivid instance of musical timbre". In addition to the tambura drone, Harrison contributed a lead guitar part that doubles Lennon's vocal over the verses in the style of a sarangi player accompanying an Indian khyal singer. The musicologist Tim Riley identifies the track as a moment "in the album, [where] the material world is completely clouded in the mythical by both text and musical atmosphere". According to MacDonald, "the lyric explicitly recreates the psychedelic experience".
MacDonald considers "Getting Better" to contain "the most ebullient performance" on Sgt. Pepper. Womack credits the track's "driving rock sound" with distinguishing it from the album's overtly psychedelic material; its lyrics inspire the listener "to usurp the past by living well and flourishing in the present". He cites it as a strong example of Lennon and McCartney's collaborative songwriting, particularly Lennon's addition of the line "couldn't get no worse", which serves as a "sarcastic rejoinder" to McCartney's chorus: "It's getting better all the time". Lennon's contribution to the lyric also includes a confessional regarding his having been violent with female companions: "I used to be cruel to my woman". He explained: "I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit". In Womack's opinion, the song encourages the listener to follow the speaker's example and "alter their own angst-ridden ways": "Man I was mean, but I'm changing my scene and I'm doing the best that I can."
MacDonald characterises the intro as "blithely unorthodox", with two staccato guitars – one panned left and one right – playing the dominant against the subdominant of an F major ninth chord, with the tonic C resolving as the verse begins. The dominant, which acts as a drone, is reinforced through the use of octaves played on a bass guitar and plucked on piano strings.[nb 10]
"Fixing a Hole" deals with McCartney's desire to let his mind wander freely and to express his creativity without the burden of self-conscious insecurities.[nb 11] Womack interprets the lyric as "the speaker's search for identity among the crowd", in particular the "quests for consciousness and connection" that differentiate individuals from society as a whole. MacDonald characterises it as a "distracted and introverted track", during which McCartney forgoes his "usual smooth design" in favour of "something more preoccupied". He cites Harrison's electric guitar solo as serving the track well, capturing its mood by conveying detachment. Womack notes McCartney's adaptation of the lyric "a hole in the roof where the rain leaks in" from Elvis Presley's "We're Gonna Move".
In Everett's view, the lyrics to "She's Leaving Home" address the problem of alienation "between disagreeing peoples", particularly those distanced from each other by the generation gap. McCartney's "descriptive narration", which details the plight of a "lonely girl" who escapes the control of her "selfish yet well-meaning parents", was inspired by a piece about teenage runaways published by the Daily Mail. It is the first track on Sgt. Pepper that eschews the use of guitars and drums, featuring a string nonet with a harp and drawing comparison with "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby", which use a string quartet and octet respectively.[nb 12]
Lennon adapted the lyrics for "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" from an 1843 poster for Pablo Fanque's circus that he purchased at an antique shop in Kent on the day of filming the promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever". Womack views the track as an effective blending of a print source and music: "The interpretive power of the mixed-media application accrues its meaning through the musical production with which the group imbues the Ur-text of the poster." MacDonald notes Lennon's request for a "fairground production wherein one could smell the sawdust", an atmosphere that Martin and Emerick attempted to create with a sound collage that comprised randomly assembled recordings of harmoniums, harmonicas and calliopes.[nb 13] MacDonald describes the song as "a spontaneous expression of its author's playful hedonism". Everett thinks that the track's use of Edwardian imagery thematically links it with the album's opening number.
– George Harrison, 1967
Harrison wrote the Hindustani classical music-inspired "Within You Without You" after the decision was made to discard "Only a Northern Song". The lyrics reflect Harrison's immersion in the teachings of the Hindu Vedas while its musical form and Indian instrumentation, such as sitar, tabla, dilrubas and tamburas, recall the Hindu devotional tradition known as bhajan. Harrison recorded the song with London-based Indian musicians from the Asian Music Circle; none of the other Beatles participated in the recording.
The track features a tempo rubato that is without precedent in the Beatles' catalogue. The pitch is derived from the eastern Khamaj scale, which is akin to the Mixolydian mode in the West. MacDonald regards the song as "the most distant departure from the staple Beatles sound in their discography", and a work that represents the "conscience" of the LP through the lyrics' rejection of Western materialism. Womack calls it "quite arguably, the album's ethical soul" as a concise reflection of the Beatles' and the counterculture's perspective during the Summer of Love era. The track ends with a burst of laughter that some listeners interpret as a mockery of the song, but Harrison explained: "It's a release after five minutes of sad music ... You were supposed to hear the audience anyway, as they listen to Sergeant Pepper's Show. That was the style of the album."[nb 14] Martin used the moment of levity as a segue for what he describes as the album's "jokey track" – "When I'm Sixty-Four".
MacDonald characterises McCartney's "When I'm Sixty-Four" as a song "aimed chiefly at parents", borrowing heavily from the English music hall style of George Formby, while invoking images of the illustrator Donald McGill's "seaside postcards". Its sparse arrangement includes chimes, clarinet and piano. Everett singles it out as a case of McCartney's "penchant for the audience-charming vaudeville ... that Lennon detested". Moore characterises the song as a synthesis of ragtime and pop, adding that its position following "Within You Without You" – a blend of Indian classical music and pop – demonstrates the diversity of the album's material. Moore credits Martin's clarinet arrangement and Starr's use of brushes with establishing the music hall atmosphere, which is reinforced by McCartney's vocal delivery and the recording's use of chromaticism, a harmonic pattern that can be traced to Scott Joplin's "The Ragtime Dance" and The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. Varispeeding was used on the track, raising its pitch by a semitone in an attempt to make McCartney sound younger. Everett comments that the lyric's protagonist is sometimes associated with the Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in his opinion the song is thematically unconnected to the others on the album.
Womack characterises "Lovely Rita" as a work of "full-tilt psychedelia" that contrasts sharply with the preceding track. He identifies the song as an example of McCartney's talent for "creating imagistic musical portraiture", yet he also considers it to be a work that foreshadows the "less effectual compositions" that the Beatles would record post-Sgt. Pepper. MacDonald describes the song as a "satire on authority" that is "imbued with an exuberant interest in life that lifts the spirits, dispersing self-absorption".
"Good Morning Good Morning" was inspired by a television commercial for Kellogg's Corn Flakes, from which Lennon adapted a jingle as the song's refrain. The track uses the bluesy mixolydian mode in A, which Everett credits with "perfectly express[ing] Lennon's grievance against complacency". Lennon later dismissed the song as "a throwaway piece of garbage", while McCartney viewed it as Lennon's reaction to the frustrations of domestic life. Womack highlights the song's varied time signatures, including 5/4, 3/4 and 4/4, calling it a "masterpiece of electrical energy". MacDonald notes Starr's "fine performance" and McCartney's "coruscating pseudo-Indian guitar solo", which he credits with delivering the track's climax. A series of animal noises are heard during the fade-out that are sequenced – at Lennon's request – so that each successive animal is large enough to devour the preceding one. Martin said he spliced the sound of a chicken clucking at the end of the track to overlap with a guitar being tuned in the next one, making a seamless transition between the two songs.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" returns as a segue to the album's finale. The hard-rocking song was written after the Beatles' assistant, Neil Aspinall, suggested that since "Sgt. Pepper" opened the album, the fictional band should make an appearance near the end. The reprise omits the brass section from the title track and features a faster tempo. MacDonald notes the Beatles' apparent excitement, which is tangibly translated during the recording.
As the last chord of the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise plays, an acoustic guitar strumming offbeat quavers begins,[nb 15] introducing what Moore describes as "one of the most harrowing songs ever written". "A Day in the Life" consists of four verses by Lennon, a bridge, two aleatoric orchestral crescendos and an interpolated middle part written and sung by McCartney. The first crescendo serves as a segue between the third verse and the middle part, leading to a bridge known as the "dream sequence".[nb 16]
The idea to use an orchestra was McCartney's; he drew inspiration from Cage and Stockhausen. The 24-bar crescendos feature forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras and tasked with filling the space with what Womack describes as "the sound of pure apocalypse". Martin said that Lennon requested "a tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world". Lennon recalled drawing inspiration for the lyrics from a newspaper: "I was writing the song with the Daily Mail propped up in front of me at the piano ... there was a paragraph about 4000 [pot]holes in Blackburn, Lancashire".[nb 17] For "A Day in the Life", he wanted his voice to sound like Elvis Presley on "Heartbreak Hotel". Martin and Emerick obliged by adding 90 milliseconds of tape echo. Womack describes Starr's performance as "one of his most inventive drum parts on record", a part that McCartney encouraged him to attempt despite his protests against "flashy drumming".
The thunderous piano chord that concludes the track and the album was produced by recording Lennon, Starr, McCartney and Evans simultaneously sounding an E major chord on three separate pianos; Martin then augmented the sound with a harmonium. The final piano chord was recorded 12 days later. Riley characterises the song as a "postlude to the Pepper fantasy ... that sets all the other songs in perspective", while shattering the illusion of "Pepperland" by introducing the "parallel universe of everyday life". MacDonald describes the track as "a song not of disillusionment with life itself, but of disenchantment with the limits of mundane perception".
As "A Day in the Life" ends, a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone is heard; it was added at Lennon's suggestion with the intention that it would annoy dogs.[nb 18] This is followed by the sounds of backwards laughter and random gibberish that were pressed into the record's concentric run-out groove, which loops back into itself endlessly on any record player not equipped with an automatic needle return. Lennon can be heard saying, "Been so high", followed by McCartney's response: "Never could be any other way."[nb 19][nb 20]
According to Womack, with Sgt. Pepper's opening song "the Beatles manufacture an artificial textual space in which to stage their art." The reprise of the title song appears on side two, just prior to the climactic "A Day in the Life", creating a framing device. In Starr's opinion, only the first two songs and the reprise are conceptually connected. Lennon agreed and in 1980 he commented: "Sgt. Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn't go anywhere ... it works because we said it worked." He was especially adamant that his contributions to the LP had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept. Further, he suggested that most of the other songs were equally unconnected, stating: "Except for Sgt. Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise, every other song could have been on any other album".
In MacFarlane's view, the Beatles "chose to employ an overarching thematic concept in an apparent effort to unify individual tracks". Everett contends that the album's "musical unity results ... from motivic relationships between key areas, particularly involving C, E, and G". Moore argues that the recording's "use of common harmonic patterns and falling melodies" contributes to its overall cohesiveness, which he describes as narrative unity, but not necessarily conceptual unity. MacFarlane agrees, suggesting that with the exception of the reprise, the album lacks the melodic and harmonic continuity that is consistent with cyclic form.
In a 1995 interview, McCartney said that the Liverpool childhood theme behind the first three songs recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions was never formalised as an album-wide concept, but acknowledged that it served as a "device" or underlying theme throughout the project. MacDonald identifies allusions to the Beatles' upbringing throughout Sgt. Pepper that are "too persuasive to ignore". These include evocations of the postwar Northern music-hall tradition, references to Northern industrial towns and Liverpool schooldays, Lewis Carroll-inspired imagery (acknowledging Lennon's favourite childhood reading), the use of brass instrumentation in the style of park bandstand performances (recalling McCartney's visits to Sefton Park), and the album cover's flower arrangement akin to a floral clock. Norman partly agrees, saying that "In many ways, the album carried on the childhood and Liverpool theme with its circus and fairground effects, its pervading atmosphere of the traditional northern music hall that was in both its main creators' [McCartney and Lennon's] blood."[nb 21]
Pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth designed the album cover for Sgt. Pepper. Blake recalled of the concept: "I offered the idea that if they had just played a concert in the park, the cover could be a photograph of the group just after the concert with the crowd who had just watched the concert, watching them." He added, "If we did this by using cardboard cut-outs, it could be a magical crowd of whomever they wanted." According to McCartney, he himself provided the ink drawing on which Blake and Haworth based the design. Their uniforms were tailored on request by the group before Blake's involvement. The cover was art-directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper.
The front of the LP includes a colourful collage featuring the Beatles in costume as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, standing with a group of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of famous people. Each of the Beatles sports a heavy moustache, after Harrison had first grown one as a disguise during his visit to India. The moustaches reflected the growing influence of hippie style trends, while the group's clothing, in Gould's description, "spoofed the vogue in Britain for military fashions". The centre of the cover depicts the Beatles standing behind a bass drum on which fairground artist Joe Ephgrave painted the words of the album's title.[nb 22] In front of the drum is an arrangement of flowers that spell out "Beatles". The group are dressed in satin day-glo-coloured military-style uniforms that were manufactured by the London theatrical costumer M. Berman Ltd. Next to the Beatles are wax sculptures of the bandmembers in their suits and moptop haircuts from the Beatlemania era, borrowed from Madame Tussauds.
The cover collage includes 57 photographs and nine waxworks that depict a diversity of famous people, including actors, sportsmen, scientists and – at Harrison's request – the Self-Realization Fellowship gurus Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda. Inglis views the tableau "as a guidebook to the cultural topography of the decade", demonstrating the increasing democratisation of society whereby "traditional barriers between 'high' and 'low' culture were being eroded".[nb 23] The final grouping included Stockhausen and Carroll, along with singers such as Bob Dylan and Bobby Breen; film stars Marlon Brando, Tyrone Power, Tony Curtis, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, and Marilyn Monroe; artist Aubrey Beardsley; boxer Sonny Liston and footballer Albert Stubbins. Also included were comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and writers H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Dylan Thomas., as well as the Eastern deities Buddha, Lakshmi and Kali.[nb 24]
Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon to appear on the cover, but rejected. As a legal precaution, permission was sought from all those still living. Mae West initially refused, rhetorically asking what she would "be doing in a lonely hearts club", until a personal letter from the Beatles changed her mind. Actor Leo Gorcey's image was painted out after he requested a fee. When McCartney was asked why the Beatles did not include Elvis Presley among the musical artists, he replied: "Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention ... he was more than merely a ... pop singer, he was Elvis the King." The final cost for the cover art was nearly £3,000 (equivalent to £55,000 in 2019), an extravagant sum for a time when album covers would typically cost around £50 (equivalent to £900 in 2019).
The 30 March 1967 photo session with Cooper also produced the back cover and the inside gatefold, which musicologist Ian Inglis describes as conveying "an obvious and immediate warmth ... which distances it from the sterility and artifice typical of such images". McCartney explained: "One of the things we were very much into in those days was eye messages ... So with Michael Cooper's inside photo, we all said, 'Now look into this camera and really say I love you! Really try and feel love; really give love through this!' ... [And] if you look at it you'll see the big effort from the eyes." The album's inner sleeve featured artwork by the Dutch design team the Fool that eschewed for the first time the standard white paper in favour of an abstract pattern of waves of maroon, red, pink and white.
The album's lyrics were printed in full on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a rock LP. Included as a bonus gift was a sheet of cardboard cut-outs designed by Blake and Haworth. These consisted of a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper, based on a statue from Lennon's house that was used on the front cover, a fake moustache, two sets of sergeant stripes, two lapel badges, and a stand-up cut-out of the Beatles in their satin uniforms. Moore writes that the inclusion of these items helped fans "pretend to be in the band".
The album was previewed on the pirate radio station Radio London on 12 May and officially on the BBC Light Programme's show Where It's At, by Kenny Everett, on 20 May. Everett played the entire album apart from "A Day in the Life". On 26 May, Sgt. Pepper was given a rush-release in the UK, where it had originally been scheduled for 1 June. The US release followed on 2 June. It was the first Beatles album where the track listings were exactly the same for the UK and US versions. The band's eighth LP, it topped the Record Retailer albums chart (now the UK Albums Chart) for 23 consecutive weeks, with a further four weeks at number one in the period through to February 1968. The record sold 250,000 copies in the UK during its first seven days on sale there.[nb 26]
Sgt. Pepper was widely perceived by listeners as the soundtrack to the Summer of Love, during a year that author Peter Lavezzoli describes as "a watershed moment in the West when the search for higher consciousness and an alternative world view had reached critical mass". Rolling Stone magazine's Langdon Winner recalled:
The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released. In every city in Europe and America the radio stations played [it] ... and everyone listened ... it was the most amazing thing I've ever heard. For a brief while the irreparable fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young.
According to Riley, the album "drew people together through the common experience of pop on a larger scale than ever before". Writing in his book Electric Shock, Peter Doggett describes the release as "An Event" and "the biggest pop happening" to take place between the Beatles' debut on American television in February 1964 and Lennon's murder in December 1980. The album's impact was felt at the Monterey International Pop Festival, the second event in the Summer of Love, organised by Taylor and held over 16–18 June in county fairgrounds South of San Francisco. Sgt. Pepper was played in kiosks and stands there, and festival staff wore badges carrying Lennon's lyric "A splendid time is guaranteed for all".
American radio stations interrupted their regular scheduling, playing the album virtually non-stop, often from start to finish. Emphasising its identity as a self-contained work, none of the songs were issued as singles at the time. Instead, the Beatles released "All You Need Is Love" as a single, in July, after performing the song on the Our World satellite broadcast on 25 June, before an audience estimated at 400 million. According to sociomusicologist Simon Frith, the international broadcast served to confirm "the Beatles' evangelical role" amid the public's embrace of Sgt. Pepper.
The album occupied the number one position on the Billboard Top LPs chart in the US for 15 weeks, from 1 July to 13 October 1967. With 2.5 million copies sold within three months of its release, Sgt. Pepper's initial commercial success exceeded that of all previous Beatles albums. In the UK, it was the best-selling album of 1967 and of the decade.
Principal shooting for a Sgt. Pepper television film was scheduled for October and November, with director Keith Green and a screenplay by Ian Dallas. Given a £34,000 budget (equivalent to £622,000 in 2019), it was to have been a 52-minute colour film that featured musical segments for each of the album's tracks. Over a third of the film would have been dedicated to an "A Day in the Life" sequence. Instead, the group accommodated McCartney's ideas for what became the Magical Mystery Tour film.
– Beatles biographer Robert Rodriguez, 2012
The release of Sgt. Pepper coincided with a period when, with the advent of dedicated rock criticism, commentators sought to recognise artistry in pop music, particularly in the Beatles' work, and identify albums as refined artistic statements. In America, this approach had been heightened by the "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane" single, and was also exemplified by Leonard Bernstein's television program Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, broadcast by CBS in April 1967. Following the release of the Beatles' single, in author Bernard Gendron's description, a "discursive frenzy" ensued as Time, Newsweek and other publications from the cultural mainstream increasingly voiced their "ecstatic approbation toward the Beatles".
The vast majority of contemporary reviews of Sgt. Pepper were positive, with the album receiving widespread critical acclaim. Schaffner said that the consensus was aptly summed up by Tom Phillips in The Village Voice, when he called the LP "the most ambitious and most successful record album ever issued". Among Britain's pop press, Peter Jones of Record Mirror said the album was "truly fine ... clever and brilliant, from raucous to poignant and back again", while Disc and Music Echo's reviewer called it "a beautiful and potent record, unique, clever, and stunning". In The Times, William Mann described Sgt. Pepper as a "pop music master-class" and wrote admiringly of its use of "vivid" bass lines that partly recalled the Alberti tradition in classical music. He also commented that, so considerable were the album's musical advances, "the only track that would have been conceivable in pop songs five years ago" was "With a Little Help from My Friends". Having been among the first British critics to fully appreciate Revolver, Peter Clayton of Gramophone magazine said that the new album was "like nearly everything the Beatles do, bizarre, wonderful, perverse, beautiful, exciting, provocative, exasperating, compassionate and mocking". He found "plenty of electronic gimmickry on the record" before concluding: "but that isn't the heart of the thing. It's the combination of imagination, cheek and skill that make this such a rewarding LP." Wilfrid Mellers, in his review for New Statesman, praised the album's elevation of pop music to the level of fine art.
Newsweek's Jack Kroll called Sgt. Pepper a "masterpiece" and compared its lyrics with literary works by Edith Sitwell, Harold Pinter and T. S. Eliot, particularly "A Day in the Life", which he likened to Eliot's The Waste Land. The New Yorker paired the Beatles with Duke Ellington, as artists who operated "in that special territory where entertainment slips into art". One of the few well-known American rock critics at the time, and another early champion of Revolver, Richard Goldstein wrote a scathing review in The New York Times. He characterised Sgt. Pepper as a "spoiled" child and dismissed it as "an album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent". Although he admired "A Day in the Life", comparing it to a work by Wagner, he said that the songs lacked lyrical substance such that "tone overtakes meaning", an aesthetic he blamed on "posturing and put-on" in the form of production effects such as echo and reverb. As a near-lone voice of dissent, Goldstein was widely castigated for his views.[nb 27] Four days later, The Village Voice, where Goldstein had become a celebrated columnist since 1966, reacted to the "hornet's nest" of complaints, by publishing Phillips' highly favourable review. According to Schaffner, Goldstein was "kept busy for months" justifying his opinions, which included writing a defence of his review, for the Voice, in July.[nb 28]
Among the commentators who responded to Goldstein's critique, composer Ned Rorem, writing in The New York Review of Books, credited the Beatles with possessing a "magic of genius" akin to Mozart and characterised Sgt. Pepper as a harbinger of a "golden Renaissance of Song". Time quoted musicologists and avant-garde composers who equated the standard of the Beatles' songwriting to Schubert and Schumann, and located the band's work to electronic music; the magazine concluded that the album was "a historic departure in the progress of music – any music". In his appreciation of the Beatles in the journal Partisan Review, Richard Poirier wrote: "listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century." Kenneth Tynan, the London Times' theatre critic, said the album represented "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation". In his December 1967 column for Esquire, Robert Christgau described Sgt. Pepper as "a consolidation, more intricate than Revolver but not more substantial". He suggested that Goldstein had fallen "victim to overanticipation", identifying his primary error as "allow[ing] all the filters and reverbs and orchestral effects and overdubs to deafen him to the stuff underneath, which was pretty nice".
|The A.V. Club||B+|
|The Daily Telegraph|||
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||A|
Although few critics in 1967 agreed with Goldstein's criticism of the album, many later came to appreciate his sentiments. Detractors typically bemoan McCartney's dominant role, the "lightweight" and "bourgeois" manner of his songs, the reliance on studio innovation, the unconvincing concept, Harrison's seemingly obstructed input and the influence of drugs on Lennon's reduced involvement. In his 1979 book Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island, Greil Marcus wrote that, by 1968, Sgt. Pepper appeared vacuous against the emotional backdrop of the political and social upheavals of American life, and he described it as "playful but contrived" and "a Day-Glo tombstone for its time". Marcus believed that the album "strangled on its own conceits" while being "vindicated by world-wide acclaim".[nb 29] In a 1976 article for The Village Voice, Christgau revisited the "supposedly epochal Works of Art" from 1967 and found that Sgt. Pepper appeared "bound to a moment" amid the year's culturally important music that had "dated in the sense that it speaks with unusually specific eloquence of a single point in history". Christgau said of the album's "dozen good songs and true", "Perhaps they're too precisely performed, but I'm not going to complain."[nb 30]
Lester Bangs – the so-called "godfather" of punk rock journalism – wrote in 1981 that "Goldstein was right in his much-vilified review ... predicting that this record had the power to almost singlehandedly destroy rock and roll."[nb 31] He added: "In the sixties rock and roll began to think of itself as an 'art form'. Rock and roll is not an 'art form'; rock and roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts." In another 1981 assessment, for the magazine The History of Rock, Simon Frith described Sgt. Pepper as "the last great pop album, the last LP ambitious to amuse everyone".
In his feature article on Sgt. Pepper's 40th anniversary, for Mojo, John Harris said that, such was its "seismic and universal" impact and subsequent identification with 1967, a "fashion for trashing" the album had become commonplace.[nb 32] He attributed this to iconoclasm, as successive generations identified the album with baby boomers' retreat into "nostalgia-tinged smugness" during the 1970s, combined with a general distaste for McCartney following Lennon's murder in 1980. Citing its absence from the NME's best-albums list in 1985 after it had topped the magazine's previous poll, in 1974, Harris said that its lack of critical favour in the UK was such that it had become "the most underrated album of all time", adding:
Though by no means universally degraded ... Sgt. Pepper had taken a protracted beating from which it has perhaps yet to fully recover. Regularly challenged and overtaken in the Best Beatle Album stakes by Revolver, the White Album, even Rubber Soul, it suffered more than any Beatles record from the long fall-out after punk, and even the band's Britpop-era revival mysteriously failed to improve its standing.
Writing in the 2004 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Rob Sheffield described Sgt. Pepper as "a revelation of how far artists could go in a recording studio with only four tracks, plenty of imagination, and a drug or two", but also "a masterwork of sonics, not songwriting". In his review for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham predicted that Sgt. Pepper would "continue to cast its considerable spell" despite its "inevitable" detractors. Among reviews of the 2009 remastered album, Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph wrote: "It is impossible to overstate its impact: from a contemporary Sixties perspective it was utterly mind-blowing and original. Looking back from a point when its sonic innovations have been integrated into the mainstream, it remains a wonky, colourful and wildly improbable pop classic, although a little slighter and less cohesive than it may have seemed at the time." Mark Kemp, writing for Paste, said the album was a "blast of avant-rock genius" but also "one of rock's most overrated albums". In the NME's 2014 article "25 Albums With The Most Incredible Production", Emily Barber described Sgt. Pepper as "kaleidoscopic" and an "orchestral baroque pop masterpiece the likes of which has rarely been matched since".
According to BBC Music critic Chris Jones, while Sgt. Pepper has long been subsumed under "an avalanche of hyperbole", the album retains an enduring quality "because its sum is greater than its whole ... These guys weren't just recording songs; they were inventing the stuff with which to make this record as they went along." Although the lyrics, particularly McCartney's, were "a far cry from the militancy of their American peers", he continues, "what was revolutionary was the sonic carpet that enveloped the ears and sent the listener spinning into other realms." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic considers the album to be a refinement of Revolver's "previously unheard-of level of sophistication and fearless experimentation" and a work that combines a wide range of musical styles yet "Not once does the diversity seem forced". He concludes: "After Sgt. Pepper, there were no rules to follow – rock and pop bands could try anything, for better or worse."
In 1987, Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone described Sgt. Pepper as the album that "revolutionized rock and roll". Rolling Stone's Andy Greene and Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork credit it with marking the beginning of the album era. For several years following its release, straightforward rock and roll was supplanted by a growing interest in extended form, and for the first time in the history of the music industry sales of albums outpaced sales of singles. In Gould's description, Sgt. Pepper was "the catalyst for an explosion of mass enthusiasm for album-formatted rock that would revolutionize both the aesthetics and the economics of the record business in ways that far out-stripped the earlier pop explosions triggered by the Elvis phenomenon of 1956 and the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1963".
– Christopher Scapelliti, writing in Guitar World, June 2007
Moore says that "The beginnings of progressive rock are normally traced to [Sgt. Pepper]", a development he attributes to the album's self-conscious lyrics, its studio experimentation, and its efforts to expand the barriers of conventional three-minute tracks.[nb 33] MacFarlane writes that, despite concerns regarding its thematic unity, Sgt. Pepper "is widely regarded as the first true concept album in popular music". According to Riley, "Strictly speaking, the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! has claims as the first 'concept album', but Sgt. Pepper was the record that made that idea convincing to most ears."[nb 34] Author Martina Elicker similarly writes that, despite earlier examples, it was Sgt. Pepper that familiarised critics and listeners with the notion of a "concept and unified structure underlying a pop album", thus originating the term "concept album". Carys Wyn Jones locates Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper to the beginning of art rock; Julien considers the latter a "masterpiece of British psychedelia".
According to historian David Simonelli, Sgt. Pepper established the standard for rock musicians, particularly British acts, to strive towards in their self-identification as artists rather than pop stars, whereby, as in the Romantic tradition, creative vision dominated at the expense of all commercial concerns. The album influenced Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's, the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request and the Mothers of Invention's We're Only in It for the Money, the last of which parodied the Sgt. Pepper cover collage. Author Doyle Greene writes that, although the Beatles are usually viewed as modernists, Sgt. Pepper "can be heard as a crucial postmodernist moment", through its incorporation of self-conscious artistry, irony and pastiche, and "arguably marked rock music's entry into postmodernism as opposed to high-modernism". During the 1970s, glam rock acts co-opted the Beatles' use of alter ego personas. Carla Bley named the Beatles album her greatest influence, and her avant-garde jazz opus Escalator Over the Hill (1971) was intended as a jazz response to Sgt. Pepper.
In the wake of Sgt. Pepper, the underground and mainstream press widely publicised the Beatles as leaders of youth culture, as well as "lifestyle revolutionaries". In Moore's description, the album "seems to have spoken (in a way no other has) for its generation". An educator referenced in a July New York Times article was reported to have said on the topic of music studies and its relevance to the day's youth: "If you want to know what youths are thinking and feeling, ... you cannot find anyone who speaks for them or to them more clearly than the Beatles."
Sgt. Pepper was the focus of much celebration by the counterculture. The American psychologist and counterculture figure Timothy Leary labelled the Beatles "avatars of the new world order" and said that the LP "gave a voice to the feeling that the old ways were over" by stressing the need for cultural change based on a peaceful agenda. Ian MacDonald wrote that the album's impact was cross-generational as "Young and old alike were entranced", and era-defining, in that the "psychic shiver" it inspired across the world was "nothing less than a cinematic dissolve from one Zeitgeist to another". He also said that in the context of 1967, Sgt. Pepper conveyed the psychedelic experience so effectively to listeners unfamiliar with hallucinogenic drugs that "If such a thing as a cultural 'contact high' is possible, it happened here." According to author Michael Frontani, the Beatles "legitimiz[ed] the lifestyle of the counterculture", just as they did popular music, and formed the basis of Jann Wenner's scope on these issues when launching Rolling Stone magazine in late 1967.
Many rock critics and fans responded unfavourably to subsequent records by other artists in the view that they were unsuccessful attempts at matching the Beatles' studio artistry on Sgt. Pepper. These included the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request. Discussing the latter, Wenner referred to "the post–Sgt. Pepper trap of trying to put out a 'progressive,' 'significant' and 'different' album, as revolutionary as the Beatles. But it couldn't be done, because only the Beatles can put out an album by the Beatles."[nb 35] Wenner's beliefs of the Beatles' superiority as artists and pursuers of countercultural ideals – argued predominately on the influence of Sgt. Pepper – were shared by many and repeated in the vast majority of articles for Rolling Stone.
Simon Frith, in his overview of 1967 for The History of Rock, said that Sgt. Pepper "defined the year" by conveying the optimism and sense of empowerment at the centre of the youth movement. He added that the Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground & Nico, an album that contrasted sharply with the Beatles' message by "offer[ing] no escape", became more relevant in a cultural climate typified by "the Sex Pistols, the new political aggression, the rioting in the streets" during the 1970s. In a 1987 review for Q magazine, Charles Shaar Murray asserted that Sgt. Pepper "remains a central pillar of the mythology and iconography of the late '60s", while Colin Larkin states in his Encyclopedia of Popular Music: "[it] turned out to be no mere pop album but a cultural icon, embracing the constituent elements of the 60s' youth culture: pop art, garish fashion, drugs, instant mysticism and freedom from parental control."
In The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Kevin Dettmar writes that Sgt. Pepper achieved "a combination of popular success and critical acclaim unequaled in twentieth-century art ... never before had an aesthetic and technical masterpiece enjoyed such popularity." Through the level of attention it received from the rock press and more culturally elite publications, the album achieved full cultural legitimisation for pop music and recognition for the medium as a genuine art form. Riley says that pop had been due this accreditation "at least as early as A Hard Day's Night" in 1964. He adds that the timing of the album's release and its reception ensured that "Sgt. Pepper has attained the kind of populist adoration that renowned works often assume regardless of their larger significance – it's the Beatles' 'Mona Lisa'." At the 10th Annual Grammy Awards in 1968, Sgt. Pepper won in the categories of Album of the Year, Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts, Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical and Best Contemporary Album. Its win in the Album of the Year category marked the first time that a rock LP had received this honour.
Among the recognised composers who helped legitimise the Beatles as serious musicians at the time were Luciano Berio, Aaron Copland, John Cage. Ned Rorem and Leonard Bernstein. According to Rodriguez, an element of exaggeration accompanied some of the acclaim for Sgt. Pepper, with particularly effusive approbation coming from Rorem, Bernstein and Tynan, "as if every critic was seeking to outdo the other for the most lavish embrace of the Beatles' new direction".[nb 36] In Gendron's view, the cultural approbation represented American "highbrow" commentators (Rorem and Poirier) looking to establish themselves over their "low-middlebrow" equivalent, after Time and Newsweek had led the way in recognising the Beatles' artistry, and over the new discipline of rock criticism. Gendron describes the discourse as one whereby, during a period that lasted for six months, "highbrow" composers and musicologists "jostl[ed] to pen the definitive effusive appraisal of the Beatles".
Aside from the attention afforded the album in literary and scholarly journals, the American jazz magazines Down Beat and Jazz both began to cover rock music for the first time, with the latter changing its name to Jazz & Pop as a result. In addition, following Sgt. Pepper, established American publications such as Vogue, Playboy and the San Francisco Chronicle started discussing rock as art, in terms usually reserved for jazz criticism. Writing for Rolling Stone in 1969, Michael Lydon said that reviewers had had to invent "new criticism" to match pop's musical advances, since: "Writing had to be an appropriate response to the music; in writing about, say, Sgt. Pepper, you had to try to write something as good as Sgt. Pepper. Because, of course, what made that record beautiful was the beautiful response it created in you; if your written response was true to your listening response, the writing would stand on its own as a creation on par with the record."
– Colin Larkin, writing in the Guinness Book of Top 1000 Albums, 1994
In MacFarlane's opinion, Sgt. Pepper's most important musical innovation is its "integration of recording technology into the compositional process".[nb 37] He credits Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique as the piece of music that made this advance feasible, by "expand[ing] the definition of sound recording from archival documentation to the reification of the musical canvass"; he identifies "A Day in the Life" as the Sgt. Pepper track that best exemplifies this approach.
According to Julien, Sgt. Pepper represents the "epitome of the transformation of the recording studio into a compositional tool", marking the moment when "popular music entered the era of phonographic composition." The musician and producer Alan Parsons believes that with Sgt. Pepper "people then started thinking that you could spend a year making an album and they began to consider an album as a sound composition and not just a musical composition. The idea was gradually forming of a record being a performance in its own right and not just a reproduction of a live performance."
In his book Sonic Alchemy, David Howard says that many acts, "from the Rolling Stones to the Four Seasons to the Ultimate Spinach", soon imitated the album's innovative production techniques, and that as a result of Sgt. Pepper, the producer's role "ballooned almost overnight". In this regard, Lennon and McCartney complained that Martin had received too much attention for his role in the album's creation, so beginning a feeling of resentment by the Beatles towards their longtime producer.[nb 38]
Inglis notes that almost every account of the significance of Sgt. Pepper emphasises the cover's "unprecedented correspondence between music and art, time and space". After its release, album sleeves were no longer "a superfluous thing to be discarded during the act of listening, but an integral component of the listening that expanded the musical experience". The cover helped to elevate album art as a respected topic for critical analysis whereby the "structures and cultures of popular music" could henceforth justify intellectual discourse in a way that – before Sgt. Pepper – would have seemed like "fanciful conceit". He writes: Sgt. Pepper's "cover has been regarded as groundbreaking in its visual and aesthetic properties, congratulated for its innovative and imaginative design, credited with providing an early impetus for the expansion of the graphic design industry into popular music, and perceived as largely responsible for the connections between art and pop to be made explicit."
Sgt. Pepper contributed to the popular trend for military-style fashions as adopted by London's boutique shops. Riley describes the cover as "one of the best-known works that pop art ever produced", while Norman calls it "the most famous album cover of all time". In 1968, the band followed Sgt. Pepper with their self-titled LP known as the "White Album". Its plain white sleeve was chosen to contrast the wave of psychedelic imagery and album covers inspired by Sgt. Pepper. In the late 1990s, the BBC included the Sgt. Pepper cover in its list of British masterpieces of twentieth-century art and design, placing it ahead of the red telephone box, Mary Quant's miniskirt, and the Mini motorcar. In 2008, the bass drum skin used on the front cover sold at auction for €670,000.
Sgt. Pepper appeared on the Billboard albums chart in the US for 175 non-consecutive weeks through 1987. The album sustained its immense popularity into the 21st century while breaking numerous sales records. With certified sales of 5.1 million copies, it is the third-best-selling album in UK chart history and the best-selling studio album there. It is one of the most commercially successful albums in the US, where the RIAA certified sales of 11 million copies in 1997. By 2000, Sgt. Pepper was among the top 20 best-selling albums of all time worldwide. As of 2011, it had sold more than 32 million copies worldwide, making it one of the highest-selling albums of all time.
Sgt. Pepper has topped many "best album" lists. It was voted in first place in Paul Gambaccini's 1978 book Critic's Choice: Top 200 Albums, based on submissions from around 50 British and American critics and broadcasters including Christgau, Marcus, Dave Marsh and Ed Ward, and again in the 1987 edition. In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), it appears in "A Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings. In 1994, it was ranked first in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums. He described it as "the album that revolutionized, changed and re-invented the boundaries of modern popular music".[nb 39] Among its appearances in other critics' polls, the album topped the BBC's "Music of the Millennium" albums list in 1998 and was ranked third in Q's 2004 list "The Music That Changed the World". In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, honouring the work as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 2003, Rolling Stone placed Sgt. Pepper at number one in the magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", ranking the same upon a revised list in 2012, describing it as "the pinnacle of the Beatles' eight years as recording artists".[nb 40] The editors also said that Sgt. Pepper was "the most important rock and roll album ever made", a point to which June Skinner Sawyers adds, in her 2006 collection of essays Read the Beatles: "It has been called the most famous album in the history of popular music. It is certainly among the most written about. It is still being written about." In 2006 it was chosen by Time as one of the 100 best albums of all time. Writing that same year, Dettmar described Sgt. Pepper as "quite simply, the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded". It is featured in Chris Smith's 2009 book 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music, where Smith highlights the album among the most "obvious" choices for inclusion due to its continued commercial success, the wealth of imitative works it inspired, and its ongoing recognition as "a defining moment in the history of music".
The Sgt. Pepper mythology was reimagined for the plot of the 1969 animated film Yellow Submarine. In the film, the Beatles travel to Pepperland and rescue Sgt. Pepper's band from evildoers, the Blue Meanies. The album outtake "Only a Northern Song" was selected for inclusion in the film's soundtrack, in addition to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "With a Little Help from My Friends" and a small portion of "A Day in the Life". The album also inspired the 1974 off-Broadway musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, directed by Tom O'Horgan, and the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, produced by Robert Stigwood. In 1977, the LP won Best British Album at the inaugural Brit Awards.
Sgt. Pepper has been the subject of many tribute albums, including a multi-artist CD available with the March 2007 issue of Mojo and a 2009 live album, Sgt. Pepper Live, by the American band Cheap Trick. Other tribute recordings include Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, a multi-artist charity compilation released by the NME in 1988, and Big Daddy's 1992 Sgt. Pepper's album, a release that Moore recognised as "the most audacious" of all the interpretations of the Beatles' LP up to 1997. Mark Morris choreographed Pepperland to the Beatles' "Penny Lane" and four of the songs from Sgt. Pepper, arranged by Ethan Iverson, plus six original compositions by Iverson. This work received its world premiere in Liverpool on 25 May 2017, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the album's release.
|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|
|1.||"Within You Without You"||Harrison||5:05|
|2.||"When I'm Sixty-Four"||McCartney||2:37|
|4.||"Good Morning Good Morning"||Lennon||2:42|
|5.||"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"||Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr||1:18|
|6.||"A Day in the Life"||Lennon with McCartney||5:38|
On 26 May 2017, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was reissued for the album's 50th anniversary as a six-disc box set. The first CD contains a new stereo remix of the album produced by Giles Martin. Created using modern and vintage technology, the 2017 mix retains more of the idiosyncrasies that were unique to the original mono version of Sgt. Pepper. Unlike the original album, first-generation tapes were used rather than their subsequent mixdowns, resulting in a clearer and more spacious sound. The other discs contain alternative mixes and previously unreleased session tapes. The set includes four CDs as well as a documentary and 5.1 surround sound mixes of the album in both DVD and Blu-ray form.
Sgt. Pepper's Musical Revolution, a documentary produced by Apple Corps and written and presented by Howard Goodall, was televised on the BBC, PBS and Arte to commemorate the anniversary. The occasion was also celebrated with posters, billboards and other decorations at notable locations around the world, including a billboard in Times Square. The 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper topped the UK Albums Chart after its release.
|1.||"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Take 9)||2:37|
|2.||"With a Little Help from My Friends" (Take 1 – False Start and Take 2 – Instrumental)||3:15|
|3.||"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Take 1)||3:40|
|4.||"Getting Better" (Take 1 – Instrumental and Speech at the End)||2:19|
|5.||"Fixing a Hole" (Speech And Take 3)||3:28|
|6.||"She's Leaving Home" (Take 1 – Instrumental)||3:49|
|7.||"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Take 4)||3:08|
|8.||"Within You Without You" (Take 1 – Indian Instruments)||5:33|
|9.||"When I'm Sixty-Four" (Take 2)||3:00|
|10.||"Lovely Rita" (Speech and Take 9)||3:05|
|11.||"Good Morning Good Morning" (Take 8)||2:47|
|12.||"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (Take 8)||2:00|
|13.||"A Day in the Life" (Take 1 With Hummed Last Chord)||4:52|
|14.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 7)||3:17|
|15.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 26)||3:19|
|16.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Stereo Mix – 2015)||4:10|
|17.||"Penny Lane" (Take 6 – Instrumental)||2:56|
|18.||"Penny Lane" (Stereo Mix – 2017)||3:00|
|1.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 1)||2:40|
|2.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 4)||3:00|
|3.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 7)||3:17|
|4.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Take 26)||3:19|
|5.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Stereo Mix – 2015)||4:10|
|6.||"When I'm Sixty-Four" (Take 2)||3:00|
|7.||"Penny Lane" (Take 6 – Instrumental)||2:56|
|8.||"Penny Lane" (Vocal Overdubs and Speech)||1:47|
|9.||"Penny Lane" (Stereo Mix – 2017)||3:00|
|10.||"A Day in the Life" (Take 1)||4:41|
|11.||"A Day in the Life" (Take 2)||4:49|
|12.||"A Day in the Life" (Orchestra Overdub)||0:56|
|13.||"A Day in the Life (Hummed Last Chord)" (Takes 8, 9, 10 and 11)||1:55|
|14.||"A Day in the Life (The Last Chord)"||2:53|
|15.||"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Take 1 – Instrumental)||2:34|
|16.||"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Take 9 and Speech)||2:37|
|17.||"Good Morning Good Morning" (Take 1 – Instrumental, Breakdown)||1:04|
|18.||"Good Morning Good Morning" (Take 8)||2:47|
|1.||"Fixing a Hole" (Take 1)||3:00|
|2.||"Fixing a Hole" (Speech and Take 3)||3:28|
|3.||"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Speech from Before Take 1; Take 4 and Speech at the End)||3:08|
|4.||"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (Take 7)||2:35|
|5.||"Lovely Rita" (Speech and Take 9)||3:05|
|6.||"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Take 1 and Speech at the End)||3:40|
|7.||"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Speech, False Start and Take 5)||4:08|
|8.||"Getting Better" (Take 1 – Instrumental and Speech at the End)||2:19|
|9.||"Getting Better" (Take 12)||2:45|
|10.||"Within You Without You" (Take 1 – Indian Instruments Only)||5:33|
|11.||"Within You Without You" (George Coaching the Musicians)||3:56|
|12.||"She's Leaving Home" (Take 1 – Instrumental)||3:49|
|13.||"She's Leaving Home" (Take 6 – Instrumental)||3:48|
|14.||"With a Little Help from My Friends" (Take 1 – False Start and Take 2 – Instrumental)||3:15|
|15.||"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (Speech And Take 8)||2:00|
|14.||"Strawberry Fields Forever" (Original Mono Mix)||4:08|
|15.||"Penny Lane" (Original Mono Mix)||3:02|
|16.||"A Day in the Life" (Unreleased First Mono Mix)||4:43|
|17.||"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Unreleased Mono Mix – No. 11)||3:49|
|18.||"She's Leaving Home" (Unreleased First Mono Mix)||3:42|
|19.||"Penny Lane" (Capitol Records U.S. Promo Single – Mono Mix)||3:01|
According to Mark Lewisohn and Ian MacDonald:
Additional musicians and production
In the US, the album sold 2,360,423 copies by 31 December 1967 and 3,372,581 copies by the end of the decade.
|Argentina (CAPIF)||2× Platinum||120,000^|
1987 CD issue
|Australia (ARIA)||4× Platinum||280,000^|
|Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)||Gold||100,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||8× Platinum||800,000^|
|Japan (Oricon Charts)||—||208,000|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||6× Platinum||90,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||17× Platinum||5,340,000|
|United States (RIAA)||11× Platinum||11,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone