June 1, 1967– Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is released
It was 51 years ago today. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is an exceptional, magnificent work; a modern musical masterpiece. I went out and purchased it with money made from mowing lawns on the day it was released. I was 13-years-old. I didn’t come out of my room for 24 hours.
In the 1960s, Psychedelic Music was new, with songs that focused on an inner journey. It was kid’s music. A famous 1960’s slogan was: “Never Trust Anyone Over 30″. Psychedelic Music was meant to be outside of mainstream society, it was meant to be for young people. But, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a psychedelic work of art that was for, and about, everyone. Unusual for the era, it was an album that looked backwards fondly while still staying totally groovy.
From the iconic cover art to the opening crowd noises, it is an inclusive enterprise. The original British release even included cardboard cut-outs for kiddies. It addressed the generation gap with She’s Leaving Home, but the clueless parents are still portrayed with compassion and understanding.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band celebrates the mundane, and with help from psychedelics, how we look at the everyday world. There is the wonder of the trippy Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, but there is also a lovely song about having a spot of tea with a parking meter officer, Lovely Rita. Side Two starts with the Indian raga Within You Without You which segues to the old-fashioned music hall sound of When I’m Sixty-Four, with only a little spot of laughter between the two tracks. Fixing A Hole is a parent’s song about how we can roll up our sleeves and fix things that are broken. Getting Better is optimistic, even in a future that looks bleak. Within You Without You is all about looking inwards and understanding who we are. This can only be achieved, the album reminds us, With a Little Help From My Friends. The album’s astonishing aural closing extravaganza A Day In The Life, marries the prosaic and the psychedelic in a visionary new way.
The songs on Sgt Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band are mostly slices of life of ordinary people, performed in wildly different musical styles. When The Beatles dropped LSD, they saw that they were part of many communities and the music, culture, and humor that they each brought.
The cover art, co-created with the band and pop artist Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, depicts The Beatles surrounded by the images of famous figures from history and pop culture featuring a funeral wreath, as if saying goodbye to the “Pop Music Beatles” and a birth of a new “Avant-Garde Beatles”. The album’s cover art includes people of different ages and races, including Indian musicians and holy men because they inspired The Beatles.
Blake and Haworth took their idea for the cover from an ink drawing by Paul McCartney. It was art directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper. The front is a colorful collage with 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. My friends and I liked to smoke a joint and study the cover, identifying the different figures, including Karl Marx and Marilyn Monroe, Aubrey Beardsley and William S. Burroughs, Laurel And Hardy with Dylan Thomas. Dropping acid, you could go into the cover and get lost.
Each Beatle has a mustache, after George Harrison had grown one during his visit to India. The Beatles are center, standing behind a drum with the painted words of the album’s title. In front of the drum is a flower arrangement that spells out the word “Beatles”. The group were dressed in satin day-glo colored military-style uniforms. Right next to The Beatles are their own wax sculptures from Madame Tussaud’s in their mod suits and Beatle haircuts from the earlier era. The album’s lyrics were printed in full on the back cover, the first time this had been done on an LP.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a huge commercial and critical success. It spent 27 weeks at Number One on UK albums charts and 15 weeks at Number One in the USA. Critics and fans embraced its innovations in songwriting, music production, and graphic design, and for bridging a cultural divide, providing a musical representation of the older generation and the contemporary counterculture. It won four Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year, the first Rock LP to win.
Imagine there’s no Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s easy in the era of Trump.