One of the most–if not the most–famous albums in history was released on this day in 1967: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Which is why you’ll be seeing lots of headlines declaring, “It Was 47 Years Ago Today…” Last year, it was “46 Years.” That headline’s a real evergreen. Also an evergreen: pop guys geeking out over the album, like we’re happy to do here.
For their eighth studio album, The Beatles had decided that they were going to stop touring and just focus on being studio musicians. It was a ballsy move at the time, considering that bands who didn’t tour suffered a fate worse than death, but considering that The Beatles had become the standard bearers for the music industry as a whole, in retrospect it seems like a perfectly logical step for them.
The band had grown tired of touring, mainly because they could no longer enjoy doing so. Their concerts were attended by rabid fans who just screamed for the duration of their set, making it impossible for the band to hear themselves, let alone one another. None of this is to mention the furor that popped up around John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” comments which lit a firestorm around the band’s tour to support their Revolver album.
However, anyone who was paying attention to the last track on Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” could hear that the band was evolving into something more than just another pop band cranking out three-minute, radio ready tunes. This was complex music that could never work live in concert, and so the band retreated to their Abbey Road studio in November, 1966 to begin work on a concept album based around their respective childhoods.
Of the first three songs recorded for the Sgt. Pepper sessions, only one made it onto the album proper, “When I’m Sixty Four.” The other two, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” would be released as a double A-side .45 the following February, and both would fail to reach the top of the charts, causing some in the press to begin writing The Beatles’ obituary.
That same month, Paul would suggest doing a different kind of concept album, one in which they would take on a fictional persona of an Edwardian-era, big band-type military outfit with a suitably absurd name to accompany it. And thus was born Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band. Beginning with the eponymous tune and concluding with the epic “A Day in the Life,” the album was a masterpiece, destined for endless deconstruction, criticism, and attempts to duplicate its sound and concept.
Though it’s tough to call it their best album (Rubber Soul gets my vote), it was the beginning of a new era of music, informed by the psychedelia and inner-exploration one which the band was about to embark. As a nice, tidy dividing line between a band’s old stuff and new stuff, it’s second-to-none. And none of this is to even mention the equally talked about and dissected cover art, which featured everyone from Edgar Allen Poe to Muhammed Ali. Conspiracy theorists combed through the images for clues on everything from the band’s cover-up of Paul’s death to their alleged burgeoning interest in Satanism.
Despite all that, it is a landmark album, and one worth revisiting today of all days. You can enjoy both the mono and stereo versions, and comb through that for subtle differences, most notably on “She’s Leaving Home.” The only thing I could find hidden within the album, is solid gold awesomeness…