It all began before I was born. Dad would play the Beatles around Mum when she was pregnant. Dad would say, “You have to start early in life to appreciate good music, otherwise – God help you – you may end up liking bands like Wham” (which incidentally my mother absolutely loved).
The Beatles’ music and its influence were hard to escape. There was no getting away from it, even in the car going to school. Slowly but surely I started to become interested. Dad took delight in giving me a rundown of each album and how it was special. Finally, we got to “Sgt. Pepper,” and that’s where I think I really got hooked.
“Sgt. Pepper” is The Beatles’ eighth album, arguably the band’s most influential. It was recorded in 129 days, something unheard of in 1967. It’s often seen as The Beatles’ most defining moment, a watershed in the development of music.
Recently “Sgt. Pepper” had its fortieth anniversary. Dad was happy to remind me of this and asked how many albums could stand the test of time, being named over and over as the “greatest album of all time.” This made me think long and hard about why this album (above all other Beatles albums) is so special.
So, what is so unique about “Sgt. Pepper”? For me it is the complete artistic statement that pushes the limits. It was innovative in that it melded the music and the culture of the day.
Let’s start with the cover. It was the first time the complete lyrics were printed on an album sleeve; the first “double album” sleeve design; the first to have something other than a plain inner plastic covering (it came in a red psychedelic sleeve). It also included cardboard cut-outs of a moustache, picture card, stripes, badges, and a stand up. The cover contains a collage of 86 cardboard cut-outs depicting images of famous people, wax models of Paul, John, George, and Ringo, and other objects. It has become iconic and very representative of the ’60s psychedelic culture.
“Sgt. Pepper” doesn’t have the stand-out number-one tracks most people recognize The Beatles for. There are the purely fun tracks like “When I’m Sixty-Four,” but they also turn serious in vivid, true stories like “She’s Leaving Home,” about the parents of a runaway girl.
Adding to the new type of songwriting, George Harrison opened a new doorway with “Within You Without You.” At first I admit that I didn’t really like this, but it’s a masterpiece on its own, incorporating traditional Indian music with pop, which is rarely done.
Another masterpiece is “A Day in the Life.” It is often voted as the most important of all Lennon and McCartney songs. It shows how seemingly dissimilar fragments of ideas can be fitted together into a cohesive and powerful whole arising from books, newspapers, and TV, and turning the smallest observations into song ideas.
“Sgt. Pepper” stands the test of time. I truly love it and can see now why Dad loves it so much. Artistically it set the standard. Music would never be the same.