Friday, June 1, 2012

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Much to its benefit, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is no longer unanimously regarded as the greatest album ever made. As undeniably influential as it is, it’s not even the best Beatles album, let alone the best album, period. There’s too much of an emphasis on oompah beats, and a few of the songs are fairly slight (“Fixing a Hole”, “Goodmorning Goodmorning”, “She’s Leaving Home”, “Within You Without You”). For all the album’s supposed innovation, there isn’t much on it that The Beatles hadn’t already done. We’d already heard the brass that permeates the record on “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Yellow Submarine”. “Within You, Without You” revisits the raga rock of “Love You To” without the vital aggression. The tape loops of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” sound tame after “Tomorrow Never Knows”. “She’s Leaving Home” is “Eleanor Rigby” with more musicians and a less interesting lyric. Etcetera, etcetera.

Held up to reasonable standards, Sgt. Pepper’s is a great album, and even those aforementioned slight songs are pretty terrific, each displaying the group’s lyrical sophistication and George Martin’s production genius. The great songs—of which there are many—are excellently executed in every respect. The title track squashes accusations that the album is devoid of good, old-fashioned Rock & Roll, even if it does veer off into big band pomp. “With a Little Help From My Friends” is another great vehicle for Ringo, and its genial message is tarted up with enough Lennon cynicism to avoid saccharine sentimentality. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” projects Lennon’s most endearingly whimsical pictures over magically serene verses and hard-rocking, sing-a-long choruses (and Kurt Cobain thought The Pixies invented LOUD-quiet-LOUD). “Getting Better” seems like the record’s most straightforward track, until we notice the intrusion of Indian tamburas on the simple four-piece rock-band arrangement and the complex lyrical back-and-forth between McCartney and Lennon. “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Lovely Rita” are fanciful, colorful character sketches, and two of the album’s most underrated and rousing numbers. “A Day in the Life” is its most rightfully lauded; an apocalyptic finale that crushes the album’s preceding onslaught of escapist whimsy under a hobnail boot of depressing headlines, mundane commuting, acoustic weariness, terrifying orchestral crescendos, and one of the longest single-note fades on record. It also proves that The Beatles still had plenty of genuinely revolutionary tricks up their satin sleeves. As we shall see in Monday’s post, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band blew the possibilities of pop record-making wide open, but when all the hyperbolic hoopla inevitably faded, we were still left with a collection of excellent Beatle songs.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released 45 years ago today.

Peruse Psychobabble's Twelve Greatest Pre-‘Pepper’ Albums of 1967...

See Psychobabble's Sixteen Greatest Post-‘Pepper’ Albums of 1967...
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