Published June 7, 2007
For years, former Mahoning County Treasurer, now Ohio Superintendent of Financial Institutions John Reardon and I have talked about music. John's a big Beatles fan and I asked him to do a guest blog w/his thoughts and insights on the 40th anniversary of the release of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Here it is:
SGT. PEPPER TURNS FORTY
By John Reardon
xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2xa6xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d
Well, 40 years actually. The Beatlesxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2 xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s Lonely Hearts Club Bandxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d was released on June 1, 1967, and therexc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s been a huge amount of media surrounding this monthxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s anniversary. Everything from magazine essays, websites, festivals, newspaper editorials, and whole weekends on radio stations around the worldxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dall dedicated to celebrating the albumxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s music and significance.
Louie Free and I have often discussed rock xc3xa2xe2x82xacxcbx9cnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2 roll music, and he knows I love The Beatles. So Louie called to request a Blog essay on what makes xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d special. I told him it would be a pleasurexc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dbut it would be difficult to write anything new, because xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d has been the most covered album (event?) in the history of music.
To say that xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d is the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93greatest albumxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d is almost clichxc3x83xc2xa9. Virtually every poll ever taken of musicians, songwriters, and recording artists has voted xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93all-time number onexc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d (recent examples include Rolling Stone magazine last year, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a couple months ago).
The five great Beatlesxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2 albumsxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Rubber Soul,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Revolver,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepper,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93White Album,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d and xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Abbey Roadxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9dxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dare all typically near the top of those polls. (VH1 had those five albums in the top eleven of their xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Hundred Best of All Timexc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d; Rolling Stone had the same five in the top 14 of their xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93500 Greatest Albums.xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d) But something about xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepper,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d almost invariably picked as the very best. Why?
To appreciate xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2sxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d significance, first understand that John, Paul, George and Ringo ambitiously challenged themselves to produce an album where everything would be different than anything prior. And they did. xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d was the first album with double xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93flapsxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d; the first with a photographic insert; the first with song lyrics included (did you know that?); the first with a xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93reprisexc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d version of the title track. The songs blended, one into the next. It was the first xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93concept album,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d has been called xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Music as Art.xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d
xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2xa6 Theyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2ve been going in and out of style, but theyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2re guaranteed to raise a smile xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2xa6xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d t
The Beatles adopted alter-egos; their outfits were Technicolor-retro. John Lennon wore xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93granny glassesxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d (of all things!). The famous crescendo, a 4-piano chord at the end of xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93A Day in The Life,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d is to this day the longest single note ever recorded. They inserted a high-pitched sound that humans couldnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t hear, but got dogs howling worldwide (Lennonxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s idea). Then as a final joke, they recorded ridiculous nonsensical noises, and cut a continuous groove in the vinyl so the screeching wouldnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t stop until you manually lifted the stylus.
Oh, yeah xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2xa6 and the songs. After Louie called, I listened to xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepper,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d beginning-to-end, which I hadnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t done in a long time. Frankly, xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d has more great songs than most great bands record in an entire career. An incredible song list, every song different from the next, every song different than anything before:
With a Little Help From My Friends (a camaraderie anthem for an entire generation). When Ixc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2m 64 (timelessxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dsurely one of McCartneyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s catchiest tunes). Shexc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s Leaving Home (recorded using only orchestra instruments). Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (adopted from a century-old circus advertisement poster). Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Lennon swore it didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t mean LSD). Fixing a Hole (McCartneyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s drug-induced contribution). Getting Better (beautifully accentuates the optimistic/fatalistic disconnect between Paul & John). Lovely Rita (meter maid?). And Louie read to me a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial that said it best about the grand finale, A Day in the Life: It may or may not have been John Lennonxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s greatest songxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dbut it certainly was better than anything any other songwriter of the era ever wrote.
(By the way, a couple notable songs were recorded during the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d sessions but didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t make it on the album. Instead, The Beatles released Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane as singles.)
The Beatles didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t do themselves any commercial favors with xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepper.xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d On the contrary, they lost fans. I didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t like the album when it was releasedxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9das a 4th grade kid, I wasnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t ready for such a radical departure from the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Mop Topxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d Beatles I liked. Heck, Within You Without You and Good Morning sounded to me like songs from outer space. If you think about it, itxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s hard to believe it was the same band that recorded She Loves You and All My Loving just three years prior. But xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d was too different, so I abandoned The Beatles and stuck with The Monkees (who never stopped recording my preferred bubble-gum pop).
Like many of my generation, it wasnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t until years laterxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9din college, in my casexc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dthat I came to appreciate xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d (as well as all xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Later Beatlesxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d records). Prompted by my roommate, I gave it another try. Apparently my tastes had matured, because ten years later I found the record amazing.
So why does xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s Lonely Hearts Club Bandxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d endure? Why did the recent final episode of American Idol dedicate a whole medley of songs to xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepper?xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d (Itxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s inconceivable that any other albumxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dbefore or since or yet to comexc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dwould be so honored 40 years after release.)
xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2xa6 So may I introduce to you, the act youxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2ve known for all these years, Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s Lonely Hearts Club Band!xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d
By the way, xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d isnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t my favorite Beatles albumxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Abbey Roadxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d is. But I wonxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t argue with the expert consensus: xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Sgt. Pepperxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d surely is the greatest. The album wasnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t just a collection of great songs; it didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t just usher in the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93Summer of Lovexc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d; it didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t just provide the songs by which a generation would define itself; it wasnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t just a graduation party for the most popular band in history; it didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t just influence fashion, culture and attitudes; it didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t just change music.
It changed people. It changed the world.