CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES #17: The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

sgt-peppers-lonely-hearts-club-band-55e7643f11588What is there to say about the Sgt. Pepper album that hasn’t already been said? Widely seen as the best album ever recorded, the songs found within contain the kind of musical magic that only comes around once in a lifetime. It’s difficult to think of another studio album that has last such a lasting impression on millions and millions of listeners the world over. What The Beatles did on this album was revolutionise music and it would never be the same again.

The album opens with an incredible title track which acts as an intro to the show the album “captures”. To tell you the truth, the first time I heard this song I thought it was a live version because of the audience sounds at the start and then again at the end. It was totally different to anything I had heard before and I’m sure the same can be said for everyone who has heard this album. One of my favourite parts of this song though are the electric guitars paired with McCartney’s roaring vocals. The song flows effortlessly into the next song, With A Little Help From My Friends, which sees the stage revolve revealing Ringo Starr at the front with the mic in his hand. It’s the only song he sings on the album and it’s one of the many highlights. It’s also arguably the first song on the album, as the title track can be considered the “show” intro. The show being the album. Things get psychedelic with Lennon’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, one of the finest songs he ever wrote while in The Beatles. The same came about after Julian painted an image at nursery school, titled Lucy-in the sky with diamonds, and he used that as an inspiration for the song. It’s a gorgeous track that manages to capture the feel and sound of 1967 perfectly, especially looking back.

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  2. With A Little Help From My Friends
  3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  4. Getting Better
  5. Fixing A Hole
  6. She’s Leaving Home
  7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
  8. Within You, Without You
  9. When I’m Sixty-Four
  10. Lovely Rita
  11. Good Morning, Good Morning
  12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
  13. A Day In The Life

Getting Better follows, which is a more traditional sounding Beatles song compared to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. McCartney’s bass playing in this song is absolutely exquisite, further cementing his legacy as one of the best bass players of all time. When the piano comes in during the second verse the whole sound of the song is transformed. The combination of guitar and piano on this album is really good and helped to define their sound at the time, which began two albums earlier on Rubber Soul. Fixing A Hole is the fifth song and by now you get a real sense of how great this album really is. You can hear on every song how much work went into them, each instrument coming together to form these great songs. But it’s She’s Leaving Home where things really take a different direction, or at least a direction that hadn’t been present since Eleanor Rigby. Gone are the band, no guitar, no drums, no bass. Just a gorgeous string section that plays one of the finest pieces of music of all time. Normally string sections on Beatles songs were put together by George Martin but he wasn’t available when McCartney wanted this done, so Mike Leander did it instead. Martin conducted the strings when it came to recording though.

Midway through the album we’re treated to one of the most experimental and exciting songs in the entire Beatles catalogue. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! is a Lennon number and capture the feel of a circus magnificently, which fits perfectly with the whole feel of the album. Coming directly after She’s Leaving Home really shows you how good and diverse the Beatles were at writing and recording, the two songs couldn’t sound more different. I know a lot of people who aren’t fans of this particular song but I think it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.  If you close your eyes you can imagine sitting in a circus with all of the sounds of the machines around you. As Lennon said, he wanted to smell the sawdust on the floor when he listened to the song and he, with George Martin, definitely achieved that. One of George’s best songs comes next in the form of Within You, Without You which has a heavy Indian flavour. It’s very much his version of She’s Leaving Home when it comes to the music. Again, there is no band. No electric guitar, no drums, no bass. Just Indian instruments playing by Indian musicians. It’s a remarkable piece of music and just shows how experimental George’s writing and recording was at the time. And it’s one of my favourite songs on the album.

When I’m Sixty Four could be one of the most well known songs on the whole album which isn’t a surprise because it’s absolutely wonderful. If you can’t tell by now, McCartney has a number of top notch songs on Sgt. Pepper and I struggle to think of any that are not considered by many as excellent. Just when you think he’s written his best ever song, another one comes along. His writing form during this period of his career was exceptional in every sense of the word and When I’m Sixty Four really highlights that. Lovely Rita is his next song which backs up the point I just made about another song coming along which sets a new standard of musical excellence. John returns to fine form with the next song though, Good Morning Good Morning. This song sounds quite a bit like a number of his songs on Revolver and it probably would have fit on that album very well, but I’m glad it features on Sgt. Pepper. The brass section is a hugely exciting part of the song but it’s perhaps the outro which features a number of farmyard animals which then blend perfectly into the guitar riff of the next song, thanks to a well place chicken.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) manages to capture the same kind of feel as the full version at the beginning of the album but with infinitely more passion and excitement. The tempo is fast, the guitar are rawer and the vocals manage to capture an essence of excitement as a show comes to an end. But the show isn’t over yet because the best song on the entire album, and in my opinion the best song the Beatles ever recorded, comes next. A Day In The Life. In fact I’d go as far as saying this song is also THE BEST song ever recorded. Nothing else really comes close with the exception of Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. It’s excellent, magnificent, superb, sublime. Whatever you want to describe it. The song is a combination of two songs, one by Lennon and the other by McCartney. The orchestral noodling makes this song a one of a kind as well, especially as the song comes to an end. The members of the orchestra were asked to play their instruments randomly starting at their lowest note and ending with their highest. What they made on paper probably shouldn’t have sounded as good as it does, but in reality it’s single handedly one of the most famous and incredible sections of music ever laid down on tape.

As I said to begin with, it’s very hard to think of another album that has a bigger legacy than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album is nothing but magnificent from start to finish and really captures the feel of the 1960’s perfectly. Their decision to stop touring and focus on studio albums is big reason this album turned out so great, who knows what it would have sounded like if the band had spent less time in the studio recording it because of touring commitments. Their shift to studio work was a smart move and this album really is the best of the best.

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