50 Years; Sgt. Pepper’s Still Breeds Beatlemania
Fifty years ago, June 1st, 1967: The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a different kind of album for the band, one that a few would criticize, but the only one that would become a Broadway production and a movie.
It was, after all, a ballad of sorts although not a rock ballad per se.
The Sgt. Pepper’s album was about a band pushing the definitions of who they were by breaking the mold on a new sound, all disguised as an ironic tale about a fake band.
The deep irony for this writer was that the Bee Gee’s movie by the same name [Cue: groans from true fans] was his first real introduction to the Beatles beyond the most popular tracks.
Sgt. Peppers was an album so powerful and transformative, everyone wanted a bite of it, even Apple.
The band started recording Sgt. Pepper’s in November 1966. They would clock somewhere between 400-700 hours recording the tracks.
According to George Martin, “Pepper started because of their being fed up with touring and they wanted to spend more time in the recording studio.”
Up until Revolver, the previous album, they’d released two albums per year from ’63–’65. That was not including singles, touring when they weren’t in the studio.
By the insistence of the band, everything about Sgt. Pepper’s had to be different. That’s one way to slow things down.
“I made a suggestion. I said, ‘We need to get away from ourselves – how about if we just become sort of an alter ego band?’ ” -Paul Macartney
Judging a book by its cover, the album artwork alone let fans know right away that this wasn’t another Revolver. The cover was just the beginning.
The album itself was not banded, so the only breaks were when one flipped it over. It was the first album of its sort, a major rock band release, with no ancillary single, not the way they released singles at the time.
Plenty of the songs would get their airtime, but not because the producers shipped singles to the radio stations. In fact, some stations simply played Sgt. Pepper’s from beginning to end, because who would pull the needle off an album like that?
Recording Sgt. Peppers
The simplest tool for mixing multiple audio feeds into one sound is using a four track. It affords for sound engineers to mix four sources of sound, adjusting for pitch and synchronizing the tracks.
That means, if one wishes to mix more than four sounds into a track, they have to layer them in with subsequent recordings.
Considering that every member of the band sang and played an instrument, this meant George Martin had to work on four tracks at a time, layering in others as they went.
At the time, eight track systems existed, but four track is what Martin preferred. It meant long days in the studio for the boys.
“In the morning we’d drive into Abbey Road in John’s blacked out Rolls Royce, fall out of the back of the car into the studio.” -George Harrison
Endurance of the album
No doubt, fifty years on, Sgt. Peppers is still good music. This writer may have been born into the music via despicable means, but the end result is the same: appreciation for the revolutionary album.
The 50th-anniversary version, out last week, came out in four formats, one CD, a double disc, double vinyl or the super deluxe with four CDs, a DVD, a BluRay, poster, and other goodies.
One can already listen to it on Apple Music, complete with studio versions of tracks and behind the scenes band antics. To top it off, in a bit of irony, Apple (the folks who own the music now) released reissued singles of Penny Lane with Strawberry Fields.
It would be impossible to know for sure, but I wager that no band in history, not recent history, has been able to inspire more new fans five decades after their demise.
We catch Beatlemania however it comes our way, even if we have to route through Peter Frampton and the Bee Gee’s to get there.