Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Album

There are more Beatles facts associated with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band than with any other of the group's albums. It was released in the UK on June 1, 1967 and in the U.S. one day later. Recorded from December 6, 1966 to April 3, 1967, it remained on the Billboard Top 100 chart for more than eighty weeks. The album broke with tradition radically inasmuch as the Beatles, now a studio band tired of touring, decided to add far greater instrumentation, imagination, and texture to their tracks.

The concept for the album came from McCartney, who had been thinking of small carnival bands with odd names such as Dr. Hook's Medicine Show (a real band) or Captain Tim's Traveling Circus Band. In McCartney's mind, the Beatles would take the persona of such a band for the entire LP. Even though many songs segue from one to the other, and despite the reprise of the song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Lennon said repeatedly that he didn't see any real concept in the album at all and that any given song could stand on its own, the exception being the connection between the opening track and "With a Little Help from My Friends."

The other derivation for the album came from the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which had impressed McCartney with its innovative use of instruments and distinctive harmonies. "Good Vibrations" is a perfect example of how the Beach Boys were stretching a standard pop number to new limits. (It should be noted that the Beach Boys had made their album because they were so impressed with the innovative Revolver and its own departure into experimentation.) When Sgt. Pepper was finally released, it changed the very foundation of rock and roll at the time and was praised by fans as well as artists far outside the mainstream of pop music as being one of the most creative albums in decades.

The album took an estimated seven hundred hours to record. The songs were methodically thought out before the backing tracks were laid down. After that, many rehearsals were used to do the overdubs since the recording equipment didn't have as many channels available as modern recording equipment. An overdub might include a tambourine, guitar, and piano on a single channel, and if a mistake was made on one instrument, all instruments on the overdub had to be redone as well.

The Beatles were well into their psychedelic period by this time, and Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall would have joints rolled and ready for the Beatles, who smoked them in the bathrooms at Abbey Road. Producer George Martin knew they were smoking marijuana but said nothing. Lennon was also using LSD at the time, and various biographies have reported the same account of Lennon freaking out in the studio while tripping and then running to the roof of Abbey Road, where McCartney followed in order to make sure Lennon was safe.

Lennon told Derek Taylor that the Pepper sessions were some of the most enjoyable he'd had with the Beatles. McCartney felt that his bass playing was more versatile and lyrical. Harrison, although he felt as though there wasn't much interest by his band mates for "Within You Without You," produced a phenomenal track thanks to many Indian session musicians and a violin section scored by George Martin, As for Ringo's drumming, many record producers feel that Sgt. Pepper goes far beyond ordinary drum fills, making the album that much more distinctive.

Feeling free to experiment with all phases of the album, the cover and package were equally distinctive. The Beatles, wearing colorful band costumes, are seen on the front cover standing in a garden surrounded by dozens of well known figures such as Mae West, Johnny Weissmuller, Aldous Huxley, Laurel and Hardy, Fred Astaire, Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, H. G. Wells and a host of others. The LP's song lyrics were printed legibly on the back cover, and the inside of the fold-out design included cardboard cut-outs of moustaches, badges, and the Beatles as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

George Martin has said many times over the years that "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" should have been included on the album since they mesh so well with the album's overall sound and represent what the Beatles were doing during this time period. As in other previous instances, however, singles were not included on Parlophone LPs.

The final track on the album was originally missed by most fans and is now on the CD despite the fact that its title stems from vinyl copies of the LP. If one let the stereo's tone arm continue tracing the grooves long enough, a thirty second sound loop of gibberish was heard.

The tracks included:

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Getting Better
Fixing a Hole
She's Leaving Home
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I'm Sixty-four
Lovely Rita
Good Morning, Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)
A Day in the Life
The Inner Groove

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