Thursday, March 1, 2001


For decades a consensus choice as the greatest rock album of all time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has seen its reputation drop in recent years as other Beatles' releases, most notably Revolver and Rubber Soul, and to a lesser degree Abbey Road and The White Album, have proven more resilient to the ravages of time.

But no matter what one feels today about this album on a purely qualitative basis, it remains one the most influential and important landmarks in rock 'n' roll history, momentarily uniting the listening world like no other modern recording has in any genre before or since, and cementing a seismic shift in the music industry towards the full-length LP and away from the single as the primary method of distribution.

It also forever changed the way the world looked at rock albums.  Before Sgt. Pepper's, LP's were collections of singles and B-sides, after Sgt. Pepper's, they held the potential to be unified pieces of art. 

Many artists would soon follow down a similar path, but the "concept album" was not truly born until the day Sgt. Pepper's was released.  From its renowned collage cover to its interweaving strands of narrative, it took the idea of maintaining an album's thematic cohesion across all its component elements to a level not previously seen in the annals of rock.

At yet, despite all of these historic firsts, at that moment the album's most significant impact was probably in the stunning array of innovative production techniques it introduced. 

Fresh off a decision to stop touring, and madly impressed by (and envious of) what Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys had accomplished with Pet Sounds, The Beatles were determined to forge the next step forward, and top Pet Sounds, with their next release. 

Sgt. Pepper's would thus become The Beatles definitive studio album. 

Nearly every song on Sgt. Pepper's is awash in groundbreaking recording techniques, from the simple, like new mic positioning strategies or patching instruments directly into the mixing board, to the painstakingly complex, like the album's many dense tape loops and that cavernous multi-piano chord that concludes A Day In The Life.

Many of these breakthroughs sound ordinary today following decades of imitation, but there is no overstating how radical they were at the time.

Where some opinions of Sgt. Pepper's, including mine, have fallen in recent years is ironically with regard to the band's greatest craft.

Sgt. Pepper's, quite simply, is far from the strongest collection of Beatles' songs.

The album is bookended beautifully, with the rocking title track and its reprise, joyous sing-a-long With A Little Help From My Friends, acid-drenched Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and closer A Day In The Life all standing with the best tracks the band has ever laid to vinyl.

But in between those high peaks is a vast mid-section of songs the impact of that landmark production has lost its original luster...have come to feel like some of the most mediocre works of the entire Beatles' canon. 

Granted, we're talking about The Beatles here, so none of these songs, with the possible exception of Mr. Kite, plain suck, and some (She's Leaving Home, Good Morning, Good Morning, the intro to Lovely Rita) are still impressive.

But is there one song in this long stretch from Getting Better through Good Morning that could qualify as anything but the worst track on Rubber Soul or Revolver?

I'm not so sure.

To me, Fixing A Hole and When I'm Sixty-Four rank amongst the most saccharine and least engagingly melodic of McCartney's dance-hall ballads, ominously signaling to the safer, sweeter tone that would dominate his far less impressive solo career.  Within You, Without You is easily the least interesting (not to mention most long-winded) of George Harrison's Beatles-era sitar explorations, and Lennon's experimental Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, has just never, ever done it for me.  Despite it's ambition, and sonic and thematic integrity, it's just a flat-out annoying song.

But again, my less-than-enthusiastic opinion of these individual tracks should in no way diminish the overall historic or cultural significance of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

It may no longer be considered The Beatles' best album...but it remains, and will always remain, their most important.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, With A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, A Day In The Life.

Here's a video of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds as later employed in the movie Yellow Submarine.

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

What are your thoughts on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?  Let readers know with a comment.

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