“It was 50 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…..“
The Beatles released the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” LP on June 1, 1967. When the band started recording this record, they had already made the decision to not play live shows anymore. That gave them the freedom to make music as they wanted without worrying about being able to do it in a concert setting. There are many who feel that this was the best record ever made.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by English rock band the Beatles. Released on 1st June 1967 in the United Kingdom and 2 June 1967 in the United States, it was an immediate commercial and critical success, spending 27 weeks at the top of the UK albums chart and 15 weeks at number one in the US. On release, the album was lauded by the vast majority of critics for its innovations in music production, songwriting and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and legitimate art, and for providing a musical representation of its generation and the contemporary counterculture. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968, including Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this honour.
By 1966, the Beatles had grown weary of live performance. In John Lennon’s opinion, they could “send out four waxworks … and that would satisfy the crowds. Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music anymore. They’re just bloody tribal rites.” In June that year, two days after finishing the album Revolver, the group set off for a tour that started in Germany.[ While in Hamburg they received an anonymous telegram stating: “Do not go to Tokyo. Your life is in danger“. The threat was taken seriously in light of the controversy surrounding the tour among Japan’s religious and conservative groups, with particular opposition to the Beatles’ planned performances at the sacred Nippon Budokan arena. As an added precaution, 35,000 police were mobilised and tasked with protecting the group, who were transported from hotels to concert venues in armoured vehicles. The polite and restrained Japanese audiences shocked the band, because the absence of screaming fans allowed them to hear how poor their live performances had become. By the time that they arrived in the Philippines, where they were threatened and manhandled by its citizens for not visiting the First Lady Imelda Marcos, the group had grown unhappy with their manager, Brian Epstein, for insisting on what they regarded as an exhausting and demoralising itinerary.
After the Beatles’ return to London, George Harrison replied to a question about their long-term plans: “We’ll take a couple of weeks to recuperate before we go and get beaten up by the Americans.” His comments proved prophetic, as soon afterwards Lennon’s remarks about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” embroiled the band in controversy and protest in America’s Bible Belt. A public apology eased tensions, but a miserable US tour in August that was marked by half-filled stadiums and subpar performances proved to be their last. To the Beatles, playing such concerts had become a charade so remote from the new directions they were pursuing that not a single tune was attempted from the just-released Revolver LP, whose arrangements were for the most part impossible to reproduce with the limitations imposed by their two-guitars-bass-and-drums stage lineup.
Upon the Beatles’ return to England, rumours began to circulate that they had decided to break up. Harrison informed Epstein that he was leaving the band, but was persuaded to stay on the assurance that there would be no more tours. The group took a three-month break, during which they focused on individual interests.Harrison travelled to India for six weeks to study the sitar under the instruction of Ravi Shankar and develop his interest in Hindu philosophy. Having been the last of the Beatles to concede that their live performances had become futile, Paul McCartney collaborated with Beatles producer George Martin on the soundtrack for the film The Family Way. John Lennon acted in the film How I Won the War and attended art showings, such as one at the Indica Gallery where he met his future wife Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr used the break to spend time with his wife Maureen and son Zak.
In August 1966, the Beatles permanently retired from touring and began a three-month holiday from recording. During a return flight to London in November, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian era military band that would eventually form the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. Sessions for what was to become the Beatles’ eighth studio album began on 24 November in Abbey Road Studio Two with two compositions inspired from their youth, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane“, but after pressure from EMI, the songs were released as a double A-side single and were not included on the album.
In February 1967, after recording the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” song, McCartney suggested that the Beatles should release an entire album that would represent a performance by the fictional Sgt. Pepper band. This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically. During the recording sessions, the band furthered the technological progression they had made with their 1966 album Revolver. Knowing they would not have to perform the tracks live, they adopted an experimental approach to composition and recording on songs such as “With a Little Help from My Friends“, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life“. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick’s innovative recording of the album included the liberal application of sound shaping signal processing and the use of a 40-piece orchestra performing aleatoric crescendos. Recording was completed on 21 April 1967. The cover, depicting the Beatles posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the British pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.
Sgt. Pepper is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the use of extended form in popular music while continuing the artistic maturation seen on the Beatles’ preceding releases. It has been described as one of the first art rock LPs, aiding the development of progressive rock, and credited with marking the beginning of the Album Era. An important work of British psychedelia, the album incorporates a range of stylistic influences, including vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music. In 2003, the Library of Congress placed Sgt. Pepper in the National Recording Registry, honouring the work as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. That same year, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number one in its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time“. As of 2011, it has sold more than 32 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums in history. Professor Kevin J. Dettmar, writing in the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, described it as “the most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded“.