1968 – Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band wins four Grammys.
From the Editor of TDIR:
I remember when I was 8 years old.. and I had gotten my Big brother to buy this album for me, as i was already a Beatles fan from the age of 5 from watching the cartoons. There was something very different about this album… it was a first of many things for Pop Rock music. I will not list them, rather… as the reader, you should find out for yourself by reading this excerpt.
This album is in my opinion why 90% of Musician’s that write music, or are attracted to the Beatles, ever play music to begin with. The influence is so relevant, you can hear it in just about every Genre of music… and indeed at the time incorporated many Genres of music. I remember seeing an interview with Brian Wilson(Beach boys) where he stated, “We were feeling pretty good about our success with Gold records, Radio hits, and such… and then we listen to an acetate of Sgt. Pepper’s… and I thought too myself, wow… what have we been doing….”? This is a loose paraphrase on my part, but basically his point was that he thought he was creating something new, not to take anything away from another great band, but the Beatles turned left where everyone else was at the Stop sign.
Well, he was right. This Album is one of those that in my opinion is in the top 10 of Life altering, Music altering creations in the history of Rock/Pop… and has influenced all successive Genres since… even if the people in the Genre are blind and won’t admit it. There it is. Read on!
BTW… this happened in a Leap year… maybe there is magic about Feb. 29th!
Stu… AKA editor.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth album by The Beatles. It is often cited as their magnum opus and one of the most influential albums of all time by prominent critics and publications, ranking number 1 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003. It was recorded by the Beatles over a 129-day period beginning on December 6, 1966. The album was released on June 1, 1967 in the United Kingdom and the following day in the United States. The album has had a large influence on many artists.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded as Beatlemania was waning. The Beatles had grown tired of touring and had quit the road in August 1966. After one particular concert, while being driven away in the back of a small van, the four of them—even Paul McCartney, who was perhaps the most in favour of continuing to tour—decided that enough was enough. From that point on the Beatles became an entirely studio based band (save the 1969 rooftop performance during the Get Back sessions.)
For the first time in their careers, the band had more than ample time with which to prepare their next record. As EMI’s premier act and Britain’s most successful pop group they had almost unlimited access to the state of the art technology of Abbey Road Studios. All four band members had already developed a preference for long late night sessions, although they were still extremely efficient and highly disciplined in their studio habits.
By the time the Beatles recorded the album their musical interests had grown from their simple R&B, pop, and rock and roll beginnings to incorporate a variety of new influences. They had become familiar with a wide range of instruments such as the Hammond organ and electric piano; their instrumentation now covered a wider range including strings, brass, woodwind, percussion, and even some exotic instruments such as the sitar. McCartney, although unable to read music, had scored a recent British film The Family Way (see The Family Way soundtrack) with the assistance of producer/arranger George Martin, which earned him a prestigious Ivor Novello award. McCartney came to be greatly influenced by the avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, whom he wanted to include on the cover.
The Beatles also used new modular effects units like the wah-wah pedal and fuzzbox, which they augmented with their own experimental ideas, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Another important sonic innovation was McCartney’s discovery of the direct input (DI) technique, in which he could record his bass by plugging it directly into an amplifying circuit in the recording console. While the still often-used technique of recording through an amplifier with a microphone sounds more natural, this setup provided a radically different presence in bass guitar sound versus the old method. But the most frequently used method was to record the bass last, after all the other recording was done, by placing the amplifier in the centre of the studio and placing the microphone several inches from the source.
The Sgt. Pepper period also coincided with the introduction of some important musical innovations, both from within the band and the rest of the musical industry. The work of Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Spector, and Brian Wilson was radically redefining what was possible for pop musicians in terms of both songwriting and recording. Studio and recording technology had already reached a high degree of development and was poised for even greater innovation. The old rules of pop songwriting were being abandoned, as complex lyrical themes were explored for the first time in popular music, and songs were growing longer (such as Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”).
Since the introduction of magnetic recording tape in 1949, multitrack recording had been developed. By 1967 all of the Sgt. Pepper tracks could be recorded at Abbey Road using mono, stereo and 4-track recorders. Although 8-track tape recorders were already available in the U.S., the first 8-tracks were not operational in commercial studios in London until late 1967, shortly after Sgt. Pepper was released.
Like its predecessors, the recording made extensive use of the technique known as bouncing down (also called multing), in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one track of the master 4-track machine. This enabled the Abbey Road engineers to give the Beatles a virtual multi-track studio.
Magnetic tape had also led to innovative use of instruments and production effects, notably the tape-based keyboard sampler, the Mellotron, effects like flanging (a term coined by Lennon and an effect used as early as 1959 on Toni Fisher’s “The Big Hurt”) and phasing, as well as a greatly improved system for creating echo and reverberation.
Several then-new production effects feature extensively on the recordings. One of the most important was automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that used tape recorders to create an instant and simultaneous doubling of a sound. Although it had long been recognised that using multitrack tape to record ‘doubled’ lead vocals produced a greatly enhanced sound (especially with weaker singers), it had always been necessary to record such vocal tracks twice, a task which was both tedious and exacting.
ADT was invented specially for the Beatles by EMI engineer Ken Townsend in 1966, mainly at the behest of Lennon, who hated tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem. ADT quickly became a near-universal recording practice in popular music.
Also important was varispeeding, the technique of recording various tracks on a multi-track tape at slightly different tape speeds. The Beatles use this effect extensively on their vocals in this period. The speeding up of vocals (also known as ‘tweaking’) also became a widespread technique in pop production. The Beatles also used the effect on portions of their backing tracks (as on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) to give them a ‘thicker’ and more diffuse sound.
In another innovation, non-US pressings of the album (in its original LP form that was later released on CD) end in an unusual way, beginning with a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone (put on the album at Lennon’s suggestion and said to be “especially intended to annoy your dog”), followed by an endless loop of laughter and gibberish made by the runout groove looping back into itself. The loop (but not the tone) made its U.S. debut on the 1980 Rarities compilation, titled “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove”. However, it is only featured as a 2-second fragment at the end of side 2 rather than an actual loop in the runout groove. The CD version of Sgt. Pepper’s Inner Groove is actually a bit shorter than that one found on the original UK vinyl pressing.
The sound in the loop is also the subject of much controversy, being widely interpreted as some kind of secret message. McCartney later told his biographer Barry Miles that in the summer of 1967 a group of kids came up to him complaining about a lewd message hidden in it when played backwards. He told them, “You’re wrong, it’s actually just It really couldn’t be any other.” He took them to his house to play the record backwards to them, and it turned out that the passage sounded very much like “We’ll fuck you like superman”. McCartney recounted to Miles that his immediate reaction had been, “Oh my god!”
However, it seems that in reality it is nothing more than a few random samples and tape edits played backwards. The loop is re-created on the CD version which plays for a few seconds, then fades out. Although most of the content of the runout groove is impossible to decipher, it is possible to distinguish a sped-up voice (possibly McCartney’s) actually reciting the phrase “never could be any other way”. Played backwards, the last element of the original LP loop that is Sgt. Pepper’s Inner Groove appears to be George Harrison saying “Epstein” (obviously missing from the CD version).
Sgt. Pepper features elaborate arrangements — for example, the clarinet ensemble on “When I’m Sixty-Four” — and extensive use of studio effects including echo, reverberation and reverse tape effects. Many of these effects were devised in collaboration with producer George Martin and his team of engineers.
One of the few moments of discord came during the recording of “She’s Leaving Home”, when an impatient McCartney, frustrated by Martin’s unavailability, hired freelance arranger Mike Leander to arrange the string section — the first of only two occasions during the group’s entire career that he worked with another arranger (the other was in connection with some backing orchestration used in the Magical Mystery Tour film (12 October 1967 session; see Lewisohn), which were also arranged by Leander.
Another example of the album’s unusual production is John Lennon’s song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, which closes side 1 of the album. The lyrics were adapted almost word for word from an old circus poster which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in Kent the day the Beatles had been filming the promotional clip for Strawberry Fields Forever there. The flowing sound collage that gives the song its distinctive character was created by Martin and his engineers, who collected recordings of calliopes and fairground organs, which were then cut into strips of various lengths, thrown into a box, mixed up and edited together in random order, creating a long loop which was mixed in during final production.
The opening track of side two, “Within You Without You”, is unusually long for a ‘pop’ recording of the day, and features only George Harrison, on vocals, sitar and acoustic guitar, with all other instruments being played by a group of London-based Indian musicians. These deviations from the traditional rock and roll band formula were facilitated by the Beatles’ decision not to tour, by their ability to hire top-rate session musicians, and by Harrison’s burgeoning interest in India and Indian music, which led him to take lessons from sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Harrison’s fascination with Indian music is further evidenced by the use of a tamboura on several tracks, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as well as “Getting Better”.
This album also makes heavy use of keyboard instruments. Grand piano is used on tracks such as “A Day in the Life,” along with Lowrey organ on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” A harpsichord can be heard on “Fixing a Hole,” and a harmonium was played by George Martin on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. Electric piano, upright piano, Hammond organ, glockenspiel and Mellotron are all heard on the record. To this day, the album remains a milestone in the history of music.
The Beatles were present during the mixing of the album in mono and the LP was originally released as such alongside a stereo mix prepared by Abbey Road engineers led by Geoff Emerick; the Beatles themselves did not attend the mixing of the stereo version. (The mono version is now out of print on vinyl and was not officially released on CD.) The two mixes are fundamentally different. For example, the stereo mix of “She’s Leaving Home” was mixed at a slower speed than the original recording and therefore plays at a slower tempo and at a lower pitch than the original recording. Conversely, the mono version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is considerably slower than the stereo version and features much heavier gating and reverb effects. McCartney’s yelling voice in the coda section of “Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)” (just before the segue into “A Day in the Life”) can plainly be heard in the mono version, but is nearly inaudible in the stereo version. The mono version of the song also features drums that open with much more presence and force, as they are turned well up in the mix. Also in the stereo mix, the famous segue at the end of “Good Morning Good Morning” (the chicken-clucking sound which becomes a guitar noise) is timed differently and a crowd noise tape comes in later during the intro to “Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)”.
Other variations between the two mixes include louder laughter at the end of the mono mix of “Within You Without You” and a colder, echoless ending on the mono version of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
Themes and structure
With Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles wanted to create a record that could, in effect, tour for them — an idea they had already explored with the promotional film-clips made over the previous years, intended to promote them in the United States when they were not touring there.
McCartney decided that they should create fictitious characters for each band member and record an album that would be a performance by that fictitious band. The idea of disguise or change of identity was one in which the Beatles, naturally enough, had an avid interest — they were four of the most recognizable and widely known individuals of the 20th century.
The Beatles’ fame motivated them to grow moustaches and beards and even longer hair, and was an inspiration for the disguise of their flamboyant Sgt. Pepper costumes. McCartney was well known for going out in public in disguise and all four had used aliases for travel bookings and hotel reservations.
Thus, the album starts with the title song, which introduces Sgt. Pepper’s band itself; this song segues seamlessly into a sung introduction for bandleader “Billy Shears” (Starr), who performs “With a Little Help from My Friends”. A reprise version of the title song was also recorded, and appears on side 2 of the original album (just prior to the climactic “A Day in the Life”), creating a “bookending” effect.
However, the Beatles effectively abandoned the concept after recording the first two songs and the reprise. Lennon was unequivocal in stating that the songs he wrote for the album had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept. Since the other songs on the album are actually unrelated, one might be tempted to conclude that the album does not express an overarching theme. However, the cohesive structure and careful sequencing of and transitioning between songs on the album, as well as the use of the Sgt. Pepper framing device, have led the album to be widely acknowledged as an early and ground-breaking example of the concept album.
Before beginning work on Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles had begun to work on a series of songs that were to form an album thematically linked to childhood and everyday life. The first fruits of this exercise – “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were released as singles under pressure from EMI to meet their traditional release structure of one album and four singles a year. Once the singles were released the concept was abandoned in favour of ‘Pepper’. However, traces of this initial idea survive in the lyrics to several songs on the album (“Day in the Life”, “Lovely Rita”, “Good Morning, Good Morning”, “She’s Leaving Home” and “When I’m Sixty-Four”) and it could be argued provide more of a unifying theme for the album than that of the Pepper concept itself.
There is much speculation as to the use of drugs in the creation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Beatles’ other music. The album features many effects and themes that appear to be psychedelic. At points there seem to be many explicit references to drugs. The album’s closing track, “A Day in the Life”, which is one of the last major Lennon-McCartney collaborations, includes the phrase “I’d love to turn you on”. “Turning on” was a common drug culture colloquialism at the time for taking LSD, referring to the mantra coined by drug advocate Timothy Leary “turn on, tune in, & drop out”, though this interpretation was later denied by Lennon and McCartney. They supposedly meant that they’d love to turn you on to the truth.
According to Peter Brown in his biography of the Beatles, The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of The Beatles, when McCartney sings, “Found my way upstairs and had a smoke. Somebody spoke and I went into a dream”, was quite obviously about marijuana. However, in the same song, “four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire” had nothing to do with the needle tracks in a junkie’s arm. Likewise, the hole McCartney was fixing in “Fixing a Hole” was not in the arm of a heroin addict, nor was “Henry the Horse” in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” a code for heroin. Lennon took the title from a Victorian circus poster he purchased in an antique shop.
Also when Starr sings “With a Little Help From My Friends”, he repeatedly declares that he gets high with a little help from his friends. Phrases such as “Take some tea” (a slang term for cannabis) in “Lovely Rita” and “digging the weeds” in “When I’m Sixty-Four” have also been cited as possible drug references, although in both of these instances the lines are almost certainly meant to be taken literally. In fact, it is almost certain that the one in “When I’m Sixty-Four” was meant to be literal, because Paul wrote the song in the 1950s when he was 16.
The song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” became the subject of much speculation regarding its meaning. John Lennon maintained that the song describes a surreal dreamscape inspired by a picture drawn by his son Julian. (One of Julian’s classmates at this time was a girl named Lucy.) However, the song became controversial as many believed that the words of the chorus were code for LSD, a claim Lennon consistently denied. The BBC used this as their basis for banning the song from British radio. Julian, McCartney, Harrison and Starr backed up Lennon’s story (Starr even said he saw the picture at the time), and the picture itself has appeared in the media. However, during a newspaper interview in 2004, McCartney was quoted as saying, “Lucy In The Sky, that’s pretty obvious. …but the writing was too important for us to mess it up by getting off our heads all the time.”
Debate continues among critics and fans about the meaning, extent, and depth of the drug references. Some interpretations of the album have focused on the use of drugs as central to the meaning of the entire album. Some critics, such as Sheila Whiteley, have claimed that the experience of LSD use is fundamental and infused into the album. Most critics acknowledge some drug references, but believe that the album cannot be simply reduced to these references. George Melly, for example, points out that many songs, such as “A Day in the Life”, can easily be interpreted as rejections of drug culture, and that the culture is portrayed in a “desperate light.”
While the Beatles admitted to the occasional drug reference in their songs, these instances are surprisingly rare and usually they had other explanations for their lyrics. For instance, McCartney’s “somebody spoke and I went into a dream” section of “A Day in the Life” was inspired by McCartney’s taking the bus during his school years and sometimes falling asleep on the way there, while the “had a smoke” line refers to a Woodbine cigarette, rather than marijuana as is often assumed.
Upon release, Sgt. Pepper received both popular and critical acclaim. Various reviews appearing in the mainstream press and trade publications throughout June 1967, immediately after the album’s release, were generally quite positive. In The Times prominent critic Kenneth Tynan described Sgt. Pepper as “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization.” Others including Richard Poirier, and Geoffrey Stokes were similarly expansive in their praise, Stokes noting, “listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century.”
One notable critic who did not like the album was Richard Goldstein, a critic for The New York Times, who wrote, “Like an over-attended child, “Sergeant Pepper” is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises, and a 41-piece orchestra,” and added that it was an “album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent” . On the other hand, Goldstein called “A Day in the Life” “a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric,” and that “it stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event.”
One rock musician who apparently did not like the album was Frank Zappa, who accused the Beatles of co-opting the flower power aesthetic for monetary gain, saying in a Rolling Stone article that he felt “they were only in it for the money.” That criticism later became the title of the Mothers of Invention album (We’re Only in It for the Money), which mocked Sgt. Pepper with a similar album cover. (The original cover, featuring Zappa and his bandmates in drag against a yellow background, was a spoof of the inside cover of Sgt. Pepper’s; the original outer cover of the album, featuring Zappa and his band standing before a Sgt. Pepper-like collage and fronted by a flowerbed lettered “MOTHERS”, was withdrawn by MGM Records and never officially issued until the album’s CD release. The original LP issue nevertheless included a “cut-outs” card featuring facsimiles of Zappa’s trademark moustache and of a button with a nipple on it.) Ironically, when recording of Sgt. Pepper was completed, McCartney said, “This is going to be our Freak Out!”, referring to Zappa’s 1966 debut album, which is considered by many as the first rock concept album.
Within days of its release, Jimi Hendrix was performing the title track in concert, first for an audience that included Harrison and McCartney, who were greatly impressed by his unique version of their song and his ability to learn it so quickly. Also, Australian band the Twilights — who had obtained an advance copy of the LP in London — wowed audiences in Australia with note-perfect live renditions of the entire album, weeks before it was even released there.
The chart performance of the album was even stronger than critical reception. In the UK it debuted at #8 before the album was even released (on June 1, 1967) and the next week peaked at #1 where it stayed for 23 consecutive weeks. Then it was knocked off the top for The Sound of Music on the week ending November 18, 1967. Eventually it spent more weeks at the top, including the competitive Christmas week. When the CD edition was released on June 1, 1987, it made #3. In June 1992, the CD was re-promoted to commemorate its 25th Anniversary, and charted at #6. In 2007, commemorating 40 years of its release, Sgt. Pepper again re-entered the charts at #47 in the UK. In all, the album spent a total of 198 weeks on the UK charts.
The album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, the first rock album to do so, and Best Contemporary Album in 1968. U.S. sales for the album totalled 11 million units, with 30 million worldwide.
It has been on many lists of the best rock albums, including Rolling Stone, Bill Shapiro, Alternative Melbourne, Rod Underhill and VH1. In 1997 Sgt. Pepper was named the number 1 greatest album of all time in a ‘Music of the Millennium’ poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 7, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 10; In 2003, the album was ranked number 1 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2006, the album was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time. In 2002, Q magazine placed it at number 13 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
A period of experimentation in the Beatles’ music had begun with the album Rubber Soul in late 1965. During this period, new influences and instruments from as far afield as India were incorporated in their recordings.
Two songs dropped from Sgt. Pepper, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, were both recorded in late 1966 and early 1967. The unusually long gap between Beatles releases, combined with the group’s withdrawal from touring, resulted in producer George Martin’s being placed under increasing pressure by EMI and Capitol to deliver new material. He reluctantly issued the two songs as a double-A-sided single in February 1967. In keeping with the group’s usual practice, the single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision Martin maintains he regrets to this day). They were released only as a single in the UK at the time, but were included as part of the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour (which was issued as a 6-track EP in Britain). The Harrison composition “Only a Northern Song” was also recorded during the Pepper sessions but did not see release until January 1969 when the soundtrack album for the animated feature Yellow Submarine was issued.
It is arguable that Sgt. Pepper was the last Beatles album where the band were consistently working together as a group rather than as separate members, and without any fear of conflict or ego domination. Much of this was due to Brian Epstein and his ability to resolve any petty differences between them. When he died a couple of months after the album was released, the band began the slow path towards breaking up, having no one to guide them and give them something to do. It is notably the last time where the band are unified in their look, all having long hair, moustaches and day-glo suits. After this, their individual appearances varied widely. McCartney appeared to take up the leadership role, something which the other Beatles saw as controlling.
Their follow up, Magical Mystery Tour, contained songs that were stylistically similar to those of Sgt. Pepper. After a three month break, the Beatles returned to more conventional musical expression in February 1968 with the Fats Domino-influenced, piano-based “Lady Madonna”.
See also: List of images on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was created by art director Robert Fraser, mostly in collaboration with McCartney, designed by Peter Blake, his wife Jann Haworth, and photographed by Michael Cooper. It featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover and lyrics printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on an English pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band, were dressed in eye-catching custom-made military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours. The suits were designed by Manuel Cuevas. Among the insignia on their uniforms are:
MBE medals on McCartney’s and Harrison’s jackets, which were given to them by the Queen.
The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, on Lennon’s right sleeve
Ontario Provincial Police flash on McCartney’s sleeve
Art director Robert Fraser was a prominent London art dealer who ran the Indica Gallery. He had become a close friend of McCartney’s and it was at his strong urging that the group abandoned their original cover design, a psychedelic painting by The Fool. The Fool’s design for the inner sleeve was, however, used for the first few pressings.
Fraser was one of the leading champions of modern art in Britain in the 1960s and after. He argued strongly that the Fool artwork was not well-executed and that the design would soon be dated. He convinced McCartney to abandon it, and offered to art-direct the cover; it was Fraser’s suggestion to use an established fine artist and he introduced the band to a client, noted British ‘pop’ artist Peter Blake, who, in collaboration with his wife, created the famous cover collage, known as “People We Like”.
The couch gag for The Simpsons episode “Bart After Dark”, which is a homage to the album cover.According to Blake, the original concept was to create a scene that showed the Sgt. Pepper band performing in a park; this gradually evolved into its final form, which shows the Beatles, as the Sgt. Pepper band, surrounded by a large group of their heroes, rendered as lifesized cut-out figures. Also included were wax-work figures of the Beatles as they appeared in the early ’60s, borrowed from Madame Tussauds. The wax figures appear to be looking down on the word “Beatles” spelled out in flowers as if it were a grave, and it has been speculated that this symbolises that the innocent mop-tops of yesteryear were now dead and gone. At their feet were several affectations from the Beatles’ homes including small statues belonging to Lennon and Harrison, a small portable TV set and a trophy. A young delivery boy who provided the flowers for the photo session was allowed to contribute a guitar made of yellow hyacinths. Although it has long been rumoured that some of the plants in the arrangement were cannabis plants, this is untrue. Also included is a Shirley Temple doll wearing a sweater in homage to the Rolling Stones (who would return the tribute by having the Beatles hidden in the cover of their own Their Satanic Majesties Request LP later that year).
The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars and (at Harrison’s request) a number of Indian gurus. Starr reportedly made no contribution to the design. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Diana Dors, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, William S. Burroughs, Marlon Brando, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Pete Best said in a later NPR interview that Lennon borrowed family medals from his mother Mona for the shoot, on condition he not lose them. Adolf Hitler was requested by Lennon, but ultimately he was left out. It can, however, be seen in place as well as leaning against the wall in several photographs taken on the set.
The gatefoldA photo also exists of a rejected cardboard printout with a cloth draped over its head; its identity is unknown, but may possibly be Elvis Presley. Even now, co-creator Jann Haworth regrets that so few women were included. The entire list of people on the cover can be found at List of images on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The package was a ‘gatefold’ album cover, that is, the album could be opened like a book to reveal a large picture of the Fab Four in costume against a yellow background. The reason for the gatefold was that the Beatles originally planned to fill two LPs for the release. The designs had already been approved and sent to be printed when they realized they would only have enough material for one LP.
The cut-out page that came with the original LPOriginally the group wanted the album to include a package with pins, pencils and other small Sgt. Pepper goodies but this proved far too cost-prohibitive. Instead, the album came with a page of cut-outs, with a description in the top left corner:
Picture card of Sgt. Pepper
Stand-up of the band
The special inner sleeve, included in the early pressings of the LP, featured a multi-coloured psychedelic pattern designed by the Fool.
The inner sleeveThe collage created legal worries for EMI’s legal department, which had to contact the people who were still living to obtain their permission. Mae West initially refused — famously asking “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?” — but she relented after the Beatles sent her a personal letter. Actor Leo Gorcey requested payment for inclusion on the cover, so his image was removed. An image of Mohandas Gandhi was also removed at the request of EMI (it was actually just obscured by a palm tree), who had a branch in India and were fearful that it might cause offence there. Lennon had, perhaps facetiously, asked to include images of Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler, but these were rejected because they would almost certainly have generated enormous controversy. Most of the suggestions for names to be included came from McCartney, Lennon and Harrison, with additional suggestions from Blake and Fraser (Starr demurred and let the others choose). Beatles manager Brian Epstein had serious misgivings, stemming from the scandalous U.S. Butcher Cover controversy the previous year, going so far as to give a note reading “Brown paper bags for Sgt. Pepper” to Nat Weiss as his last wish.
The collage was assembled by Blake and his wife during the last two weeks of March 1967 at the London studio of photographer Michael Cooper, who took the cover shots on March 30, 1967 in a three-hour evening session. The final bill for the cover was £2,868 5s/3d, a staggering sum for the time — it has been estimated that this was 100 times the average cost for an album cover in those days.
The Rutles album cover.The cover has been parodied several times:
By the Rutles on their only ‘real’ album, showing four redesigns of Beatles covers, including Sgt. Pepper. The Rutles’ version was entitled Sgt. Rutter’s Only Dart’s Club Band.
By Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on the cover art of their album We’re Only in It for the Money (although McCartney initially refused permission for the Mothers parody cover to be released, he later relented).
By Dutch comic artist Koen Hottentot as Sgt Croppers Yearly Fairport Band for a Fairport Convention festival programme and subsequent poster.
In the opening credits of an episode of The Simpsons. Homer turns around at the end, mimicking McCartney’s appearance on the album’s back cover. In the bottom right-hand corner, there is a Be Sharps album, which is a parody of another Beatles album cover, Abbey Road.
By Swedish artist David Liljemark for a magazine, depicting a hypothetical future for the band Sven-Ingvars.
By comic book artist J.H. Williams III on the cover of Promethea #10, written by Alan Moore and published by his America’s Best Comics imprint in October 2000.
By The Sporting News, whose 13 August 2001 issue featured a version of this album when New York City was selected as their best sports city during the period 1 July 2000 – 30 June 2001.
By Mad magazine in its August 2002 issue (#420), featuring “The 50 Worst Things About Music.”
By the American death metal band Macabre, with their second full-length studio album Sinister Slaughter.
Mad had earlier printed a short poem about the album:
Your “Sergeant Pepper” is a smash;
Your loyal fans defend it;
We’ve even heard a few of them
Maintain they comprehend it.
It’s great of you to want to build
Goodwill between our nations;
But just the same, could you provide
By Rolling Stone magazine, whose 1,000th issue (May 18 – June 1, 2006) consisted of a lenticular, 3-D cover with 154 rock & roll and pop cultural figures including, prominently, the Beatles themselves, arranged in a style reminiscent of the Sgt. Pepper cover.
By Brazilian singer Zé Ramalho on the cover of his album Nação Nordestina.
By Oakland, CA designer Dan Krewson for the cover of his compilation “The 20 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Of All-Time”.
By the comic strip Pearls Before Swine on the cover of the Sgt. Piggy’s Lonely Hearts Club Comic treasury
By LucasArts as one of the main promotion images for Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2007.
There were also variations of the cover for different countries. On the Soviet Union cover, the writing on the bass drum was translated into cyrillic, Karl Marx was replaced by Rasputin and a photo of the director of the record company was added in the back row between Edgar Allan Poe and Fred Astaire. Some countries had coloured vinyl such as a yellow LP in the Netherlands and a red one in Japan.
Celebrities on the cover
Carl Gustav Jung
Dr. David Livingstone
Edgar Allan Poe
George Bernard Shaw
H. G. Wells
H. C. Westermann
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya
Sri Mahavatar Babaji
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda
Sri Yukteswar Giri
The Petty Girl of George Petty
Lawrence of Arabia
William S. Burroughs
W. C. Fields
Ringo Starr is introduced on Sgt. Pepper as Billy Shears. Billy Shears is only mentioned in the title song and, implicitly, as the singer of the segued-into “With a Little Help from My Friends”.
Billy Shears was later mentioned in Starr’s 1973 hit “I’m the Greatest”, written by John Lennon: “Yes, my name is Billy Shears / You know it has been for so many years.”
In the 1978 RSO movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a character called Billy Shears is played by Peter Frampton.
In the 1968 animated movie Yellow Submarine, the Lennon character asks Jeremy “Who in the Billy Shears are you?”, and later, the Billy Shears line from the song is played, but introducing Lennon rather than Starr.
Planned TV movie
On 10 February 1967, during the orchestral recording sessions for “A Day in the Life”, six cameramen filmed the chaotic events with the purpose of using the footage for a planned but unfinished Sgt. Pepper television special. The TV special was to have been written by Ian Dallas and directed by Keith Green. If the project had proceeded, it would have been the first full-length video album (that claim would later go to Blondie’s Eat to the Beat in 1979). The shooting schedule included all the songs from the album set to music video style scenes: for example; “Within You Without You” scenes would have been set throughout offices, factories and elevators. There were even production numbers planned involving “meter maids” and “rockers”. Although production was cancelled, the “A Day in the Life” footage was edited down with stock footage into a finished clip. This clip was not released to the public until the John Lennon documentary Imagine: John Lennon was released in 1988. A more complete version was later aired on The Beatles Anthology series.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first Beatles album to be released with identical track listings in the United Kingdom and the United States (although the American release did not contain the side two runout groove and inner groove sound effects). All songs written by Lennon-McCartney, except where noted.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – 2:04
“With a Little Help from My Friends” – 2:46
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – 3:30
“Getting Better” – 2:49
“Fixing a Hole” – 2:38
“She’s Leaving Home” – 3:37
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” – 2:37
“Within You Without You” (George Harrison) – 5:07
“When I’m Sixty-Four” – 2:37
“Lovely Rita” – 2:44
“Good Morning Good Morning” – 2:43
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)” – 1:20
“A Day in the Life” – 5:33
Alternative side one
The 1987 CD release for Sgt. Pepper includes additional notes mentioning an alternative track listing for the album’s A side. The running order below is shown as the album was originally conceived.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
“With a Little Help from My Friends”
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
“Fixing a Hole”
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
“She’s Leaving Home”
Following the last track on the album is an extremely high-pitched tone (15 kHz), too high-pitched for some (especially adults) to hear, but audible to dogs, other animals, and most younger listeners. The high tone was inserted, as was John Lennon’s intention, to irritate the listener’s dog. However, the tone was only inserted on the first 5000 copies of the LP (save for the American Capitol Records pressing), but is now available on all copies of the CD. Don R. Vaughn, a Ph.D. in Mass Communication at Miss. St. University, recalled playing “A Day in the Life” on his radio show in the late 1970s. “I decided,” Vaughn said, “to play ‘A Day in the Life’ from the album 1967-1970 and during the song (I cannot recall at which part), we went off the air! The program director rushed into the control room and told me not to play it anymore because there’s something in the song that would knock our transmitter off.”
The 15 kHz tone is followed by a loop of incomprehensible Beatles studio chatter, spliced together apparently at random sections would play forward (‘Never could be any other way’) and others backward (debatably ‘Will Paul be back as Superman?’). This lasts for two seconds and the final three syllables are on the final groove creating a loop that is repeated ‘endlessly’. This noise was placed in the concentric run-out groove of the vinyl LP. If the listener’s record player had an auto return mechanism, a short burst of noise would be heard before the needle was lifted and moved back into place. Otherwise, the sound would loop infinitely, leading the listener to wonder if something had gone wrong with the record or the record player. Rumours of a ‘hidden message’, audible only when one played the vinyl copy backwards, abounded for many years without substantiation. This was mainly due to the practical difficulties involved with manually spooling the record backwards whilst maintaining a constant speed. All four Beatles denied the obscene backwards message and said it was complete gibberish that they did for laughs.
This coda to the Sgt. Pepper LP was included in British pressings but not originally in American pressings. The 1987 CD rerelease—in any country—recreates this effect, although, since an infinite loop cannot be created on compact discs, the Beatle chatter is looped eight or nine times before fading slowly out.
On Anthology II, in an early, pre-orchestral version of the song, Paul can be heard saying ‘Y’see, the worst thing about doing this, or doing something like this, is that I think at first people sort of, are a bit suspicious. You know, ‘come on, what are you up to?’. But the thing is, it really is just…’ before the song fades out.
Canadian progressive rock band Rush also utilised this technique in their 1975 album Fly By Night. At the end of By-Tor and the Snow Dog, there is a series of repeating chimes.
The Who lampooned this effect later in 1967 with their album The Who Sell Out. The album, an ode to pirate radio that included genuine and false advertisements, ended with an infinite loop featuring voices repeating the words ‘Track Records’—the Who’s record label.
Brand New also referenced this noise on their 2003 album Deja Entendu. After the ending of the final track, “Play Crack the Sky”, you can hear lead singer Jesse Lacey walk to the back of the room, sing the noise in an upwards crescendo as well as the line ‘Never to see any other way’ and walk out of a door.
Other recordings of the period
Four other tracks were recorded during the timespan of the Sgt. Pepper recording sessions but not incorporated on the album:
“Strawberry Fields Forever”: The first song recorded for the album, written by Lennon with the title referring to a Salvation Army orphanage near where he lived during his childhood in Liverpool.
“Penny Lane”: A McCartney song written as a counterpoint to Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields” – it was McCartney’s own nostalgic take on the Liverpool of his youth.
Though “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” had originally been intended for the new album, in January 1967 producer George Martin responded to EMI Records’ pressure for a new single (the Beatles had not released a single since August 1966) and called the two tracks for issue in February 1967. In common with UK music industry practice at that time, which did not duplicate recent singles on new albums, both tracks were subsequently left off the Sgt. Pepper album. The tracks were issued on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in late 1967 and on a UK compilation album in 1973. Martin later described the decision to extract the two songs from the album as the biggest mistake of his career.
“Only a Northern Song”: A George Harrison song that offered a sarcastic commentary on his music publishing contract with the Beatles’ publishing company “Northern Songs”. After completing the song, Harrison decided to record another track for the album, “Within You Without You”, and that song about spirituality was deemed a more suitable choice for the album. “Only a Northern Song” was shelved and then given to the makers of the animated feature film Yellow Submarine. It was used in the 1968 film and then incorporated on the soundtrack album released the following year.
“Carnival of Light”: A McCartney sound collage reportedly lasting ten to fifteen minutes, the piece was commissioned and recorded for use at a psychedelic London event in early 1967 – the “Carnival of Light Rave” – and expanded on the use of tape loops that the Beatles had explored on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. “Carnival of Light” has not yet appeared on any release, be it official or a bootleg recording. However, a minute-long track claimed to be an excerpt from the song containing backwards, sped up electric guitar noises has appeared on various filesharing networks.
At the time of its release, Sgt. Pepper was not accompanied by a single. Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first album to be handled this way; the Beatles’ own Rubber Soul, from 1965, had no singles taken from it, to cite one previous example. Nonetheless, the practice was rare.
In the wake of the release of the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1978, Capitol issued the medley of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” on the A-side of a 45, with “A Day in the Life” as the B-side. Even though the recordings were 11 years old, the single made the Billboard Hot 100, and peaked at #71.
Country Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom June 1, 1967 Parlophone mono LP PMC 7027
stereo LP PCS 7027
stereo cassette TC-PCS 7027
United States June 2, 1967 Capitol Records mono LP MAS 2653
stereo LP SMAS 2653
Worldwide reissue June 1, 1987 Apple, Parlophone, EMI CD CDP 7 46442 2
Japan March 11, 1998 Toshiba-EMI CD TOCP 51118
Japan January 21, 2004 Toshiba-EMI Remastered LP TOJP 60138
Year Country Chart Position
1967 United States Billboard 200 1 (15 weeks)
1967 United Kingdom UK Albums Chart 1 (27 weeks)
1967 Australia Australian ARIA Albums Chart 1 (30 weeks)
1967 Norway Norwegian Album Chart 1 (22 weeks)
The album entered the UK Albums Chart on 3 June 1967 and has remained there for a total of 201 weeks as at 1 July 2007. In the USA the album stayed in the Billboard 200 chart for 175 weeks.
Year Single Chart Position
1978 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”/”With a Little Help from My Friends”/”A Day in the Life” Pop Singles 71
Year Winner Award
1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album of the Year
1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts
1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical
1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Contemporary Album
Grammy Award nominations
Year Nominee Award
1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Group Vocal Performance
1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Contemporary Vocal Group
1967 “A Day in the Life” Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
2007 Most Definitive Rock and Roll Album
Works directly inspired by Sgt. Pepper
Stage musical and film
The LP was adapted as a stage musical in the mid-1970s, which would itself provide the partial basis for a widely-panned 1978 film version, produced by Robert Stigwood and starring Peter Frampton as Billy Shears and the Bee Gees as the Hendersons, with an all-star supporting cast including George Burns and Steve Martin. (Billy Preston also appears performing “Get Back.”) The long-disbanded Beatles did not appear in the film and none of their recordings were used on the soundtrack. Despite the fact that The Bee Gees were among the hottest stars in music at the time, the movie was a critical and commercial flop.
Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father
In 1988 the New Musical Express released a tribute album called Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, in aid of the charity Childline. It featured cover versions of all the Sgt. Pepper tracks by various artists. The track list is:
Three Wize Men – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Wet Wet Wet – “With a Little Help from My Friends”
The Christians – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
The Wedding Present with Amelia Fletcher – “Getting Better”
Hue and Cry – “Fixing a Hole”
Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey – “She’s Leaving Home”
Frank Sidebottom – “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”
Sonic Youth – “Within You Without You”
Courtney Pine – “When I’m Sixty-Four”
Michelle Shocked – “Lovely Rita”
The Triffids – “Good Morning Good Morning”
Three Wize Men – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
The Fall – “A Day in the Life”
A double A-sided single featuring the Wet Wet Wet and Billy Bragg tracks was released and reached No. 1 in the UK charts.
A Los Angeles-based comedic pop group (featuring future Beach Boys keyboardist Tim Bonhomme that emerged in 1983 on Rhino Records, Big Daddy released their version of Sgt. Pepper on June 2, 1992 (UPC: 081227037123), performing the entire LP, song-by-song, in the styles of 1950s and early ’60s rock & roll.
The Beachles Sgt. Petsound’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a track-for-track mash-up of Sgt. Pepper’s and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by Clayton Counts, released in 2006. It is less a traditional mash-up than a work of noise music.
Sgt. Pepper…With a Little Help From His Friends
Mojo Magazine included a track-for-track recording of Sgt. Pepper with its March 2007 tribute issue celebrating the 40th anniversary of the album’s release that June. The recording features contemporary alternative rock artists.
Simple Kid – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Puerto Muerto – “With a Little Help from My Friends”
Circulus – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
Fionn Regan – “Getting Better”
747s – “Fixing a Hole”
Unkle Bob – “She’s Leaving Home”
Bikeride – “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”
Stephanie Dosen – “Within You Without You”
Chin Up Chin Up – “When I’m Sixty-Four”
Dave Cloud & The Gospel of Power – “Lovely Rita”
The M’s – “Good Morning Good Morning”
Simple Kid – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
Captain – “A Day in the Life”
Echo & The Bunnymen – “All You Need Is Love” (Additional Track)
40th anniversary re-recording
June 1, 2007 marked the fortieth anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The BBC marked the occasion by organising for the following current rock acts to re-record the album. This was done using the same one-inch four-track equipment which recorded the original (borrowed from Mark Knopfler), and was supervised by the original engineer, Geoff Emerick. The recordings aired on BBC Radio 2 as part of a documentary following the process on Saturday June 2 and June 16.
It is presumed but not confirmed that this will be released as an album by the BBC. It was announced on the Russell Brand Radio Show that EMI are in talks with regards to royalties with all involved and that the monophonic mix is also to be released on CD on a date not yet announced. The final tracks covered were as follows:
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – Bryan Adams
“With A Little Help From My Friends” – Razorlight
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” – Athlete
“Getting Better” – Kaiser Chiefs
“Fixing A Hole” – The Fray
“She’s Leaving Home” – The Magic Numbers
“Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite” – Jamie Cullum
“Within You Without You” – Oasis
“When I’m Sixty Four” – Russell Brand
“Lovely Rita” – Travis
“Good Morning Good Morning” – The Zutons
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” – Stereophonics
“A Day in the Life” – Pete Doherty and Carl Barât
Although numerous classical renditions of Sgt. Pepper songs were made, in December 2004 the first full classical rendition of Sgt. Pepper was released (Beatles Unlimited Magazine, Issue 189, December 2006). All instrumentals on Sgt. Pepper for Classical Guitar (UPC: 702987021428) were arranged for classical guitar and played, in the original order, by concert artist and composer Branimir Krstic .
John Lennon – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, organ, piano, percussion, vocals
Paul McCartney – acoustic guitar, electric bass, electric guitar, piano, organ, percussion, vocals
George Harrison – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sitar, tamboura, percussion, harmonica, Wurlitzer organ, vocals
Ringo Starr – drums, percussion, piano, harmonica, vocals
George Martin – producer, harpsichord, organ, piano, harmonium
Geoff Emerick – recording engineer
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a b Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years. London: Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-55784-7.
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The Associated Press. “Paul McCartney got no thrill from heroin”, MSNBC, 2004-06-02. Retrieved on 2007-03-15.
Goldstein, Richard, “We Still Need the Beatles, but…” in The New York Times, 1967-06-18.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The first concept album?. Its Influence. Retrieved on 2007-11-19.
List of Sgt. Peppers Accolades. Acclaimed Music. Retrieved on 2007-11-19.
2001 VH1 Cable Music Channel All Time Album Top 100. VH1. Retrieved on 2007-11-19.
The All-Time 100 Albums. Time. Retrieved on 2007-11-20.
The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. Q. Retrieved on 2007-11-20.
The National Recording Registry 2003. Library of Congress. Retrieved on 2007-11-19.
Transcript: Glenn Beck. CNN (2006-05-08). Retrieved on 2007-03-15.
Homer’s Enemy. BBC.co.uk. Retrieved on 2007-04-10.
Arts: Sgt Pepper: take two; In 1967, Jann Haworth co-designed the iconic cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with her then husband, Peter Blake. Now she has revisited the idea – and this time women get a proper look-in
DeRogotis, Jim: Kill Your Idols. Barricade Books, 2004
THE BEATLES – SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (ALBUM) Norwegiancharts.com. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
Excerpt from: WikiPedia