Sgt. Pepper’s Still Marching 40 Years Later

It was Forty Years Ago Today that Sgt. Pepper’s taught the band to play. Okay, how many articles on the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band have used that line?
Sgt. Pepper\'s Lonely Hearts Club Band
I still have my original Sgt. Pepper’s LP, complete with the cardboard cutouts of sergeant’s stripes and moustaches. But that’s the only thing that’s not worn out. The cover is splitting and the vinyl is groove worn from countless spins. Some critics, like Dan DeLuca of the Philadelphia Inquirer, decry Pepper’s iconic, best-album-of-all-time status. He cites Revolver as a better recording. And song for song, I’d have to agree. From the stinging satire of “Taxman” to the tripped out spirituality of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver stretched boundaries, but was also a more concise statement. Each song was like a miniature tone poem setting a cogently compelling scene whether it was “Dr. Roberts” turning the Beatles on or the biting love song of “She Said, She Said.”
Revolver [UK]
But Sgt. Pepper’s was something else. It was a new universe, where nostalgia and hipness converged. From McCartney’s music hall ditties to Lennon’s consciousness expanding anthems, Sgt.Pepper looked at the world of yesterday and today and brought them together. It was a walk in quaint English street colored in psychedelic hues. You can talk about the ground-breaking production, odd song forms, Indian influences, and the inclusion of Karlheinz Stockhausen among the cover figures, but none of that is as important as the immersive world The Beatles created.

Sgt. Pepper’s influence still resounds. It signaled the rise of Progressive Rock in the 1970s, which of course, spawned space music and Tangerine Dream and their muscial progeny. Artists from Radiohead to Arcade Fire, The Angels of Venice to Bill Laswell, have added Beatlesque influences to their music. And what were the ambient house hallucinations of The Orb and Future Sound of London but reverberations from Sgt. Peppers. You just know that Bombay Dub Orchestra were inspired by the album and their orchestral arrangements echo George Martin’s sweeping strings on George Harrison’s raga reflection, “Within You Without You.” It’s also the most covered Beatles’ tune heard on Echoes.
The IsnessPhaedraBombay Dub Orchestra
Critics who like music and life a little more straightforward, free of tangents and fringe, disparage Sgt. Pepper’s. They prefer the ominous drones of the Velvet Underground and the ultimately retro-rock revelry of The Clash. But Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spoke to those of us looking for something beyond as well as something with hope. That’s why “A Day in the Life” comes after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).” That song should have ended the album, but The Beatles had a more important message to leave us. After some 30 minutes of promise and wonder, it lifts the veil to the darker world of life’s absurdity. That’s why they’d “love to turn you on.”

Comment posted by
at 6/5/2007 4:00:45 PM

You mention “Within You Without You;” I know that Angels of Venice covered it and that Dead Can Dance “sampled” it, but I’m not sure of the other versions. We used to play that on “Star’s End” all the time; I saw another Beatles’ tune from “Love” on a recent Star’s End” playlist, but I was expecting to hear “Within You Without You,” on the 40th annibersary of Sgt. Peppers, plus it’s such an easy segueway to all sorts of Indian influenced music-the new John Wubbenhorst CD “True Water” comes immediately to mind.

I also agree, though, that song for song, “Revolver” is a better album, and the great “Tomorrow Never Knows” has been covered quite a bit as well-the “T.N.K.” version on the 801 record is my favorite, and it was also classic Diaspar (I had a passing thought that the remastered “Damage” by Sylvian and Fripp would also have been classic Diaspar, but that’s for another thread.)

The cover of Sgt. Peppers may have shown a picture of Karlheinz Stockhausen, but when I hear “Tomorrow Never Knows,” I can also hear Stockhausen’s music, in pieces like “Hymnen.” Sgt. Peppers doesn’t “channel” other music in that way, with the possible exception of “A Day In The Life;” it’s a far more self-contained and coherent artistic statement, one of the first of the “concept” albums.

Comment posted by
at 6/5/2007 9:43:05 AM

Its funny… 40 years later and there is still to be an album like Sgt Peppers, Revolver, or The White Album.

Comment posted by
at 6/3/2007 10:27:21 PM

The Beatles influenced almost everything that came after them. That can not be said about any other group or artist. Long live Sgt. Pepper!

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