ON THIS DATE (44 YEARS AGO)
June 1, 1967 – The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is released.
June 1, 1967 – The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is released.
RF Rating 5/5
# Allmusic 5/5 stars
# Blender 5/5 stars
# Robert Christgau (A)
# Crawdaddy! 5/5 stars/Issue 1.11 1967
# Pitchfork Media 10/10 stars
# Q 5/5 stars
# Rolling Stone 5/5 stars
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by English rock band The Beatles, released on 1 June 1967 on the Parlophone label and produced by George Martin. It has since been recognized as one of the most important albums in the history of popular music and is widely regarded as a masterpiece, including songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life”. Recorded over a 129-day period beginning in December 1966, Sgt. Pepper saw the band developing the production techniques of their previous album, Revolver. Martin’s innovative and lavish production included the orchestra usage and hired musicians ordered by the band. Genres such as music hall, jazz, rock and roll, western classical, and traditional Indian music are covered. The album cover art depicts the band posing in front of a collage of their favorite celebrities, and has been widely acclaimed and imitated.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a worldwide critical and commercial success, spending a total of 27 weeks at the top of the UK Album Chart and 15 weeks at #1 on the American Billboard 200. A defining album in the emerging psychedelic rock style, Sgt. Pepper was critically acclaimed upon release and won four Grammy awards in 1968. Sgt. Pepper frequently ranks at or near the top of published lists of the greatest albums of all time. In 2003, the album was placed at number one on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Sgt. Pepper is one of the world’s best selling albums, having shipped 32 million copies.
The Beatles had grown tired of performing live and stopped touring in August 1966. After the stress of their final American tour, in particular the postponed Cincinnati concert, the four of them, especially Paul McCartney, who was perhaps the most in favor of continuing to tour, decided that it was time to stop. They took a two-month break, and individually got involved in their own interests. Lead guitarist George Harrison traveled to India to continue developing his sitar playing at the invitation of Ravi Shankar, returning with enhanced Indian culture and music. The Beatles’ Indian influence brought Indian culture and music to the attention of western audiences. Even today, the band remains very popular in India, where there are a number of tribute bands. McCartney, along with Martin, wrote the music for the film The Family Way, getting an Ivor Novello award the following year for best film song for the track “Love in the Open Air”. John Lennon acted in How I Won the War, and attended art galleries, where he met his future wife Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr spent more time with his wife and children. In November, during a flight back from a holiday in Kenya with his girlfriend Jane Asher and tour manager Mal Evans, McCartney had the first idea for the concept of an alternative Beatles band that would become the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club band.
Recording for the album began in late 1966 with 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 a double-A-sided single in February 1967 after EMI and Epstein pressured George Martin for a released single. Once the singles were released the childhood concept was abandoned in favour of Pepper, and in keeping with the group’s usual practice, the single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision Martin states he now regrets). 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 six-track double EP in Britain). The Harrison composition “Only a Northern Song” was also recorded during the Pepper sessions but did not see a release until the soundtrack album for the animated film Yellow Submarine, released on January 1969.
As EMI’s premier act and the world’s most successful rock group they had almost unlimited access to 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 1967 all of the Sgt. Pepper tracks could be recorded at Abbey Road using mono, stereo and four-track recorders. Although eight-track tape recorders were already available in the US, the first eight-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 known at that time as a “reduction mix”), in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one or several tracks of the master four-track machine. This enabled the Abbey Road engineers to give The Beatles a virtual multi-track studio.
The Beatles 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. 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 recognized 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 especially 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. Martin, having a bit of fun at Lennon’s expense, described the new technique to an inquisitive Lennon as a “double-bifurcated sploshing flange”. The anecdote explains one variation of how the term “flanging” came to be associated with this recording effect.
Also important was vari-speeding, 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 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.
“Within You Without You” was recorded on March 15 with Harrison on vocals, sitar and acoustic guitar; the other instruments, tabla, dilruba, swarmandel, and tambura, were played by four London-based Indian musicians while the rest of the Beatles watched, but did not take part.
For the March 17 recording of “She’s Leaving Home”, McCartney hired Mike Leander to arrange the string section as Martin was occupied producing a Cilla Black record.
The lyrics for Lennon’s song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, were adapted almost word for word from a Victorian circus poster for Pablo Fanque’s circus, 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 sound collage 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.
This album also makes heavy use of keyboard instruments. A 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 Martin on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. Electric piano, upright piano, Hammond organ, glockenspiel, and mellotron are all heard on the record. Harrison used a tambura on several tracks, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Getting Better”.
The thunderous piano chord that concludes “A Day in the Life”, and the album, was produced by assembling three grand pianos in the studio and playing an E chord on each simultaneously. Together on cue, Lennon, Starr, McCartney, and assistant Mal Evans hammered the keys on the assembled pianos and held the chord. The sound from the pianos was then mixed up with compression and increasing gain on the volume to draw out the sound to maximum sustain.
British pressings of the album (in its original LP form that was later released on CD) end 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 US debut on the 1980 Rarities compilation, titled “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove”. However, it is only featured as a two-second fragment at the end of side two rather than an actual loop in the run out 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 caused some controversy when it was interpreted as a 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 to him very much like “We’ll f*ck you like Superman”. McCartney recounted to Miles that “we had certainly had not intended to do that but probably when you turn anything backwards it sounds like something…if you look hard enough you can make something out of anything”.
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 US when they were not touring there. McCartney decided that he should create fictitious characters for each band member and record an album that would be a performance by that fictitious band. This “alter-ego group” gave the band the freedom to experiment with songs.
The album starts with the title song, which introduces Sgt. Pepper’s band itself; this song segues 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 two of the original album (just prior to the climactic “A Day in the Life”), creating a “book-ending” 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, and further noted that none of the other songs did either, saying “Every other song could have been on any other album”. The album has been widely acknowledged as an early and ground-breaking example of the concept album.
Concerns that lyrics in Sgt. Pepper referred to recreational drug use led to several songs from the album being banned by the BBC and criticised in other quarters.
The album’s closing track, “A Day in the Life”, includes the phrase “I’d love to turn you on”. The BBC banned the song from airplay on the basis of this line, claiming it could “encourage a permissive attitude toward drug-taking”. Both Lennon and McCartney denied any drug-related interpretation of the song at the time, although McCartney’s later comments in The Beatles Anthology video regarding the writing of the lyric make it clear that the drug reference was indeed deliberate.
The song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” also became the subject of speculation regarding its meaning, as many believed that the words of the chorus were code for LSD. The BBC used this as their basis for banning the song from British radio. Again, Lennon consistently denied this interpretation of the song, maintaining that the song describes a surreal dreamscape inspired by a picture drawn by his son Julian. However, during a newspaper interview in 2004, McCartney was quoted as saying:
“”Lucy in the Sky”, that’s pretty obvious. There’s others that make subtle hints about drugs, but, you know, it’s easy to overestimate the influence of drugs on The Beatles’ music. Just about everyone was doing drugs in one form or another and we were no different, but the writing was too important for us to mess it up by getting off our heads all the time.”
The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was art-directed by Robert Fraser, designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, his wife and artistic partner, and photographed by Michael Cooper. It featured a colorful 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 a British pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band, were dressed in 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. MBEs had been awarded to all four Beatles.
* 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 his own gallery and sponsored exhibitions at the Indica Gallery, through which he had become a close friend of McCartney, 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”.
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.
In keeping with the park concept, the foreground of the scene is a floral display incorporating the word “Beatles” spelt out in flowers.
Also present are 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 false.
At the edge of the scene 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).
In the centre of the scene, the Beatles stand behind a drum on which are painted the words of the album’s title; the drum was painted by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave.
The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars, and (at Harrison’s request) a number of Indian gurus. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, Carl Gustav Jung, W.C. Fields, Diana Dors, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Bob Dylan, Issy Bonn, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, 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’ bassist, 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 that he did not lose them. Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon, but ultimately they were left out, even though a cutout of Hitler was in fact made.
A photo also exists of a rejected cardboard printout with a cloth draped over its head; its identity is unknown. Even now, co-creator Jann Haworth regrets that so few women were included.
The 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 airbrushed out), who had a branch in India and were fearful that it might cause offence there. Lennon had asked to include images of Jesus and Hitler, though neither was included through fear of causing offence. Nonetheless a cutout was made of Hitler and can be clearly seen leaning against the wall in pictures of the photographic session. 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 US 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 30 March 1967 in a three-hour evening session. 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 gate fold 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.
Originally, the group had wanted the album to include a package with badges, pencils and other small Sgt. Pepper goodies but this proved far too costly to realize. Instead, the album came with a page of cardboard cut-outs carrying the description:
2. Picture Card
5. Stand Up
The special inner sleeve, included in the early pressings of the LP, featured a psychedelic pattern designed by The Fool.
The final bill for the cover was £2,868 5s 3d (equivalent to £38,823 today), 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 album was released in New Zealand in a single sleeve only. A possible reason for this given at the time was the war in the Middle East delayed the ship carrying the gatefold covers through the Suez Canal. The album was only released in stereo in New Zealand. All later pressings were in the single sleeve as well.
Upon release, Sgt. Pepper received both popular and critical acclaim. The album was a global hit, with huge sales in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Japan, Australia, and even in the black market in the Soviet Union, where the Beatles were very popular and widely available. Various reviews appearing in the mainstream press and trade publications throughout June 1967, immediately after the album’s release, were generally 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”.
Frank Zappa 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.
In April 1967, Brian Wilson (who was suffering growing mental problems) was deeply affected by hearing a tape of the Pepper song “A Day in the Life”, which McCartney played to him in Los Angeles. Soon after, Smile was abandoned, and Wilson would not return to complete it until 2003. Van Dyke Parks later said, “Brian had a nervous collapse. What broke his heart was Sgt. Pepper”.
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.
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 1 June 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 18 November 1967. Eventually it spent more weeks at the top, including the competitive Christmas week. When the CD edition was released on 1 June 1987, it reached #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 201 weeks on the UK charts, and is the second biggest-selling album in UK chart history behind Queen’s Greatest Hits. Sgt. Pepper won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, the first rock album to do so, and Best Contemporary Album in 1968. In the US the album shipped 11 million units, with sales of around 32 million worldwide. The album won Best British Album at the first Brit Awards in 1977.
Sgt. Pepper has been on many lists of the best rock albums, including Rolling Stone, Bill Shapiro, Alternative Melbourne, Rod Underhill and VH1. In 1987 Rolling Stone named Sgt. Pepper the greatest album of the last twenty years (1967–1987). 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. The album was named as one of Classic Rock magazine’s “50 Albums That Built Prog Rock”. In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
In November 2009, the entire album was made available to download for The Beatles: Rock Band on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii. The game disc already had the album’s title track, “With a Little Help from My Friends”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “Getting Better”, and “Good Morning Good Morning” – the download provides the remaining tracks from the album. In July 2008 the “iconic bass drum skin” used on the front cover sold at auction for €670,000 ($879,000). A feature film, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was released in 1978.
Sgt. Pepper has inspired a number of tribute albums. In 2008, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the album’s release, rock pioneer and long-time associate of Starr, Todd Rundgren headlined a live performance tour of Sgt. Pepper featuring an all star cast. In the show were McCartney’s friend and former Wings member Denny Laine, former American Idol Bo Bice, Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm, and Grammy Award winner Christopher Cross. The American rock band Cheap Trick performed the entire Sgt. Pepper album live in New York and released the live recording in both CD and DVD formats in September 2009, with all proceeds benefiting prostate cancer research. This recording was engineered by Geoff Emerick, the original engineer for the Sgt. Pepper album. In April 2009, the reggae group Easy Star All-Stars released a dub reggae tribute cover of Sgt. Pepper, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band.
Nominated for seven Grammys in 1968, it would win four, including Album of the Year, the first rock album to receive this honor.
Year Winner Award
1968 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album of the Year
1968 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts
1968 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical
1968 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Contemporary Album
Grammy Award nominations
Year Nominee Award
1968 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” Group Vocal Performance
1968 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” Contemporary Vocal Group
1968 “A Day in the Life” Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)
PLANNED TELEVISION FILM
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. 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 Lennon documentary Imagine: John Lennon was released in 1988. A more complete version was later aired on The Beatles Anthology series.