It was forty years ago this June, that The Beatles led the youth in tune. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in June 1967, igniting the fabled Summer of Love. Coincidentally, Paul McCartney IS 64, but for only two weeks just shy of his next birthday.
Released on June 1st in the U.K. and on June 2nd in the U.S., the perceived psychedelic soundtrack of Sgt. Pepper instantaneously erupted during the first weekend of June 1967. It was if a spontaneous combustion had enveloped an entire generation of youth all across the free world.
Recording for the next Beatles album began in November 1966 on what was to be an autobiographical piece of work. Following up 1966's Revolver, three new compositions were completed by the group prior to the 1966 holiday season: "Strawberry Fields Forever", "When I'm Sixty-four" and "Penny Lane".
The original concept for the album was abandoned after Beatles producer George Martin complied with a label request to issue a new Beatles single in February 1967. The Strawberry Penny single killed off the initial composing direction by the Fabs. Martin later stated it was possibly the worst decision of his career to disrupt creativity for commercialism.
An interesting news story caught the collective eye of the Fabs. Elvis Presley's Cadillac alone was out on tour for his fans to see. This intrigued the lads, giving them an idea: use their new album, promoting the persona of Sergeant Pepper to tour in place of the group performing live themselves.
The Beatles had grown weary of touring after unpleasant events impacted their 1966 World Tour. U.S. reaction to Lennon's religious remarks and a harrowing departure after appearing in the Philippines left the Fabs ready to retire from the road. Thus, the avid listener hears the fictitious Sgt. Pepper's Band tuning up before they begin their "concert", which opens track No. 1 on the album (and again on the "Reprise" version).
Although the individual songs that comprise the Sgt. Pepper album were not necessarily written or recorded around a central theme, the album began to take on a life of its own. The Beatles posed in Sgt. Pepper uniforms and grew mustaches, in addition to selecting a series of their heroes to depict on the album cover. The final packaging was a strikingly magnificent presentation in album artwork.
The comprehensive impact on an entire generation was immediate. Sgt. Pepper single-handedly ushered in a major expansion in artistic endeavor. Altering existing styles, a tidal wave of change swept across fashion, imagery, music and album artwork. Reprinting lyrics and stitching songs together to reduce banding on vinyl were introduced on Sgt. Pepper.
The Beatles would follow up Sgt. Pepper with John's utopian anthem "All You Need Is Love". Not exactly recorded live before a global audience, the Fabs were Britain's stellar contribution to a satellite broadcast on June 25, 1967. This worldwide smash single would further embellish The Beatles as pied pipers of the Flower Power movement.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band may not be the best work of The Beatles, historians can debate this topic long after the remaining members have passed. Following this landmark release, the Merseybeat sound was buried. Many groups participated in the emerging psychedelic revolution sweeping the youth of 1967.
Sgt. Pepper remains a stunning achievement by The Beatles that continues to stand firm against the test of time. A 40th anniversary tribute album is rumored for release in 2007. Cheap Trick is headlining a Sgt. Pepper performance at the Hollywood Bowl in August.
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Summer of Sergeant Pepper - 1967
All you need are The Beatles and an inspiration that influenced a generation
by Timothy Tilghman