On the edge of psychedelia, on the forefront of sonic experimentation, and on the meticulous shoulders of producer George Martin, The Beatles rushed back onto the scene with their often misunderstood album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Unfortunately, there are some major clunkers on it, including Within You, Without You, and Sir Paul McCartneys uber catchy yet lyrically horrendous, When Im Sixty-Four. Some might enjoy a little bit of the impish and whimsical, but I prefer my songs to come with a little heartache. Give me John Lennons portion in A Day in the Life any day. There lies more truth in death than in anything else. I suppose this is the ultimate juxtaposition which pushes this album to be a consistent resident in my CD player. (Yes, truthfully, I still have a CD player) The light and the dark; the grounded, conservative lyrics contrasting with the ethereal, spacey, and psychedelic; and the tension and release breathing underneath — these are the qualities of a classic.
Sgt. Pepper’s is a band pushing itself as far as it could go sonically, alongside a producer who had just the right sense of where to push further and where to pull back. Its a breathtaking work of art in mono, but when listening in stereo (and true fans may want to hit me for this), the wistful energy is captured and the performances come to the fore. You can hear the double tracked vocals more clearly and more precisely. What amazes me, however, especially when it comes to those double tracked vocals, is that they are by no means perfect. Things stick out here and there, some tiny off-key moments by our favorite Fab Four, but this is exactly what makes this album so endearing.
It was the lack of technology, however, that makes the innovation on the record so astounding. Only four tracks. Thats right, four tracks, all you Pro Tools users. This record has given us things that musicians simply take for granted now: the first notable DI (Direct In) techniques (some rash choices with mic-ing brass instruments), reverse cymbals, flanging effects on vocals, and obviously, the aforementioned multi-track method. The mistakes in the music, the humanity of it, the absolute thought and effort that went into it can be heard. Its not hidden behind too much compression. It is what it is, like it or not.
Personally, there are only a few times in our musical history that are as definitive — as world-changing — as Sgt. Pepper’s was. It’s a wedge; music made before, and music made after. The Beatles had redefined themselves - not with a new silly band name, but in showing that pop music could be artistic. That pop music could merit value and one could develop smart storylines, all within a two and a half minute time-frame. Even the penultimate end to the album, A Day in the Life, which seems so deep, so unnerving and massive, clocks in at under five minutes. Because it is one of the first of its kind, the album represents a culmination of creativity for The Beatles, and has stayed a blueprint for re-emergence and re-definition ever since.