Suffice it to say that at the age of 11 the Summer of Love was surely short on romance for this Beatle fan. Not since the release of the aforementioned Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields single had we heard anything from the Beatles. Rumors were circulating, and I was on the phone to Manchester Music on a regular basis to enquire about the next release.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band arrived in June of 1967. Everything about this album was different. First there were no singles. For the first time the American and British albums were the same. Radio stations didn’t know what to do. All that summer you could hear almost any cut at any time. Sometimes stations would actually play the entire record from beginning to end. This was unprecedented; the album actually topped the singles chart.
There was the crazy psychedelic, cover featuring Sgt. Pepper surrounded by a wide range of historical figures and celebrities including the four Beatles in their previous incarnation. The cover sparked wide spread contests to name all of the famous people depicted. There were the lyrics, which for the first time were actually printed on the album cover. The album cover itself was unique in that it was the first time a pop album featured a gatefold cover. There was even an card board insert with cut out mustaches and other Sgt. Peppers stuff for the kids.
Then there was the music. The Beatles were deeply impressed and challenged by the Beach Boy’ s album Pet Sounds. The arrangements and harmonies employed by Brian Wilson on the May 1966 release inspired all kinds of experimentation by the Beatles in an effort compete. The concept of the album, the idea that they weren’t the Beatles, freed them to search out new sounds and influences.
The album is full of firsts as the Beatles pushed their Producer, George Martin to help them realize their sound and vision. Certain studio techniques that are standard today were actually invented during the making of Sgt. Pepper. The album also caused a certain amount of controversy. The songs “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life” were thought to encourage drug use, the former LSD, the latter with John’s desire to turn us on.
In school that fall, my English teacher used George’s “Within You Without You” as a jumping off point for a discussion on death and spirituality. This was refreshing, although I also remember an altercation with teacher later on that insisted that Hey Jude was about heroin - but that's another story.
Sgt. Pepper was a world wide sensation. it raised the standards for pop music. Suddenly the Beatles weren't just a rock'n roll band, but artists in their own right.