Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
by Pete Clemons
(This article by Pete Clemons was originally written for the Coventry Telegraph but as the association seems to have finished,we publish it here along with Pete's many other articles.I should point out though that this article is about coventry music as is evident from the title.)
Toward the end of 1966 The Beatles desperately wanted to get away from the old image of just being a beat band. They had recently announced that they were finished with touring and, effectively, they were going to draw a line under past.
Locked in a recording studio for several months they recorded what would become known as ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ a record that was arguably the first even concept album.
The theme of the album represented a touring brass band in the mind of the listener. The laughter you hear on certain tracks represents the sound of the virtual audience.
Recordings began at Abbey Road during November 1966. And unlike previous Beatles albums each of the band members could be seen entering Abbey Road studios with reams of A4 paper brimming full of notes and ideas.
The technology at hand during that time was pushed to the limit. Every conceivable sound that you could get out of a guitar, for example, was touched upon.
It was as though the band were attempting to split the atom
Producer George Martin allowed and encouraged every musical whim to surface during the sessions. He allowed complete artistic freedom.
Even the final tracks destined for the album, recorded during April 1967, found room for innovation. The final run off groove for example played back on itself thereby, I guess, representing that the album was an infinite piece of music.
Despite the recording of the ‘Sgt Peppers’ title track not appearing till mid-way through the sessions, the idea to create an album about this fictitious band, apparently formed quite early on. The whole album was infused with sights and sounds of the times.
The album’s title came about; it seems, from inspiration gained from the bunch of elongated band names that were cropping, up during the mid-1960s, in the San Francisco area of the United States.
Sgt Pepper’s release had been preceded, in February 1967, by the single ‘Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever’ giving the listener clear warning for what was about to come.
After a couple of revised release dates the completed record saw day of light on 1st June 1967. The initial pressings were in two formats. A Mono version serial number PMC 7027 and a Stereo version serial number PCS 7027.
In stark contrast to today’s music scene, no singles were released from the album. That still didn’t stop the Sgt Pepper’s going straight to number one in the UK albums charts after it sold in excess of 250,000 copies during the first 7 days of release.
From a listener point of view the complete album didn’t really sink in during the first listen. Or at least it didn’t with me at least. In fact it took several listens to even begin to understand it. Like all concept albums they are designed to sink in gradually. Each listen peeling back another layer until at some point the full beauty of it is revealed.
Sgt Pepper’s didn’t escape the ears of the censors either. One song in particular came under extreme scrutiny of the various monitoring committees and other authorities, that existed back then, who would carefully categorise and, if they deemed necessary, censored material destined for the airwaves.
And that song was ‘A Day in the Life’. The lyric to the song was as if the band were singing ‘of life’ as being the polar opposite to ‘actual life’ back then. And one particular line on ‘A Day in the Life’- ‘I’d love to turn you on’ - found itself under intense scrutiny. The song was eventually banned by the BBC authorities who deemed it ‘a step to far’. That ban was eventually lifted during 1972.
‘A Day in the Life’ ends with an orchestra seemingly going mad as it plays itself out with a cacophony of sound that ends with the infinite groove.
The censors however did appear to miss or overlook other songs, on the album, that did have dubious references. But it certainly didn’t take long for listeners to point out that track 3 on side one ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, when abbreviated, could well be referring to the mood changing LSD or acid. However John Lennon soon scotched the rumours as he explained that the lyric came about when his son Julian had one day come home from school with a letter from classmate Lucy.
The continuous thread that binds the album together didn’t just apply to the twelve inch vinyl record. It also continued with the album sleeve itself. Designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth the gatefold sleeve of the L.P. opens out to reveal The Beatles in the robes that represented their alter egos. The front cover was a collage of famous and influential people from that time all posing behind the band. Early copies of the record also came with a host of freebies and cut-outs.
Sgt Peppers was also the springboard, and acted as a catalyst, to the production of some future fine music. It acted as an innovator. But it clearly didn’t sit well with some as the record was also lampooned. And I am thinking The Mothers of Invention and their album ‘Were Only in it For the Money’ album.