Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sgt Pepper

I have been a fan of music for as long as I can remember. As a child I benefitted from having an older brother who occasionally clued me in to some really cool stuff. He went to the store to pick up the first Monkees album for me – in stereo! Our family had just purchased a new stereo – a big piece of furniture that sat in the corner of the room and I sat in the swivel chair in front of it for hours listening to music. He bought me great singles like "Incense and Peppermints" by the Strawberry Alarm Clock and "Bend Me Shape Me" by the American Breed. But the best present of all was in the summer of 1967 – I turned 13 years old and for my birthday John bought me the new Beatles album, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. To say that this album sounded new and different is an understatement. I knew that I heard lots of instruments that I was pretty sure the Beatles weren't playing, like brass in the title track, clarinets in "When I'm 64," and sitars (whatever they were) in "Within You Without You." But it was more than just the instruments. The tracks all ran into each other – it felt like an album, not just a collection of songs.

But what a collection of songs! I remember as a 13 year old being especially impressed with the antiphonal nature of "She's Leaving Home." I remember enjoying the sound of the orchestra tuning up at the beginning of the album and how great the piano in "Lovely Rita" was. I also remember listening with the headphones. I spent a lot of time on the couch with the headphones on (for all the young people out there - this was back in the day when headphones had to be connected to the stereo with a long coiled wire.) The end of "Lovely Rita" has a section where John Lennon says something a couple of times that sounds enough like the way my mom said "Bob" that I pulled off the headphones and asked what she wanted the first few times I listened to the album.

It turns out that I wasn't the only person who thought that this was a cool album. A few other people did too and, in the forty years since it's release it has gone on to be listed among the top all-time albums. Ironically, it is probably not the Beatles' best album – I (and many others) think that it's predecessor, Revolver, deserves that title. But "best" is a relative term of course and, while Revolver might be better, it certainly didn't have the impact that Sgt Pepper had. Revolver came across as a really really good collection of songs where Pepper made us think that it was a concept album. John Lennon said that the concept worked because they said it worked. I think he's right. There really isn't much of a concept there once you get past the first two songs and the "Sgt Pepper Reprise." But packaging and attitude count for a lot. Plus, there is no getting around the idea that nothing had ever sounded like that before – or since really.

Frankly I find it hard to believe that the stuff that I thought was so cool when I was 13 years old still so cool. But there it is – I thought it was great back in 1967 and I still think it's great. When Bethany, my oldest daughter, was little I taught her to say "the Beatles" when I said "Bethany, who's our favorite?" That was nearly twenty years ago when I taught her that but it's still true.

1 comment:

Ernesto Lago said...

A great album.
Our tribute.