Thursday, February 24, 2011
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
Apple SMAS 2653
Originally on Capitol, I have an Apple pressing from the 1970s. It was the fifth Beatles album that I bought, my eighth album overall. I was back in California after my miserable exile to Salt Lake City, living in Alameda with my father. For the first time I had a record store within walking distance - heaven, but short-lived alas as we soon departed for the hated suburbs. Unfortunately I didn't have much money, but at least I could do a lot of looking through the bins. One day my dad left me some money to buy dinner since he would be out late. On my way to the market I decided to pop into the record store to browse a bit. I stared transfixed at the magnificent cover of this album and ended up going home with it instead of dinner. I ate cereal that night but it was worth it. I wish I could recapture the excitement I felt when I played it back then. It seemed so exotic and magical, it was so thrilling. There was nothing on the radio like it. Carefully programmed records like this and "Band On The Run" and "Ringo" made me a fan of the album format. Even in this misbegotten digital era where MP3s are king, I still believe this is the ideal form of pop music. For awhile this was my favorite album, but as I grew older, like a lot of Beatles fans, I came to prefer "Revolver" which is also pretty magical and less flawed. I still hold it in high regard though. I have little use for "She's Leaving Home" and to a lesser extent "When I'm Sixty-Four" but I like the rest of it quite a bit, even the preachy drone of Harrison's "Within You Without You." McCartney's relentless optimism shines through "Getting Better" and "Fixing a Hole" has a delicate, introspective quality that I find very appealing. To this day "A Day In The Life" continues to be my favorite Beatles song. When I heard McCartney perform it during his last tour, I practically died and went to heaven. "With a Little Help From My Friends" features my favorite Ringo vocal performance and it is a song that always makes me happy even though I've heard it a thousand times. The colorful lyrics and swirling organ of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and the relentless drive of "Good Morning Good Morning" show the strength of Lennon's creativity at the time although both pale in comparison to the greatness of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" which is another one of my all-time Beatles faves. I find the imagery charming and the music enthralls me. It is such an intoxicating song, it captures both the surrealism of childhood and the trippiness of psychedelia. The title track and "Lovely Rita" are among my favorite Beatles songs as well. I still get excited when I hear the tuning up sounds and crowd noises that open up the album, my heart beats a little faster anticipating the beginning notes of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Lennon's vocals on this record are extraordinary, they define psychedelia for me and I love McCartney's bass lines, with all due respect to Jack Casady and Jack Bruce, there has never been a better bass player in rock music than Sir James Paul McCartney. This is the most famous album in the history of rock and rightly so, it was incredibly special to me. For many years the cover was on display in my room and I treasure my copy the way some people treasure religious relics and totems. The Beatles were my religion, they got me through my adolescence and continue to provide me with inspiration and insight. There is a school of thought that rock should feature short fast simple songs and that this album is pretentious and misguided. I'm not unsympathetic to this perspective, "Nuggets" is one of my favorite albums of all time and I love the Stooges and the Ramones and many garage bands. But if this were all there was to rock, I'd be into jazz or classical music. Rock shouldn't just be for cretins and kids, there ought to be room for intelligent discourse as well. Rock is the dominant art form of my generation, it ought to be about more than just getting wasted and getting laid. "Sgt. Pepper" opened up a new path, it expanded the boundaries of rock, it showed that albums could be more than just a collection of songs. Maybe the Beatles deserve some of the blame for "Hotel California," "Tales From Topographic Oceans" or "Pictures at an Exhibition" but they also deserve some of the credit for Kurt Cobain, the Decemberists, Tori Amos, the Magnetic Fields, Radiohead or any other artist who regarded the rock album as a form of meaningful self-expression. Whatever its faults, "Sgt. Pepper" transformed rock into something intellectually relevant, something that continues to speaks to me now that I'm way past my youth. The Beatles can still take me to new places and open up my mind, which to me is what good art is all about. I recommend this to everyone with any interest in rock music beyond "it has a good beat and you can dance to it."