The Sgt. Peppers Album

Sgt Peppers Alternate Album CoverSgt Pepper not only changed pop music, but transformed how we perceived that music and, in a very literal sense, how we perceived ourselves. A product largely of the mid-sixties Swinging London scene, the album became the soundtrack for the flowering of the hippie movement in the United States during its “Summer of Love.”

Sgt. Pepper broke the rules of what went before and by so doing gave support to new ways of thinking and alternative life styles. The front cover, showing the mustachioed Beatles in brightly colored uniforms next to drab waxen figures of themselves as they used to look, plainly showed the metamorphosis that had occurred. They had been reborn, and it was a new age.

Before this album, pop music had limits. The common unit was the single, about two or three minutes in length. In the United States Top 40 radio was king. Albums, especially in the United States, had been mainly a way to get more sales from a hit song. Generally, if a pop artist had one or two chart hits (or even almost-hits), the record companies would slap together another ten arbitrarily chosen songs and issue them as an album. The songs would not be thematically related, and their collection on the same slice of vinyl was determined mainly by chance.

Things were a little different in Britain. The Beatles had been releasing hit singles without pressing them on albums. With Sgt. Pepper, they went a step further.

The music never stops for long on Sgt. Pepper-songs simply segue into other Songs of there’s only a split-second of silence, far shorter than the normal gaps on pop albums. This reflects the album’s concert-like format, perhaps spurred by the Beatles’ tradition-shattering 1966 decision to play no more concerts.

The album begins with concert noises: an orchestra tuning up and an audience full of anticipation. Then come the first hard-rock notes and the first lyric-an introduction to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – followed by the lines “We hope you will enjoy the show.” and the bulk of the album -cum-concert. There is even a reprise at the end of the album that signals that the concert is over. Finally, to round out the concert allegory, there is the encore – “A Day in the Life.”

Judged as a group, the songs are generally not up to the standard of those contained in Revolver and Rubber Soul, but they have more layers. Heavy overdubbing, despite the use of what now seems like crude recording equipment, was an innovation touched upon by Revolver and the single “Penny Lane” b/w “Strawberry Fields Forever” the previous winter. “Strawberry Fields” had seemed strange-almost like an LSD dream. On Sgt Pepper, the Beatles were speaking with a far different vocabulary from the one they had used on “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They wanted to “turn you on” and sang, “with our love we could save the world.”

Several localized events penetrated their altered sensibilities and spurred the creation of songs. The first part of “A Day in the Life” came from items John read in a newspaper. A news report on the generation gap and teenage runaways inspired McCartney to write “She’s Leaving Home.” And a TV commercial for cornflakes provided the title and spirit of “Good Morning, Good Morning.”

Spawned from pop culture, the Sgt Pepper album helped to elevate pop art even higher. It was quite the rage for a while; covered heavily in the magazines of the day, it influenced TV and films, interior decorating and fashion.

The art on the front cover of Sgt Pepper celebrates pop culture. Behind the Beatles stand pop icons and friends, including Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe and her English clone Diana Dors, Marlon Brando, Lenny Bruce, and many others. Beatles manager Brian Epstein fought against the cover design. But this was a new age, and the new Beatles were doing things their way.

The Beatles’ headstrong demand for creative control would lead to artistic disaster with the Magical Mystery Tour film later in the year, but as of the release of Sgt. Pepper, they had never lost. Like others of their generation, they felt that they had the power to change the world for the better.

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