Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the eighth album by The Beatles. It is often cited as the most influential rock album of all time by prominent critics and publications, including Rolling Stone (which put it atop their 500 "Greatest Albums" list in 2003) [1] . It was recorded by The Beatles over a 129-day period beginning on December 6, 1966 [2] . The album was released on June 1, 1967 in the United Kingdom and on June 2, 1967 in the United States.

On release the album was an immediate critical and popular sensation. Innovative in every sense, from structure to recording techniques to the

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded as early Beatlemania was waning. The Beatles had grown tired of touring and had quit the road in late 1966, burned out after the dramas of the "bigger than Jesus" controversy and a tumultuous tour of the Philippines which saw the band expelled from the country more or less at gunpoint.

Retirement from touring gave them, for the first time in their career, more than ample time in which to prepare their next record. As EMI's premier act and Britain's most successful pop group ever, they had almost unlimited access to the state-of-the-art technology of Abbey Road Studios. All four band members had already developed a preference for long, late-night sessions although they were still extremely efficient and highly disciplined in their studio habits.

By the time The Beatles recorded the album, their musical interests had grown from their simple blues, pop and rock beginnings to incorporate a variety of new influences. They had become familiar with a wide range of instruments, such as the Hammond organ and the electric piano; their instrumentation now covered the entire range, including strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and a wide range of exotic instruments, including the sitar. Paul McCartney, although unable to read music, had scored a recent British film The Family Way with the assistance of producer-arranger George Martin, which earned him a prestigious Ivor Novello award.

The Beatles also used new modular effects units like the wah-wah pedal and the fuzzbox, which they augmented with their own experimental ideas, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Another important sonic innovation was McCartney's discovery of the direct injection (DI) technique, in which he could record his bass by plugging it directly into an amplifying circuit in the recording console. While the still often-used technique of recording through an amplifier with a microphone sounds more natural, this setup provided a radically different presence in bass guitar sound versus the old method.

The Sgt. Pepper period also coincided with the introduction of some important musical innovations, both from within the band and the rest of the musical industry. The work of Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Phil Spector, and Brian Wilson was radically redefining what was possible for pop musicians in terms of both songwriting and recording. Studio and recording technology had already reached a high degree of development and was poised for even greater innovation. The old rules of pop songwriting were being abandoned, as complex lyrical themes were explored for the first time in popular music, and songs were growing longer (such as Dylan's "Desolation Row," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues").

Since the introduction of the core technology of magnetic recording tape in 1949, multitrack recording had progressed rapidly, with 8-track tape recorders already available in the USA and the first 8-tracks coming on-line in commercial studios in London in late 1967, shortly after Sgt. Pepper was released.

All of the Sgt. Pepper tracks were recorded at Abbey Road using mono, stereo and 4-track recorders. Like its predecessors, the recording made extensive use of the technique known as bouncing down, in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one track of the master 4-track machine. This enabled the Abbey Road engineers to give The Beatles a virtual multi-track studio, since 8-, 16- and 24-track recorders did not exist at this time.

The build-up of noise during over-dubbing was a major problem for engineers. The Abbey Road album was one of the first to use the Dolby noise reduction system. The album remains a landmark in the history of sound recording and is remarkable for the clarity, fidelity and quietness of the transfers.

Magnetic tape had also led to innovative use of instruments and production effects, notably the tape-based keyboard sampler, the Mellotron, and effects like flanging (a term invented by Martin, an effect use as early as 1959 on Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt") and phasing, and a greatly improved system for creating echo and reverberation.

Several then-new production effects feature extensively on the recordings. One of the most important was automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that used tape recorders to create an instant and simultaneous doubling of a sound. Although it had long been recognised that using multitrack tape to record 'doubled' lead vocals gave them a greatly enhanced sound (especially with weaker singers) it had always been necessary to record such vocal tracks twice, a task which was both tedious and exacting.

ADT was invented specially for The Beatles by EMI engineer Ken Townshend in 1965, mainly at the behest of Lennon, who hated tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem. ADT quickly became a near-universal recording practice in popular music.

Also important was varispeeding, the technique of recording various tracks on a multi-track tape at slightly different tape speeds. The Beatles use this effect extensively on their vocals in this period. The speeding up of vocals (also known as 'tweaking') also became a widespread technique in pop production. The Beatles also used the effect on portions of their backing tracks (as on "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds") to give them a 'thicker' and more diffuse sound.

In another innovation, the album (in its original LP form that was later released on CD) ends in an unusual way, beginning with a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone (put on the album at John Lennon's suggestion, said to be "especially intended to annoy your dog"), followed by an endless loop made by the runout groove looping back into itself.

The sound in the loop is also the subject of much controversy, being widely interpreted as some kind of secret message. However, it seems that in reality it is nothing more than a few random samples and tape edits played backwards. The loop is recreated on the CD version which plays for a few seconds, then fades out. Although most of the content of the runout groove is impossible to decipher, it is possible to distinguish a sped-up voice (possibly Paul McCartney's) reciting the phrase "never could see any other way".

Sgt. Pepper features elaborate arrangements — for example, the clarinet ensemble on "When I'm Sixty-Four" — and extensive use of studio effects including echo, reverberation and reverse tape effects. Many of these effects were devised in collaboration with producer George Martin and his team of engineers.

One of the few moments of discord came during the recording of "She's Leaving Home", when an impatient McCartney, frustrated by Martin's unavailability on another recording session, hired freelance arranger Mike Leander to arrange the string section — the only time during the group's entire career that he worked with another arranger, with the exception of some backing orchestration used in the Magical Mystery Tour film (12 October 1967 session; see Lewisohn), which were also arranged by Leander.

Another example of the album's unusual production is John Lennon's song "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite", which closes Side 1 of the album. The lyrics were adapted almost word for word from an old circus poster which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in Kent . The flowing sound collage that gives the song its distinctive character was created by Martin and his engineers, who collected recordings of calliopes and fairground organs, which were then cut into strips of various lengths, thrown into a box, mixed up and edited together in random order, creating a long loop which was mixed in during final production.

The opening track of Side 2, "Within You Without You", is unusually long for a 'pop' recording of the day, and features only George Harrison, on vocals and sitar, with all other instruments being played by a group of London-based Indian musicians. These deviations from the traditional rock and roll band formula were facilitated by The Beatles' decision not to tour, by their ability to hire top-rate session musicians, and by Harrison's burgeoning interest in India and Indian music, which led him to take lessons from sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.

The Beatles themselves mixed the album in mono and the LP was originally released as such alongside a stereo mix prepared by Abbey Road engineers (with the mono version now out-of-print on vinyl and never released on CD). The two mixes are fundamentally different. For example, the stereo "She's Leaving Home" was mixed at a lower pitch than the original recording and plays at a slower tempo. Similarly, the mono version of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" is considerably slower than the stereo version and features much heavier gating and reverb effects. McCartney's yelling voice in the coda section of "Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)" (just before the segue into "A Day In The Life") can plainly be heard in the mono version, but is inaudible in the stereo version. The mono version of the song also features drums that open with much more presence and force, as they are turned well up in the mix. Also in the stereo mix, the famous segue at the end of "Good Morning Good Morning" (the chicken-clucking sound which becomes a guitar noise) is timed differently and a crowd noise tape comes in later during the intro to "Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)". Other variations between the two mixes abound. Overall, the stereo mix can be said to be more conservative and not as obviously 'psychedelic'. The vast majority of listeners in 1967 would have heard the mono mix and a new generation of fans have effectively grown up hearing about the impact that the mono mix had and yet listening to the stereo version.

With Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles wanted to create a record that could, in effect, tour for them — an idea they had already explored with the promotional film-clips made over the previous years, intended to promote them in the United States when they were not touring there.

McCartney decided that they should create fictitious characters for each band member and record an album that would be a performance by that fictitious band. The idea of disguise or change of identity was one in which The Beatles, naturally enough, had an avid interest — they were four of the most recognisable and widely known individuals of the 20th century.

The Beatles' recognizability was the motivation for their growing moustaches and beards and even longer hair, and was an inspiration for the disguise of their flamboyant Sgt. Pepper costumes. McCartney was well known for going out in public in disguise and all four had used aliases for travel bookings and hotel reservations.

Thus, the album starts with the title song, which introduces Sgt. Pepper's band itself; this song segues seamlessly into a sung introduction for bandleader "Billy Shears" (Starr), who performs "With a Little Help from My Friends". A reprise version of the title song was also recorded, and appears on side 2 of the original album (just prior to the climactic "A Day in the Life"), creating a "bookending" effect.

However, The Beatles essentially abandoned the concept after recording the first two songs and the reprise. Lennon was unequivocal in stating that the songs he wrote for the album had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept. Since the other songs on the album are actually unrelated, one might be tempted to conclude that the album does not form an overarching theme. However, the cohesive structure and careful sequencing of and transitioning between songs on the album, as well as the use of the Sgt. Pepper framing device, has led the album to be widely acknowledged as an early and groundbreaking example of the concept album.

There is much speculation as to the use of drugs in the creation of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles' other music. The album features many effects and themes that appear to be psychedelic. At points there seem to be many explicit references to drugs. The album's closing track "A Day in the Life", which is one of the last major Lennon-McCartney collaborations, includes the phrase "I'd love to turn you on" — 'turning on' was a common drug culture colloquialism at the time, referring to the phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out". Also when Starr sings "With a Little Help From My Friends" he repeatedly declares that he gets high with a little help from his friends. Phrases such as "Take some tea" (a slang term for marijuana) in "Lovely Rita", and "digging the weeds" in "When I'm Sixty-Four" have also been cited as possible drug references, although in both of these instances the lines are almost certainly meant to be taken literally.

The song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" became the subject of much speculation regarding its meaning. John Lennon maintained that the song describes a surreal dreamscape inspired by a picture drawn by his son Julian.

However, the song became controversial as many believed that the words of the chorus were code for LSD, a claim Lennon consistently denied. The BBC used this as their basis for banning the song from British radio. Julian, McCartney, Harrison and Starr backed up Lennon's story (Starr even said he saw the picture at the time), and the picture itself has appeared in the media. However, during a newspaper interview in 2004, McCartney was quoted as saying, "...Lucy In The Sky, that's pretty obvious. ...but the writing was too important for us to mess it up by getting off our heads all the time." [3]

Debate continues among critics and fans about the meaning, extent, and depth of the drug references. Some interpretations of the album have focused on the use of drugs as central to the meaning of the entire album. Some critics, such as Sheila Whitely, have claimed that the experience of LSD use is fundamental and infused into the album. Most critics acknowledge some drug references, but believe that the album cannot be simply reduced to these references. George Melly, for example, points out that many songs, such "A Day in the Life", can easily be interpreted as rejections of drug culture, and that the culture is portrayed in a "desperate light."

While The Beatles admitted to the occasional drug reference in their songs, these instances are surprisingly rare and usually they had other explanations for their lyrics. For instance, McCartney's "somebody spoke and I went into a dream" section of A Day in the Life was inspired by taking the bus during his school years and sometimes falling asleep on the way there, while the "had a smoke" line refers to a Woodbine cigarette, rather than marijuana as is often assumed.

Upon release, Sgt. Pepper became both popular and critically acclaimed. Various reviews appearing in the mainstream press and trade publications throughout June 1967, immediately after the album's release, were generally quite positive. In The Times prominent critic Kenneth Tynan described Sgt. Pepper as "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization." Others including Richard Poirier, and Geoffrey Stokes were similarly expansive in their praise, Stokes noting, "listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century." One notable critic who did not like the album was Richard Goldstein, a critic for the New York Times, who wrote, "Like an overattended child, this album is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises, and a 41-piece orchestra," and that it was an "album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent" (18th of June, quoted in The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by Allan F Moore, Cambridge University Press). One rock musician who apparently did not like the album was Frank Zappa, who accused The Beatles of co-opting the flower power aesthetic for monetary gain, saying in a Rolling Stone article that he felt "they were only in it for the money." That criticism later became the title of the album (We're Only In It For The Money), that mocked Sgt. Pepper with a similar album cover. Zappa's record company decided to keep that cover from ever being displayed, and it was only after 20 years had passed that the original satirical cover was seen on the CD version. Ironically, when recording of Sgt Pepper was completed, Paul was quoted saying "This is going to be our Freak Out!" referring to Zappa's 1966 debut album which in turn is considered by many [citation needed] as the first concept album. Also, punk rock icon Iggy Pop has said that he doesn't like Sgt. Pepper, calling it "boring" and "depressing." It was reported that when a cut from Sgt Pepper came on the radio, Bob Dylan said "Turn that crap off!" [citation needed]

Within days of its release, Jimi Hendrix was performing the title track in concert, first performing it for an audience that included Harrison and McCartney, who were greatly impressed by his unique version of their song. Also, Australian band The Twilights — who had obtained an advance copy of the LP in London — wowed audiences in Australia with note-perfect live renditions of the entire album, weeks before it was even released there.

The album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, the first rock album to do so, and Best Contemporary Album in 1968.

It has been on many lists of the best rock albums, including Rolling Stone, Bill Shapiro, Alternative Melbourne, Rod Underhill and VH1. In 1997 Sgt. Pepper was named the number 1 greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 7, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 10; In 2003, the album was ranked number 1 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.. In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.

In the years since the album's release some have criticized the album for the trends that it started, such as supposed "over-indulgence" on the part of artists, spending a great deal of time and money producing high minded concept albums, and the beginning of supposed decadence in rock and roll. Many critics have also become more negative about the album's music, many claiming that other albums such as Revolver are superior.

A period of experimentation in The Beatles' music had begun with their album Rubber Soul in late 1965. During this period, new influences and instruments from as far afield as India were incorporated in their recordings, which evolved further from simple teen pop and into more artistic sounds. Sgt. Pepper continued this process and became more avant-garde in style and form than previous or subsequent recordings.

McCartney cited The Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds and Frank Zappa's album Freak Out! as key influences.

Their follow up, Magical Mystery Tour contained songs that were stylistically very like those on Sgt. Pepper, but after two years at the forefront of psychedelic rock, The Beatles began to return to more conventional musical expression in 1968 beginning with the jazzy, piano-based "Lady Madonna".

Two songs dropped from Sgt. Pepper, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", were both recorded in late 1966 and early 1967. The unusually long gap between Beatles releases, combined with the group's withdrawal from touring, saw producer George Martin placed under increasing pressure by EMI and Capitol to deliver new material. He reluctantly issued the two songs as a double-A-sided single in February 1967. In keeping with the group's usual practice, the single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision Martin maintains he regrets to this day). They were only released as a single in the UK at the time, but were subsequently included as part of the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour (which was issued as a 6-track EP in Britain ).

The Harrison composition, "Only A Northern Song," was also recorded during the "Pepper" sessions but did not see released until January 1969 when the soundtrack album to the animated feature Yellow Submarine was issued.

The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was created by art director Robert Fraser, mostly in collaboration with McCartney, designed by Peter Blake, and photographed by Michael Cooper. It featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover; and, as a bow to the interest that Beatles' songs now inspired, the lyrics were printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt Pepper band, were dressed in eye-catching military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours. Among the insignia on their uniforms are:

·     MBE medals on McCartney and Harrison 's jackets

·     The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, on Lennon's right sleeve

Art director Robert Fraser was a prominent London art dealer who ran the Indica Gallery. He had become a close friend of McCartney and it was only at his strong urging that the group abandoned their original cover design, a psychedelic painting by The Fool.

Fraser was one of the leading champions of modern art in Britain in the 1960s and beyond. He argued strongly that the Fool artwork was not well-executed and that the design would soon date. He convinced McCartney to abandon it, and offered to art-direct the cover; it was Fraser's suggestion to use an established fine artist and he introduced the band to a client, noted British 'pop' artist Peter Blake, who in collaboration with his wife, created the famous cover collage, known as "People We Like".

According to Blake, the original concept was to create a scene that showed the Sgt Pepper band performing in a park; this gradually evolved into its final form, which shows The Beatles, as the Sgt Pepper band, surrounded by a large group of their heroes, which were created as lifesize cut-out figures. Also included were wax-work figures of The Beatles as they appeared in the early '60s, borrowed from Madame Tussauds. Appearing to be looking down on the Beatles name in flowers as if it were a grave, it's been speculated that it symbolizes that the inoccent mop-tops of yesteryear were now dead and gone. At their feet were several affecations from the Beatles' homes including small statues belonging to Lennon and Harrison, a small portable TV set and a trophey. A young delievery boy who provided the flowers for the photo session was allowed to contribute a guitar made out of yellow hyacinths. Although it has long been rumoured that some of the plants in the arrangement were cannabis plants, this is untrue. Also included is a doll wearing a sweater giving homage to the Rolling Stones (who would return the favor by having the Beatles hidden in the cover of their own "Their Satanic Majesty's Request" LP later that year).

The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars and (at Harrison 's request) a number of Indian gurus. Starr reportedly made no contribution to the design. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Bob Dylan, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Marlon Brando, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Pete Best said in a later NPR interview that Lennon borrowed family medals from his mother Mona for the shoot, on condition he not lose them. Adolf Hitler was originally requested by John Lennon, although he eventually bowed to pressures from the rest of the band to not include Hitler on the final cover. A cardboard printout of Hitler was actually made, and can be seen leaning against the wall in several photographs taken of the photoshoot. The entire list of people on the cover can be found at List of images on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The package was also one of the first 'gatefold' album covers, that is, the album could be opened up like a book, to reveal a large picture of the Fab Four in costume against a yellow background. The reason for the gatefold was that The Beatles planned on filling two LPs for the release. The designs had already been approved and sent to be printed when they realized they would only have enough material for one LP.

Originally the group wanted the album to include a package with pins, pencils and other small Sgt. Pepper goodies but this proved far too cost prohibative. Instead, the album came with a page of cut-outs, with a description in the top left corner:


1.  Moustache

2.  Picture Card of Sgt. Pepper

3.  Stripes

4.  Badges

5.  Stand Up of the band

The special inner sleeve, included in the early pressings of the LP, featured a multi-coloured psychedelic pattern designed by The Fool.

The collage created legal worries for EMI's legal department, which had to contact those who were still living to obtain their permission. Mae West initially refused — famously asking "What would I be doing in a lonely heart's club?" — but she relented after The Beatles sent her a personal letter. Actor Leo Gorcey requested payment for inclusion on the cover, so his image was removed. An image of Mohandas Gandhi was also removed at the request of EMI, who had a branch in India and were fearful that it might cause offense there. John Lennon had, perhaps facetiously, asked to include images of Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler, but these were rejected because they would almost certainly have generated enormous controversy. Most of the suggestions for names to be included came from McCartney, Lennon and Harrison, with additional suggestions from Blake and Fraser (Ringo said he'd be okay with whatever the others chose). Beatles manager Brian Epstein (who died just after the album's release) had serious misgivings, stemming from the scandalous U.S. Butcher Cover controversy the previous year, going so far as to give a note reading “Brown paper bags for Sgt. Pepper” to Nat Weiss as his last wish.

The collage was assembled by Blake and his wife during the last two weeks of March 1967 at the London studio of photographer Michael Cooper, who took the cover shots on March 30, 1967 in a three-hour evening session. Both Lennon and Harrison were tripping on LSD while the photographs were being taken. The final bill for the cover was £2,868 5s/3d, a staggering sum for the time — it has been estimated that this was 100 times the average cost for an album cover in those days.

The cover was subsequently parodied by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the cover art of their album We're Only In It For The Money (although McCartney initially refused permission for the Mothers parody cover to be released, he later relented). It was also parodied in the opening credits of an episode of The Simpsons. It has also been mimicked by a Dutch artist as Sgt Croppers Fairport Band for the many Fairport Convention band members and associates. Swedish artist David Liljemark did a parody of the cover for a magazine, depicting a hypothetical future for the band Sven-Ingvars. The August 13, 2001 issue of the The Sporting News featured a version of this album when New York City was selected as their best sports city during the July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001 time period (one of the last images of the World Trade Center shown in popular culture before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001). MAD Magazine also parodied the cover in its August 2002 issue (#420), featuring "The 50 Worst Things About Music." Rolling Stone's 1,000th issue (May 18-June 1, 2006), consisted of a lenticular, 3-D cover with 154 rock & roll and pop cultural figures, including, prominently, The Beatles themselves, arranged in a style reminiscent of the famed Sgt. Pepper's cover.