54th Anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
So much has been written about The Beatles and their landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And so, this blog will not attempt to document the entire recording process or cover its enormous cultural impact. The goal is to merely celebrate this fantastic record. I'll give some background and tell some stories about the writing and recording process, but the main point of this blog is to serve as a simple reminder of how much we all love Sgt. Pepper's.
Background and Reception
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is The Beatles' eighth studio album and was created after the band decided to quit playing live and solely focus on recording. The album is considered an early example of a concept album. The concept being that the record is a performance of the fictional Sgt. Pepper's band. David Bowie would go on to do something quite similar on his 1972 record, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
The album was released in 1967 on May 26th in the UK and June 2nd in the US. Critics praised its songwriting, production, and graphic design. Not only did the album go on to become a cultural landmark, the cover itself has become iconic, featuring a host of references from history and popular culture.
Sgt. Pepper's spent 27 weeks at No. 1 in the UK, and 15 weeks at No. 1 in the US. Fans and critics loved the album, but so did The Beatles' contemporaries. Jimi Hendrix covered the record's opening track just three days after its release, with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in the audience.
Recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Groundbreaking production is a big part of what makes this record so important. Engineer, Geoff Emerick tirelessly experimented and invented in order to create the array of unique sounds heard throughout the record. Many do not know that the track "Strawberry Fields Forever" was actually intended to be on Sgt. Pepper's. But the record company were eager for a single, so they released it as a double A-side, along with "Penny Lane." Both tracks are released again on The Magical Mystery Tour.
The band had two versions of "Strawberry Fields Forever" recorded at different tempos and in different keys. Always the difficult one, John Lennon told Emerick that he wanted half of one take and half of the other. Back then, tape machines did not have pitch control. Emerick had to slow down the tape by hand, synch it to the correct tempo and pitch, and then splice the two together. What you hear on the recording is actually two completely different versions of the song manipulated and spliced together.
Getting That Drum Sound
But Emerick had plenty of more tricks up his sleeve. Writing for Forbes, Kevin Murnane explains how Emerick got Ringo's fantastic drum sound on "A Day in the Life":
Ringo’s drums on “A Day in the Life” were called the best drum sounds ever recorded when Sgt. Pepper’s was released. This must have pleased the Beatles because Lennon and McCartney wanted the drums to be a prominent feature of the song. To get this new sound, Emerick recorded the drums in ways that had not been tried before. He had Ringo tune his toms very low by loosening the skins on the drum heads. Emerick then removed the skins from the bottom of the toms, wrapped a mic in a tea cloth, put it in a glass jug, and placed it on the floor under the drums. The result was the huge, tympani-like drum sounds you hear on the verses in “A Day in the Life.”
I wasn't around when Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, but I grew up listening to The Beatles my whole life. In high school, I rediscovered The Beatles. I was learning how to play the guitar and recently joined a band. I would listen to The Beatles everyday after school; studying each record and song, trying to figure out what makes them so great. Sgt. Pepper's taught me that the studio is its own instrument, and that pop and rock music can contain as many layers and intricacies as any other form of music. It taught me that an album can be more than simply a collection of singles, it can tell a story and create an entire world.
I reached out to Pop Radio 77's Pete Cato, who hosts Pit Stop with Pete Cato weekdays 3pm-7pm, and asked him what Sgt. Pepper's means to him:
Sgt. Pepper's signified the moment that The Beatles leapt out of their comfort zone, and even though they were already the most popular group on the planet, they still had their doubters. However, Sgt. Pepper's showed that they could write pop records as awesome as any artist that proceeded them, and also that The Fab Four had an avant-garde streak that separated them from the rest.
What does Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band mean to you? What are your favorite tracks? Tweet them with the hashtag #popradio77 and let us know!
You can hear your favorite songs and discover lost hits from the 60s every weekend on Pop Radio 77's Way Back Weekend.