donderdag 1 juni 2017

It was 50 years ago today. Sgt. Pepper's .... The Beatles

1 June 1967. At the time I was totally oblivious of the event of the much anticipated new album by The Beatles. An album the world had to wait for for months on end. An unheard of long period at the time. An album The Beatles had worked on in the studio for months on end. An unheard of long period at the time. An album that broke with everything the world had heard before. An album that lays claim to the title of belonging to the best and most influential albums ever made. It all passed me by. Not that I did not The Beatles at the time. Several of their hits from 1965 and 1966 I was familiar with at the time, but an album. I simply did not have the patience? All these songs that I did not know. Who wanted to hear those?

It may be until somewhere in the latest 70s that I bought my own copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and got to know all songs on it. Song like 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!', 'She's Leaving Home', 'Lovely Rita' and 'Good Morning Good Morning'. Ever since the show of The Analogues and the upcoming one to celebrate the 50 years event I am playing the album regularly again and I am warming even more to it.

The story is well known. Paul McCartney suggesting to the other three Beatles to pretend to be someone else, some other band and make music from there, without any inhibitions and preconceptions of nor anticipations connected to being The Beatles. That band became Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. And the music world would never be the same again. The Beatles set a standard that most contemporary artist broke their teeth on or went crazy, like e.g. Brian Wilson. Or found their own strength like The Rolling Stones one year later.

50 Years down the road it is easy for me to conclude that this album hasn't lost any of the potency people heard when they heard it for the first time then. A world of wonder, beauty, mystification and Britishness opened itself for all with an open mind.

Is it possible to even fathom the impact the album had at the time? No. At least, I can't. I wasn't there consciously, so just do not know. What I can measure is the power that still comes out of the songs. Some I got to know through the "Blue Album", in the winter of 1974, which held a few of the songs of Sgt. Pepper's.

The title song is one of my most favourite Beatles song. (There are a lot of them though.) The richness in the melody and arrangement brings out the studio strengths of the band and underscores how good its cooperation with the only man who can truly be called the fifth Beatle, producer George Martin, was. This suit and tie employee of the EMI label was able to come up with all the band could come up with. The weirdest sound effects were tried out of which many undoubtedly did not lead to a result. Let me not forget to mention engineer Geoff Emerick (Who was even younger than The Beatles were).

It starts with an orchestra tuning up. Just listen what happens in these 2 minutes and 3 seconds, including the tune up of 11 seconds. From a standard rocking sound, horns and a bout of laughter emerge, leading up to the hard rocking chorus. John leading the chorus, Paul the verses. And it all morphs into Joe Cocker's greatest hit ever, in the original version that is. Man, was that a disappointment when I heard this tune on my 14th birthday. The difference was too much to handle at the time. And now? This song is so strong. Great harmonies accompany Ringo's basic singing, while the song is strong and melodic, with the bass standing out. Everyone is working hard to make Ringo shine. This is not the toss away cover that Ringo could sing. This tells part of the bond between The Beatles. Ringo shines 100% thanks to the other three who give it their all.

The fun really, really starts with 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'. Here the strengths The Beatles found in the studio all shine through. Not that so much is going on necessarily. The little organ that leads the song is the most special. Paul's bass is prominent. Psychedelia rules in the sound that holds the hint at Indian droning music. For a guitar band, the song holds very little guitar playing. Just some notes here and there. All leading up to a great chorus. Just one sentence repeated with an aaahhh at the end. It simply didn't need anything else.

Ah, a rocking guitar. It's getting better all the time or can't it get any worse? Not the strongest song on the album, but a song that grounds it and ties it to previous Beatles work of 1965 and 1966 as e.g. "Got To Get You Into My Life'. Compared to almost all other songs, this is so down to earth. Even if it gets a small Indian treatment in the bridge section. That things are no longer standard is shown by the end which is simply strange compared to the fairly straightforward song.

'Fixing A Hole' is the kind of song that can be described as typical McCartney. The kind of song that he has been making right up to today. It is the psychedelic sauce that is added that makes it a typical Sgt. Pepper's song. 'Fixing A Hole' is traditional British music from years before 1967 and dreaming up the Summer of Love at the same time.

Where things get very special is in 'She's Leaving Home'. This could have been the most tackiest song of The Beatles, beating 'Yesterday' easily, but is the standard of all ballads instead. It holds all the sentiments the mother feels, the inability of the father to act and show his feelings. This is contrasted by the interjections of John Lennon that gives it something cynical while singing selfish lines from the view of the parents, while Paul sings at the height of this vocal range. Totally succeeds, 'She's Leaving Home' does. Not a Beatle is playing on this tune. Only the vocals.

The studio experiments continue with 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!' This is everything but a song that could have been expected from a beat/pop band. It is everything such a band is not. John is at the top of his game. Just listen to all the sounds in the organ solo/outro. What am I hearing? The circus/carnival impression I get is totally overwhelming. As if I'm the one twirling around and around and around. A song that I got to appreciate more and more over the years. Yes, making the album as a whole stronger.

The B side of the album starts with the song I've always skipped. Indian cat whaling!, bah. With the cd that changed, as I had to walk over and didn't. Slowly George Harrison's contribution began to get me. The arrangement is so intricate. So many sounds weave in and out of each other. So in the end I have to conclude, so many years later, that 'Within You Without You' is an integral part of Sgt. Pepper's that can not be omitted. The song is good, period.

In 1967 Paul's father turned 64, so Paul wanted to record this song, that he apparently wrote when he was 16 or 17, so in the late 1950s. What a topic for a teenager?! That aside. What still jumps at me, how terribly odd this song is. As odd today as it must have been in 1967. The difference is that people remembering this sort of jazz/vaudeville music from the 1930s or 40s were still around, playing it in the presence of their children and now are become very scarce. What remains is that the song is still so strong. The small harmony vocals sounding like a recording from way back then.

'Lovely Rita' is one of my other true favourites. Why? This song is so upbeat. It makes me feel happy, full of anticipations of what could happen if I want it to. The piano solo is simple, yet just right and beautiful. The harmonies lavish. The tempo odd and positive. Paul is showing me basically that everything is possible. The ending is somewhat odd, but hey, this is Sgt. Pepper's.

The upbeat feeling continues with cock crowing the morning in. Another song that ties Sgt. Pepper's to the past and again I mention 'Got To Get You Into My Life'. The horns are just jumping at me, as does George's loud guitar solo. Although the lyrics are not necessarily upbeat, the music is. This is The Beatles giving their fans a good time, albeit a little different from what they might have expected. For the screaming teenage girls and their aunties, it may have all been too far out there. It's these songs that won the band their fans for perpetuity.

Sgt. Pepper's could rock out even harder. The reprise version has stripped out all and just rocks and rocks and when I blinked my eyes it was all over to make way for the grand finale.

'A Day In The Life' is John and Paul at their best. Making each other better, stronger and full of imagination. The daily newspaper was spelled for the lyrics, George Martin was called upon to come up with the grandiose crescendo's. Paul takes us out of the dreams and into the here and now for the bridge section, with a strong piano part, before John takes us back into the dream ending the bridge with a load horn part. And there we go, all it takes is a countdown to shoot this rocket into space. Where it, unfortunately, explodes.

And then there's that a little, senseless extra. On record it can be played for ever.

And there the adventure stops. Leaving me more or less in awe each time I hear it. Lets not forget that these sessions also gave us 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever' (and a song that surfaced on the 'Yellow Submarine' soundtrack). It only makes what is on offer even more impressive, doesn't it?

Tonight I'm going to go see The Analogues perform the album integrally for the second time this year. Now for the special feast around the release date. No doubt I will be surprised again and so impressed. What this band does is very special and unique. No doubt they will conquer the world with this show.


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