Sgt.Pepper, My Favorite Album of All Time — Now More Than Ever
The Beatles’ 1967 masterpiece, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” is my favorite album of all time — and it has been since the day I heard it for the first time.
Listen to those vocals, particularly by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The Beatles’ singing has never sounded more soulful, deep or wise. The harmonies, on songs like “She’s Leaving Home” and “Lovely Rita,” are nothing short of remarkable.
Lennon and McCartney never came up with such well written songs on any album before or after. And Ringo Starr’s drumming jumped ahead here by light years.
Couple those qualities with the band’s determination to prod Producer George Martin into helping them concoct sounds never heard before on a rock and roll album (yes, I’m talking to you, fans of The Beach Boys’ breakthrough, 1966’s “Pet Sounds”).
You come up with an album of historic musical and cultural significance, a touchstone for pop music.
So, when I heard that The Beatles’ label would seek to remix the tracks, I was not happy. Why tamper with perfection?
Giles Martin, George Martin’s son and and an anccomplished music maven in his own right, showed me why. He had the mammothtask of bringing Pepper into the 21st century. It’s a job so daunting that I half-expect to hear the ominous catch phrase of the TV series “Mission Impossible” — “Should you decide to accept this mission…”
The new, remixed Sgt Pepper is a standalone masterpiece. It sounds so different, in spots, from the original that it deserves to be mentioned in a breath all by itself.
Plus, the extra cuts, “Strawberry Fields Freever” and “Penny Lane,” recorded during these sessions but not included on the album, sound incredible. The Beatles intended to sound different. They intended to revolutionize rock and roll music. They wanted to turn us on!
It’s fascinating to note how the songs evolved, from take to take. It’s like unearthing a new culture.
The most interesting track here is Lennon’s witty “Good Morning, Good Morning,” his view of a deadend marriage (his) from the suburbs. I have always thought of it as a words-first song, with a lively dancehall arrangement to send it home.
But now! Giles Martin has unearthed a new kind of sound for this gem. It rocks! The song sounds just this side of raucous, with the recharged instruments now battling Lennon’s sardonic voice for control of the tune.
Another master work is “She’s Leaving Home,” the most underapprecated track on the album in 1967. McCartney reaches far, with his classical music leanings, and succeeds in creating a song for the ages. His unadorned vocal tells a heartbreaking story of a restless, miserable teenage girl leaving her well-meaning but clueless parents’ home to embark on an adventurous life.
Mum and Dad are left baffled and devastated by her decision. McCartney takes the care to tell the very Sixties tale from the parents’ point of view — as radical a gesture for the times as Bob Dylan going electric two years earlier.
Giles again makes a Beatles’ song even more vivid here. He has “cleaned up” the track to a point where the instruments — led by the swirling harp — give a listener a rich experience of hearing something quite familiar as if for the first time.
Of course, many Beatle lovers will say — big deal. Do I really need to plunk down the money to hear an album I’ve revered for FIFTY years in a new light? That was my question. The answer is a resounding yes.
The Beatles and George Martin (and the engineers at Abbey Road, led by Geoff Emerick) did their best to invent a radical sound in 1967. And they succeeded wildly. Sgt. Pepper has no peer as an original piece of work.
But to appreciate fully the technical and technological progress that musicians and producers have made in these five decades, you owe it to yourself to listen to the new version.