A few weeks ago was the 50th anniversary of the release of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and all over the world, people celebrated its birthday and its influence on popular music. With good measure, it is one of the first great concept albums to be released. Paul McCartney was the brainchild of the fictional “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that would actually play the album. What is even more remarkable is that after the rerelease of Sgt. Pepper, it reached the No. 3 spot on the Billboard chart last week.
It’s been 50 years since 1967, the Summer of Love. Lyndon B. Johnson was still sitting in the Oval Office, the United States was in the middle of Vietnam, and the first Super Bowl kicked off in Los Angeles. Just when that fateful summer was beginning to take shape on the cultural zeitgeist, one album was released to the world and suddenly the peak of popular music had already passed us by. At the time, it was seen as a major breakthrough for the band, with each member contributing something substantial to the finished product. In terms of production, concept, quality and popularity, “Sgt. Pepper” represented the hallmark of how far The Beatles had made it since performing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” just three years earlier. It also signaled the greatest mystery of all for everyone, including The Beatles, to solve: What do The Beatles do next? Today, “Sgt. Pepper” is seen differently than it was all those years ago. Now, it is considered by many to be the greatest album of all time. Looking back at the anniversary, “Sgt. Pepper” represents the true heights of how high music could go.
The eponymous first track introduces them as the titular Lonely Hearts band to great effect. “With A Little Help From My Friends” segways into what some have acknowledged as Ringo Starr’s best vocals ever recorded. John Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is the fairy tale of the album, entrancing listeners with its fantastical lyrics, “picture yourself in a boat on a river / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies."
George Harrison lets his love for Buddhism and the sitar blossom on his lone written track of the album “Within You Without You." It definitely adds a mystical variable to the album’s strengths. Paul’s classic pop track about getting old “When I’m Sixty-Four” brings a stable wholesomeness to counterbalance the other ideas “Sgt. Pepper” brings up. It then ends on the orchestral epic “A Day In the Life” that brings all The Beatles together into a mighty conclusion.
I do not know which came first: when people started saying it was the greatest album or when people started thinking that. It is one of the finest achievements in pop, without a doubt. George Martin helped elevate the music studio into an actual instrument with “Sgt. Pepper”. Its iconic cover art is just as legendary, pushing the limits of what a rock band could accomplish visually as well as sonically. Let’s not forget every musician who has been influenced by The Beatles’ music, which is almost all of them. “Sgt. Pepper” is considered the high watermark of The Beatles repertoire, but not in all of music.
Even at the time of its release 50 years ago, people knew that this music was special. The Beatles spent the rest of their days trying to build off what they did in “Sgt. Pepper," not just top themselves, but become better artists for it every step of the way. They succeeded for sure by releasing even more classic songs and albums afterwards, but it’s “Sgt. Pepper” that receives the most praise from people today. At the time, it was seen as the next step in The Beatles’ ascension, in retrospect, all other music descends in comparison. I guess retrospection is sometimes the only thing that matters to people.