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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The history of this classic Beatles album

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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The front cover of the US "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album

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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Working titles: One Down, Six to Go
Recorded: December 6, 8, 20-21, 1966; January 19-20, February 1-3, 8-10, 16-17, 20-24, March 1-3, 6-7, 9-10, 13, 15, 17, 20-23, 28-31, April 1, 3, 21, 28, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England}
Mixed: December 6, 8, 20-21, 1966; January 30, February 2, 13, 21-23, March 2-3, 6, 15, 19-20, 22-23, 31, April 1, 3-4, 7, 17, 19, 20, 1967
Length: 39:42
Credits:
Produced by George Martin
Engineered by Geoff Emerick
Mixed by George Martin and Geoff Emerick
Art direction by Robert Fraser
Art design by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth
Photography by Michael Cooper
First released: June 1, 1967

Versions:

  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band UK: Parlophone PMC 7027, June 1, 1967 (mono)
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band UK: Parlophone PCS 7027, June 1, 1967 (stereo)
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band US: Capitol MAS 2653, June 2, 1967 (mono)
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band US: Capitol SMAS 2653, June 2, 1967 (stereo)
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (CD) Parlophone CDP 7 46442 2, April 30, 1987
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (CD) remastered: Capitol/Parlophone CDP 7 46442 2, September 9, 2009
Highest chart position: UK: 1 (24 weeks beginning June 10, 1967; 2 weeks from November 25, 1967; 3 weeks from December 23, 1967; 2 weeks from February 3, 1968); US: 1 (20 weeks beginning July 1, 1967)
GRAMMY awards: Album of the Year, Best Album Cover, Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical), Contemporary Album (1968)

History:

  • On August 29, 1966, the Beatles played their last paying public gig as a band at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, the last date on what had been an absolutely horrific, sometimes even life-threatening tour of the US, Japan, and the Philippines. After performing "Long Tall Sally," the set closer, the band packed up and George was heard to remark, only half-jokingly, "Well, that's it. I'm not a Beatle anymore."
  • Though they remained together as a recording group, each went their own way for a few months -- John was off to Spain to film his feature debut in How I Won The War, Paul scored his first movie, a comedy called The Family Way, George went to India to study under his new guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Ringo, while spotted in Spain with John, disappeared for a time; the hole he left in history is one of the more intriguing anomalies in Beatles lore.
  • It became obvious to Paul that the band needed a new direction to signify their coming-of-age, and he hit on the idea while flying home from a trip to Africa. Already toying with the idea of an alternate identity, he saw salt-and-pepper shakers on his inflight meal, a practice unknown to Brits at the time, and came up with the name "Sgt. Pepper." Liking it to the leader of a fictitious brass band, he envisioned an entire album organized like a concert in the park, and decided to model the look of this fake group after English brass bands and also the sort of trad-jazz bands his father, Jim, had been in as a youth.
  • Back home, he pitched the idea to the band, and rewrote an early homage to his father's band, a foxtrot called "When I'm Sixty-Four," to reflect the concept. John returned from Spain with a song about his childhood called "Strawberry Fields Forever" and Paul, soon to follow that with his own reminiscence called "Penny Lane," came up with the idea of a concept album about childhood. Though that idea was eventually scrapped, and both "Fields" and "Lane" were removed from the album to form a standalone single, the album was off and running.
  • Under no pressure to make a new film or go back on tour, the Beatles spent three months making Sgt. Pepper -- an inordinately long time for 1967. The musical innovations begun or solidified as common practice during the recording of this LP are well known: a 40-piece orchestra, an Indian music number with no rock instruments, vocals recorded at different speeds and then sped up or slowed down for effect, tracks banded together without spaces to create medleys, and loads of sound effects from the Abbey Road tape libraries. It certainly signaled the band's arrival as pop artists and not merely teen idols; it also functioned as a unifying soundtrack for the "Summer of Love" hippie movement which was taking place throughout America and Europe. For over two decades it was repeatedly cited as the best rock album of all time, and it still hovers near the very top of those lists today.

The cover:

  • One of the most famous, if not the most famous, cover in rock history, Sgt. Pepper was devised by Paul and John, working with longtime photographer Robert Fraser and art designer Peter Blake. The idea was to recreate an ancient brass band photo, working from a family photo of Jim McCartney posing with his jazz band, but splashed with psychedelic color. To achieve this Paul made several drawings of the fictitious group posing in front of portraits of their heroes, but Blake suggested it would be better to use life-size photo enlargements of famous people, tinted and glued to hardboard. Paul, John, and George, as well as Fraser, made short lists of the celebrities and historical figures they wanted, but Blake and his wife and partner, Jann Haworth, chose many of the figures.
  • Next, three-dimensional figures were brought in for the front row, in order to hide the two-dimensional reality of the "crowd." Most of these were wax figures from Madame Tussaud's famous museum, including four of the early "moptop" Beatles. Haworth added a Shirley Temple doll wearing a sweatshirt that said "Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys." The florist for the shoot suggested making a guitar out of hyacinths (bottom right). Other statuary and figures were brought in to fill in the front space; the final touch was a drum head with a fictitious band logo painted by a circus artist named Joe Ephgrave. On March 30, 1967, the Beatles arrived at the shoot in their satin band uniforms, designed by Manuel Cuevas at the famed Maurice Burman theatrical agency in day-glo colors hand-picked by the group: John wore chartreuse, Paul electric blue, George tangerine, and Ringo magenta. After approximately three hours, they had about a dozen different shots, including the famous one we know today.
  • Wanting to make the album packaging as much of an experience as the record, the band had their London designer friends, collectively called The Fool, come up with a gatefold sleeve design, but it was judged a little too busy, and instead replaced with a sitting shot of the four Beatles in Pepper garb. (The Fool instead designed a psychedelic inner sleeve in various shades of red.) The band wanted a packet of free goodies enclosed with every LP, but as that was not cost-effective, went instead for an insert with cardboard military and brass-band images that could be cut out, like paper dolls. Another designer, Gene Mahon, came up with the idea of printing the lyrics on the back cover. All these innovations were new to rock albums, and most had never been tried on any LP package.

Trivia:

  • Sgt. Pepper took 129 days to record, over 700 hours of studio time at an expense, in today's US dollars, of about $250,000. The cover would have cost $40,000 today. Although both costs would not be extravagant today, at the time they were unheard of. The album was the first to ship platinum, meaning one million advance orders were placed. It sold 2.5 million in the US and went gold in Britain; as of now Pepper has sold 11 million copies in the US and 32 million worldwide, placing it at #13 on the all-time world sales list.
  • Several controversial suggestions, such as Jesus, Hitler, and Gandhi, were removed from the cover collage, as was Bowery Boys star Leo Gorcey, who requested money for his likeness. Every other living figure gave written permission to be used. Mae West, famously, resisted at first, claiming quite logically that, as a famous sex symbol, she'd have no reason to be in a "lonely hearts" band. ("Lonely hearts clubs" were the dating services of their day, catering to singles.)
  • The Pepper uniforms made a final appearance that winter, in the promotional video for the single "Hello Goodbye."
  • Following the success of Saturday Night Fever, Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood developed a movie about the album and the fictitious band, also starring Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Steve Martin, Aerosmith, and Earth Wind & Fire. The movie and soundtrack were both tremendous flops, and are considered one of the major cinematic blunders of all time.
  • Those who believed in the "Paul Is Dead" phenomenon found several "clues" in the both the artwork and the lyrics to the Sgt. Pepper album.
  • Two extra snippets of sound were added to the end of the UK Sgt.Pepper album on April 21, 1967, occurring just as the final chord finished its fade. First was a very high 15kHz impulse, which lasts about four seconds, put there by John to upset any dogs who might be listening; second was "the Sgt. Pepper inner groove," a three-second collage of insane-sounding babble by the band, placed in the original "run-out" groove of the vinyl record, so that it would repeat over and over for infinity until someone came and picked up the tone arm. (Played backwards, it supposedly reveals the phrase "We'll f*** you like a superman," a coincidence which has always horrified the band. PID believers insist it says "Will Paul be back as Superman?")

Tracklisting:

Side One:

  1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (2:02)
  2. With a Little Help from My Friends (2:44)
  3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (3:28)
  4. Getting Better (2:48)
  5. Fixing a Hole (2:36)
  6. She's Leaving Home (3:35)
  7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (2:37)

Side Two:

  1. Within You Without You (5:04)
  2. When I'm Sixty-Four (2:37)
  3. Lovely Rita (2:42)
  4. Good Morning Good Morning (2:41)
  5. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise) (1:19)
  6. A Day in the Life (5:39)
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