50 years without The Beatles: looking back to the iconic Sgt. Pepper's Club Band

This year (and this month precisely) marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' separation. In occasion to this, I decided to write about their most selling album and the one that –in my opinion- reflects the creative boom of the Liverpool boys.

50 years without The Beatles: looking back to the iconic Sgt. Pepper's Club Band

Talking about The Beatles, means talking about John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s genius for songwriting, the memorable solos of George Harrison’s guitar and the extraordinary drums of Ringo Starr. Talking about The Beatles means talking about one of the best bands of all times.

From their first album “Please please me” (1963) to “Let it Be” (1970), the Beatles reached an incredible level of creativity, reflected on the music, lyrics and production. In a very short period of time their changes were dramatically and contrastable. Those four boys in the cover of “With the Beatles”, aren’t the same four men in the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; by 1967 they had reached a very high popularity, got plenty of n°1 hits in the UK and the rest of the world, and it was during that summer that DJ John Peel broadcasting from the home of the pirate station Radio London (on a ship), referred to the Beatles as “our leaders”. 

“Having given up touring after Candlestick Park, we decided we would try to make our next record something special”- Paul McCartney

Returning to Abbey Road in April to record their new album, making new music was a priority, so they decided to step back from radio shows, concerts, TV, and films to become more of a studio band. The sessions began in June, and it was all about exploring new recording techniques like using a Direct Injection box which allowed, for example, to get a cleaner sound by plugging Paul McCartney’s bass to the mixing desk; also, the use of phasing (introduced previously on “Revolver”) that by the use of a delay of 27 milliseconds, gave the impression of hearing two voices. The recording of the complete LP took around 400 hours –that’s a lot of hard work.

"Sgt Pepper for me it's a fine album, it's a fine album but I did learn to play chess on it."- Ringo

"In the morning we'd drive into Abbey Road in John's blacked out Rolls Royce, fall out of the back of the car into the studio."- George 

THE COVER 

The extravagant Pop Art collage is an example of both the way The Beatles were able to present an innovate idea to the public, and the era of experimentation in the vibrant London scene.  

The first sketches were made by Paul based on his first musical idea: The Beatles assuming the identity of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With that in mind, the group is shown wearing military band uniforms, in an Edwardian sitting room, holding different instruments. Later, the band would become friends with art dealer Robert Fraser and showed him Paul’s idea. 

The figures we see standing behind the band was meant to be “a magical crowd”, but soon became one of the keys to the success of the cover; also, they wanted to make a life-size collage where the Beatles could enter. Paul, John, George, Robert Fraser, Jann Haworth and Peter Blake (artists who collaborated with Fraser in the making of the cover), made a list of the people they wished to see in the cover and photographed with the Beatles, and called them their “lovely audience”. 

“In my mind, I was making a piece of art not an album sleeve”- Peter Blake

Jann Haworth hand made the figures, cut them to size and placed them in the set; the stage was surrounded by several objects (including a Shirley Temple doll wearing a Rolling Stones shirt) and a wax figure of the Beatles because, as Blake said, “It made sense that The Beatles would be fans of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Finally, they added the drum skin displayed on the focal point of the image was made by artist Joe Ephgrave, and the flowers. 

FACTS ABOUT THE SONGS 

"64, Paul wrote in the Cavern we just stuck a few more words on it, like granny on yer knee and Vera Chuck and Dave, this was just one that was quite a hit with us. I think we used to do it when the amps broke down you know just sing it on the piano."- John

  • For this LP, George Harrison had only one composition of his own, and it was “Within you Without you”, a song that reflected his passion for the Indian culture, it was a fusion of styles featuring musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Asian Music Circle.
  • “A day in the life” started from John Lennon’s original idea, and was co-written with Paul McCartney. The session to record the orchestra part of this song, was very unusual. The musicians were dressed as they would in a symphony concert, and wearing joke shop accessories, and to record the rush of sound of the orchestra, Paul instructed them to play their lowest E and ascend to their highest E
  • “When I’m sixty-four” and “Lovely Rita” are the only two songs in the album pursuing love, but in an offbeat way
  • “Strawberry fields forever” and “Penny Lane”, released as singles, calmed the worries of the fans and the Beatle’s company, giving a clue that something big was coming
  • Some people found a cosmic meaning in the line “what do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine” from “With a little help from my friends”, when actually, it was meant to be humor
  • “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” was a picture that Julian Lennon, John’s three years old son, gave him. He started writing the verses with Paul, playing with the words, imagining Alice in Wonderland’s scenarios
  • “Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite!” was meant to create an atmosphere of a Victorian fair and circus, that’s why they agreed that the tune would have to be played by a steam organ. ‘That was a wild idea’, George said.
  • Watching their progress in the studio Paul said “it’s getting better all the time!”, which John replied sarcastically with “It couldn’t get much worse”. That’s how “Getting Better” was born
  • During the sessions of “She’s leaving home”, producer George Martin’s busy schedule won’t let him make the arrangements for the song, so the task was assigned to Mike Leander 

"I made a suggestion. I said, 'We need to get away from ourselves - how about if we just become sort of an alter ego band?'"- Paul

Author

Candelaria Gómez

Candelaria Gómez Contributor

Hey! I'm a violinist and music student based in Argentina. I love art in all its expressions -and I love to write about it.
Thank you for your interest on my posts!

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