Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono)

My big three pop/rock albums are Sgt Pepper, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE and Yes -Close to the Edge. I will write a blog on each album, so first Sgt Pepper.

My older brother had a stereo copy of this on lp and I must have been 11 or twelve when I listened to this, the Beatles had already broken up, but I entered the place this album created and saw it for the wonderland it truly is.

I love the Beatles, there is something alchemical about them, they took many influences from their time and transformed them into something new, something that the whole world fell in love with. They changed our lives, touched our hearts and took us on a breath taking journey of change. Each of the members of the band sing and each seems to add an essential element of an incredible whole. For me Sgt Pepper is the high point, everything was working together, it is positive, colourful and richly imaginative. I only want to play this album if I can sit down and give it my full attention and when i do it richly repays me.

Since getting the remastered Mono Beatles box set I only listen to the mono version of this album. The stereo version has that weird channel separation, with different instruments coming from different speakers. The mono one has it all fused together which sounds much better. The Beatles also oversaw the mix of the Mono version, they left the stereo for George Martin and one track "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is much better on the mono mix. It is criminal that you can't buy the mono version as a stand alone CD.

The album opens with the orchestra tuning up audience sounds and into the title track announcing that they ARE Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and that you have entered a bold psychedelic alternate universe that is this one transformed infused with charm character and good will. This song works as a framing device for the album, as Paul McCartney said, by being this other band they were freed to write songs that weren't their own.  It's a joyful rocker it ends with more crowd noise and the announcement of Billy Shears ...

With a Little Help From My Friends is sung by Ringo, and it is so obviously designed for him and became one of his great signature tunes. How did John and Paul do this? Write a song that so fittingly played by Ringo? By this stage they had all spent a lot of time together and were extremely close and it shows. This song is loveable, slightly downcast,  and has those mysterious killer lines "what do you see when you turn out the light...I can't tell you but i know it's mine"

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds already we're starting to appreciate something about this album, the first three songs are completely different from one another and yet there is an absolute inevitability about them, This album is chock full of colourful characters and story telling which is perfectly reflected in its iconic montage cover. Lucy starts with one of the most beautifully simple keyboard figures played and composed by Paul on a Lowrey organ that sounds like a harpishord. This is the psychedelic song par excellence and while the stereo version seemed like an almost excellent song, the mono version is THE THING. The Beatles added some phasing (a popular psychedelic recording treatment) to the chorus vocals and it just makes all the difference, the stereo version is recorded to dry for such a psychedelic song. John wrote most of the song, it's chock full of images he was inspired by a picture by his son Julian, Alice in Wonderland and surely the LCD he was taking at the time. And when he sings "picture yourself in a boat on a river..." I do, this is music to take you gently to the centre of your mind. Just fantastic!

Getting Better, a Paul song, slightly throw away but joyful, some bad stuff has happened but hey look up be optimistic its getting better.

Fixing a Hole, this is great, Paul's wandering bass, inspired by the bass lines from the Beach Boys Pet sounds, infact sonically that album had a big impact on Sgt Pepper in seeking the Beatles to extend their sonic pallet. I love this song I like the title I like him painting his room in a colourful way. Thoroughly charming.

She's Leaving home, another Paul song and one of his story songs, this album is full of these little pocket novels. This song deals with the generation gap in such a gentle way, with somewhat sentimental strings. And yes it steals my heart.

And then THE CIRCUS! Fantastic lyrics from a 19th century circus poster and John said to George Martin, I want to smell the sawdust and you can. By this time in the album my appreciation and gratitude is enormous and so ends side one of the original LP.

Within You and Without You sits in the centre of the album at the start of side two and give the album philosophy and weight, it combines calmness, seriousness & Indian and European instrumentation. "We were talking about the Love we all could share...Try to realise its all within yourself...and the people who gain the world and lose their soul" This song is the first great song by George, then to lighten the tone there is a little laughing and the music hall song

When I'm Sixty-Four, again a song spanning the generation gap. Fabulously arranged. Another song to make you Smile and another story song

And yet another Lovely Rita, people often got annoyed at these parking wardens who give them tickets, but Paul says why not love them, the lines "took her home I nearly made it, sitting on a sofa with a sister or two" are just brilliant, Paul could be a really excellent lyricist sometimes... the song ends with a strange piano vamp and ...

a cock crow "Good Morning" full of influences from John's television, this song has amazing time signatures governed by speech rhythms, I'm not sure if John was trying hard to be innovative it just seemed to come naturally to him... the song ends with a whole lot of animal noises which merge perfectly into the guitar ..

Sgt Pepper Reprise, this time sung by John and announcing that we're coming to the end. Just so clever a perfect framing device for a perfectly constructed album and onto the last song

A Day in the Life, what a way to end the album, I can't do this song justice it is a 5 minute epic with spine tingling melancholy, orchestral orgasm, a morning sequence by Paul ... and...and... what can i say? That final chord and drinking up the last bit of sound

... and the final inner groove snippet.

There you have it, every time I hear this album I'm moved. It is a cultural watershed and an artistic triumph, the Beatles at their best.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful start to your Blog Keri. Your review immediately makes me want to reacquaint myself with the music. Your love of the music leaps off the page and your enthusiasm for this music is thoroughly justified you are not elevating some thing which does not warrant it nor are you trying to deconstruct something to gain attention Bravo!