After the revelatory sonic achievement that was 1966’s Revolver, it would have been almost impossible by the next year to imagine that The Beatles could go anywhere else to try and top it. But, that’s what they went ahead and did. Now, this is a tricky subject for many, of course. During the nineties especially, the supremacy of Sgt. Pepper was severely questioned when compared to the quality of Revolver, in part thanks to Britpop that held the latter album as a holy text, and rightly so. During that era particularly, cries of “overrated!” were common as applied to Sgt. Pepper. But for me, even though Sgt. Pepper is not my favourite Beatles album as much as I love it, I can easily concede the point that it is the Beatles’ creative pinnacle. Seriously.
This isn’t just because it’s the most striking work in their catalogue that helped to redefine the album format as we now know it today. It isn’t because of the technical accomplishments it represents, which also transformed the way that the recording process was approached, with samples, studio effects, and intricate non-rock arrangements playing integral parts to create a record that made everyone’s jaw drop when they first heard it. It isn’t even strictly because it had so much cultural impact on the time of its release, inspiring not only the fans to embrace pop music as art and not consider it to be a part of the showbiz treadmill, but also their peers and their work. I think it was mostly because it was the purest example among many in The Beatles’ catalogue that found each member exactly where he was artistically with crystal clarity.
Paul McCartney was enamoured of Brian Wilsonesque sonic landscapes and character-driven drama, and with an idea in his head that the record could be the one to go on tour instead of him and his bandmates. John Lennon would go full on into his Lewis Carroll fixation and interest in Victoriana, adding a child-like sense of wonder that had never emerged in quite that way in his writing before. George Harrison created his most sumptuous track to date, marrying Indian classical music to Western pop music and delivering the best of both. And Ringo Starr, if you didn’t get it before this, proves himself to be the master of the drum fill, adding so many great parts to the songs his bandmates wrote with almost inconceivable precision. With all of these elements in place, the album is a theatrical, optimistic sea change, not only for The Beatles, but for pop music too.
As is our custom, my friend Graeme and I, along with our mutual friend and fellow Beatles nut Shannon Dohar discuss this great work, including our favourite tracks, our thoughts on the role this record played in music history, and about how it simply makes us feel to hear it. In addition, we talk about Eric Idle’s superb 1978 Beatles parody, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash and about what makes it so damn funny, along with being legitimately tuneful as well.
You can listen to the podcast right here, Good People.