01 June 2006

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Today marks the debut of a new weekly feature: the soundtrack of my life. Every Tuesday I’ll feature one of my favorite albums. I am, however, kicking off today because Sgt. Pepper’s was released 39 years ago today (in the U.S. on June 2).

Years ago, back when the magazine was still relevant, Rolling Stone polled musicians on their seminal album, the one that changed how they listened to and loved music. (Peter Buck named the Stones’ Exile on Main Street, if I remember correctly.) When I read the question, I knew my answer without having to think — and, believe it or not, it’s not an R.E.M. disc. The album that changed my life is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It has yet to leave my top-five list. I went through four vinyl copies. It was the first album I bought on 8-track, on cassette, and on CD. The day I downloaded MP3-ripping software, it was the first album I ripped.

I’m listening to Sgt. Pepper’s as I write this column. I’m not going to get into the music-nerd stuff. We all know how innovative it is, how groundbreaking, what a design masterpiece the cover is; Wikipedia has done a good job of covering that. I thought about doing a track-by-track review of the album, but that takes away from what the album is: a symphony, at least to me. Each song is good on its own, but they work so much better as one collective piece, from the rustle of the crowd and the orchestra warming up to that final piano chord. So, I’m going to focus on what the album means to me.

I was eight years old when Sgt. Pepper’s was released. I spent nearly every day that summer at Renae’s, listening to the album over and over as we played parchesi and whatever else two girls do during the summer. It’s trippy. Funny. Catchy. The lyrics are full of wonderful, visual stories. It was just damn groovy, in the year of grooviness.

Listening to Sgt. Pepper’s takes me back to the magic of that summer. We were kids, with our lives ahead of us. We didn’t have responsibilities, other than having fun. And that’s what that summer was like across the world. The hippies (man, I loved hippies), the psychedelic era — for a brief moment, the Summer of Love was real. The album brings back that feeling of hope and joy and excitement and silliness. If I’m in a grumpy mood, listening to any of those songs pick me up. We never got tired of listening to it that summer, and I have yet to grow tired of it. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a month without listening to the entire album since that summer 39 years ago.

It just struck me how unusual it is that two eight-year-old girls were obsessed with this album — especially today, when kids listen to manufactured pop, such as Hillary Duff and 'N Sync. Sure, we had The Partridge Family (loved them!) and the 1920 Fruitgum Company, but psychedelic rock was also accessible. I don’t want to go on a diatribe about the evils of corporate record companies, but it is sad that you have to work at and research to find new sounds, new bands, new genres.

Anyway, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is brilliant. It’s a great memory from my childhood, and it’s still my most personal album. Pull it out and listen to the entire album this week.

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At 6/02/2006 12:12:00 AM, Anonymous paul said...

The Beatles scored my childhood as well. Every night, when my late father came home, he would slap on a Beatles disc and we would be transported for the next 40 minutes or so. The Fab Four aren't just a rock band to me. They transcend that simple label in a way that I can't quite quantify. --My old man favored Abbey Road and The White Album, but "Pepper's" ran a close third. --Hell, you can't really go wrong with *any* Beatles disc. They're all great.

At 6/02/2006 12:15:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

The first albums Paige and I bought were "Revolver" and "Help!" The Beatles were an important part of my childhood - and I was alive when they hit the U.S. - even played The Beatles game with the teen next door when I was five or six - so it was natural that "Sgt. Pepper's" was on my radar screen. It's my sentimental favorite.

At 6/02/2006 12:15:00 AM, Blogger barista brat said...

i'm going to say something right now that will make you hate me forever!

when i was little i would play the beegee's version of sgt. pepper over and over. and i thought the beegee's version was better than the original. actually, i thought the beatles ripped off the beegee's.

very sad - i know.

At 6/02/2006 09:45:00 AM, Blogger guerrilla blogger said...

you know, i actually liked the sgt peppers movie, with the bee gees and all....it is an excellent album....

At 6/02/2006 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Grant Miller said...

George Harrison was 26 when the Beatles broke up. That always makes me feel old and useless when I think of that.

At 6/02/2006 11:38:00 AM, Anonymous rcofchs said...

I agree with you that Sgt Peppers is a symphony. That was the magic of the Beatles. Many other bands at the time played hard rock and each song sounded the same. The Beatles could play the whole range of music from almost classical, to the hard stuff.

At 6/02/2006 09:58:00 PM, Blogger Benny said...

Hi, Beth. I clicked over from Brat's blog.

Favorite REM songs: "Be Mine"; "Low" and "Tongue".

Brat- does this mean you had a childhood run-in with the "Sgt. Pepper" movie, starring the Beegees and Peter Frampton as Billy Shears? Until I was 14 years old, going through my Beatles phase, I wrinkled my nose at any of the original versions of the songs. My mother had me brainwashed. Brainwashed!

At 6/02/2006 10:53:00 PM, Anonymous patrick said...

bet you and renee were cool kids

At 6/02/2006 11:44:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

BARISTA BRAT/GUERILLA BLOGGER: Not the Bee Gees' version! I hope your taste developed once you outgrew "Schoolhouse Rock."

GRANT MILLER: Thanks. Now I feel really old, too.

RCOFCHS: I knew we'd harmonize on this one.

B: Welcome! Excellent selections on the R.E.M. tracks. "Be Mine" was my song with the ex. And, well, you know what "Tongue" is about.

PATRICK: No, we weren't cool - but we were fun and carefree. MOSES! MOSES! MOSES!

At 11/07/2006 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Will said...

Well that is a great story ... I always like to hear about the records that soundtrack people's lives, seeing as how I like to write about them myself. It is certainly a brilliant record ... and one where your favorites songs continue to change. That's what I lovw about the Beatles ... you always discover something you haven't heard before, regardless of how many times you've listened.

At 11/07/2006 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

I've never grown tired of a single Beatles album. And, really, none of their singles. Isn't it amazing how those fortysomething songs are still fresh today?

At 6/10/2007 08:29:00 PM, Blogger T-Bird said...

Here is my tribute to it



At 6/11/2007 12:29:00 AM, Blogger T-Bird said...

yes. it is special to think that two eight year olds were listenign to this, and not the Monkees. I was 15. There is infinitly more I could say on my post about teh release of it. Someday I will.


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