40 Years On, The Band Is Still Playing Loud And Clear

It was 40 years ago today…that the Beatles unleashed their full colour extravaganza album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band, on the world, or at least, the United Kingdom.  40 years later, it is no cliché or hyperbole to say that the music world was never the same again. If you ask many people to name one album from the rock era, this would be the one.

40 years has also led to a lot of critical discussion and speculation. Even on release, the album wasn’t unanimously praised, and there have been a lot of words written about it sense. From a Beach Boys perspective, we could always ask the question ..what if SMiLE had been released first? But this is Pepper’s day so we’ll leave that for another day. Even from a Beatles perspective, many would say that Revolver was a more revolutionary record, and Tomorrow Never Knows still sounds more groundbreaking than anything on Pepper, in my view.

At a personal level, I must confess that I find a number of other Beatles albums a stronger, more resonant collection of songs – I would list Rubber Soul, Revolver, Abbey Road and to be even more perverse, suggest even Let It Be, Magical Mystery Tour and the groundbreaking Meet The Beatles. But it’s not to say I dislike the songs on Pepper, but rather make it a tribute to the songwriting talents of the Beatles that they came up with so many great collection of songs.

So what is the greatness of Pepper? I think it is mainly because it showcased in bright, psychedelic colors, the creative possibility of rock music. No longer was rock confined to love songs and electric guitars,  or confined by the verse verse chorus structure, but it could reach out to classical and Eastern influences and even music hall. The Beatles embraced the past and other traditions to make the music that would define the future.

And even although the presentation of Pepper was loud and attention-grabbing, there wasn’t any of the overblown pretentiousness that made so many future concept albums a terrible bore to listen to. This was still mostly short, punchy three minute pop songs that grabbed your attention, and left you wanting more, instead of you wanting it all to end.

What was also great about Pepper was what was achieved from a sonic point of view with limited technology. I listened to a two hour audio showcase on on the plane back from Europe on the album which featured Geoff Emerick discussing how difficult it was to get some of the sounds with four track machines and little else; there was a lot of creativity involved (the audio showcase was very interesting overall, except that it featured William Shatner’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds which no human should really be subjected to 🙂 ).

So here’s to Pepper, a great album by a great band that changed the world and reminds us today of the creativity and vision of the 1960s.

P.S. I can’t write this post without reminding once again about our scheduled chat on Sunday (Monday if you’re quite far east of the Greenwich Meridian!). Details are here, and there is still lots of time to register.

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