Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

It Was 50 Years Ago….

… a couple days ago. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and the world has been changed ever since. Certainly MY world is entirely different.

It wasn’t only Sgt. Pepper, but that was the moment: June of ’67. The Monterey International Pop Festival followed later that month, as well as the BBC-originated Our World, seen by around 400 to 700 million people (almost a quarter of the population of the planet at the time) — on which the Fabs appeared as the representatives of England and the United Kingdom, performing “All You Need is Love” (written for the broadcast).

If you’re old enough to have been there, you remember. If not, you’ve probably heard. It’s hard now to appreciate the presence and the power that the Beatles had back then. Just look at Our World: as I said — it was the very first world-wide telecast, with countries all over the planet participating.

I’ve written before that this is the record that turned me into a musician. After a brief romance with the idea of being a scientist when I grew up (a passion that never quite left), art took over, and visual art was where I was headed[1]. And then Sgt. Pepper, and “Within You Without You”, and I started paying much more attention to music. Much more.

 

So much has been written about the album, then, now and in the years in between. The 50th Anniversary issue of it has gotten many, many reviews, and not all of them positive. But I want to direct your attention to Mikal Gilmore’s piece about the record.

To be honest, Mikal’s excitement got me all revved-up to hear it. When I did, I was a bit disappointed. But I think that sort of excitement is meant to be communicated to people with a conventional system — a theory I’ll test out this week. For years the last twenty years, I’ve listened (on my comparatively big-ass system) to a one-off CD-R made from a 1/4” copy of the stereo master. That’s pretty close to the source. I have a UHQR of it, for when I want a slightly different flavor, and I also have an original mono LP.  Yes, the mono has more sheer drive, but the original stereo has all the strange non-pan-potted qualities of early stereo — with instruments popping up in weird places. (I’ve even got multi-tracks of some of the tunes — yes, I’m obsessed, like many people I know.)

After 50 years of this being my favorite record, though, I get much more caught up in the outtakes, most of which are released here officially for the first time[2]. The “Penny Lane” takes are especially interesting to me, but that’s only because I’ve heard the “Strawberry Fields Forever” takes for a long time. And when you hear how the title track comes together, the raw tracks — yes, the Fabs were certainly a good little band.

Pepper remains distinct among the band’s recorded output for the inventiveness of the recording, the arrangements and choices in instruments. When you hear the tracks broken down as on the super-deluxe box set, catching them as newly-released from the burdens of touring, you can hear them, for the first time, stretching out to give their work the quality of symphonic miniatures.

By a couple albums down (or one year, in Fabs terms), Lennon would regard it all as “shite” and we saw that they’d strip it back down. But for the moment, a Technicolor, panoramic, psychedelic dream was real.

And many of us responded.

[1] In 1983, a director whose film I was scoring was staying over night at my mother’s house in NJ, and her sister called to tell him he should encourage me to go back to visual art, that that was where my real talent was.

[2] The majority of what there is to be heard have been “available” as bootlegs for years.