UK, 1967, psychedelic pop / pop rock

The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: When I first started listening to music seriously all those years ago, back in the mists of time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, one of the first serious, critical opinions I came across was that this is the best pop / rock album of all time. And for a while, I nodded and went along with that opinion. It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that this is not the case. I’m not trying to take anything away from this album—I love it, I rate it a perfect 5—but the best ever? Not even close. Anyway, it’s a fun album with a lot of different things going on. I mean, “When I’m Sixty Four” follows “Within You Without You”, the two most dissimilar tracks on the album, the former being a silly song with an old dancehall feel, the latter a philosophical exploration with a sitar. And this is how you end an album:

This album took an unprecedented four months to make–unheard of in pop music at the time, and although it was supposed to be a concept album and inspired other concept albums for years to come, Ringo explained it best when he told an interviewer that The Beatles had an idea for a concept but part way through just said “oh sod it!” The album cover is brilliant, though, isn’t it? A stained-glass window into the 20th century, chock full of athletes, politicians, artists, authors, and entertainers. It took two full weeks just to make that collage.

This album is recorded on four-track recording, where each voice and instrument is recorded on a separate track, and once combined, the tracks couldn’t be altered. This therefore required better studio performances from the band. They had to do away with their characteristic carelessness and discipline themselves. The sounds solidify as the album progresses because there was no throwing away and re-doing. Overall, this gives the album a forward-thinking feel.

So what were the unique (at the time) features of Sgt. Pepper’s? First, obviously, is the time put into production. Please Please Me took a total of 10 hours. That’s it. Sgt. Pepper’s took 700 hours. Also on this album The Beatles insisted on being different for its own sake. They wanted new, interesting sounds, setting limits and adding compression or distortion. They put microphones on orchestral instruments. They used oscillators to vary the speed of the vocals and the instruments. They took tapes and chopped them up like cabbage, sticking them back together upside down and/or the wrong way around. And how about the end of the album? Those few seconds of nonsense tape-loop is one example of advanced studio trickery and yet another demonstration of John’s penchant for experimentation.

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