But on this, the week of the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, I ask you: “Is it really one of the best albums of all time? Is it?”
I really don’t think it is. I think it’s wildly and annoyingly over-rated.
Here are my five main reasons why.
- It’s neither groundbreaking nor innovative
Most of the songs are crude vaudeville, circus-style ditties, mostly old-fashioned and backwards-looking rather than pioneering.
Musically, they were also strongly influenced by the Beach Boys’ 1966 classic Pet Sounds. Producer Sir George Martin once said, “[without] Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds…“. Said Paul McCartney, “I sort of directed Pepper. And my influence was basically the Pet Sounds album.”
Claiming it fostered a new “psychedelic” sound means overlooking prior records by the 13th Floor Elevators, the Byrds, early Pink Floyd etc., all of whom released great albums in 1966, all much more entitled to the psychedelic moniker.
- Far superior albums were released 1967
Check the releases, you’ll find your own examples. The Velvet Underground and Nico, Love’s Forever Changes, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Who Sell Out… It was a great year for music.
- The songs aren’t very good
If you were listing your top Beatles songs how many from Sgt. Pepper’s would make the cut? “A Day in the Life”? Yes (obviously). “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? Possibly. Then where do you go? “With a Little Help from My Friends”? Hmmm… top 50 at a stretch. “Lovely Rita”?! No. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”?!! Hard pass.
Even the greatest albums are allowed a questionable inclusion, but can an album with the utterly dreadful “When I’m Sixty-Four” on it really be considered one of rock-and-roll’s greatest?!
- It doesn’t even crack the top three best Beatles albums
Speaking of lists, forget where it charts in the pantheon of popular music – is Sgt. Pepper’s even in your top three Beatles albums? Be honest, are Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Abbey Road, not all much, much better?
- It’s a failed concept album
“But, Ian, you’re judging these albums by the individual tracks… Sgt. Pepper’s is an album!” In terms of structure, beyond closing strongly with “A Day in the Life” the other tracks are easily interchangeable. Despite being touted as the first concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s actually fails as a concept.
Only the first two tracks, the title reprisal, and possibly “Mr. Kite” (being about a circus), have anything remotely to do with a conceptual ‘Big Band’ theme. Someone one day might be able to explain to me how “Within You Without You” fits a theme of ‘Edwardian era military band’. Fundamentally, even the band must have thought it was a terrible idea to abandon it so quickly.
In conclusion: stop lying to yourself, put Sgt. Pepper’s away, and play Rubber Soul and Revolver back-to-back instead. You’ll not regret it.