When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
Doing the garden
digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
Well I’m not quite there yet – four more years – but I’m definitely losing my hair and digging the weeds…
In my hand is a birthday pressie from Sarah: the remastered edition of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Going back in time on the sounds of the nation – it’s a Caroline flashback!! This always takes me back to a blissful summer before I left home for Liverpool and university. I completed my A-level exams in June; in the pub after the jukebox played A Whiter Shade of Pale. Later that month I began working for the local council, riding round south Cheshire cutting municipal grass. That same month Sgt Pepper was released and as I sat in the back of the lorry moving from one job to the next, all that was in my head was the sublime music from the unprecedented album. There was plenty there to nourish a young man’s imagination. All it takes is the smell of freshly-cut grass, and I’m drawn back, Proustian-like, to that summer and those sounds.
Listening now to the remaster, the promise of the Love album a couple of years back certainly seems to have been fulfilled: there is more depth and clarity and all the instruments sound real and present, especially Ringo’s drumming and Paul’s bass. What comes across, too, is how much this is Paul’s album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Getting Better, Fixing a Hole, She’s Leaving Home, When I’m Sixty-Four, and Lovely Rita. The packaging is handsome, with a booklet containing detailed notes on the recording process, as well as notes on the cover by Peter Blake. This is something that the Beatles’ CDs have lacked up to now. There’s also a mini-documentary on the making of the album (it’s a segment of the 60 minute documentary shown during the recent BBC4 Beatles season).
The album packaging was designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth. It featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover and lyrics printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on an English pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band, were dressed in custom-made military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours.
The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars and (at Harrison’s request) a number of Indian gurus. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, Carl Gustav Jung, W.C. Fields, Diana Dors, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, William S. Burroughs, Marlon Brando, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe. Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon, but ultimately they were left out.
Recording for the album began in late 1966 beginning with When I’m 64 and A Day In The Life. In November and December two songs were recorded that were ultimately dropped from the album, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. When Beatles manager Brian Epstein decided that a new single was needed,the two songs were issued as a double-A-sided single in February 1967. It was the group’s usual practice, that single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision George Martin states he now regrets).
When Sgt Pepper was released in June 1967, after an unprecedented six months in the studio, it was a major cultural event. In The Times Kenneth Tynan described Sgt. Pepper as ‘a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization’. Geoffrey Stokes commented, ‘listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century’. Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane has said: ‘Something enveloped the whole worldat that time and it just exploded into a renaissance’.
In his definitive survey of The Beatles recordings, Revolution In The Head, Ian Macdonald wrote that the album
‘remains the most authentic aural simulation of the psychedelic experience ever created. At the same time, something else dwells in it: a distillation of the spirit of 1967 as it was felt by vast numbers across the western world who had never taken drugs in their lives. Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band may not have created the psychic atmosphere of the time but, as a near-perfect reflection of it, this famous record magnified and radiated it around the world’.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: mini documentary from remastered CD
- How the Beatles brushed away repression: recollections from the Guardian’s Ian Jack