This weekend celebrates the 51st anniversary of The Beatles’ 1967 release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the original concept albums and an aural experiment that changed the landscape of song recording.
It wasn’t much earlier than 1967 when the Beatles cemented themselves as masters of pop music. In their short span as a band, they released 22 singles, 17 of which reached #1 on the charts. But even though the Beatles were the epic mainstay of their time, Sgt. Pepper was unexpected in its weird, wonky brilliance.
The album was unique, in part, because it brought us into the imagination of these artists, illuminating how even in their most tripped out states of being, they created music that was relatable, intriguing, and, still, radio worthy. The album includes classics such as “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “When I’m Sixty Four,” “A Day in the Life,” and what is known to be John Lennon’s love song to LSD, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
The Beatles were so old-hat by the time Sgt. Pepper was released, in fact, that they had already put an end to their live tours on account of all the fangirl screaming that made it impossible to hear themselves and subsequently created a poor musical experience. The Beatles always valued sound, and when that was compromised, they walked away.
So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that they’d eventually start manipulating instruments and recordings in a way that was so unique and distinctly Beatles. With the help of audio engineer Geoff Emerick, Sgt. Pepper gave permission to break tradition and expectations of rock music. The album utilized effects that were adapted into music production for several subsequent years, like an uneven, wobbly piano in “Lovely Rita,” and use of a glass jug, a tea cloth, and the floor to warp Ringo’s drumwork on “A Day in the Life,” turning an average drum set into a tympani-like sound.
There’s no question that modern-day digital music production could likely achieve Sgt. Pepper‘s weirdness in an easier fashion. But without the Emerick recorded each instrument or sound onto its own track. This allowed the individual sounds to be manipulated into a wonky, magical mess before layering them all together into a cohesive track, making it all the more impressive that something so novel and classic was achieved in the 1960s.
So this Memorial Day Weekend, why not celebrate musical innovation and good vibes by inviting Sgt. Pepper along to your summertime bbq?