On June 1st, 1967, The Beatles released what many consider to be the finest rock album of all time: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On that day, I was a whole five years old, so it’s not like that event rocked my world. And much to the consternation of a lot of Beatles fan I know, it never has. There, I said it.
Certainly the 47th anniversary isn’t a special milestone or anything (just wait for the 50th!), but I’d seen some chatter about this earlier today and it reminded me of my long and circuitous love/hate relationship with the band.
So about seven or eight years after Sgt. Pepper’s came out, my sister blew out of the house after having a final explosive argument with our mom. In her haste to get out of dodge, she left a small stack of records. In amongst the Cream and the Joe Cocker were two Beatles albums: the “White Album” and Magical Mystery Tour. These records were my introduction to The Beatles, at least from a “long form” point of view.
Of the two albums, I spent more time, at least initially, with Magical Mystery Tour. It had rockin’ moments (the title track), weird bits (“Blue Jay Way”), and rockin’ weird bits (“I Am The Walrus”). The Beatles was a little tougher to get my young music nerd brain wrapped around, mostly because it came at you from so many different directions. It’s like the “rockin'” and “weird” had both been amped up an order of magnitude. I distinctly remember getting howling turntable feedback up in my room because a) my turntable sat on top of the speaker cabinet and b) it wasn’t possible to play “Back In The U.S.S.R.” or “Helter Skelter” at a reasonable volume — “reasonable” being defined by mom, who was more of a Dean Martin sort of music fan.
It took me several decades of music consumption to really “get” why this band was (and continues to be) so influential. Still, that didn’t make me all of a sudden fall in love with Sgt. Pepper’s. On any given day, I’d rather listen to my early coveted records, or Rubber Soul, or (especially) Revolver. Best rock album of all time? The record does have a bunch of killer tracks. I mean, who in their right mind can’t hear the brilliance of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” or “A Day In The Life?” But can a “greatest” album contain things like “When I’m Sixty Four”?
My point though, isn’t to dump on this record. Because what hit me early today is how amazing it is that a album that’s been around for so long still continues to live on, and actively, in the minds of so many listeners and artists. This is of course true of nearly every bit of The Beatles’ catalog, but Sgt. Pepper’s seems to have created a gravitational field all its own. And who knows? Maybe three years from now I’ll have changed my mind and moved Sgt. Pepper’s to the top of the heap. I wouldn’t bet on it though.
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