The Beatles and ‘Sgt. Pepper’: A Fans’ Perspective, by Bruce Spizer (2017): Books

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As fans have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one question has been asked repeatedly: Why is it such a significant album? The answer is complicated, and different generations offer a variety of responses. Beatles expert Bruce Spizer tackles this issue in The Beatles and ‘Sgt. Pepper’: A Fans’ Perspective, a collection of essays from authors and experts, as well as mostly first generation fans.

Featuring numerous images of memorabilia, the book begins with an overview of where the Beatles were artistically by 1967. Spizer guides the reader through fans’ initial reactions to the “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” single, the Pepper recording sessions, media coverage, and critical response to the album. The Beatles in Canada author Piers Hemmingsen describes the Pepper phenomenon in North America; after hearing the album, Toronto Telegram writer Tim Elia crowned the Beatles “the best popular writers and musicians around. Period.” Beatlefan executive editor Al Sussman offers his thoughts on the album as a communal experience; in other words, fans listened to and marveled at the songs simultaneously, long before social media. Other essays describe the impact Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had on artists such as Queen and Ozzy Osbourne.

The most joyful section of the book involves the fans’ own memories of when they first heard the album (full disclosure: I am quoted in this chapter). Famous fans weigh in as well, with Billy Joel stating that “they had actually transported me into another world.” Charming photos of children proudly holding copies of Sgt. Pepper under the Christmas tree add to the highly personal aspect of the section. It would have been fascinating to hear more from subsequent generations as to how the album impacted them, although a few are represented here.

Other interesting features include international views of the album, ranging from Germany to Italy to Belgium and Russia. Even the packaging is closely examined, as contributor Max Gretinski tracks down the identity of the man named as Sgt. Pepper in the cutouts. Each song is explored in detail: Bruce Spizer also includes “Only A Northern Song” (recorded during the Pepper sessions but not released until Magical Mystery Tour) and the infamous “Carnival of Light.” The latter avant-garde piece, recorded at the request of Barry Miles, has never been released, and producer George Martin may best explain why: “This is ridiculous; we’ve got to get our teeth into something a little more constructive.”

Bruce Spizer’s The Beatles and ‘Sgt. Pepper’: A Fans’ Perspective may not provide one definitive answer to the original question — why Pepper is considered so significant — but it does offer several explanations from the perspective of first generation fans. The album clearly impacted their lives, and Spizer successfully demonstrates how Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band stood out from other albums of 1967, both musically and culturally.

Perhaps no one summarizes Pepper better than noted Beatles author Mark Lewisohn, quoted in the book: “Every song … every element, every atom and droplet, remains what it always was and will be: an intoxicating, inspiring, magical, uplifting dazzling, riveting work, an outstanding achievement for the four brilliant young Englishmen.”


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