1967 is a vintage year in pop culture and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the finest of this special class. June 1 is the 50th anniversary of the release of the album that ushered in the Summer of Love and an emerging counterculture.
Rob Bowman, a Grammy Award Winning Professor of Music at York University, recalls its release. “It was a momentous year. There was something in the air with Haight-Ashbury, Greenwich Village, and even Toronto’s Yorkville.”
Bowman teaches an in-demand course on rock and popular music and considers Sgt. Pepper’s the most significant of 67s psychedelic harvest, which included first releases by The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix.
“The Beatles were at the forefront of everything,” Bowman proclaims. “All the other bands were influenced by them and looked to them for direction.”
The Concept Album
“Sgt. Pepper’s is a conceptual showpiece wherein a band assumes the identity of another band, plays a fake concert in which they refer to themselves as the band playing the concert, and even has an encore at the end. No other pop album is so advanced or eclectic.”
Bowman notes the progression of The Beatles over a scant 4½ years from their first release in 1963 – Please, Please Me – an album that took 13 hours to record with only a couple of overdubs. “The idea of constructing Sgt. Pepper’s, a record with sound effects, tape loops, and massive overdubbing, taking 6 months to record, shocked people.”
Until then, pop groups made simple recordings. The Beatles turned light entertainment for teenagers into an art form. Their music referred to earlier musicians like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, but became increasingly experimental, no longer sounding like their predecessors.
A Day in the Life
For Bowman, the LP’s standout track is the finale, A Day in the Life, a mini-suite with two songs combined into one – Lennon’s slow, surreal ballad and McCartney’s dream portion – returning and culminating with an extended, atonal crescendo sounding like the end of the world.
“It’s not a progression with a verse, chorus, and instrumental break,” says Bowman. “It’s a constructed composition that’s far beyond the standard aspects of the music of its time.” The song manipulated avant-garde, classical electronica and hallucinogenic lyrics, especially the mind-blowing refrain: ‘I’d love to turn you on.’
Bowman, who turns 61 later this month, says the students he’s encountered over his 38 years of teaching, are astonished by The Beatles, and he predicts they will be the most important artists of their era, along with Dylan, to be heard and studied as Beethoven is today.
“Sargent Pepper’s has accomplished a lasting impact for 50 years,” says Bowman. “I am quite confident the same will be true 250 years from now.”
This article appears in the June 2017 issue of FYI – Forever Young Information.