Friday, May 26, 2017

Today in Music (1967): The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles

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Released: May 26, 1967

Peak: 115 US, 128 UK, 1 CN, 130 AU

Sales (in millions): 11.0 US, 5.1 UK, 32.0 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: classic psychedelic rock


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

You can check out the Beatles’ complete singles discography here.

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [2:02] (9/16/78, 78 BB, 92 CB, 63 UK, 2 CL, 2 DF)
  2. With a Little Help from My Friends [2:44] (9/16/78, 78 BB, 92 CB, 63 UK, 4 CL, 1 DF)
  3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds [3:28] (3 CL, 1 DF)
  4. Getting Better [2:47] (12 CL, 11 DF)
  5. Fixing a Hole [2:36] (23 CL, 6 DF)
  6. She’s Leaving Home [3:35] (12 CL, 8 DF)
  7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite [2:37] (17 CL, 2 DF)
  8. Within You Without You (Harrison) [5:05] (13 CL, 11 DF)
  9. When I’m Sixty-Four [2:37] (14 CL, 5 DF)
  10. Lovely Rita [2:42] (8 CL, 20 DF)
  11. Good Morning, Good Morning [2:41] (18 CL, 14 DF)
  12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) [1:18] (47 CL, 7 DF)
  13. A Day in the Life [5:33] (9/16/78, B-side of “Sgt. Pepper’s…/With a Little Help…”) (1 CL, 78 AU, 1 CL)

Songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney unless noted otherwise.

Total Running Time: 39:36

The Players:

  • John Lennon (vocals, guitar)
  • Paul McCartney (vocals, bass)
  • George Harrison (guitar, vocals)
  • Ringo Starr (drums, vocals)


4.741 out of 5.00 (average of 54 ratings)


“The single most influential album in the history of pop” – Chris Speicher, The Review


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“The Beatles were undoubtedly the most successful and significant rock group in history” NRR and Sgt. Pepper was their masterwork. It is “one of the most influential albums of all time,” AZ “the album that many regard as having changed the course of popular music forever” CDU and that “revolutionized rock & roll.” RS’87 London Times critic Kennety Tynana called it a “decisive moment in the history of Western civilization.” CS “When Sgt. Pepper’s dropped, everything about it – its ambition, conceptual unity, drug references, elaborate cover art, bizarre sound effects - made an immediate, incalculable impact.” RS’97

“Critics [say] that this is the most experimental, the most groundbreaking album ever produced by rock, after which inspired listeners go and put on Freak Out! or The Piper at the Gates of Dawn or, well, even The Velvet Underground & Nico and say: ‘THAT was experimentation? C’mon, that was just a bunch of pretty pop songs!” GS


“Weary of performing in stadiums full of screaming teeny-boppers,” RS’97 the Beatles permanently retreated from live performances in 1966, opting to focus on working in the studio instead. “A chasm had begun to open between their growing musical sophistication and the public’s perception of them as lovable mop tops. The magnitude of the Beatles phenomenon was starting to encroach on the band…Already trapped, in their early twenties, the Beatles had to find a way out.” RS’87

Paul McCartney dreamed up the idea for the Fab Four to take on aliases as the fictitious “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He said, “‘Why don’t we just make up some incredible alter egos and think, ‘Now how would he sing it? How would he approach this track?’ And it freed us. It was a very liberating thing to do.’” RS’87 The four of them “all grew long hair, they all sported different mustaches, and they donned outfits, all of which would be emblazoned on the album’s cover art.” CQ “Unsurprisingly, the band’s appearance factored into this album big time.” CQ

Musically, the alter-egos allowed the Beatles “to experiment with new sounds and ideas that would not necessarily be found on any other Beatles album.” CQ The result was “a concept album that The Beatles hoped could do their touring for them.” CQ

John Lennon later said that his contributions were “not in character and not in theme with the whole Sgt. Pepper’s… concept.” CQ “Apart from some relatively modest touches - the colorful uniforms, the opening theme song, the reprise near the end and Ringo’s entertaining turn as ‘the one and only Billy Shears’ in ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ – the alter egos make no discernible appearances on the album.” RS’87

The Cover:

But one look at the cover of Sgt. Pepper – festooned with the band’s wildly eclectic gallery of heroes and…wax figures of the youthful Fab Four standing next to their far more…serious-looking real-life counterparts – eloquently tells how greatly removed the group had grown from what they were.” RS’87 “The Fab Four wax statues fossilized the formerly frivolous pop sensations, or the Ghost of Beatles Past.” IB “Under the guise of alter egos the Beatles had finally allowed their real selves to emerge.” RS’87

The album was the first to feature a gatefold sleeve. CS Along with the Beatles, the cover featured cardboard cutouts of icons including Bob Dylan, W.C.Fields, Carl Jung, Karl Marx, Elvis Presley, and Mae West. It looked “like a backstage photograph of musicians surrounded by their stagehands from a very, very strange tour.” CS

A Cohesive Work:

The album worked as a whole because “it flows seamlessly together. The tightly-knit transition in between songs is something that had not really been used before and was therefore considered groundbreaking at the time.” CQ

Sgt. Pepper was “conceived as a complete listening experience. Previously popular albums were generally a couple of hit singles patched together with some album tracks and some filler to create the necessary minutes for two LP sides. The Beatles changed all of that forever.” CRS

The Impact:

In 1966, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album “created a new landmark in ambition and beauty in rock” BW while the Beatles cranked out their own music-altering masterpiece with Revolver, “reaching a previously unheard-of level of sophistication and fearless experimentation.” AM “With Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles completely altered the face of popular music for the second time” RS’97 and created what “is regarded by many music critics and fans alike as not only the climax of the Beatles career, but also one the finest albums ever recorded.” RM

“It was this album, and not any other, that led serious music lovers, many ‘classical snobs’ included, to finally recognize rock music” GS “as actual art.” AZ “While Frank Zappa was too ‘crazy’ to be considered ‘worthy’, the Beach Boys spoiled all the fun with their Hollywood arrangements, and Bob Dylan was still primarily a lyricist, the Beatles did it exactly the right way” GS with “this very psychedelic work at the peak of the summer of love, influencing hundreds of up-and-coming musicians.” CRS

“The record is a flawless, cohesive landmark of a sound that transcends the folk, rock and pop.” PM “There has never been another band that could do so many different things – [the] songs…cover more ground than you get in most rock careers.” TL “The songs embrace a myriad of divergent styles yet, through the collective genius of these musicians, they are melded into a cohesive whole.” NRR “The musicianship [is] unparalleled, the production [is] perfect.” TL “The songs are breathtaking,” TL “each masterfully arranged.” NRR

Studio Magic:

With Sgt. Pepper’s, the Beatles became “the first band to fully utilize the studio as an instrument in itself.” CS The 700 hours of studio time RM and “four meticulous months spent putting the album together were like an aural experiment in some laboratory. The Beatles used the studio as an instrument: changing tape speeds, experimenting with microphone placement, using unconventional instruments…etc.” CRS “The 129 days it took…to complete Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are sometimes referred to as the most creative 129 days in music history.” RV By comparison, the Beatles recorded their debut album, 1963’s Please Please Me, in one day. CS

“Inspired by Eastern influences, classical music, Pet Sounds and mind-altering substances, The Beatles pushed the envelope of recording capabilities,” RV experimenting “with music that was too complex …to perform onstage.” RS’97 They “consciously synthesized such disparate influences as psychedelia, art-song, classical music, rock & roll, and music hall, often in the course of one song. Not once does the diversity seem forced.” AMSgt. Pepper was the most breathtaking and innovative piece of modern music the world had ever heard.” IB

“This four-track recording is still a masterpiece.” CL “The musical experimentation was dynamic and fresh, several tracks were edited to create seamless transitions, and even the visual design was more elaborate than anything previously attempted.” VH1

George Martin “was the chemist who made their crazy ideas work. He shaped their glorious songs and fantasmagorical lyrics with melody and harmony, pushing recording technique into unknown waters.” CL “Martin and The Beatles searched for new sounds and studio effects. They added crowd sounds and animal cries from sound-effects recordings, sped up Paul McCartney’s vocals in ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ (to make him sound younger), and sustained a single piano chord for 40 seconds to end ‘A Day in the Life.’ The orchestrations, scored by Martin, were hailed by critics as bridging the gap between pop and classical music, and many people who had never bought a rock record bought Sgt. Pepper’s.” VH1

There are also the “sly inside jokes…take, for example, the dog whistle – which humans can’t hear – buried on the album’s second side. “We’re sitting around the studio, and one of the engineers starts talking about wavelengths, wave forms and stuff, kilohertz,” McCartney recalls…‘We were all saying, ‘Wow, man. Hey, wow…We gotta have it on! There’s going to be one dog and his owner, and I’d just love to be there when his ears prick up.’” RS’87

Psychedelic Masterpiece:

While the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s, “San Francisco’s psychedelic scene was in full swing” CS thanks to the “sophisticated, LSD-inspired grooves” CS of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother & the Holding Company. Paul was influenced by a 1966 visit to the bay area. CS

Author Chris Smith says the album “continues to dominate the consciousness of 1960s psychedelic rock the way the 1977 film soundtrack Saturday Night Fever embodies disco…and Nirvana’s 1991 Nevermind personifies grunge.” CS

Concept Album?

Before the idea of taking on aliases came along, the intent was to create “a song cycle based on the Beatles’ lives starting with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane.’ However, the recording process became expensive and behind schedule, so the two songs were released as a single and the song cycle was dropped.” CRS

Consquently, “even though this isn’t a concept album as such it remains the very first concept album in popular public consciousness.” AD “It is the first Beatles album conceived as an album, not just a bunch of songs (their first released identically in the US and the UK), and the first rock album where the songs blend into each other with no breaks.” DBW

A “Paul” Album?

“The preponderance of whimsy and self-conscious art gives the impression that Paul McCartney is the leader...He dominates the album in terms of compositions, setting the tone for the album with his unabashed melodicism and deviously clever arrangements.” AM “There’s McCartney’s effortless mastery of all manner of pop styles, including…the ballad ‘She’s Leaving Home,’” the rock-classic title song, and “the music-hall cameo” BW of the “vaudevillian ‘When I’m 64’ [which] seems like a logical extension of ‘Within You Without You’ and how it provides a gateway to the chiming guitars of ‘Lovely Rita.’” AM

“In comparison, Lennon’s contributions seem fewer…but his major statements are stunning,” AM including his “wild excursions into psychedelia” BW and the evocative word/sound pictures [of] the trippy ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ [or] the carnival-like ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.’” AZ

The Songs

Here are looks at each of the songs from the album.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
With its “cool guitar solo and the trombone-led band anthem.” GS “the introductory title track immediately sets Sgt. Pepper apart…George Harrison’s distorted guitar couples with classical horns before John Lennon informs listeners ‘It was 20 years ago today / Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.’” RV This song and the reprise at the end of the album before the epic “A Day in the Life,” are “almost a Cavern-style throwback as if to remind you who exactly you are listening to” AD and “are actually two of the least interesting things here.” AD Jimi Hendrix famously covered the song just days after its release.

“With a Little Help from My Friends”
The title cut flows into With a Little Help from My Friends, with an introduction of “the one and only Billy Shears,” in what is really the only other attempt to hang on to the we’re-another-band idea. The song “was the last track to be recorded for the album. It was included…as it was felt by the group that a happy sing-along tune was all that was missing from the finished product.” RM It is the ideal Ringo tune, a rolling, friendly pop song that hides genuine Lennon anguish, ala ‘Help!.’” AM The song is “possibly Ringo’s finest ever Beatles vocal” AD showcasing his “steady drumming and his timeless, everyman vocals.” BW Joe Cocker recorded a version in 1969 which became one of his signature hits.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
“The beautiful and vivid” CQLucy in the Sky with Diamonds “plays out like a dream.” CQ It is “one of the touchstones of British psychedelia.” AM The song “was said to have been written with Alice in Wonderland in mind and was not a reference to the drug culture at the time, despite the ‘coincedental’ LSD of the shortened title.” RM It has been widely reported that John Lennon named the song after a drawing by his son Julian. GS Elton John took his cover version of the song to #1.

“Getting Better”
“The guitar riff that opens” AD the “giddy ‘60s anthem” JA Getting Better “sets the tone for a straightforward pop/rock song,” AD an “optimistic and uptight Paul rocker.” GS “McCartney is most noticeable with the extremely melodic bass lines that push the song forwards. The handclaps are attention to detail. Nothing is missed for what is essentially a simple song” AD “said to have been written after a remark McCartney made to a friend one spring day whilst out walking his dog.” RM

“Fixing a Hole”
The introspective Fixing a Hole “benefits from McCartney’s melodic bass lines, and the harmonies [which are] perfectly and subtly placed but always in exactly the right places.” AD Accusations that it was “influenced by drugs…were denied by McCartney, who claimed that the song was actually about ‘the hole in your personal make-up’ and also about himself “examining his own thoughts.’” RM

“She’s Leaving Home”
The “beautiful” AD She’s Leaving Home, “certainly Paul’s most gorgeous ballad ever,” GS is “written around a newspaper story about a girl who runs away from home to find excitement.” RM The song “could have been a chamber piece done centuries before.” IB It is “the four at their most wise.” BL

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”
This is supposedly John Lennon’s lyrical transformation of an 1843 circus advertising poster. RM The song is “a very visual track” RM with a “great Lennon vocal” AD and a “swirly sounding steam organ” RM to create a “quasi-carnival atmosphere.” CQ It “is musically complicated, working with organs, guitar, and some harmonicas” CQ but also experiments “with backwards tapes…as a silly but groovy experiment with cutting up tapes and stitching them again in random order.” GS The song was covered in Julie Taymor’s 2007 movie musical tribute to the Beatles, Across the Universe.

“Within You Without You”
George Harrison was “engulfed in Indian Mysticism” RM when he wrote the “dramatic sitar composition Within You Without YouBW that is filled with “Indian-influenced pearls of wisdom” JA and “the paradoxical wisdom of Eastern religious philosophy.” RS’87 While “many people seem to hate” the song, Harrison “manages to fit into the Indian pattern and make a catchy melody at the same time.” GS

“When I’m 64”
When I’m 64 is a “happy sing-along type of song” RM with a “stupidly happy base line [and] and English music hall feel” AD that McCartney wrote “as a tribute to his father,” RM supposedly about ten years before. GS In 1982, the song was used as the intro for the Robin Williams’ movie The World According to Garp.

“Lovely Rita”
Another McCartney composition, this one “is said to have been influenced by a chance meeting with a London traffic warden, although the finished song leans towards the seduction of a woman in uniform.” RM The “vocal apes Lennon, the bass rises and falls, the lyrics are a storytelling humorous delight, and then these wonderful harmonies come in.” AD

“Good Morning, Good Morning”
Next up is one of John Lennon’s “abrasive, slice-of-life rockers” JA “is all about being tired of the same old routine, day after day.” RM It “is the only real rock song here, with some cooking guitar solos and lots of wailing animals in the end.” GS

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)/A Day in the Life”
After a reprise of the title track, the album closes with the “avant-garde mini-suite” AZ A Day in the Life, “a haunting number” AM and “standout track on the album.” BL If there is any doubt as to whether or not Sgt. Pepper is one of the greatest feats in music history, then revisiting its closing number ‘A Day in the Life’ will likely do the trick. Few songs have encapsulated an overall project’s legacy as deftly as that one.” PM “This is pure Lennon and McCartney genius and is without doubt the highlight track on the album.” RM “It would be worth buying the album just for this track alone.” RM

It “may be the most ambitious song ever recorded, veering in unexpected directions and pushing the boundaries of experimentation.” RV The song disects “the sterile absurdity of mainstream values” RS’87 and “skillfully blends Lennon’s verse and chorus with McCartney’s bridge.” AM Lennon’s “soulful vocals” IB sound “weary as the song begins, with his Everyman describing the suicide of a member of the House of Lords. ‘And though the news was rather sad,’ he sings, ‘I just had to laugh / Having seen the photograph.’” RV

“The simple phrase ‘I’d love to turn you on’ sends the song swirling until it emerges into McCartney’s version of his morning” RV and then one last blast from Lennon. The song then tumbles into a “musical orgasm of the whole orchestra building up a terrific crescendo” GS that makes the song seem to “teeter on the edge of a musical abyss until a thundering piano chord” RV ends what is “arguably rock music’s most empathetic, sublime creation: a suicide, a ringing alarm clock, and the chord to end all chords.” BW

“Quite how producer George Martin squeezes so much sound into this track is incredible, especially when you consider the equipment available to him at the time.” RM With its “complex orchestration,” JA the song “sounds like the end of the world with the noise and the strings and everything else…a more than impressive production” AD to end “the single most influential album in the history of pop.” RV

“Inner Groove”
Of course, from a completely technical standpoint, the album isn’t over. There’s still “the famous Inner Groove – the snippet of pointless conversation that sticks in the album’s run-out groove… – has [a]…zany genesis…McCartney explains, ‘a lot of record players didn’t have auto-change. You would play an album and it would go, ‘Tick, tick, tick,’ in the run-out groove - it would just stay there endlessly…We said, ‘What if…every time it did that, it said something?’ So we put a little loop of conversation on.’” RS’87

Concluding Thoughts:

“It’s possible to argue that there are better Beatles albums, yet no album is as historically important as this. After Sgt. Pepper, there were no rules to follow – rock and pop bands could try anything, for better or worse.” AM “This one album revolutionized, altered, and reinvented the boundaries of 20th century popular music, style, and graphic art.” CLSgt. Pepper captures the British sixties atmosphere to perfection, probably better than any other album from the era…Along with Revolver, Abbey Road and The White Album, Sgt. Pepper should be in everyone’s album collection.” RM “A splendid time is still guaranteed for all.” TL


In 2017, a 50th anniversary box set was released which includes a new stereo remix of the album, two discs of alternate takes during the making of the album, and the original 1967 mono mix of the album.

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First posted 2/15/2008; last updated 7/10/2024.