#147 – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
– It was late spring 1967 and we really didn’t know what was going down. At least not where I was living in small town northern Ohio. It had been less than a year since we saw the Beatles at Cleveland Stadium during their (what we thought at the time) annual summer tour. And while we waited for the next Beatles moment, we were being entertained by a new show on NBC called The Monkees.
Yeah, I won’t deny they were the cool thing at that moment. When the show premiered in September 1966, it seemed most of my eighth grade friends had a case of Monkeemania. But since we were first generation Beatles Fans, the novelty began running out not long after the release of their second album and hit single I’m A Believer, which was right around the Christmas holiday.
After that I had the feeling that we went into the winter months waiting to see what The Beatles would do next.
In January 1967 we were treated with the primetime television special The Beatles At Shea Stadium, which kept us in a fab mindset. But by that time the 1965 birth of stadium rock was more historical document than a current event. It was still very exciting to watch, but comparable to a greatest hits album.
We were ready for something new.
Then in February, we were finally gifted with the group’s latest guaranteed hit, Penny Lane with the flip side, Strawberry Fields Forever. All of a sudden, the pop music of The Monkees and other Top 40 hits seemed more for a younger generation.
The original Beatles fans were maturing with the group.
But the first thing we noticed from the picture sleeve for their latest single was that they looked different. The mop tops and matching suits were gone. The new look was longer hair, mustaches and colorful clothes. Then once we heard the music it was a game-changer. It was a long way from I Want To Hold Your Hand to Strawberry Fields Forever.
Then came another bombshell.
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In May 1967 I read a short newspaper article that said the Beatles would not tour that summer. In fact, they may never tour again. I learned later, as an author of two books on the group, they had made this final decision during the 1966 North American tour. But their manager Brian Epstein kept it under wraps in hopes they would change their collective minds and not put his job scheduling concert tours in jeopardy.
And if you don’t believe me, a copy of a newspaper article titled Beatles May Sing Swan Song appears in my book The Beatles In Cleveland. I cut the story out of our newspaper in May 1966 and saved it since it was ground-breaking news at the time and… well, still is.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in the U.S. on June 2nd. I honestly can’t say, because I honestly don’t remember, if that was the date that I actually bought the LP. Since my small town in northern Ohio wouldn’t be on any record label’s list for first-day releases in stores, as I assumed it would be in New York or Los Angeles, I’ll say it arrived for us a few days later. I just know I first heard our local record store had copies on the day of the graduation party for my eighth grade class. I phoned my pal Kevin (who had seen the Beatles with me in Cleveland), we jumped on our bikes and rode off to make our purchases.
Kevin was and still is a year older than me, which might have given him the advantage. He moved fast to the record bin and grabbed the last copy of Sgt. Pepper with the prized word “Stereo” displayed at the top of the now famous, pop culture work of art album cover. The only one left for me read “Hi-Fidelity.”
What’s the difference?
In 1967, supposedly a lot. With newer stereo technology, you could sit between the stereo speakers and hear different sounds coming at you from both sides. In Hi-Fi or mono, the same sounds come out of both speakers.
But you know what? We didn’t find out until decades later – at least as fans – that the Beatles never intended Sgt. Pepper or any of their earlier albums to be stereo. It was all “mixed” in the studio to sound great coming out of one speaker. That’s why when looking – and listening – back, early Beatles albums including Sgt. Pepper don’t sound as fab as the mono mixes. They were given “artificial stereo” technology that carried the Instruments out of one speaker and the voices out of another.
That was not the way their songs were meant to be heard.
Though I was disappointed when I bought the album in Hi-Fi, it turned out I was the winner all along. From the first time I listened, it was the way The Beatles meant for it to be heard.
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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the song and not the entire album – joined this Dream Song List on December 14th. Yes, I own a copy. And as a matter of historical reference, I still own the same Hi-Fi copy bought in early June 1967. Except now my listening is digitalized. And since a true Classic Rocker can’t go very long without hearing it, that’s why the opening song on the album that provided the psychedelic soundtrack to The Summer Of Love floats into the recent memory category.
But don’t let the above term psychedelic be a reference to my personal summer of 1967. As an eighth grader heading into his first year of high school in the sheltered environment of a small town, the closest any of us would come to experiencing psychedelic was when we listened to Sgt. Pepper with our eyes closed and imagining Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.
As mentioned, the album landed in my local store the same day as our eighth grade graduation party. I made it through one entire listen before my mother chased me out of the house so I wouldn’t miss the first social event of my pre high school experience. I’m pretty sure I would have stayed home long enough to hear it again, but the party was promising to be a good “boys sneak out to find girls” all-nighter that none of us could really afford to miss if we wanted to head into ninth grade with a “cool” rep.
The guys were set to camp out on a small island in the middle of a man-made lake that was in the middle of a new housing development. I don’t know where the girls were staying, but if I remember correctly, we planned to meet on a nearby golf ball driving range after it closed. I also have this vague memory of all the guys having to swim to this island with our dry clothes in plastic bags on our heads. But that might have been just what we did on a hot afternoon anyway. I’ll go ahead and assume there was a rowboat that we took to stay dry as we escaped from the island for the evening driving range rendezvous.
And since there were probably about two dozen of us, that rowboat was kept busy most of the night.
The last memory is of most of us still not being as cool as high school students yet. The golf ball driving range turned into a grade school playground where we ran around, found golf balls and acted like the kids we were. Eventually the girls disappeared back to where they were staying and the guys took turns rowing a small boat back to our small island where we talked, laughed and probably made rude noises in sleeping bags under the stars.
It was a great way to start a fab summer. And the soundtrack wasn’t too bad either.
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The Beatles never performed Sgt. Pepper live – but here’s what is being called the “official” video:
To purchase the remastered classic LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, visit Amazon.com
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