Saturday, June 02, 2007

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

Although it comes in only about fourth on my list of favorite Beatles records, we wouldn't be much of a music blog if we didn't do something to honor this, the 40th anniversary of the U.S. release of the so-called "greatest album of all time" (the anniversary was yesterday in the U.K.). My guess is that most of us would debate that distinction, but there's no denying that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band obliterated any constraints on what a pop band could accomplish in the studio, cemented the album -- rather than the single -- as the medium by which the best artists were expected to distinguish themselves, and ushered in the psychedelic, pseudo-Victorian aesthetic of "swinging London" that reverberated across the globe in the late 60s. There's also no denying that Sgt. Pepper is a fabulous listen, from start to finish, and contains some of The Beatles' most sublime and timeless music, "She's Leaving Home" and, especially, "A Day In The Life" -- certainly among the 3 or 4 most immaculate things a group of musicians has ever produced -- being the most obvious examples.

And for me, the record will always be a sentimental favorite because it was, very literally, the spark that ignited my lifelong obsession with music. When I was 9 years old, a 4th grade teacher was trying to demonstrate the use of unusual instrumentation in modern music -- I can't remember why -- and played "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" in class, because of the tape loops of calliopes and carousels it has in the bridges. I was positively spellbound. It's my earliest memory of being floored and fascinated by a piece of music. For that reason alone, I will always have a special affection for Sgt. Pepper.

I considered making one of the collections of Sgt. Pepper outtakes the next bootleg in our series, but we've covered The Beatles already and there are too many great artists to sample before we start circling back to some. For now, here are snippets of takes 4, 5, 6 and 7 of "A Day In The Life", all recorded at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London, on January 20, 1967:

MP3: The Beatles - "A Day In The Life" (reduction mix of takes 4-7) from Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 3 (1966-1967) (bootleg)

And a contemporary re-mix of elements (the animal sounds, a George Martin interview, John Lennon's demo, and an alternate studio take) of and relating to "Good Morning, Good Morning":

MP3: The Beatles - "Good Morning, Good Morning" (remix) from Men & Horses, Hoops & Garters (bootleg)

Also, The Times Online has links to quite a bit of Sgt. Pepper anniversary news, including the paper's original review of The Beatles' "gay new LP" published on May 29, 1967.

Finally, for anyone who's interested in the behind-the-scenes lowdown on the studio sessions that produced Sgt. Pepper, I can't recommend recording engineer Geoff Emerick's recent memoir, Here, There and Everywhere, strongly enough.