It Was Fifty Years Ago Today… The Continuing Saga of Sgt. Pepper

It was fifty years ago today…that the world was first introduced to Sgt. Pepper. It’s hard to imagine, at this point, that there was even a time when the album didn’t exist. Whether you consider yourself a fan or not, for the past two generations the album has become omnipresent. Two generations of people have loved it and hated it, while those who have yet to hear the record itself will still be aware of it’s presence. Visiting a record shop, there’s a good chance that its technicolor collage artwork will be seen. It’s always there; for most of us, it’s always been there.

Is it the best album ever recorded? That’s hard to define. The criteria for “best” are both malleable and extremely broad. It might not even be the best Beatles album, since the previous year’s ‘Revolver’ features a much tighter set of songs, but what Pepper did was turn the album into an art form. It introduced us to myriad characters from the mysterious Billy Shears, the circus fiend and celebrated Mr. K, Rita (who Paul tells us is lovely, but we’ve only got his rose tinted view) and Vera, Chuck and Dave – at once bouncing babies, now old enough to have grandchildren of their own. It’s a real menagerie of well-constructed images, not least of all contained upon the aforementioned sleeve. Peter Blake’s collage is iconic. That’s a much overused word, but in this case it is more than justified. He presented the band in front of a world of familiar and iconic figures – from Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, H.G. Wells and even an ex-Beatle – and in the greatest of twists, half a century on, here are four pop musicians who are more world famous than some of the figures they once stood before. So much for making disposable art.

The whole package shows how The Beatles had grown. Here they were immersed in an imaginary world, using the studio to their advantage, barely five years after they churned out three chords while smiling and shaking their mop-tops. They were, of course, lucky to be working at a time when pop music seemed to be evolving on a monthly basis; even so, they were often ahead of the curve. Whilst they created the vast Pepperland which we’ve now absorbed into a public consciousness, most of their closest peers weren’t necessarily on the same plain. While The Hollies’ ‘On A Carousel’ and ‘Carrie Anne’ were fine singles, for example, they were fine singles for 1965, not necessarily 1967.

‘Sgt. Pepper’ isn’t the first concept album. It’s an old argument that somehow rages on, but if you still believe it is, ask yourself this: how does one of the best segues on a recorded work plus a reprise of the title track equal a concept? The Pretty Things’ ‘SF Sorrow’ is the first pop/rock concept album and it’s time they got more credit for that. That said, there’s something delightfully whole about the Sgt. Pepper album experience; there are some great stand-alone tracks, but somehow, it’s only when listening from end to end, from start to glorious finish, that it’s enduring charms become much more evident.

While we could say so much more about the album itself, about McCartney’s gift for simple melodies and of how Ringo was a completely underrated Beatle, but the songs speak for themselves. The world has been given an official new mix of the album and various studio outtakes to celebrate its half centenary, but Real Gone would like to take this opportunity to look at how these twelve songs seem to have struck a chord with musicians and singers working within all manner of genres. We give you not just one but THREE different insights into the ongoing Pepper legacy…

Most of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s songs have been covered almost countless times, while others have attracted more of a cult love. Some of these tracks will be familiar to you, others not so much. We guarantee to have even picked one or two things you’ve never heard. From the brilliant, traditional but loving, to the flat out bizarre, with a little help from our friends, we hope you like at least some of what lies beyond.

…And for good measure, here’s a superb take on ‘Good Morning Good Morning’:

June 2017