Sgt. Pepper: Why So Popular?

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By 1966, The Beatles were tired of touring and the quality of their musicianship had deteriorated. During a performance in Japan, their audience was polite and restrained. The Fab Four could hear their own voices as they performed, a rareity. In their opinion, their skills had deteriorated and something had to be done about that –for their own satisfaction.

They returned to England and everyone took a three month break. George Harrison went to India to study the sitar with Ravi Shankar. Paul McCartney collaborated with record producer George Martin (pictured below) on the soundtrack for a film. John Lennon acted in a film (“How I Won the War”) and attended art showings –where he met Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr spent time with his wife (Maureen) and son (Zak). The decision was made to take an unlimited amount of time and spend an almost unlimited amount of money to see what they could accomplish.   The result was an album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

They and Mr. Martin worked on their project from November 24, 1966 to April 21, 1967. In May, their record was released in the UK. In June, it was released in the USA.   By December 31, 1967, the album had sold 2,360,423 copies in the United States alone.

The more you know about how Sgt. Pepper was made, the more you can appreciate the creativity of the Beatles, George Martin, and the studio staff. For example, four-track recording equipment was used.   Techniques utilized included: automatic double tracking, varispeeding, and a lot of other stuff I don’t understand. Plus the four Beatles played a wide variety of instruments (eg, McCartney, in addition to his guitar, played a grand piano and a Lowery organ).   To sum up: if Sgt. Pepper sounded unique, there were many reasons why.

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In time and money, what was the cost? Estimates indicated the Beatles spent 700 hours to create the album, “more than 30 times necessary to make their first album.” The financial cost of their first album was 400 pounds. Sgt. Pepper cost 25,000 pounds. The songs’ lyrics were printed, in full, on the back cover –the first time it had been done on a rock album. The final cost of the art on the album cover was almost 3,000 pounds. Typically, it cost about 50 pounds. Creativity, it seems, was neither quick nor inexpensive.

SP's cover 2

In February, 1967, 2 songs were recorded at Abbey Road Studios: “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane.” They were released as a “double A-side” because of the pressure on George Martin for a “single” recording. Releasing these two songs instead of including them in the coming album, Martin later said was “the biggest mistake of my professional life.”

What were the results of their efforts? American radio stations interrupted their regular scheduling and played Sgt. Pepper non-stop from start to finish. It sold more copies than any previous Beatles album. In 1968, at the Grammy awards, it was chosen Album of the year. For several years after its release, and for the first time in the history of the music industry, sales of albums exceeded sales of single records.

Future honors included: As of 2011, Sgt. Pepper had sold more than 32 million copies worldwide. In 2003, the Library of Congress placed it in the National Recording Registry, honoring it as culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number One on its list of “5,000 Greatest Albums of All Time. “

Paul McCartney’s opinion of the album 50 years later: “It’s crazy to think that 50 years later we are looking back on this project with such fondness and a little bit of amazement at how four guys, a great producer, and his engineers could make such a lasting piece of art.”

On May 26, 2017, the Sgt. Pepper album was reissued for its 50th anniversary in a variety of formats. It featured a stereo remix produced by Giles Martin, the son of George Martin, who died in 2016.

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About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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