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.
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.
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.