What is it about The Beatles Sgt. Peppers album?
I know it’s considered by some to be one of the first concept albums but to me it always seemed more like a place then a concept.
From the moment I first heard the complete album sometime in the mid-1970s I was taken in by the sight of the lavish cover and the far-out sounds on the record.
Even in 1976 the album sounded a bit out of time to me. It didn’t seem current yet it didn’t seem old. I always felt like I was stepping into some sort of Secret Garden or enchanted place whenever I played Sgt. Pepper.
There were fairgrounds (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) and classical orchestras playing in the park near newspaper taxis (“She’s Leaving Home”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), an Indian garden full of incense and flowers (“Within You Without You”), an older couple blowing out birthday cake candles on a bench near the sidewalk (“When I’m Sixty-Four”) and a pensive runaway standing by herself gazing into the sky (“She’s Leaving Home”).
And the “piece de resistance” song from the album “A Day in the Life” feels as if you walked out of the park and stumbled into a crazy kaleidoscope of sound that at times feels like a nightmare or at least a tour through Alice’s garden given by the Cheshire Cat.
At least that’s what it felt like to me listening to this album at the rip old age of ten. This is the one Beatles album that always seemed like it existed in another time, another place or even cosmic inner space for that matter.
I know John Lennon has said in interviews that his songs from the album at least could have gone on any Beatles album but I think that’s really stretching things a bit.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “A Day in the Life” most certainly would have felt out of place on “Please Please Me” or “A Hard Day’s Night” for example.
I’m not sure it was even the reputation that Sgt. Pepper had garnered even by that time (1976) that really influenced me as I really wasn’t too steeped in the myth of the album when I was ten years old. My oldest brother had just recommended I give it a listen and I did – over and over again.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” has just always felt different to me from all the other Beatles albums and it still does to this day – in a good way of course.
Which brings me to the collector angle of this post – the WONDERFUL Super Deluxe Edition of the 50th Anniversary box set of the Sgt. Pepper album that came out last May.
For once, this is a Beatles reissue that was done right!
There are four CDs – one that contains a new remix of the album by Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin), two CDs worth of outtakes from the sessions including early versions and alternate mixes and my favorite disc of the set (Disc 4) a freshly remastered “direct transfer” of the mono Lp along with unused mono mixes from the album.
First off, I LOVE outtakes and alternate mixes! I love getting a peak inside the making of my favorite albums and this monster box set does just that.
I especially love the instrumental take of “Penny Lane (Take 6)” which now sounds like an outtake from The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” (an album McCartney loved and was inspired by) and the instrumental takes of “She’s Leaving Home” and the unedited mono mix of that same song – just superb stuff.
And my favorite outtake from the entire box, the unaltered Take 1 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with its lovely background vocals intact, justifies the price of this set by itself. The previous version of this outtake which was included on The Beatles “Anthology 1” CD in 1995 removed these background vocals which was a massive oversight.
(Note: “Strawberry Fields forever” and “Penny Lane” were supposed to be a part of the Sgt. Pepper album but were put out as a single instead – thus their inclusion on this set)
I know some folks don’t like the new 2017 remix of the album but I find it to be a nice listen. I have to go on record as saying I’m not a huge fan of remixes but this one is pretty decent. I just wish it was a bit less compressed (loud) but I do think it gives a nice new take on the sound of the album without really changing it too drastically.
Plus there is a DVD and Blu-Ray in the set that has the lovely “Making of Sgt. Pepper” TV special from 1992 that features interviews with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and George Martin.
The DVD and Blu-Ray also contain videos for “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane” and “A Day in the Life” AND the new album remix in 5.1 sound and Hi-Resolution sound which is a nice touch.
Throw in the nice hardback book that comes with the set and some groovy posters and you’ve really got a classy way to celebrate a classic album.
Now of course, I own the SHM-CD version of this terrific set which came out exclusively in Japan.
The Japanese set has all the CDs pressed on SHM-CDs (Super High Material CDs) which I feel sound great (not getting into the argument as to whether SHM-CDs do or don’t improve the sound, I think they do) as well as a really nifty pop-up version of the cover which you can assemble and sit next to your box set (I know, like that will happen, once a collector always a collector lol!).
Anyway, feast your eyes on the magnificent Japanese version I own of this box set (see above photos). You don’t see many photos of the Japanese Pepper set online so I thought it might be nice to highlight what it looks like for those collector folks like me who think stuff like that looks purdy.
I myself am taking another dive into Wonderland as I’ve been playing the CDs from this set once again as I write this article.
Hopefully the success of this set last summer (No. 1 in the UK and No. 3 in the US) will inspire more sets for other Beatles albums in the future (I think it has – White Album, White Album) but until then I’m just going to gorge myself with Pepper.
Or as they say:
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to …