Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles

Apple / Capitol Records, 1967

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


One of the benefits of re-laying out this site (and, in turn, re-reading almost every review we've ever run) is that I'm shocked at which albums have never graced our pages after nearly five years. One of those is a disc which has been called the greatest rock album in history - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from The Beatles.

I'm sort of surprised that no one, including myself, has dared to tackle this one yet - but on the other hand, daring to cast a critical eye on something which is almost revered in today's world is always a risky proposition. Nevertheless, I'm finally ready to cast my vote on this one... and possibly throw stones at one of rock's most sacred cows. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has some absolutely brilliant music on it... but I'm not about to declare it to be rock's best album. It's not even the Beatles's best album.

Ah, I hear the e-mail programs around the world firing up to flame me for that comment. Grab a sandwich and a beer, 'cause I ain't even begun to fire my volleys.

Granted, this album blew the doors off any image one had of The Beatles up to that point. Gone were the happy pop ditties that had made up the bulk of their early days. Gone also were the touring days; the pressures of being the world's biggest band helped kill those plans. What John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had in terms of creativity was the studio, and they decided to put it to good use. The band was going to write music for the sake of writing music, commercial appeal be damned.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Yet within this revolt came some of the Beatles's most beautiful music. "A Little Help From My Friends," featuring a lead vocal from Starr, is absolutely mind-boggling, and remains a favorite of mine to this day. (It also further proves that Starr was anything but the comic relief of the band, and his vocal talents were pretty much ignored.) Likewise, "Getting Better" is a pretty powerful piece of music that aims for the jugular. And while I won't pretend that "When I'm Sixty-Four" or "A Day In The Life" are among my favorite Beatles songs in the world, they too pack a specific punch - the former for the sake of finding one's soulmate, the latter turning up one's nose at the trivializations of daily life.

So how can I dare to say that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is anything but a masterpiece? First, there's "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," a song which was the Beatles experimenting with psychedelia. Tell me the band wasn't into drugs when Lennon and McCartney wrote this one... "Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain / Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies". Give me a break. I'll concede that this one is a track you either love or hate; I just happen to be on the other side of that fence.

Second is "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!," a song which has to have some deeper meaning - a meaning I'm sure someone is going to tell me about after this review runs. As it sits, this particular song is disjointed in both musical and lyrical structuring, and just fails to go anywhere. I've never been swept off my feet by this song, and this album has songs which can do just that.

Third is "Fixing A Hole" - and, no, I'm not biased against this one because of George Burns's rendition in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Believe it or not, I actually have that soundtrack... I'll have to dig it out one of these days.) It's another song that just goes nowhere, though I'm sure the Beatles had loftier expectations of it. It kind of has ties to "Girl," even if the subject matter of both songs are radically different.

Finally, there's a group of songs which I'm pretty indifferent to. "Lovely Rita," "Good Morning, Good Morning" and "She's Leaving Home" aren't the most stellar of Beatles tracks - and, I'll admit, "She's Leaving Home" bothers me in ways I can't describe. (Calling Dr. Freud.) But for an album that people are putting on pedestals, these particular tracks make me ask, "So what?"

I recognize that I'm rowing against the popular current here, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band will continue to be trumpeted as a stellar album by nearly everyone you run into. Don't get me wrong, it's still worth owning and experiencing... but just don't get suckered into the hype that has been built around this album for well over 30 years.

Rating: C+

User Rating: A-


Sgt Pepper-bashing is indeed a fashionable sport among reviewers! Well, I think Sgt Pepper is one of the Beatles' two best albums, the other being Revolver. Comparing the two, if I rate each song on a 1 to 10 scale and then calculate the average, Revolver comes out ahead. Also, Revolver presents a better balance and alternation between Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison songs. But while Revolver is a superb collection of songs, Sgt Pepper is more of an integrated soundscape that manages to encompass great variety - a thoroughly captivating and enjoyable 35-minute listening experience. And no album ever released has a finer finale than "A Day in the Life", one of the greatest songs ever. As for Lucy in the Sky, Lennon insisted it was not a drug song, and we should believe him. The lyrics are no more drug-related than is Alice in Wonderland. But whatever the truth may be, the lyrics are wonderful. How can anyone not like this song? And Fixing a Hole is a gorgeous song with nice lyrics, one of the highlights of this album and of the Beatles' work in general. Mr Kite is just a bit of fun and nice music, no profound meaning I believe - though a young girl once said (I don't remember where I heard this) she felt the song's underlying message is that life is a circus. If so, the song rings very true!
I find it interesting that both sgtpepper and I would have called "Revolver" the better of the two albums, track-for-track. And while it's become overplayed thanks to classic rock radio, I will concede that "A Day In The Life" is a pretty powerful finale. But I will respectfully differ regarding "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" - like I said in the review, you either love the song or hate it, and I just can't pretend to like it. As for whether or not it was about drugs - well, not knowing sgtpepper personally, I think it's safe to say neither of us were there for the writing and recording, so let's declare this topic a draw. You do, however, raise some valid points about the album being a soundscape, rather than a collection of tracks - and a few more arguments like yours could convince me to give this another critical listen like I did for "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" some years back. Well thought out commentary.

© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Apple / Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.