Once the hoopla died down and the Summer of Love passed into history, the substance of Sgt. Pepper became clearer to objective observers. What they found was a collection of songs that, at their best, summed up the spirit of ’67 better than any equally accessible work this side of Donovan: the generation gap (“She’s Leaving Home”); self-improvement (“Getting Better”); life in suburbia (“Good Morning Good Morning”); aging (“When I’m Sixty Four”); psychedelia (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”); fighting ennui (“Fixing a Hole”); the sexual revolution (“Lovely Rita”); spectacle (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”); and spirituality (“Within You Without You”). Implicit without being too overt was the unifying undercurrent of the drug culture, some- thing that would’ve resonated with many listeners in 1967. (That legions of fans enhanced their Pepper experience through illicit means is the very definition of “a safe bet.”)
The flip side of such a concerted effort to capture the moment was an inextricable linkage to its time. The very sounds that the Beatles pursued with such vigor in order to stay ahead of their contemporaries have, perversely, boomeranged against them, aging the album in a way that Rubber Soul and Revolver have withstood. The latter album was created with a spirit of exploration that betrayed no hint of self-consciousness. Not so Sgt. Pepper: it was, as critic Greil Marcus noted, “. . . that point at which the Beatles began to be formed more by the times than the other way around.”
Closing the album, “A Day in the Life” was the one track that, by common agreement, lived up to the hype. While Sgt. Pepper’s other cuts made dazzling first impressions, the album’s finale was a stunner, striking the ideal balance between songcraft and studio craft. (John frequently took the lead role for the final track on the group’s albums. Sgt. Peppermarked the last time he did so, but at least he abdicated the position on a high note.) Less beholden to then-state-of-the-art studio effects or any contextual reference points other than material on the same album, it still packs a wallop today.
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Revolver by Robert Rodriguez (Backbeat Books)
The making of Revolver – hunkered down in Abbey Road with George Martin – is in itself a great Beatles story, but would be nothing if the results weren’t so impactful. More than evenSgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds, Revolver fed directly into the rock ‘n’ roll zeitgeist, and its influence could be heard everywhere: from the psychedelic San Francisco sound (Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead); to the first wave of post-blues hard rock (Sabbath, Zeppelin); through movie soundtracks and pretty much everything that followed it – including every generation of guitar-based pop music and even heavy metal. More than any record before or after, Revolverwas the game-changer, and this is, finally, the detailed telling of its storied recording and enormous impact.