For my difficult second album to review I have gone with an easy and memorable album (I might experiment with my third album!!!).
Purchase and Packaging
I was undecided on which album to purchase and review this month. So on my lunch hour I took a trip to HMV for a browse. After half an hour and still undecided I thought the only place to start should be at the beginning. So headed for the Beatles section and pulled out Sgt Peppers, for £17.99 for the Stereo 180 gram version (I’m not going to get into the debate over Mono vs Stereo) I couldn’t go wrong.
I was most surprised with the quality of the package once I had the cellophane off. The album comes in a gate fold (according to the packaging one of the first albums to do so) case with the vinyl record in an anti static sleeve. Also added is the original paper psychedelic sleeve and one sheet of card board cut outs. The most interesting part is a 4 sided sheet with an introduction by Paul McCartney, information about each track’s recording and details by the artist of the iconic cover, with a break down of who each person is in the background.
Loading the record into my player, hitting play for the first time, then the crowd jeers followed by the guitar kicking in was a great pleasure. It was like putting on an old comfortable shoe but as the title track progressed I started to hear elements I had never picked up before, I could hear the drums and the bass, these had never stood out before above the vocals and the guitar. It feels like a much fuller and immersive sound on vinyl.
As the album progresses you get a real sense of the different styles used for many of the tracks: with psychedelic – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, orchestral ballads – She’s leaving Home, and rock – Good Morning, Good Morning. How this must have sounded to people first listening to it back in 1967. They either thought it was genius or they had completely lost their minds.
For me its absolute genius, not just the writing and performance of the songs but also the production. There are no gaps between the tracks which makes it flow into each other. The songs are complex when they need to be but also stripped right back at the right time, A Day In the Life been a great example of this mix of cutting edge production and simple yet very effective bare bones singing at just the right time.
Once I had listened to the whole album I turned it back to Side A and started all over again, its very rare that I do that as I’m always looking for my next music high elsewhere. It helps that the tracks also have very catchy lyrics to complement the varied musical styles.
What also strikes me is there are no stand out tracks, they all mix so well together as one piece. The main single, Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane, was recorded during the same sessions but was left off the album. This was a very bold choice for a band who sold bucket loads of singles at the time. It was a clear indication of a band that were seeing what they could do in the studio, they knew they wouldn’t have to perform it live so they pushed everything. Amazing how just 4 years earlier they were a group making singles and their albums were just a collection of songs. Sgt Peppers was one of the first albums by a so called Pop/Rock act that was built as a whole and not to sell singles; it shows. The songs all flow together and I can’t think of a single track that is filler. It’s an amazing transformation in such a short space of time. If you look at their previous two albums Rubber Soul and Revolver they had already started down this path, it didn’t happen over night. But it all came together here. A lot of that influence came from The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album which itself had pushed the boundaries. Sgt Peppers just went that step further.
The album was a wake up call and showed everyone that LP albums were a great creative outlet that sold well and didn’t have to be just a collection of songs, they could have a theme running through the whole album.
I have listened to the album many times already in a digital format and have always preferred both Rubber Soul and Revolver. However with my first listen to the vinyl version I might have changed my mind. I have come to see that the album isn’t about singing along to great catchy songs, it’s about listening. This I think is what The Beatles wanted; to create an album for people to listen to and not sing. In every sense they achieved that. What an amazing album, pick it up on vinyl if you don’t have it. A must buy.