It was 20 years ago today… Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Well, technically it was 70 years ago now, as this week marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles ground-breaking Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album - which was released way back in 1967 (on the 1st June in the UK and 2nd June in the US). Described by some as the Beatles best work, it was certainly their best seller, shifting 32 million copies worldwide. It stayed at the top of the US Billboard chart for 15 weeks and picked up 4 Grammy awards the following year.
The Original Summer of Love
But why is the album so important? Some suggest that the release of Sergeant Pepper also heralded the beginning of the infamous summer of love. And June 1st wasn’t just a big day for the Beatles. Also releasing his eponymous debut on that day was a young chap from Bromley called David Bowie. Unfortunately he couldn’t have picked a worse time to reveal himself to an unappreciative audience. Speaking later about the notorious flop which reached 125 in the UK charts and failed to reach the US, Bowie admits to having a bit of a personality crisis:
“I didn’t know whether to be (music hall star) Max Miller or Elvis Presley.”
Luckily for us he wasn’t deterred and after a 2 year hiatus, Bowie regrouped and released his epic second album, also entitled ‘David Bowie’ (aka Space Oddity or Man of Words/Man of Music) in 1969.
The first concept album?
But back to Sergeant Pepper. The Beatle’s eighth studio album and was seen a continuation of the band’s growth and maturity as artists which had been steadily developing through their two previous releases, Revolver and Rubber Soul. They had been travelling and meditating and were busy exploring a lot of different influences which they were keen to include on the album. It was an exploration of their musical identity and along with Frank Zappa’s debut ‘Freak Out!’ (released in 1966) is widely considered to be one of rock’s first concept albums.
Influence and Legacy
Regarded by many as the most influential rock and roll album ever recorded, in 2012 Rolling Stone made it official, ranking it number 1 in their list of 500 greatest albums, describing it as:
“The most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time.”
But why is it so significant? Just ask Christopher Scapelliti, who covered the album’s 40th Anniversary in Guitar World magazine:
“In Sergeant Pepper's intricate aural tapestry is the sound of four men rebelling against musical convention and, in doing so, opening wide the door for the sonic experimentation that launched hard rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge and every other form of popular music that followed.”