Why is Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a milestone in Pop Music?
Sgt. Pepper changed British Pop Music. Before it’s release in 1967 there were only two genres in British popular music Pop, encompassing people from Herman’s Hermits to The Monkees; the only other genre was Rock, which included people from The Rolling Stones to Cream to Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles were initially ‘pigeon-holed’ into the first genre, pop. Sgt. Pepper seemed to steer in an age of pretentiousness, with varying degrees of seriousness; which was later combated by the inevitable solution, Punk Rock.
In 1967 a very strong ‘Established’ pop music market was still in the U.K. catered to by the likes of Englebert Humperdinck, Petula Clark and Ken Dodd. After 1967, and Sgt. Pepper, the question emerged “Is progressive pop/rock (such as Sgt. Pepper) to be trusted?” This question was asked because it dealt with issues deeper than love and other relationship issues. The answer, eventually turned out to be ‘no’. Until a later generation of bands discovered the joy of openly imitating The Beatles.
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Sgt. Pepper is a concept album. Many people believe that Sgt. Pepper is the first concept album. It was however proceeded by Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. This album however is considered by some musicologists as not being a ‘real’ concept album; because it is a set of individual songs, though loosly based around one subject.
Sgt. Pepper is an example of a ‘true’ concept album; all the songs link together, one after another. Such is apparent in Day in the Life, the introduction to the song starts before the final applause of the ‘reprise’ has died down. Such examples of concept albums that were released shortly after Sgt. Pepper include:-
Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed (Late ’67)
In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)
On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)
To our children’s children’s children (1969)
Genesis – Foxtrot (1972)
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)
Sgt. Pepper changed the way in which the recording process was viewed. It was one of the first albums to use Multi-track recording, it also made extreme use of the new developed stereo field; where instruments sound spatially miles apart, but were all recorded in the same building. The whole album is so well produced you can hardly tell that it was played by ‘real’ people; there are one or two indicators that is ‘real’ people; such as at approximately 4:50 into Day in the Life, a creaking piano stool can be heard. There are very few such indicators such as this in the album; this shows not only the high professionalism of the musicians in recording this album; but the immense role of the producer, George Martin, a role that is still as important now as it was then in 1967.
After exploiting the studio, The Beatles returned to their older style, back to their roots. However, live performance had since become impossible. It took place in ‘formless’ extended jams, such as Give Peace a Chance although this is a much later example featuring Lennon as the only Beatle. This fell out of favour in the late 70’s and song-like form returned, even to present day. The irony lies in that this process of long live jams came from a band who had given up touring!!
All in all Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band changed the rules of the game fundamentally in 1967. Not only did it revolutionise the way technology was thought of; and the subsequent change in the role of producers in the music-making process; but it also spawned a new generation of musicians and an entire genre of pop music – Prog Rock. Sgt. Pepper also gave rise to the advent; although loosely; to the new “Manufactured Pop” age. Where live performance is not a prerequisite of releasing a chart-topping record; after all, Sgt Pepper was the result of a band who ceased touring.
It is such a milestone in pop music; that Musicologists have written entire papers on Sgt. Pepper, an extract from one such Musicologist’s paper regarding Day in the Life:
“A Day in the Life depicts the ‘real’ world as an unenlightened construct that reduces, depresses and ultimately destroys, yet it still offers a transcendent optimism in our own power to develop a beautiful construct”
You can therefore conclude that this album was ground-breaking, and is still considered as such. This album not only stretched technological boundaries, but also began a partial regression in musicianship, i.e. the “Manufactured Pop” age.