In an article originally written for the London Beatles Fanclub Magazine, Esther Shafer writes about the Beatles Classic album, which they began recording 50 years ago….
An Appreciation of a Classic Album
Believe it or not, I got into a conversation with three Beatle fans who told me they don’t think Sgt. Pepper is a very good album. Now, this is as incomprehensible to me as someone saying they don’t like ice cream, chocolate, or blue skies. Totally blown away by this revelation, I was unable to come up with much more than ‘Why not’. got two basic reasons:
1) The songs on Sgt.Pepper aren’t as good as those on Revolver.
2) Being second generation fans, they were born too late to appreciate the mood of the times, and Sgt. Pepper is to them very much tied to the 60′ s.
I wentaway to collect my thoughts. Okay, so maybe there is such a thing as a generation gap. My mind drifted back to my youth, the summer of 67 when I was sixteen and Sgt. Pepper became permanently imprinted on my consciousness. If they don’t get the meaning of Sgt. Pepper, then I will try to help them.
So, for all of you poor lost souls, I am prescribing three exercises.
Exercise one Make believe it’s your first time.
Make absolutely sure you will be totally uninterrupted for 39 minutes and 52 seconds. Unplug the telephone, lock yourself in a room if you have to. Arrange your body in your best listening to albums position. It might be lying on your bed, on your couch, on the floor. Just make sure you have no limits to how loud you can play the music. If you have nervous parents, roommates, or neighbors, headphones are recommended. A CD would prevent you from having to turn the record over, but purists will want to listen to the album (a slightly scratched model from the 60’s is best with pops and clicks from well listened to tracks). Anyway, you will need an actual album for exercise three.
Choose a time of day when you are at your best. If it’s a nice day, open the windows, lie in a patch of sunlight, burn some incense, or surround yourself with flowers. Clear your mind of all thoughts, close your eyes, and just listen. Pay special attention to the way the instruments, sound effects and background vocals blend together. Relax and breathe deeply.
When you are finished listening to the entire album, stand up, stretch, and go outside. You should be in a somewhat sobered mood, after listening to A Day in the Life. Experience your surroundings, whatever they may be. You’re taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday. Really look at a flower or a tree. Look at the clouds in the sky. Watch a bird, or a squirrel. Even if your front door leads out to a busy street, that’s okay too. Listen to the traffic sounds, other peoples’ voices. Watch the people walking here and there. Imagine all the human dramas that are being played out around you. Watch an old couple, two young people flirting. Stay out as long as the mood maintains. You are finished. Good work.
Exercise Two Awakening the Unconscious
For the next few days, play the album as background music. Pretend it’s 1967. Anywhere you went, you could hear the sounds wafting out of windows, on car radios. Your friends are playing it on their stereo. They turn the record over and over, all day long. Your mind will tune out the parts you don’t really care for. Then all of a sudden, while doing something totally irrelevant, you will find yourself humming a tune, or remembering a guitar riff. Then you know you have accomplished your goal. Bonus points for remembering how one song blends into another. You’ve really made it when you can imagine the order of the songs without thinking too long about it.
Exercise Three – Traveling Through Space and Time.
It’s 1967. For months you have heard about the revolutionary design of the Beatles’ new album cover. Start with the front. Your eyes glance from one figure to another. You won’t be able to identify them all. Notice the lower half of the cover. You keep noticing more and more detail. Some of it looks very strange to you. Now open the cover. The Beatles look very different to you now. Their eyes look rounder, and you can see far, far into them. With their moustaches, they don’t look quite the same.
Now your eyes rest on their costumes. The shiny material, the decorations. Look how much they have changed since 1963. Thrown off the old dark suits, the same uniform. Now they are all wearing different colors. Let your mind wander back to your childhood. What did you want to be when you grew up? A policeman with shiny brass buttons? A fireman in a big red hat? A meter maid? An Indian princess? Superman? How would you really like to present yourself to the world? Express the real you. Braid flowers in your hair. Grow your hair as long as you want. Embroider flowers and sew patches on your jeans. Wear slogans on your shirts. Throw away those uniforms of conformity and be yourself. The Beatles say it’s ok.
Now look at the back cover. Let your eyes wander over the lyrics. Think of the range of human emotion that is played out on this album. Things are getting better all the time – hard times are over. The heady excitement of flirtation Lovely Rita, Meter Maid. The kind of love our gradparents have – no passion, just contentment – When I’m 64. A bit lacking in self–confidence? – I Get by with Little Help From my Friends. The heartbreak of broken relationships – She’s Leaving Home. The mania that comes from living in a rat race – Good Morning, Good Morning – and then it all comes crashing down on your head with the realization that it’s all futile because it’ll all end anyway – A Day in the Life.
I could get really heavy now, and tell you how the album is a microcosm of life – or remind you that this was the first “theme” album, and therefore it can’t possibly be compared to Revolver. The songs on Revolver are precious and rare jewels – each stands alone and shines in it’s own perfection. But Sgt. Pepper is rather like a novel – you can’t just pick up the book, open it randomly, and read one chapter, expecting to grasp the story in it’s entirety. But by this time, you should be making profound statements and having mind-blowing revelations of your own. And if not – well, I’d love to turn you on . . .