June 1st 2017 marks fifty years since The Beatles came together at EMI Studios to create a record which would change music forever. With the 'Beatlemania' phenomenon still in full swing and the bands star only continuing to soar ever higher, the mercurial foursome of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison spent the winter of 1966/67 working on a record which would become the first real concept album and which would remain as timeless as it is globally popular. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was The Beatles' eighth studio album and it went on to win no fewer than four Grammy awards in 1968, with critics and fans alike left gobsmacked by the psychedelic rock fusion of catchy Beatles songwriting, musical progressiveness and even elements such as jazz, vaudeville, circus and classical Hindu and Vedic music. To mark the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', and with the album scheduled to be remixed and remastered across four different record formats for its 50th anniversary, we explore the story and the legacy of arguably the most famous pop music album the world has ever known.
In the summer of 1966, the Beatles embarked on a world tour to promote their most recent album release 'Revolver'. The tour kicked off in Germany before heading to Asia for concert dates in Japan and the Philippines. The tour continued to North America during August which would see the band play nineteen shows in the US and Canada. All four members had grown increasingly weary of touring and the last show of the tour, at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29, would be the Beatles' last ever. After Candlestick Park, the band returned to England to start a three month break from both recording and performing.
During the Beatles' break in the autumn of 1966, vocalist and bassist Paul McCartney famously had an idea to record a song based on the music of early twentieth century military marching bands. This idea would develop further to become the genesis of the band's record and it was also during this time that guitarist George Harrison would become immersed in another style of music which would be fused into the Beatles' next studio work. In India, Harrison spent time with composer Ravi Shankar, began reading HIndu Vedic texts and began experimenting with Indian musical instruments such as the sitar and the tabla. A Kashmiri Yoga guru was even called in to help sooth a hip problem Harrison developed while getting accustomed to playing a sitar and his immersion in India's Bhajan musical culture would later play a prominent role in the Beatles' next recordings, inspiring a song named "Within You Without You".
On November 24th, 1966, The Beatles returned to the world famous Abbey Road Studios in London for the first time since their energy-sapping world tour the previous summer. No longer touring, the band were free to write, record and produce songs which were never intended to be played in front of a live audience and the music instantly became deeper and more complex. The first two tracks laid down during the sessions were 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever' - neither of which would make it onto the final cut of the upcoming record and were instead released in February 1967.
After recording the song 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Ban', Paul McCartney suggested that the entire album should be produced as it were a whole performance by a fictional band led by the eponymous Sergeant Pepper and this 'other band' idea quickly developed into a whole new alter ego for the Beatles. The band spent over 400 hours writing, recording and perfecting their new material and, free from touring and live performances, the entirely new, infinitely more complex and technologically progressive was epitomised in some of the most iconic tracks ever recorded, including 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and 'A Day in the Life'. Image Credit: The Beatles.com
After recording was completed, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' was released on June 1st, 1967 and within seven days had sold 250,000 copies in the UK alone. The record was the first Beatles album to be released at exactly the same worldwide, as well as the band's first record on which the track listing were identical on both the UK and US versions. The album shot almost instantly to Number One in the UK, where it stayed for a total of 27 weeks, and the coming months would see the record become synonymous with the cultural climate of the time, going down in history as the soundtrack to 1967's 'Summer of Love'.
As well as the iconic sound of 'Sgt. Pepper's', the album artwork also became instantly recognisable the world over. Initial photography took place on March 30, 1967, designed by UK and US pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, and in addition The Beatles themselves posing in their brightly-coloured Sgt. Pepper's uniforms, the cover of the record also featured waxworks and cardboard cutouts of famous figures. World-famous athletes, philosophers, scientists, actors, recording artists and even Indian gurus are pictured alongside the band, including Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, ,Marilyn Monroe, comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as well as Indian gurus Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda. Image Credit: Sarah W (Flickr) Image Date: 05/06/2006
The psychedelic and fluorescent 'Sgt. Pepper's' costumes worn by the band on the album cover also became one of the most famous instantly recognisable images in music and pop culture history. The brightly-coloured costumes, which were intended to be a lighthearted poke at a late sixties fashion vogue of wearing military-style clothing, were made entirely from satin and each band member also sported a heavy moustache in accordance with 'hippie-style' trend which swept across the UK, the US and Europe at the time. Image Credit: Badgreeb Photos (Flickr) Image Date: 12/09/2009
Since its release in the summer of 1967, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' has sold 32 million copies worldwide and remains the third highest-selling album in the history of the UK music charts. Acclaimed as the first real concept album and as a masterpiece of both British pop music and psychedilia, Sgt. Pepper's profoundly influenced late sixties counterculture and its mercurial legacy is still undeniable to this day. In 1974, US theatre and and film director began work on an Off-Broadway show named 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band on the Road', which was directly inspired by the album and was even attended by Beatles guitarist John Lennon during both its rehearsals and its opening night at New York's Beacon Theatre.
In 1978, the album and the New York musical were once again adapted into a full-length feature movie by American director Michael Schultz and in 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine named Sgt. Pepper's at number one in their list of '500 Greatest Albums of All Time'. Due to the record's staggering global success and all-encompassing legacy, alongside its visually striking and colourful artwork and its legendary track listing, memorabilia and pop art pieces from the Sgt. Pepper's-era are always one of the most prominent features of any Beatles exhibition anywhere in the world, including Hamburg's famous 'Beatlemania'.
Sgt. Pepper's has also become a trademark of an ear when UK popular culture took the world by storm and the album has accordingly taken its place in global events staged in Britain. At 2012's Olympic games in London, a procession of actors donned the Beatles famous psychedelic Sgt. Pepper's costumes took their place alongside other icons of UK pop culture such as Mary Poppins and James Bond during the opening ceremony directed by Oscar-winning movie maker Danny Boyle. Image Credit: Matt Lancashire (Flickr)