Archive for the ‘albums’ category


Sgt. Pepper’s Re-boot

The Hunt for New Music:

Here’s an interesting idea for fans of “Sgt. Pepper” and The Beatles.

Re-boot the album.

Re-imagine, re-order, re-program it, because as terrific as it was, is, and remains, there were some very interesting conversations during the production of the record about what songs should be included and what should be excluded.

Here’s the original song list for “Sgt. Pepper”:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“With a Little Help From My Friends”

“Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”

“Getting Better”

“Fixing A Hole”

“She’s Leaving Home”

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

“Within You, Without You”

“When I’m Sixty-Four”

“Lovely Rita”

“Good Morning, Good Morning”

“St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (reprise)

“A Day In The Life”

That’s it. A lot of great music but a lot left out that you may or may not know about.

The original album was only a little over 39 minutes long–it’s not a very long album–and there was certainly room for more.

In various articles and discussions, both The Beatles and George Martin discussed which songs should have been included on the album but were not –“Strawberry Fields” and Penny Lane”–and also which songs were included but perhaps should not have been–“Lovely Rita”, “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Good Morning, Good Morning” (Lennon disliked all three).

The audio style  and subject matter of “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” fit right in with the overall concept of “Sgt. Pepper”(at one time, the album was going to be developed as a homage to the traditional English lifestyle, but it outgrew that thought); indeed, George Martin, The Beatles producer and the producer of “Sgt. Pepper” said that the decision to leave those two songs off the album was “the biggest mistake of my professional career”(Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles did not want the two songs–released before “Sgt. Pepper” as a marketing move to keep the band in the public consciousness, repeated on an album). George Harrison thought “Only A Northern Song” would fit in nicely but “Tomorrow Never Knows” would have been even better.

A couple of other songs that fit the album’s style and time period, “All You Need Is Love” , “Hello Goodbye”, and “Baby You’re A Rich Man” would also fit–all songs are recorded in 1967 although not necessarily prior to the release of “Sgt. Pepper” in the U.S. in June of that year.

To reprogram the album, start with some givens: It’s going to open with the first two songs on the original program and close with the last two. Those are necessary to set the stage for everything follows. They are among the most iconic songs of all time and state the concept of the album (a band free to do music that the then-current iteration of The Beatles could not).

Next, review other songs made in the period close to “Sgt. Pepper”–anything in 1967, for example, and some of the music produced in 1966. There are some very good options in that group for inclusion in a re-boot of “Sgt. Pepper”.

Then fill in “Sgt. Pepper” with the songs that should have been included but weren’t: “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” , of course. Without the three songs that had some band ambivalence to them, a first pass at a re-boot would provide this lineup:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“With a Little Help From My Friends”

“Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”

“Getting Better”

“Fixing A Hole”

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

“Within You, Without You”

“Strawberry Fields”

“Tomorrow Never Knows”

“Penny Lane”

“St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (reprise)

“A Day In The Life”

Not a bad lineup at all and you can try it yourself at home by setting up the playlist in iTunes and letting it roll.

But…a few other songs that fit either in mood or production technique (or both) creates an even more interesting re-boot.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“With a Little Help From My Friends”

“Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”

“Getting Better”

“All You Need Is Love”

“Fixing A Hole”

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

“Within You, Without You”

“Strawberry Fields”

“Tomorrow Never Knows”

“Hello Goodbye”

“Penny Lane”

“St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (reprise)

“A Day In The Life”

In this iteration,  the iconic songs that set up the album are preserved, the key opening and closing sequences are intact, but new (to the playlist) songs that build on the “Sgt. Pepper’s” consciousness and sound add to the overall magnificence of the album.

It’s been called the “greatest album ever recorded” so there is no presumption that a new song lineup would be as good or better the original–greatest of all time is tough to beat. But..and this is the point…it would provide yet another take on the most discussed album of our time as well as a glimpse into different thoughts of how the album might be programmed.

If you’re interested enough to read this far…then send me your playlist and song order for a “Sgt. Pepper” reboot. I’ll post it, and will  look forward to hearing it.

 

 

 

 


The Act You’ve Known For All These Years

The Hunt For New Music:

“It was twenty years ago today, when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play”….

Sg. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Lennon-McCartney)

Editor’s Note: Actually, it was 50 years ago that “Sgt. Pepper’s” was introduced in America. In celebration of that event, there are several posts and interesting links to checkout and enjoy about the most celebrated album of our time. 

There is an exact moment when The Beatles started the transition that would move them from their position as the world’s biggest rock band into the dominant cultural and musical influence that they became after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released.

That moment was 29 August 1966, when The Beatles played their last live rock concert, in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. The stadium was jammed and security for The Beatles was so tight that they had to be taken to the stage in an armored truck. One of The Beatles–looking out at the crowds and chaos that surrounded them–said simply “we can’t do this anymore”.

And after San Francisco, 1966, they didn’t.

As the band grew in popularity all over the world, the music was getting left behind. The screaming at the concerts was so loud that band members couldn’t hear each other, couldn’t hear their own instruments and, individually, they were getting restless–creatively, intellectually, musically. It was time for a change.

Ten months later that change materialized, in the form of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. It was the first rock concept album, a total break with The Beatles tight and carefully Brian-Epstein- groomed image, a reach in terms of music and technology and instrumentation, a musical composition so complex it could not be performed live and stressed the limits of the then-available recording technology, a very complete break from the past. Those paying attention to the musical evolution of The Beatles knew that their music was changing, becoming more adventurous and complex. It started with “Rubber Soul” and gathered momentum on “Revolver”, an album that provided an early test of some of the concepts and musical ideas (“Eleanor Rigby”, “Tomorrow Never Knows”) that would reach full definition in “Sgt. Pepper”.

To produce “Sgt. Pepper”  took 400 hours of studio time and 129 days–an immense amount of time for that period in popular music, but nothing compared to the amount of time it can take a 21st century band to record an album today. Working for The Beatles was their drive to change, to create, to push the boundaries, along with a team that included their legendary producer George Martin (later and deservedly, Sir George Martin) and recording engineer Geoff Emerick. Working against them was the technology of the day: all analog, a modest four track Studer tape recorder, analog audio tape, the limits of electronic recording technology and techniques of the time.

It mattered not. Through diligence and drive and experimentation–and listening to what each other had to say–The Beatles pushed through, expanded the very limits of what was possible in the studio, turning the studio itself into a musical and creative instrument, not merely a recording device, and produced the album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”,  that Rolling Stone magazine has called the great rock album of all time.

At the core of the album’s concept was a step away from all The Beatles had been before and a step into what they would be going forward. Everything changed, from image and dress to composition complexity and musical density. The Beatles, in essence, created a band that could free them from the success and popularity of their past and give them again control over their musical destiny.

It was a risk. A massive, huge, intellectual, financial, business risk. If it went wrong, if their audience didn’t “get it”, if the album failed commercially, The Beatles could easily have been “over”.

But they did not play it safe, and that is the very greatest thing about “Sgt. Pepper’s”. They were fearless and opened a door into the future for themselves and for other bands by expanding the vocabulary of rock music. They elected to toss out the known for the unknown. Brian Epstein–their manager at the time” Sgt. Pepper’s ” was written, produced, and released–proved again to have perfect pitch for what to do and when to do it. Unlike other managers who  might discourage such an adventurous leap, Epstein–admittedly a little bewildered but totally committed to the group–backed the venture.

On June 2nd, 1967, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in the United States. It was released in the “summer of love” and became the background music for a huge cultural change in the United States and the rest of the world. The album was loved, hated, revered, despised, analyzed, deconstructed, misunderstood, applauded.

But–it worked. “Sgt. Pepper’s” changed music and the possibility of rock; it also became the soundtrack the world needed at a time of volcanic change and international unrest.

There is a cost to change–there is always a cost to change. By August of 1967, Brian Epstein had died, the victim of “incautious self-overdosage” according to the English coroner. Friends of Epstein noted that he was worried if his management contract would be renewed, that he had been contemplating suicide for some time, that he knew his value as someone expert in staging large concerts and drawing huge crowds might be less valuable going forward when all the creative work would be done within the confines of the Abbey Road studio; that the band he had nurtured and grown into a worldwide phenomenon had, finally, and with his own urging, outgrown him.

By 1970,  after the release of  “Let It Be”,  it was over, as The Beatles, rich and famous and influential beyond comprehension,  lacking a centering influence (Epstein),  displayed signs of transitional difficulty from being merely the biggest rock band in the world to the dominant creative influence of an era, as infighting and self-absorbed musical and personal directions and personality conflicts mixed in with confused business activities and management, took it all apart.

What was left was the music, and in particular, this one rather spectacular piece of music, that changed everything.

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