The Beatles are not progressive in the true sense but, this album is more than rock: it contains the early psychedelic patterns and it also contains basic progressive elements that surely contributed to make the progressive rock style itself to emerge. This album is often considered the starting point of progressive rock (see also History of 70's British Prog Rock). Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (often shortened to Sgt. Pepper) is the 8th studio album by English rock band The Beatles. Released in June 1967, the album included songs such as "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and "A Day in the Life". Continuing the artistic maturation seen on the band's album Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper further departed from the conventional pop rock idiom of the time and incorporated balladry, psychedelic, music hall, and symphonic influences. During the Sgt. Pepper sessions, the group improved upon the quality of their music's production while exploring experimental recording techniques. Producer George Martin's innovative approach included the use of an orchestra. Widely acclaimed and imitated, the album cover, designed by English pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, was inspired by a sketch by Paul McCartney that depicted the band posing in front of a collage of some of their favourite celebrities. Sgt. Pepper was a worldwide critical and commercial success, spending 27 weeks at the top of the UK Album Chart and 15 weeks at number one on the US Billboard 200. A seminal work in the emerging psychedelic rock style, the album was critically acclaimed upon release and won four Grammy Awards in 1968. With an estimated 32 million copies sold, it is one of the world's best selling albums. Sgt. Pepper is considered by many to be the most influential and famous rock album ever and has been named the greatest album of all time by both All Time Top 1000 Albums and Rolling Stone.
By late 1965, the Beatles had grown weary of touring, and by the end of their 1966 US tour they decided to retire from live performance. Lennon commented: "We're fed up with making soft music for soft people, and we're fed up with playing for them too." Upon their return to England, rumours began to circulate that the band had decided to break up. They subsequently took an almost two-month vacation and individually became involved in their own interests. George Harrison travelled to India for six weeks to develop his sitar playing at the instruction of Ravi Shankar. In 1966, McCartney and producer George Martin collaborated on a soundtrack for the film The Family Way. Also in 1966, John Lennon acted in How I Won the War, and he attended art showings, such as one at the Indica Gallery where he met his future wife Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr used the break to spend more time with his wife and first child. McCartney had the creative idea that would first become a song, and would eventually inspire the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band concept. McCartney commented: "We were fed up with being The Beatles. We really hated that four little mop-top approach. We were not boys, we were men... and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers". McCartney had the idea of recording an album that would represent a performance by a fictitious band. This alter ego group would give the band the freedom to experiment musically. McCartney explained: "I thought, let's not be ourselves. Let's develop alter egos... it won't be us making all that sound, it won't be The Beatles, it'll be this other band, so we'll be able to lose our identities in this". Martin wrote of the fictitious band concept: "Sergeant Pepper itself didn't appear until halfway through making the album. It was Paul's song, just an ordinary rock number... but when we had finished it, Paul said, 'Why don't we make the album as though the Pepper band really existed, as though Sergeant Pepper was making the record? We'll dub in effects and things.' I loved the idea, and from that moment on it was as though Pepper had a life of its own". The album starts with the title song, which introduces Sgt. Pepper's band itself; this song segues into a sung introduction for bandleader Billy Shears (Starr), who performs "With a Little Help from My Friends". A reprise version of the title song appears on side two of the album just prior to the climactic "A Day in the Life", creating a bookend effect. However, the band effectively abandoned the concept other than the first two songs and the reprise. Lennon was unequivocal in stating that the songs he wrote for the album had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept, and further noted that none of the other songs did either, saying "Every other song could have been on any other album". In spite of Lennon's statements to the contrary, the album has been widely heralded as an early and groundbreaking example of the concept album.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band / With a Little Help from My Friends
In the centre of the cover, The Beatles stand behind a drum on which is painted the album's title; the drum was painted by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave.
The collage depicted around 60 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars, and (at Harrison's request) a number of Indian gurus. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, Carl Gustav Jung, W.C. Fields, Diana Dors, Bob Dylan, Issy Bonn, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, T. E. Lawrence, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Sir Robert Peel, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, Marlon Brando, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles' bassist, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. The final cost for the cover art was nearly £3,000 (equivalent to £40,606 today) an extravagant sum for a time when album covers would typically cost around £50.
Critical reception and commercial performance
Upon its release on 1 June 1967, Sgt. Pepper received critical acclaim. Various reviews appearing in the mainstream press and trade publications throughout June 1967, immediately after the album's release, were generally positive. In The Times, prominent critic Kenneth Tynan described Sgt. Pepper as "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation". Richard Poirier wrote "listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century." In a 1987 review for Q, Charles Shaar Murray commented that the album "remains a central pillar of the mythology and iconography of the late '60s." Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone argued that it "revolutionized rock & roll" and that its "immensely pleasurable trip has earned Sgt. Pepper its place as the best record of the past twenty years." DeCurtis found it to be "not only The Beatles' most artistically ambitious album but their funniest" and cited its "fun-loving experimentalism" as the album's "best legacy for our time." The album also received popular acclaim. It was a global hit, with huge sales in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Japan, Australia, and even in the black market in the Soviet Union, where their albums were very popular and widely available. In the UK it debuted at number eight and the next week reached number one where it stayed for 23 consecutive weeks. It was knocked off the top by The Sound of Music on the week ending 18 November 1967. Eventually it spent more weeks at the top, including the competitive Christmas week. When the CD edition was released on 1 June 1987, it reached number 3. In June 1992, the CD was re-promoted to commemorate its 25th Anniversary, and charted at number six. In 2007, commemorating 40 years of its release, Sgt. Pepper again re-entered the charts at number 47 in the UK. In all, the album spent a total of 201 weeks on the UK charts, and is the second biggest-selling album in the UK chart history behind Queen's Greatest Hits. Sgt. Pepper won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, the first rock album to do so, and Best Contemporary Album in 1968. Sgt. Pepper is one of the world's best selling albums, with 11 million RIAA certified copies sold in the US. The album won Best British Album at the first Brit Awards in 1977. Sgt. Pepper has been named on many lists of the best rock albums. In 1997 Sgt. Pepper was named the number one greatest album of all time in a "Music of the Millennium" poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number seven, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 10. In 2005, the album was ranked number 1 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The publisher called it "the most important rock & roll album ever made... by the greatest rock & roll group of all time." In 2006, the album was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time. In 2002, Q magazine placed it at number 13 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. The album was named as one of Classic Rock magazine's "50 Albums That Built Prog Rock".
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)