Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

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


The Beatles began sessions for the album in late November 1966 with a series of recordings that were to form an album thematically linked to their childhood. The initial results of this effort produced "Strawberry Fields Forever", "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "Penny Lane". "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were released as a double A-sided single in February 1967 after EMI and Epstein pressured Martin for a single. Once the single was released the childhood concept was abandoned in favour of Sgt. Pepper, and in keeping with the group's usual practice, the single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision Martin states he now regrets). They were released only as a single in the UK and Canada at the time, but were included as part of the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour (which was issued as a six-track double EP in Britain). The Harrison composition "Only a Northern Song" was also recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions but did not see a release until the soundtrack album for the animated film Yellow Submarine, released in January 1969. As EMI's premier act and the world's most successful rock group, The Beatles had almost unlimited access to Abbey Road Studios. By 1967, all of the Sgt. Pepper tracks could be recorded at Abbey Road using mono, stereo and four-track recorders. Although eight-track tape recorders were already available in the US, the first eight-tracks were not operational in commercial studios in London until late 1967, shortly after the album was released. Like its predecessors, the recording made extensive use of the technique known as "bouncing down" (also known at that time as a "reduction mix"), in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one or several tracks of the master four-track machine. This enabled the Abbey Road engineers to give the group a virtual multi-track studio. Relatively new modular effects units were used, like the wah-wah pedal and fuzzbox, and running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Several then-new production effects feature extensively on the recordings. One of the most important was automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that used tape recorders to create a simultaneous doubling of a sound. Although it had long been recognised that using multitrack tape to record "doubled" lead vocals produced a greatly enhanced sound, it had always been necessary to record such vocal tracks twice; a task which was both tedious and exacting. ADT was invented especially for the band by EMI engineer Ken Townsend in 1966, mainly at the behest of Lennon, who hated tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem. ADT quickly became a near-universal recording practice in popular music. Martin, having fun at Lennon's expense, described the new technique to an inquisitive Lennon as a "double-bifurcated sploshing flange". The anecdote explains one variation of how the term "flanging" came to be associated with this recording effect. Also important was varispeeding, the technique of recording various tracks on a multi-track tape at slightly different tape speeds, which was used extensively on their vocals in this period. The speeding up of vocals became a widespread technique in pop production. The band also used the effect on portions of their backing tracks (as on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds") to give them a "thicker" and more diffuse sound.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

"Within You Without You" was recorded on 15 March with Harrison on vocals, sitar and tambura; the other instruments (tabla, dilruba, swarmandel, and an additional tambura) were played by four London-based Indian musicians. None of the other Beatles participated in the recording. For the 17 March recording of "She's Leaving Home", McCartney hired Mike Leander to arrange the string section as Martin was occupied producing one of his other artists, Cilla Black. The lyrics for Lennon's song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", were adapted from a Victorian circus poster for Pablo Fanque's circus, which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in Kent on the day of filming the promotional clip for "Strawberry Fields Forever" there. The sound collage was created by Martin and his engineers, who collected recordings of calliopes and fairground organs, which were then cut into strips of various lengths, thrown into a box, mixed up and edited together in random order, creating a long loop which was mixed in during final production.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

This album also makes heavy use of keyboard instruments: a grand piano is used on tracks such as "A Day in the Life", a Lowrey organ is used for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", a harpsichord can be heard on "Fixing a Hole", and Martin played a harmonium on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!". An electric piano, upright piano, Hammond organ and glockenspiel can also be heard on the record. Harrison used a tambura on several tracks, including "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Getting Better". The thunderous piano chord that concludes "A Day in the Life", and the album, was produced by assembling three grand pianos in the studio and playing an E chord on each simultaneously. Together on cue, Lennon, Starr, McCartney and assistant Mal Evans hammered the keys on the assembled pianos and held down the chord. The sound from the pianos was then mixed up with compression and increasing gain on the volume to draw out the sound to maximum sustain.

Fixing a Hole

Cover artwork 

The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was art-directed by Robert Fraser, designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, his wife and artistic partner, and photographed by Michael Cooper. It featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover and the lyrics printed in full on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a rock LP. In the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band, The Beatles were dressed in custom-made military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours. The suits were designed by Manuel Cuevas. Among the insignia on their uniforms are: MBE medals on McCartney's and Harrison's jackets, the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom on Lennon's right sleeve and an Ontario Provincial Police flash on McCartney's sleeve. 

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.

Front cover

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)

Track listing

1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (2:02)
2. With a Little Help from My Friends (2:44)
3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (3:28)
4. Getting Better (2:48)
5. Fixing a Hole (2:36)
6. She's Leaving Home (3:35)
7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (2:37)
8. Within You Without You (5:04)
9. When I'm Sixty-Four (2:37)
10. Lovely Rita (2:42)
11. Good Morning Good Morning (2:41)
12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (1:19)
13. A Day in the Life (5:39)


The Beatles:
John Lennon–lead, harmony and background vocals; lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars; piano and Hammond organ; harmonica, tape loops, sound effects and comb and tissue paper; handclaps, tambourine and maracas
Paul McCartney–lead, harmony and background vocals; lead and bass guitars; piano, Lowrey and Hammond organs; handclaps; vocalizations, tape loops, sound effects and comb and tissue paper
George Harrison–lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars; sitar; lead, harmony and background vocals; tamboura; harmonica and kazoo; handclaps and maracas
Ringo Starr–drums, congas, tambourine, maracas, handclaps and tubular bells; lead vocals; harmonica; final piano E chord

Additional musicians and production:
Neil Aspinall-tamboura and harmonica
Geoff Emerick–recording and mixing engineer; tape loops and sound effects
Mal Evans–counting, alarm clock and final piano E chord
Matthew Deyell–tambourine
George Martin–producer and mixer; tape loops and sound effects; harpsichord (on "Fixing a Hole"), harmonium, Lowrey organ and glockenspiel (on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"), Hammond organ (on "With a Little Help from My Friends"), and piano (on "Getting Better" and the solo in "Lovely Rita"); final harmonium chord.
Session musicians–four French horns (on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"), (Neil Sanders, James W. Buck, John Burden, Tony Randall), arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney; string section and harp (on "She's Leaving Home"), arranged by Mike Leander and conducted by Martin; harmonium, tabla, sitar, dilruba, eight violins and four cellos (on "Within You, Without You"), arranged and conducted by Harrison and Martin; clarinet trio (on "When I'm Sixty Four"), as arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney; saxophone sextet (on "Good Morning, Good Morning"), arranged and conducted by Martin and Lennon; and forty-piece orchestra (strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion) (on "A Day in the Life"), arranged by Martin, Lennon and McCartney and conducted by Martin and McCartney