It was 50 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, not 20.
Yes, June 1967 saw the beginning of the Summer of Love, heralded by the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles’ masterpiece. The album represents the halcyon days of that turbulent decade more than any other release — a high water mark of The Beatles’ career and the defining record of a bright year that also marked the Canadian Centennial.
The band had a collective antennae that picked up what was happening, and in ’67, it was tuned into the frequency more so than others.
Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience had impact and influential releases that year and the Rolling Stones put out a lacklustre take on psychedelic rock. Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding was intense but not reflective of the time.
These days, the constant inundation of new music instantly accessible all the time can make albums and releases seem less important. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band endures and has acquired the lustre of cultural significance.
So how does it sound now? Is it just another re-issue remix pushed out there? The results are easy to notice and the music is more harmonically present. The master tapes were remixed by Giles Martin, son of The Beatles’ producer, George Martin — the only true fifth Beatle. Martin’s and engineer Sam OKell’s treatment is faithful but gives the songs more clarity and detail.
Ringo Starr’s drumming throughout has more punch and Paul McCartney’s bass work in With A Little Help From My Friends has a symphonic quality. Vocally, you’re hearing Lennon and McCartney differently, noticing double tracked voices without an effort. George Harrison’s guitar work on both Sgt. Pepper tracks has a hi-fi crunch hinted at earlier, but it give its full, gritty due here.
The clincher is with songs this great, having voices and instruments boosted is a win-win. Reissues can be a hype and disappointment, but this isn’t the case here. This remix on the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper illuminates the celebratory character the record always had. Also, hearing the final chord of A Day In the Life hang unhurriedly before drifting into the ether still sounds majestic, but even more so.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.