“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE Fifty years later, still a masterpiece.
It still sounds spectacular.
When The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (Apple / Capitol) on June 1, 1967, they shocked the world by busting through the boundaries of what was possible on a rock album. Fifty years later, the shock may have given way to admiration, as artists of all sorts have taken inspiration from the first concept album, but the imagination and skill needed to invent the masterpiece still shines through.
That becomes even clearer on the new anniversary edition — which has been issued in a variety of packages, from a single-CD version to a massive, six-disc box set, which includes mono, stereo and surround-sound mixes of the album as well as previously unreleased takes of the 13 original songs. Producer Giles Martin, son of original Beatles producer George Martin, and engineer Sam Okell went back to the original four-track recordings of the album to build the new version and their changes are immediately noticeable, yet not ostentatious.
The biggest change is the way Paul McCartney’s bass work and Ringo Starr’s drumming are moved up in the mix throughout the album, especially on “Good Morning Good Morning.” Mostly, though, the new version simply sounds clearer throughout, whether it’s John Lennon’s double-tracked vocals in “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” or George Harrison’s numerous guitar solos and various experiments, especially on “Within You Without You.”
The Beatles went into recording “Sgt. Pepper’s” believing they would never have to re-create these songs in concert. That encouraged them to experiment with new recording techniques, as well as adding all sorts of orchestral moments, which contributed to the album’s groundbreaking stature at the time.
Technology has let countless artists match them on that score. However, the poignant beauty of “She’s Leaving Home” and the masterful storytelling of “A Day in the Life” remain unparalleled after all these years.
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