The long-lost ca­ma­raderie of ‘Sgt Pep­per’ is the com­fort and es­cape we need to­day

I now know Ringo is my favourite Bea­tle, and who’s to blame for The Flam­ing Lips

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Louise Bru­ton

A child’s draw­ing pulled Len­non out of him­self and the fact that he, a man so em­broiled in hal­lu­cino­gen­ics, didn’t no­tice that the ti­tle spelled out LSD is sweet

When my edi­tor asked if I had ever lis­tened to The Bea­tles’ Sgt Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from start to fin­ish, I im­me­di­ately an­swered with: “Is this a trap?” To my knowl­edge, I never had but to ad­mit that felt like heresy.

The rea­son? All we needed, other than love, as a guide to the most in­flu­en­tial band in mu­sic his­tory was on 1, a com­pi­la­tion of The Bea­tles’ num­ber one sin­gles. It had ev­ery­thing ex­cept the con­tents of Sgt Pep­per’s, which re­leased no sin­gles but changed how we con­sume al­bums. Ded­i­cat­ing a week­end to the Sgt, I learned that Ringo Starr is my favourite Bea­tle, they still liked each other but hated what they’d be­come, and we fi­nally know who’s to blame for Wayne Coyne.

Prior to the con­cep­tion of Sgt Pep­per, the Liver­pudlians were ex­hausted and were very, very sick of the “four lit­tle mop- top boys ap­proach”, ac­cord­ing to Paul McCart­ney’s bi­og­ra­phy Many Years from Now. Like ev­ery pop act to fol­low, there comes a day when play­ing it safe just isn’t sat­is­fy­ing any more.

Their hard day’s nights were au­to­mated and, af­ter a hec­tic Amer­i­can tour, Ge­orge Har­ri­son was threat­en­ing to quit un­til they reached a bar­gain with their man­ager in 1966 to stop tour­ing. With no tour­ing sched­ule, they went hell for leather in the stu­dio and de­vel­oped the al­ter ego of a mili- tary band that had a grá for the sitar – maybe too much on the me­an­der­ing Within You With­out You.

Ap­plaud­ing the orches­tra

With the elim­i­na­tion of a live au­di­ence, they cre­ated one on the open­ing track, ap­plaud­ing the rum­blings of an orches­tra warm­ing up, break­ing the fourth wall. “You’re such a lovely au­di­ence/ We’d like to take you home with us,” they sing, with a melody that B*witched seem like they stole on the bridge of their 1998 sin­gle Roller­coaster.

The world had changed enor­mously in the four years since The Bea­tles re­leased their first album. To re­flect that, they hung up their tai­lored suits, grew their hair out even more and a few years deeper into John Len­non and Har­ri­son’s com­mit­ted LSD voy­age, one that started on 1965’ s Rub­ber Soul and 1966’ s Re­volver. They were now more in tune with those protest­ing Lyn­don B Johnson and the Viet­nam War than their ini­tial au­di­ence. I read the news to­day, oh boy.

Re­leased on June 1st, 1967, Sgt Pep­per sound­tracked the Sum­mer of Love and even though the psychedelic in­cli­na­tions ( that bloody sitar again) in­flu­enced Pink Floyd, The Flam­ing Lips and launched a thou­sand Tame Im­palas, even now it’s the ten­der mo­ments on Sgt Pep­per that stand out the most.

Take for ex­am­ple the record­ing of With a Lit­tle Help from My Friends, the Wan- nabe of its day, writ­ten in a lower key for Starr by Len­non and McCart­ney. A nervy singer, Starr was cheered on by his pals in the wee hours of the morn­ing as he trun­dled through his verses and hit that key- change, even though ten­sions in the band were on the rise.

Or the in­no­cent cre­ation of Lucy in the Sky with Di­a­monds, which was in­spired by a pic­ture Len­non’s son Ju­lian painted of his friend Lucy, a pic­ture he proudly showed to McCart­ney and Starr. A child’s draw­ing pulled Len­non out of him­self and the fact that he, a man so em­broiled in hal­lu­cino­gen­ics, didn’t no­tice that the ti­tle spelled out LSD is sweet. It might be typ­i­cal of some­one out of his bin, but sweet all the same.

With­out The Bea­tles, it’s hard to know what state we’d be in. Pos­si­bly clang­ing mu­sic pots with a des­ti­tute look in our eyes, chant­ing “the rhythm is gonna get you” as a threat, rather than an in­vite. Their eighth album in the space of five years, Sgt Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band feels like a part­ing gift from The Bea­tles of old, a con­tri­bu­tion to their myth­i­cal sta­tus.

Even though the world was in chaos and the band was be­gin­ning to crum­ble, Sgt Pep­per is full of in­side jokes and shows signs of ca­ma­raderie. It was the be­gin­ning of the end and 50 years and one first full lis­ten later, it’s the com­fort and the es­cape we need to­day.

At Abbey Road stu­dio dur­ing the night in 1967 in which the Bea­tles recorded Lucy in the Sky With Di­a­monds are, from left, Ge­orge Martin, Neil Aspinall, John Len­non and Paul McCart­ney. PHO­TO­GRAPH: HENRY GROSSMAN; GOVINDA GALLERY Child’s draw­ing

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