Does anybody still listen to Sergeant Pepper?

You tread on hallowed ground when talking about the Beatles and to diss them is certainly nothing short of blasphemy but I ask this simple question: Does anybody actually still listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the legendary recording on June 1st, the paeans to this classic are pouring in but it is ironically an actual Beatle, Ringo Starr himself that is pouring some cold water on all the platitudes. “It served its purpose. But as a musician I preferred Revolver and I preferred The White Album because we were back being musicians. It was like everybody got their madness out in Sergeant Pepper.” Now I am not denying the historical significance of the record. It ushered in a number of firsts (if these are things that really matter in rock and roll): first gatefold sleeve, first time lyrics were printed on an album, arguably the first “concept” album (there is a huge argument to be had here since there is no real unifying theme to the songs other than the opening track and reprise at the end and both the 13th Floor Elevators and the Beach Boys had similar “concept” albums in the can) and certainly it was the album that broke the back of the 2:30 minute pop single.

But honestly, who has recently slapped Peppers on their CD player? Admit that you only listen to “A Day in the Life” and maybe “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and when you do it is most probably off of the Blue album. I have always felt that, as innovative an album that it is, Sergeant Peppers has suffered from a disease I called criticalitis in which when you have enough critics saying it is the greatest, people will tend to believe it without actually pondering whether they actually even listen to the damn thing or not.

The irony is that what was really so innovative of Peppers is not the songs so much as how they were created and recorded. The techniques devised to put this album together laid down the framework for every major recording technique outside of computer-based recording that we have today. And the ideas behind the pacing of the album and the way the songs are linked definitely set the stage for those monstrous prog-rock concept album of the ’70s despite the fact that, like I said Peppers was a concept in the mind primarily of Paul McCartney but not in the actual aural output of its 13 songs.

I am not here to tear down the mythology of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think John Lennon and Ringo Starr have done enough of that. While I do enjoy the album, it is frustrating to me that so many people seem to blindly accept its place as the pinnacle of rock and roll as high art. Whenever I hear somebody expounding on the virtues of this record, I always ask the same question: “When was the last time you listened to it?” The response is more often than not a fumbling for words and the infamous rhetorical quip “That’s not the point.” If the point of rock and roll records is for people to play them then I ask you, as great as Peppers is supposed to be, when was the last time that you listened to it?

I thought so.




  1. Way to go, Mark! Thanks for finally bursting the bubble. There are a handful of albums that publications, most notably Rolling Stone, put on those “Best” lists that I find suspect. For me, that includes “Pet Sounds” [good stuff on there, but not Earth shattering], “The Velvet Underground & Nico” [I prefer “Loaded” or even the 1969 “Velvet Underground” album], Lou Reed’s “Transformer” and Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” [‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’? Gimme a break!]

    I guess the theory is ‘If you get told something is good/great enough times, you just regurgitate it automatically.’ I could make several political references here, but will decline to do so.

    I agree with Ringo: Give me “Revolver” any day.

  2. An interesting point. I must admit that the Peppers album is a great album but the complete digestion of it has passed. Its hard to instill more excitement about the record. Its been dissected and consumed and now we’re off to other significant signposts in each of our musical journeys. I will confess that until just recently, my local newspaper wrote an installment on the Peppers album celebrating its 40th year. So while I read it, I dug into my original gatefold LP (still intact containing the cut-outs sheet) and lovingly played both sides while reading the articles. A great memory re-visited. The album is back in the record library now and will probably be replayed the next time such an ‘anniversary’ comes around. A great album. A great moment. But I’m off to other things.

  3. My points exactly. Sometimes being told by “critics” what is “good” doesn’t automatically make it good. The irony is that critics shat on the Ramones and the Velvets and yet now they fall over backwards telling us how “influential” they were. Ya, they were influential because some music fans had the common sense to ignore your pandering to the record labels and their priorities and went out and listened to and supported music that they really cared about. And oh yes, they actually paid to buy the records and go to the shows.

  4. Amen! When I want to hear the Beatles I’m far more apt to pull out Revolver or Rubber Soul or Abbey Road than Sgt. Pepper’s, and….it was ever thus. I’ll not participate in any denigration of Sgt. Pepper’s and the place it holds in historical context but I’ll agree there are LPs in “the canon” which hold up better, end-to-end.

  5. I recently listened to Sgt. Pepper for the purposes of reviewing it on my blog. But yeah if you’re talking about what songs do I pull up more often than most on my iPod or whatever, I’d agree it’s only a few songs on the album: A Day In The Life, Good Morning Good Morning, and possibly Lovely Rita.

  6. I love Sgt. Pepper, and listen to it all the time. I am 3o years old, and it is by far my favorite album.
    They may only be a few mass appeals songs, but the record is totally innovated. I can only imagine haw fresh the sound was back in the day. I mean they reinvented the wheel with Sgt. Peppers.
    They poured so much work and passion into the recording of that record. It’s Brilliant. With the fresh musical style (for the day) that how could anyone not appreciates it?
    If you don’t know the history of the record then looks into it and read the behind the music stories, and listen to it from a different perspective.

  7. Kelly,

    I’m not saying Sgt. Peppers sucks neccessarily, I just wonder if more people write about how supposedly great it is more than they actually listen to it. Certainly in my mind it does sound a bit dated, a bit of the sound of the times so I don’t to put it on my CD player much, if at all.

  8. I, too, love Sgt. Pepper–I have an older brother, so I grew up hearing it, looking at it. I don’t feel it sounds dated at all and I enjoy every track on the album. We listen to it in the car, usually when my son requests it.

  9. >The irony is that critics shat on the Ramones and the Velvets and yet now
    >they fall over backwards telling us how “influential” they were. Ya, they
    >were influential because some music fans had the common sense to
    >ignore your pandering to the record labels and their priorities and went
    >out and listened to and supported music that they really cared about. And
    >oh yes, they actually paid to buy the records and go to the shows.

    re the velvets – you’ve got this exactly backwards. The velvets didn’t sell more than a few thousand of any of their albums when they were in print. Nobody listened and nobody cared. It was only because the critics – Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, etc. – talked them up for the next decade that they became influential. No one wants to admit that they learned “Heroin” and “Sweet Jane” off of Rock & Roll Animal, not a Velvet’s recording.

  10. Good point although I always got the impression that the mags you mention warmed up to the Velvets after the fact. I’d have to go and check the original reviews to see if they were on board from the beginning.

    My main point though was that a lot of people discovered bands like the Velvets through word of mouth, not by any critical review. At least that’s how I discovered them.


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