January 30, 2014

People think Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best Beatles album…they’re wrong
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

People think Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best Beatles album…they’re wrong

In our new feature 'People think... they're wrong', we tackle the ultimate givens in popular culture, statements that are said so often they're just passed off without any argument. We want to correct that. We start this month with a doozey, People think Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best Beatles album…they’re wrong, let the sparks fly...

 

Yeah, we know, blasphemy right? Of course Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best Beatles record, well, not so fast…

First things first: we’d like to make clear exactly what we mean here. Yes, Sgt. Pepper is undoubtedly one of the most important albums ever made. It was the first time pop music was taken seriously to the point of being considered ‘art’, thanks in part to the album sleeve featuring Peter Blake’s iconic artwork and a cut-out-and-keep insert cards, as well as a couple of other key reasons, which we’ll come back to in a minute. But we’re not talking about the album’s importance: we’re saying that, as an album, it just isn’t their best.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, back to those reasons. The first of these is that Sgt. Pepper was hailed as the first ‘concept album’. But it isn’t. There was a concept for the record, but they abandoned it pretty much after the first two tracks. If you take away the opener (along with it’s reprise near the end) and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, the rest of the songs could be on any Beatles album - John Lennon admitted as much himself – and if we’re being really honest, some of them are hardly The Beatles at their best.

One case in point here is that two of The Beatles’ most famous and, arguably, best songs – namely ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – were recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, but didn’t even make it onto the album, unceremoniously dumped in favour of the likes of ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ and ‘Good Morning Good Morning’.

 

The second reason the record is often considered so important is the use of new, innovative production techniques. While this may be true, many of these ideas had already been put in practice on earlier records, particularly Revolver. Seriously, listen to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, or the backtracked guitar solo on ‘Taxman’, and ask yourself if there’s anything on Sgt. Pepper that represents a huge leap forward in terms of production? We don’t think so…

We’re not alone here, by the way: in 2011 Rolling Stone ran an online poll where readers voted for their favourite Beatles album. Sgt. Pepper came in fourth.

It does, of course, have its moments. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘Day in the Life’ are great examples of The Beatles at their best, and the inclusion of the George Harrison-composed ‘Within You Without You’ is rightly considered a truly groundbreaking moment, but as whole album it doesn’t have the strength in numbers of Revolver, The White Album or even Rubber Soul, and the second side of Abbey Road is closer to a concept album than Sgt. Pepper ever was.

Had Brian Wilson held it together and completed Smile, history might have told a very different story, but as important as the Beatles are to modern music, Sgt. Pepper has to be the most overrated album of all time, and despite topping numerous ‘best album ever’ polls, to quote Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, conventional wisdom is often wrong...

The Beatles - 'Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band'

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