Kicking off and becoming the soundtrack for the Summer of Love when it debuted, The Beatles’ epic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turns 50 this week. For those unfamiliar, this quote from longtime Rolling Stone contributing editor Langdon Winner should help: “The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released.”
Commemorating this momentous anniversary are three new deluxe editions of the album. All include never-before-heard versions of each track. Additionally, a new stereo mix of the album is available as a single CD or as a complement to each individual package.
But before you rush out to get any of this stuff, keep reading to learn more about the mop tops and the album that changed the game…
1. The Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s was the first rock LP to ever feature the lyrics from the album on the back cover.
2. A direct response to The Beach Boys universally hailed Pet Sounds, the album took 700 hours in the studio to produce, which assured that the band wouldn’t be singing out of tune.
3. Jimi Hendrix played the title track to open his June 4th concert at London’s Saville Theatre. George Harrison was present as was Paul McCartney, who called it “one of the great honors of my career.” Hendrix continued to open his shows with “Sgt. Pepper’s” throughout the rest of 1967.
4. The album topped the U.S. album charts for fifteen weeks but was not the longest-tenured chart topper that year. That honor belonged to The Monkees. The TV stars’ second album, aptly titled More of the Monkees, held the number one spot for eighteen weeks.
5. Sgt. Pepper’s was the first major rock ’n’ roll album to be released without any specified singles. It was the catalyst for many critics to think of and review an album as a complete art form.
6. Sgt. Peppers marked the first time The Beatles released an album at virtually the same time in the US (June 2nd) and the U.K. (May 26th). It was also the first time both versions had the same song order.
7. Abbey Road Studios was a veritable music festival while Sgt. Pepper’s was being produced. Both Slade and Pink Floyd were also recording in the famed studio at the same time. Pink Floyd even took a break from recording The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to watch “Lovely Rita” being laid down. “They were God-like figures to us,” Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason recalled about the sessions.
8. Jack Kroll of Newsweek called the album “a masterpiece,” comparing the lyrics to the writing of Edith Sitwell, Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot. He even went so far as to compare “A Day in the Life” to Eliot’s masterpiece, The Waste Land.
9. Rolling Stone named it the greatest album of all time in 2003. However, critics have not always been kind to it. In his New York Times review, critic Richard Goldstein observed: “The sound is a pastiche of dissonance and lushness. The mood is mellow, even nostalgic. But, like the cover, the over-all effect is busy, hip and cluttered. Like an over attended child, Sgt. Pepper’s is spoiled.”
“Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were recorded for the album but released as a double A-Side in February. Beatles producer George Martin called it “the biggest mistake of my professional life.”
10. The crowd noise at the beginning of “With a Little Help from My Friends” was taken from the band’s Hollywood Bowl recordings.
11. “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were recorded for the album but released as a double A-Side in February. Beatles producer George Martin called this decision “the biggest mistake of my professional life.”
12. A musical comedy film of the same name was produced in 1978 starring The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. The film features covers from every song off of Sgt. Pepper with the exceptions of “Within You, Without You” and “Lovely Rita,” and also includes nearly all of Abbey Road. The effort was not appreciated, as only 15 percent of critics gave it a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes.
13. Headlines from the Daily Mirror inspired the tracks “She’s Leaving Home” and “A Day in the Life.” Both are revered by Beatles’ fans for their evocative storytelling. Composer and Pulitzer Prize winner Ned Rorem once opined that “She’s Leaving Home” is “equal to any song Schubert ever wrote.”
14. No album cover ever cost this much to produce. Most album covers at the time cost around 50 British pounds, whereas Sgt. Pepper’s came in at 3000 pounds. Much of the cost came from the band paying to use people’s likenesses, something that had seldom been done prior.
15. John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “A Day in the Life,” the last song on the album, sold at auction for $1.2 million in 2010.