Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Looking Back at Sgt. Pepper

One familiar theme in the whole Paul McCartney investigation is the idea that all roads point to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The theory says that Sgt. Pepper tells the whole story and all other clues eventually refer you back to Pepper. I have been thinking about pointers back to Pepper, particularly in the solo years. This list is by no means complete, but I think it is a good start and it may stir some conversation. At the very least, it is a chance to look back on some great music. You can click on the pictures or the links to watch the videos.

Nearly six months after the release of Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles released the single "Hello Goodbye." Although the single was in no way connected to the Sgt. Pepper album, the Beatles chose to wear their Pepper costumes for the promotional film.

Some people claim that "All You Need Is Love" and "I Am the Walrus" both point to Sgt. Pepper as well, but the song "Glass Onion" from the White Album clearly references it in its lyrics.

The references in "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" are more difficult to spot, but I have been told that they exist. But an interesting thing to examine is the significant amount of Pepper references in the Beatles Solo work.

Paul and Ringo both performed songs from Sgt. Pepper in concert. Paul has done several versions that included the title track and its reprise despite saying that until "Live 8" he had never performed the song live. He also has performed "Getting Better" "Fixing A Hole " and "She's Leaving Home." Ringo, of course has done "With A Little Help From My Friends" many times. Finally, although no video exists, John Lennon performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" live with Elton John on November 28, 1974 at Madison Square Garden.

But there are also several references to Sgt. Pepper in the solo studio work.

Ringo Starr - With Beatle freak Mark Hudson as the producer of several of Ringo's solo albums, you would think it would be easy to find references, but that is not the case. The clearest one that comes to mind was Ringo's tribute to George Harrison, "Never Without You" and its mention of George's contribution to Sgt. Pepper in every chorus.

George Harrison - George has never had much good to say about the Sgt. Pepper album. Paul McCartney said in the Beatles Anthology that he didn't remember him even showing up for the sessions, so it is surprising that George seems to have several references.

He donned his Sgt. Pepper costume for his New Years 1975 single "Ding Dong; Ding Dong."

Although George probably had nothing to do with it, when "All Those Years Ago" became an unexpected hit, his record company produced a video that features a quick shot of the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper costumes.

After the release of "Cloud 9" George put on the Pepper costume yet again for the video of the second single "When We Was Fab."

John Lennon
- John, who never missed an opportunity to speak disparagingly about Sgt. Pepper, had a couple references of his own. Obviously, the song "How Do You Sleep" mentions the album by name. The song was a vicious attack against McCartney at the height of their feud, however if you ignore the rest of the song and focus only on the first verse, you start to wonder what it was exactly that John was saying:

So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise
You better see right through that mother's eyes
Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
The one mistake you made was in your head

Another John Lennon video had a more subtle reference. Check out this still from "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night."

That was John's quick endorsement of the 1974 off-Broadway production, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road."

Paul McCartney - But the most subtle Beatle of all is none other than Paul McCartney when it comes to references to Sgt. Pepper. The most obvious one occurred in the video for "My Brave Face."

For reasons only known to him, the video for "Pretty Little Head" starts with the ending of a song from Sgt. Pepper.

Those two stand out, but Paul is the master of obscure references. The song on "Band On the Run" called "Mrs. Vandebilt" contains a reference to Sgt. Pepper. The first verse is:

Down in the jungle living in a tent
You don't use money you don't pay rent
You don't even know the time
But you don't mind
Ho Hey Ho . . .

Pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is Tommy Handley, Liverpudlian Comedian and star of ITMA (It's That Man Again). In 1940s radio one of the most popular songs of Tommy and the gang went:

Down in the jungle living in a tent,
Better than a pre-fab no rent.

Paul even does a quick acoustic version of Mrs. Vandebilt in "Wingspan."

As I said previously, this is by no means a comprehensive listing of all the references to Pepper, but it gives you an idea of how extensive the list might be.


MikeNL said...

wow, great post tafultong!

it all leads back to pepper.

"paul is dead, he's dead since pepper" as said by john.

Anonymous said...

"Pretty Little Head" starts with the end of "She's Leaving Home" because the video is a sort of sequel to it. Girl runs away from home into the dangerous big city, etc. etc. Lousy tecnho-rock song however.
"All Those Years Ago" is near Beatles reunion as Ringo is on the drums and Paul and Linda provide backing vocals.