Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sgt. Pepper Myth or Reality

It's a common expression here in the United States. When an artist or band releases a groundbreaking album or when one looks back at someone's greatest artistic achievement, you hear the phrase, "That's their Sgt. Pepper." It is not unusual to read an article that touts the historical significance of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album and you often find it at the top of various polls in magazines, newspapers, web sites and radio stations. It has probably received more praise than any other Beatles album yet not as many Beatles fans as you would expect rate it as their best work.

The Beatles themselves showed a similar ambivalence toward Pepper. There were positive things said about it during the Anthology, but there have also been a few disparaging remarks over the years. John said, apart from "A Day in the Life," he couldn't remember much about Pepper. Ringo said that he learned to play chess during the making of Sgt. Pepper, which was not meant as a glowing endorsement. George indicated that he wasn't that fond of Pepper and Paul confessed that he didn't really remember George turning up for the sessions. In the Beatles Anthology book George said, "In a way it felt like going backwards. Everybody else thought that Sgt. Pepper was a revolutionary record--but for me it was not as enjoyable as 'Rubber Soul' or 'Revolver,' purely because I had gone through so many trips of my own and I was growing out of that kind of thing."

On the other hand, Paul felt strongly enough about the merits of Pepper to speak about it at length (over 50 pages) in "Many Years From Now." Producer George Martin has made a second career out of talking about Pepper. There is no question that he adored the album and it is a joy to watch him at the console isolating tracks and saying things like "Beethoven wouldn't have minded coming up with a melody like this" while playing the introduction to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Some say that Pepper hasn't aged well with its flower power focus, but that may just be revisionist thinking based upon the tragedy of the Beatles music still not being remixed and remastered. Listen to the songs from Pepper that were included in the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" or "Love" and they don't sound dated at all.

Although there is no consensus as to whether Sgt. Pepper was the Beatles crowning achievement, everyone seems to draw a line between Revolver and Pepper, and PID mythology is no exception.

There was a clear change that happened to the Beatles with the release of Sgt. Pepper. The change in the physical appearance of the Beatles was played up on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

It was with this album that the beloved four moptops became distinct individuals. But even though John seemed to initially be the one who changed the most radically in appearance, Pepper marked the beginning of Paul being set apart from the others, a trend that would continue for the rest of the Beatles career. These images have been pointed out so often, it is possible to miss how strange they seemed to first generation fans.

It was Paul who was in the knees up sitting position in the inner gatefold.

Paul had the black carnation in Magical Mystery Tour.

The Beatles (White Album) came with photographs of each of the four, but only Paul's was an extreme close up.

Paul, of course was barefoot on the cover of "Abbey Road."

And Paul was the only one with a red background on "Let It Be."

There are many other examples, each of which by itself would seem insignificant. But the fact is that this singling out of Paul all started with Sgt. Pepper.

The common perception is that Paul took over the leadership of the Beatles from Sgt. Pepper onward, but there are some problems with that theory. John might have been going through some personal issues at the time, but most people seem to agree that John's songs on the White Album in particular were at least as good if not superior to Paul's songs. There was even a convincing article in Beatlefan #166 last year by Rip Rense praising the often overlooked John songs on Sgt. Pepper. You can find the article on Rense's web site.

In fact, when viewed historically, many of John's disparaging remarks about Sgt. Pepper don't seem genuine. As the well respected discussion group star, Apollo C. Vermouth pointed out, it was John in Magical Mystery Tour who wore a hat with a HEART on it in a scene that took place in a CLUB where he was watching a BAND. Was that a coincidence or a subtle tribute to an L.P. that he would later dismiss?

A few years later on the Imagine album, John wrote "How Do You Sleep," a vicious attack against Paul, right? That is true for most of the song, but let's revisit the first verse:

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
Ah, how do you sleep?
Ah, how do you sleep at night?

Is he really talking to Paul there? If Pepper was Paul's idea, how did it take Paul by surprise? Some would say John is talking about the reaction to Pepper, but that runs counter to things that Paul has said about the album. In hindsight, he seemed pretty confident with the "If you think we've dried up, you just wait until you hear this" attitude he said he had during the sessions. And if John is talking to Paul, then who is the third person referred to in the line about "see right through that mother's eyes"? John later suggested in hindsight that while the song seemed to be an attack on Paul, it was more of an attack on himself, but that still doesn't explain the meaning of that first verse.

There is something mythological about Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The answer to the Beatles mystery lies in there somewhere. Don't you think?

In other news: MikeyNL1038 is at it again with paul is dead - nothing is real 232.


Anonymous said...

Well done! Great post and makes me think more about it all yet again!

Anonymous said...

In a Rolling Stone interview (I think), Lennon did say he thought Pepper was a "highpoint" or "peak" for the band.

Tafultong said...

Anonymous wrote...

In a Rolling Stone interview (I think), Lennon did say he thought Pepper was a "highpoint" or "peak" for the band.

This is the actual quote:

RS: You said to me 'Sgt. Pepper' is the one. That was the album?

JL: Well, it was a peak. Paul and I were definitely working together, especially on "A Day In The Life" that was a real . . . the way we wrote a lot of the time: you'd write the good bit, the part that was easy, like "I read the news today" or whatever it was, then when you got stuck or whenever it got hard, instead of carrying on, you just drop it; then we would meet each other, and I would sing half, and he would be inspired to write the next bit and vice versa. He was a bit shy about it because I think he thought it's already a good song. Sometimes we wouldn't let each other interfere with a song either, because you tend to be a bit lax with someone else's stuff, you experiment a bit. So we were doing it in his room with the piano. He said "Should we do this?" "Yeah, let's do that."
I keep saying that I always preferred the double album, because my music is better on the double album; I don't care about the whole concept of Pepper, it might be better, but the music was better for me on the double album, because I'm being myself on it. I think it's as simple as the new album, like "I'm So Tired" is just the guitar. I felt more at ease with that than the production. I don't like production much. But Pepper was a peak all right.

Anonymous said...

Vince, here.
I can understand John 'trashing' Pepper.
I've always been leery over thing that are TOO popular.
I didn't see "Trainspotting" for YEARS, 'coz everybody thought it was SOOOOO GOOD.
Of course, it was good, but, like an idiot, I figured, 'If everybody loves it, it's gotta suck.'
You can tell, on the JL "Anthology", when Sean starts singing "With A Little Help.." , he doesn't even want to say who SANG it, or wrote it!
I've sure we're all guilty of trying to be different by NOT liking something that everybody likes.

Anonymous said...

That's partly why John, George, and Paul all called "Happiness is a Warm Gun" their favorite White Album track. Paul said something like, "our best stuff was never the singles, it was the album tracks."

Anonymous said...

Great post.Pepper is not one of my favorites.I like maybe half of the songs on it but I think I prefer the White Album now.

Message to Jude:
Regarding your comment from yesterday,I do NOT believe that Iamaphoney is sitting back with a beer and having a giggle.That was the point of my post.I was being accused of being part of Iamaphoney's team so naturally I wrote a response claiming everything Iamaphoney WOULDN'T say.It was sarcasm that I think everyone else here understood but you.Your tirade had no relevance to the exchange between myself and anonymous nor were you even a part of it and your nastiness was out of line considering you either did not read the previous exchange or did not understand it.I would think that you of all people would be sympathetic to someone being accused of being part of Iamaphoney's team since you yourself were hassled at Nothing Is Real for the very same thing but I see I was wrong.

Yes I am a skeptic.So what?That's life.Not everyone is going to agree with everything you want them to.That's just the way it is.Why should I have more faith in Iamaphoney than I would in emails from what looks to be my bank telling me they need to update my account information and to hand over my pin number?Skepticism can help you out.

One of the reasons I had enjoyed this blog so much was that it was the last place where people could discuss these videos without grudge matches and namecalling.There was almost a kind of "jolly" feeling about the whole thing that I really enjoyed.I would hate to see this change.


Anonymous said...

Not on my watch, Aj!

In total agreeance,

Jude said...

"Oh please.Don't be stupid.I am not an Iamaphoney supporter at all.I think that's obvious.
Oh but if I were I guess I should confess that Paul is not dead,the Beatles don't worship Satan,Manson was a lunatic and Iamaphoney has been making it all up as he goes along.He liked to sit back with a cold beer and laugh at people who believe in PID.He's thinking of running for president next.

Get real."

If that was meant to be viewed as sarcasm, you didn't do a very good job of conveying it.

"Oh but if I were I guess I should confess that Paul is not dead, etc..."

So...if you were an Iamaphoney supporter you should confess that none of the things that the videos are purported to be saying to use are true? That doesn't make sense. I'M an Iamaphoney supporter, everyone knows that, and really, I don't have anything to confess. Why would a supporter have anything to confess? If Paul isn't dead, wouldn't it be the the Rotten Apple team's responsibility to confess?

But now that you admit it was only sarcasm, your message seems all the nastier:

"Don't be stupid"

"He liked to sit back with a cold beer and laugh at people who believe in PID."

"Get real."

Maybe you should take the plank out of your own eye, brother.

But still, you're right in thinking that I should sympathtise with you being accused of partnering with IAAP. I know how that feels, but I also must admit I find it very odd how your name appeared on that Paul McCartney document.

All the same, sorry for the bitterness and for the misunderstanding. You're right...of course there's nothing wrong with being a skeptic. I would never criticise anyone for just being a skeptic, it's the particularly stupid skeptics who seem to have nothing better to do than belittle PID believers that really bug me.


Anonymous said...

"Maybe you should take the plank out of your own eye, brother."

It just occurred to me that you might be a girl. I'm familiar with the African (male) name of Aja, but it also dawned on me that it's a girl's name in other cultures. I'm quite sorry if I was wrong..

- J

Anonymous said...

You are right.I should have said "on the iamaphoney team" rather than "supporter" to make it clearer what I was responding to.No harm no foul.Sorry if I came across as nasty in either comment but imagine what I had to read when I went online today!Why anyone would think I was part of Iamaphoney's posse is beyond me.All I do is ask questions on here or dream up theories like everyone else.I'm skeptical of the whole thing and I've made my opinion known but why he wrote Aja on a piece of paper is beyond me too.But isn't that supposed to be Paul McCartney's handwriting anyway?I think Miles said it was the name on a box.If not that then maybe he has a crush on me.:0


Anonymous said...

I see I'm just as guilty of skimming through these without really reading them,Jude.Yes you are correct that is supposed to be Paul McCartney's handwriting and Aja could be a girl's name(wink).Maybe Paul had a crush!I'm skeptical whether it's really his handwriting though.It looks kind of strange.
I would really like to see that whole documentary by Werner whatisname and I wish someone would put it up on YouTube to see if it is in Iamaphoney's style.


Anonymous said...

and Vince you are my pal!

I've cluttered up the blog enough today.Work is over and I'm going home.Have a good night.




but I'm miles(deo) above you.

Anonymous said...

"How many million miles, deo?"

MikeNL said...

A million miles(deo) of water that are flowing deep beneath this ground

Anonymous said...

I can't understand why anyone should be put off by the notion of Paul McCartney dabbling in the occult. It's usually de rigeur for rock stars to do so, and many of his peers were very visibly involved in occult pursuits.

Kenneth Anger was the link between Alistair Crowley and the various rock stars of the 60's and 70's who became enamored with him. Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were equally involved with Anger, so there should be no denial of Paul's interest in Thelema.

However, I feel strongly that Paul does not want that side of his history to be examined. He may well have had good intentions at the time, and considered Crowley to be a positive rather than negative force. But, rather than have to defend himself, he would probably prefer that we not go there. I have the notion that Paul later felt that he had bitten off more than he could chew, and regrets some of his past associations.

I stay focused on May Pang's statement about John freaking out and shouting, "It's all Roman Polanski's fault". That, to me, is the most important "clue" in this whole scenario. The Beatles got themselves in the wrong crowd, and something happened that we're not supposed to know about. We may yet learn what that is, but, for now, we can only imagine.

Anonymous said...

Vince, here.
So, is the PHONY-family READING this blog or not?

If so....... wanna invest in a booook?

ha, ha.


Anonymous said...

Of course the Phoney family reads this blog. They read the comments on IAAPs and other sites, the posts at NIR, and in fact a good chunk of the NIR folks (and folks here) are all part of the amusement. I'm not even sure if there are any "outsiders" watching other than Taful and Aja.

Anonymous said...

IAAPs channel links to Thenewnumber2, Dhani Harrison's myspace page.

Tor Hershman said...

Howz 'bout this Beatles parody song?
.[____].---{Ain't no fony there}