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.