Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sgt Pepper

I wrote a few days ago about an innocuous event which occurred 50 years ago, which later took on much more importance. A few days after that event happened another, whose importance was immediately recognised - the release of The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" album. Like the inaugural Fairport gig, this too passed me by at the time....

I've been trying to recall when I first heard any of the songs on this album. "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were well-known, as they were the double A-sided single which should have been on the album, but for the others, it seems that it was several years before I heard them. I definitely recall hearing "She's leaving home" at some stage during 1969, but without knowing what it was.

My English teacher in 1969, Mr Patten (who also taught PT and unfortunately died at an early age), once played for us "A day in the life" during a class. This would have been in the autumn term of 1969, as I remember that I and my classmates knew by then how to handle an album sleeve. He was illustrating the kinetic lyrics of the middle part ("Woke up, got out of bed"), before dissing the rest of the song.

When I first went to Israel in the summer of 1972, some of my friends amused themselves by singing all the songs from "Sgt Pepper"; I remember hearing the title song and thinking "aha, they're singing Sgt Pepper", but for me, this record was already passé. Back in Bristol, someone who sort of created a group with me (we never really played a gig) asked whether we could play "Lucy in the sky with diamonds"; I had seen the sheet music in a Beatles' song book and as it didn't seem too complicated, I said yes - without having heard the song, as it had been banned by the BBC. I think I eventually heard it in 1973, and when I did, I asked myself whether "this is that wonderful song that everyone has been praising for years?"

I get the feeling that I never heard the album in its entirety until I bought the cd in 1991. Now, a new deluxe two cd version has been released: the first has a remixed version of the original album, whereas the second contains out-takes and remixes of the single. I am still underwhelmed. Without deliberately trying to be contentious, my favourite song from the album is probably "It's getting better", followed by "Fixing a hole" and "She's leaving home", although all the songs are totally eclipsed by "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane". I enjoy most of the other songs but don't feel any real enthusiasm to listen to them, unless I've been reading (once again) how the tracks were created. Typically, it is the second disc which I find more interesting: hearing the backing tracks for "She's leaving home" and "It's getting better" without vocals, which reveal hitherto unknown details.

By 1969, when I started listening seriously to music and "Abbey Road" was the Beatles album, I still preferred listening to "Unhalfbricking" (Fairport) or the first Nick Drake album. It wasn't until John Lennon's death at the end of 1980 that I (and probably many more) started listening once again to The Beatles.

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