Friday, June 01, 2012

It Was 45 Years Ago Today ...

... Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

I don't remember the first time I heard "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

I guess it had been out for awhile. And I was really young at the time.

I can only guess it had been playing on the radio for awhile — and I figure that I must have heard it on my family's car radio because my parents almost never listened to the radio in our home in those days — and, when they did, they never listened to stations that would have played the Beatles on a regular basis.

Not that my parents had anything against the Beatles. They liked some of the popular performers of that day — but mostly stuff like Simon & Garfunkel.

But the Beatles had a way of showing up on stations that you wouldn't have expected.

For example, in my hometown of Conway, Ark., in 1967, the radio stations you heard playing when you went to a hardware store or a doughnut shop or a barber shop tended to be country music stations. Yet, I do have vivid memories of being in such an environment and hearing songs like "Act Naturally."

The Beatles had enormous crossover appeal, and, by 1967, they were creating entirely new genres, doing things and making sounds that no one else had ever done or made. They were pioneers of popular music, and nothing exemplified that better than "Sgt. Pepper."

Anyway, as I say, I don't recall precisely when I heard the title track for the first time. What I do recall is realizing, even though I was quite young (and probably couldn't have articulated it this way), that music as I knew it would never be the same.

Perhaps it was an instinctive thing. I'm sure the people who were much older than I, the ones who were in high school or college in those days, the ones who may have participated in the antiwar protests I had seen on television, would have expressed it better.

But what I remember of the first time I heard "Sgt. Pepper" — whenever that was and however old I was — is that it was new and fresh and exciting. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before.

Of course, one must remember that I was emerging from a time in my life when tunes like "I'm a Little Teapot" and "The Hokey–Pokey" were at the top of my list. I wasn't terribly sophisticated in my musical preferences.

Nevertheless, I had been exposed to a fair amount of popular music by that point in my life — enough to know that "Sgt. Pepper" was special and unique.

It still is. The whole album. How could it not be, with songs like "A Day in the Life," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "With a Little Help From My Friends" and so many others?

Nearly everyone who has compiled a list of the most influential rock albums of all time has included "Sgt. Pepper" — and with good reason.

Perhaps Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic Guide summarized it best:

"[T]he Beatles consciously synthesized such disparate influences as psychedelia, art–song, classical music, rock & roll, and music hall, often in the course of one song. Not once does the diversity seem forced — the genius of the record is how the vaudevillian 'When I'm 64' seems like a logical extension of 'Within You Without You' and how it provides a gateway to the chiming guitars of 'Lovely Rita.' "

I always tell people that my favorite Beatles album is "Abbey Road," and it is, but there is a special place in my heart for "Sgt. Pepper," too.