Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles: It Was Forty Years Ago Today

By Olivier Julien | Go to book overview

Preface

In August 2006, the BBC’s Radio 2 Music Club commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the United Kingdom Album Chart by inviting the British public to vote for their favourite number one album among the 787 records that headed the chart since 1956. More than 220,000 people participated in the nation-wide survey, whose results came as no surprise: among the number one albums that made it into the top ten list were four albums by the Beatles, and among those four top ten number one albums was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was voted ‘best number one album of all time’. This poll confirms, if need be, the continuing popularity of the Fab Four over 35 years after they split up. Yet it also reveals that 39 years after its release, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was, by far, the album by which they were best remembered. To quote the words of Simon Mayo, who presented the full run-down of the Top 100 Albums: ‘It is a very impressive list and no surprise at all that Sgt. Pepper is at the top. It revolutionized music and what we expect from an album’.

As its title indicates, Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles: It Was Forty Years Ago Today is intended to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of this masterpiece of British psychedelia. It is also aimed at examining the album by addressing issues that will contribute to explain its absolutely unique position in the history of recorded popular music. The chapters are signed by scholars who are world-renowned for their work on the Beatles. These scholars have been selected and approached on the basis that their work had already been concerned with at least one of the aspects that make Sgt. Pepper a groundbreaking album (formal unity, cover design, lyrics, connections with psychedelia and, more generally, with the sociocultural context of the 1960s, influence of non-European music and art music, critical reception, songwriting, production, sound engineering) and that the way they would examine the latter aspects would help put the record in perspective. For example, Thomas MacFarlane, who wrote his PhD dissertation in Music Composition on Abbey Road, focuses on the formal unity of Sgt. Pepper so as to demonstrate why it may be viewed as the first step in a two-year process of experimentation that culminates with the extended form of the Abbey Road Medley. As for Terence O’Grady, who graduated in 1975 with a PhD dissertation in Musicology on the music of the Beatles through Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, his chapter analyzes the aesthetic divergence of Lennon and McCartney on Sgt. Pepper and presents it as the outcome of a process whose origins trace back to Rubber Soul and Revolver.

In addition to Thomas MacFarlane and Terence O’ Grady, the list of contributors to this book includes Sheila Whiteley, Michael Hannan, Naphtali Wagner, Russell Reising and Jim LeBlanc, Ian Inglis, David Reck, John Kimsey, and Allan Moore. Sheila Whiteley (whose long-term association with the Beatles, from The Space Between the Notes to Reading the Beatles, does not need to be emphasized) examines Sgt. Pepper and its lyrics in the light of the sociocultural context of the 1960s; Michael Hannan, who established one of the first university degree programmes in

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