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

By Olivier Julien | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Within and without:
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
and psychedelic insight

Russell Reising and Jim LeBlanc

To make this trivial world sublime,
Take half a gramme of phanerothyme.
Aldous Huxley to Dr Humphrey Osmond

To fathom hell or soar angelic,
Just take a pinch of psychedelic.1
Osmond’s response (1957)

Psychedelic vision is reality to me.2
John Lennon

The term ‘psychedelic’ was born as a result of the above-quoted exchange between two early LSD pioneers, before Paul McCartney joined John Lennon in the Quarrymen, also in 1957. Fortunately Osmond’s coinage prevailed, as Huxley’s proposed ‘phanerothyme’ does not have quite the same mellifluous cachet. The Beatles had all soared angelic since the recording of Revolver and especially in the months preceding and during the recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and although what John Lennon calls ‘psychedelic vision’ might not always have been reality for Paul, George and Ringo, it provided the astonishing glue that resulted in two of the greatest creations in rock history. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band synthesized the contemplative monologues, the razor-sharp social critiques and the bracing psychodrama of Revolver with an even more lavish attention to sonic detail and adherence to the pop tradition. Looking within themselves and looking without at the often lonely wastes of the Cold War West, the Beatles suggest some possible ways of fixing holes, making things better, and soaring in Technicolor beyond the mundane greys of Liverpool, London, New York or California. Through the alter egos of their colourful Victorian-era band, the Fab Four guarantee a splendid time for those willing and able to see, as Sidney Cohen titled his contemporary account of the impact of LSD on Anglo-American culture, ‘the beyond within’ (Cohen 1966).

1 Originally an exchange between Aldous Huxley and Humphrey Osmond. Huxley’s original account is in Horowitz and Palmer 1977, p. 107. Quoted in Stevens 1987, p. 57.

2 Sheff 2000,p. 158.

-103-

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