Everyone’s life has milestones like the birth of a child or the death of a parent. These are personal but there are others that resonate through everyone’s life, to one extent or another. Mine include the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Of course there have been others, like losing my virginity, the deaths of Elvis and Bob Marley and the first poem I ever wrote.
But these three – Cuba, Kennedy and The Beatles – are particularly significant because they all happened between the ages of 6 and 10. I grew up then, having learned fear from the Cuban crisis of 1962, hate and horror from the assassination of Kennedy and love and the expanse of opportunity from The Beatles.
At this point, I should warn you to brace yourselves. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1, 1967, nearly 50 years ago. Ahead of us, on the near horizon, is a commercial onslaught of all things Beatles and Pepper related, including a lavish reissue and a de-luxe edition that includes 100 minutes of studio outtakes. Beatles’ fans should note the reissue will include Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, two songs recorded during the Pepper sessions but, at the time, released as unrelated singles.
Sadly, one of the first articles I read regarding the forthcoming anniversary was an appallingly ill conceived article in the Irish Times by its film critic, Donald Clarke , titled ‘When The Beatles Got High on Pomposity.’ It garnered a justifiable torrent of abuse, in my opinion, on social networks.
When I read it, I thought it was a joke but then people called it ‘clickbait’ and I recalled how, as a former rock writer myself, it was common practice to tear down icons to make room for a new generation. What annoyed me about it though was how he missed the mark so widely. It’s badly researched, bristling with factual inaccuracy and the points it makes are so spurious they could only garner ridicule.
Donald Clarke, I’m guessing, wasn’t about for the launch of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and doesn’t understand the impact and reverberations it caused. And then, unfortunately, uses top 100 lists to justify his critique, a tactic so weak and irrelevant, it doesn’t warrant shredding.
I was 10 when The Beatles’ released Sgt Pepper’s. The first record I ever bought with my own money, earned from a newspaper round, was a four track Beatles’ For Sale ep. By 10, courtesy of my cousins and my brothers, I had embraced country and blues music. I still have the John Mayall album that features Eric Clapton reading a Beano on the cover. I was a Rolling Stone fan, too.
Sgt Pepper’s is a milestone in the history of rock music. It wasn’t a genre album nor was it derivative. It was innovative. Listening to Sgt Pepper’s in 1967 made you believe anything was possible.
Clarke’s point arises from the designation of Sgt Pepper’s as ‘the greatest LP of all time’, a subjective designation decided by rock critics or magazines of different generations. Of course, by their very nature, such designations must change and, assuredly, Sgt Pepper’s probably became a sacred cow or, in the case of Mr Clarke, a golden calf, ripe for smelting. But what he’s ignored is the impact Sgt Pepper’s had on popular music, in general, because from 1967, it became the benchmark for what could be done and opened a Pandora’s Box of what was possible.