Today marks the 40th anniversary of the American debut of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After all this time it still hasn’t lost its status as the creative yardstick by which nearly all albums are measured (“Hey, check out this new release from the Mongolian Warrior Vocal Orchestra. They sing from their throats, and one guy even sings out of his belly-button and another whistles out his eyelids.” “Yeah, but the Beatles did all that back with Sgt. Pepper. You can hear it for a few seconds in the long-ass chord at the end of ‘A Day in the Life’.”)
My brother is 11 years older than I, and I can remember when he brought the record home. For months I would listen to side one every day before I went to school (this was back before mandatory Kindergarten, when first graders went to school for only half a day). The aural illusion it portrayed – that it was a live show – worked on me. I imagined it was like the variety shows that were on TV when I was a kid, a one-shot something along the lines of the “Elvis Comeback Special.” That there was a sad ballet performed on stage for “She’s Leaving Home” and a color-blasted circus during “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”
I never got to hear the final minute or so of “A Day in the Life” until several years later. Our copy of the record had a tiny scratch on that track, and the needle on our old hi-fi always stuck in it. So I’d just get up and flick the reject switch.
There’s nothing on it that sounds too dated, so it has held up well for a record released more than 40 years ago. And while Pet Sounds from the Beach Boys, released the previous year, is rightfully considered to be the record that broke the creative ground and made Sgt. Pepper possible, which record consistently makes the top of critics’ “best of” lists? Not that critics really know a damn thing at all besides their own alleged erudition on pop music – trust me.
Both records are iconized, ensealed on pedestals in the Great Recordings Hall of Fame. But like rare and sturdy antique toys in some collector’s basement, only one of them gets taken down and played with most often.
So to answer the question posed on the reprise: Yes, we have enjoyed the show.