The Sarge at 20
And how...with steam organs, gongs, sitars, barnyard sound effects and even the London Symphony Orchestra. When the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band first hit the record stores on June 1, 1967—20 years ago this week—its album cover boldly promised "a splendid time for all." The LP inside delivered far more—a lesson in rock's potential as art and in technology's promise for those with the talent to use it.
The album took four months to record (the Beatles' first LP took only a day), sold 15 million copies and inspired comparisons with Tennyson, T.S. Eliot and Eugene O'Neill. Many of its 12 songs (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, With a Little Help From My Friends, When I'm Sixty-Four) became instant hits, and their lyrics part of the lingua franca of a generation. Unified by its nonstop sound—there were no pauses between cuts—and by the carefree '60s buoyancy that it evoked, Sgt. Pepper's was the first rock "concept album." It may still be rock's best.
As novel as the record was the album cover that accompanied it. Here, published for the first time, are photographs taken during the one-day cover shoot by Michael Cooper, then 25, at his studio in London's Flood Street.
Cooper had asked each of the Beatles to suggest 12 "heroes" who could serve as props in a montage photo. Some were rejected: Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ, for reasons of propriety; Mahatma Gandhi, lest record sales in India be ruined. When asked for permission to use their photos, Marlon Brando agreed immediately but Shirley Temple demanded to hear the album first. In the end the montage consisted of 57 cardboard cutouts and nine wax models (courtesy of Madame Tussaud's) and included artist Aubrey Beardsley (a hero of John's), writer Terry Southern (Ringo's choice), soccer player Albert Stubbins (because the Beatles liked his name) and wax statues of the Beatles themselves—brought along in case their real-life counterparts failed to show.
Three years later the Beatles disbanded. In 1973 photographer Cooper died from alcohol and barbiturates, and by 1980 John Lennon also was gone. Sgt. Pepper, however, has lived on, and to celebrate the start of its third decade, EMI Records has just released the album on compact disc. No matter that its '60s freshness now takes second place to fond familiarity; even now, as the title song says, "it's guaranteed to raise a smile." So...
We'd like to thank you once again Sgt. Pepper's one and only Lonely Hearts Club Band.
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