It Was 50 Years Ago… this Past Week…ish…

Okay, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring as the opening line of the album, but yes, this past week (Thursday and Friday) marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landmark album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” According to my resources, the official release date was June 1, 1967 in the UK, and June 2, 1967 in the US. Others may say differently, but this is my blog, so we’ll go with what I’ve always known. Don’t mess with my memories, okay?!

Over the past few years of this blog, I have alluded to having somewhat of a preference for the Beatles’ music, so it would be remiss of me to let this moment in history pass without saying a word. One might argue I did let it pass by not posting something last Friday. Well… I’m here now. Better late than never. Man, you people are sassy today!

I’ve been trying to remember when I first purchased the Sgt. Pepper album (as one does when one is trying to be productive). It was the first Beatles album I bought. I remember surveying a number of parents (one, to be precise–my Dad… and maybe a couple of his friends) to determine which Beatles album should be my first. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my Beatles fandom began with the assassination of John Lennon. But I didn’t immediately run out and buy a bunch of Beatles records. I was only 10, so I didn’t have that kind of money. Also, it was on the Six O’clock News, and the record shops usually closed by 5:30. Rather than make me an overnight Beatles devotee, that event heightened my Beatles awareness. As 1981 unfolded, however, my appreciation for the Fab Four developed.

Have you ever tried to remember when something happened by reconstructing events around it? “I know it was after that time because I didn’t have that…” or “It was before then because we were living here…” Since I have no written record of the day I walked into that record shop (was it Woolworths, or Chadds… or somewhere else?), I have to reconstruct.

Spring-ish, 1981: Trip to the Isle of Wight. This was a class trip that the final year students at my primary school took. Our teacher was the awesome Mr. Jim Cobbett, AKA The Best Teacher I’ve Ever Had. With his awesomeness on full display, he tried getting us into the mood and spirit of the forthcoming trip by having us re-write the lyrics to the Beatles song “Ticket to Ride,” but as “Ticket to Ryde” (Ryde being a port town on the Isle of Wight where, as I recall, our ferry from the mainland would be docking). To assist the Philistines in our classroom of eleven-year-olds, he brought in his copy of “Help!” and played us the original. I’m pretty certain at this point I didn’t own any Beatles records, but thought it cool Mr. Cobbett liked The Beatles.

Spring/Summer 1981: Stars on 45–the Beatles Medley, a single that made a big splash in the UK charts, and even made number one in the US. Recorded by Dutch producer Jaap Egermont and a bunch of sound-alike session musicians, “Stars on 45” was a medley of Beatles songs played to a constant, incessant, beat-clap drum track. It started a medley craze in the UK during the early 1980s, with everything being made into a medley from classical music (“Hooked on Classics”) to the Beach Boys, to Stevie Wonder, to the phone book… okay, maybe not the phone book. But you get my drift. The point here is that those little snippets of Beatles songs only fanned the flame of fandom (see what I did there? 🙂 ). Some of the songs I knew from the fact I was alive, and anyone with a heartbeat in the UK at that time knew at least a couple of Beatles songs. Others I didn’t know at all and was curious.

Christmas 1981: I’m as sure as I can be that this was when “Santa” got me the Red and Blue double-album compilations. On reflection, these albums (which are available on CD and download now) are the best introduction to the Beatles’ music a n00b could ask for. The Red album covers 1962-1966, the Blue 1967-1970, and between them you get all the Beatles singles, plus some notable album tracks. “Sgt. Pepper” is represented by the title track, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “A Day in the Life.” I recorded all four LPs to cassette (two cassettes, one for each collection), and would play them on my bedside tape player as I was going to sleep. There’s nothing like being half asleep while the middle section of “A Day in the Life” plays. It still gives me warm fuzzies thinking about it today. Anyway, those four songs are all I knew of Sgt. Pepper at that time.

 

Summer 1982: We went to Ireland and stayed with my aunt, uncle, and cousins for a few weeks. At the time of this trip, I had the book SHOUT! by Philip Norman, my first Beatles book (not the most accurate history of the Beatles and their times), and I purchased Paul McCartney’s single “Take It Away,” which was new to the charts. I’m confident I had Sgt. Pepper by this time.

1993: I remember taking a briefcase into school one day that contained all my Beatles albums for a friend to look at. Not only did I have them all, I knew them all well. It was also this year that I started collecting the Beatles singles, ordering them one at a time from my favorite local retailer. Each week I would order a single and pick up the one I ordered the previous week. Oh how Amazon has spoiled us!

In conclusion, after all that rabbit trailing down memory lane, I’m convinced I purchased Sgt. Pepper sometime in 1982, probably Spring or Summer. Of course I couldn’t buy just any old copy:

I did later get the “proper” version:

So there’s my tribute to Sgt Pepper. Some day I’ll talk about the songs. What I won’t talk about is how I bought the CD in 1987 when we were celebrating 20 years since it came out. That’ll just make me feel old…

7 thoughts on “It Was 50 Years Ago… this Past Week…ish…

  1. The Silver Fox

    Ha. You want to talk about feeling old? I was around when the Fab Four first hit the big time here in the USA.

    My sister (thirteen, six years older than I, who had turned seven at the end of 1963, right before the British Invasion) ) began buying all the US editions of the Beatles albums as they were released, until the “Revolver” LP. So my only experiences with “Sgt. Pepper” and their later releases were on the AM radio and what few singles I bought for my own collection.

    I guess that’s why I actually prefer their earlier material to their later, more mind-blowing stuff.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      OK, you got me beat on the age thing, Silver Fox–I was born around the time they were officially breaking up. 🙂

      I’m curious whether your sister stopped at Revolver because of changing interests, or because she didn’t like the direction the band was going musically? I’ve been trying to put myself into the mindset of someone hearing Sgt Pepper for the first time. In this fictional persona, the last Beatles album I would have heard would have been Revolver. There were a couple of very different tracks (“Love You To” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”) and a few that, perhaps, gave a sense of trying new things (“Eleanor Rigby,” for instance–strings and vocals, no Beatle actually plays on the song). I’d have heard the Beatles had quit touring and were spending more time in the studio, which might have explained some of the Revolver songs. And then in February 1967, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” comes out as a single. Wow. Who are these people? Especially “Strawberry Fields.” Perhaps I might have seen it coming, just because of culture and the Revolver tracks. But I don’t think even this would have prepared me for Sgt Pepper. It was such a radical departure from everything they’d done before, from concept to style. Even Revolver wasn’t this radical, at least as I think about it. What do you recall of the time–or at least why your sister stopped at Revolver?

      Reply
      1. The Silver Fox

        I’m going to have to ask her. Amazingly, I never have before. I remember back then that she seemed okay with the way music was progressing — for example, she bought the first LP by The Doors, as well as Jimi Hendrix’ “Are You Experienced” LP — but you may be right, that she found the new Beatles music to be too different for her tastes.

        Reply
        1. The Silver Fox

          I talked to my sister last night, and she told me she just didn’t care for the direction The Beatles were headed musically, plus some aspects of their personal lives (mostly John’s) kind of turned her off.

          Reply
          1. cds Post author

            Thanks, Silver Fox! Very interesting. I’m sure she wasn’t alone–Sgt Pepper was pretty radical for the time, and I’m not surprised not everyone appreciated it. As for their personal lives… again, they both affected and were affected by the culture. I’m sure those that knew them weren’t surprised at the stuff they got up to, but when fans found out, it’s understandable some were put off. It’s fascinating and instructive to me how often we don’t recognize history when it happens. What your sister saw as The Beatles going off the deep end turned out to be a game-changing album that turned popular music on its head. Thanks for asking her! 🙂

            Reply
  2. Diane

    I was born in early ’68, but even when I was 14 and became the first person ever to discover The Beatles (ahem), I knew I was actually quite late to the party. Somewhere around then, my brother gave me a t-shirt: The Beatles, 15 years. Oh my, and I still have the thing, on the theory it’s a collector’s item – and also because I cannot let it go.

    When I was learning my way around Beatlemania, Lennon was killed. To this DAY, I can recall the blunt way my mom told me in the morning before school. I remember going to that corner my best friend and I used to hang out together before classes started, talking with the nerdy science teacher who encouraged us to be weirdos, being utterly shocked.

    On Silver Fox’s sister – I can understand the change. There really are (at least) two bands, with The Beatles. Shared DNA notwithstanding, Love Love Me Do and Happiness is a Warm Gun are pretty disparate works. Being on the back end of history, this was one of the things that appealed to me so much as a kid, but what would my outlook have been if I had been an early adopter and seen them change so radically? At a certain age, I might very well have revolted, post-Revolver. What looks like versatility, variety, and growth from one side looks like betrayal of one’s own success from another. I’ve felt that for other artists.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      My SecondBorn much prefers early Beatles to late Beatles… and yet there are tracks from that post-1966 period she likes (“Strawberry Fields,” “A Day in the Life”, “Ob-la-di”, to name a few). I think to some extent, a lot of the weirdness gets attributed to drug-induced altered states of consciousness. There’s this idea that if the Beatles (and others) weren’t messing with that stuff, they would have stuck to “normal” music. But I think you hit the nail squarely, Diane, when you said that versatility, variety and growth can look like betrayal from the purist-fan’s POV. That’s what was going on, I think. I’m sure the illicit substances gave them wacky experiences to draw on for inspiration, but (and I say this as one who is opposed to recreational drugs) I don’t think the change in direction was drug-induced. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were dabblers and experimenters from the beginning. John and Paul used to perform imported American R&B to white British kids, and they would play B-sides just so their repertoire would include music no-one else was playing. They insisted on writing their own songs from day one. They wanted each record to be different (feedback on “I Feel Fine”, for e.g.). And they wanted their B-sides to be good songs, not just throw-aways to fill the space. Listening to the innovation on Rubber Soul and Revolver convinces me that, drugs or no drugs, the only reason we had to wait until 1967 for the Sgt. Pepper revolution was the fact they were too busy touring to spend that much time in the studio.

      From the fan’s perspective, as you point out, early adopters who got hooked from the get-go were probably more likely to reject their later direction. There are purists in every fandom (Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who, especially) that will not tolerate anything but the object of their affections unsullied by progress and invention, or the artist’s desire to explore and try different directions. I can’t be a purist, whether we’re talking about The Beatles or Doctor Who, because as a creative type, I can’t imagine being boxed in like that. Imagine trying to tell Stephen King he always has to write books like CARRIE and THE SHINING!

      I certainly don’t believe the later music was a betrayal of “Love Me Do.” When the world took The Beatles into its heart, it was getting “Love Me Do” and “Let It Be” and everything in between. It was all there in 1962. It just didn’t know it yet. 🙂

      Reply

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