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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Reactions to Sgt. Pepper

On its release, on June 1 1967, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was an instant hit, with both critics and the public. The "New Musical Express" critic, Allan Evans predicted, "It will sell like hot cakes", and it went on to spend 23 weeks at the top of the album charts.

Performing "All You Need is Love", 1967
The Beatles performing "All You Need Is Love" on the Our World programme, the first-ever live global TV link to 26 countries, June 1967
© TopFoto.co.uk
Popular music press critics loved the album, though they found it more challenging than the records they were used to reviewing. They had never been faced with a lyric sheet before, and the presence of figures such as Albert Einstein and Karl Marx on the cover added to the album's intellectual image.

In his NME review, Allen Evans wrote that the Beatles "have provided us with more musical entertainment, which will be both pleasant on the ear and get the brain working a bit too". This was echoed by Peter Jones in Record Mirror, who said that the album was "tongue-in-cheek and clever". To reassure his young readers, he added, "Not too clever, you understand, but once or twice right on the borderline."

A fan's reaction

One young Beatles fan who loved the album was 12-year-old Eric Goulden, who would grow up to become the pop star Wreckless Eric. In his autobiography, Eric described discovering the album while drinking cider at a teenage party in Burgess Hill, West Sussex:

The room spun round in glorious double vision as Sgt. Pepper played endlessly on - side one followed by side two followed by side one in endless rotation. It was the most fabulous thing I'd ever heard in my life... I never had my own copy of Sgt. Pepper because everybody else had it - you could hear it anywhere so I didn't need one.

     Eric Goulden, A Dysfunctional Success, 2003

Other reviews

The broadsheet newspaper critics were also outspoken in their praise. Kenneth Tynan, theatre critic of the Times, declared that the release represented "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization". The critic of the US paper, Newsweek, compared the Beatles' lyrics, favourably, with the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edith Sitwell and TS Eliot.

The one dissenting voice was Richard Goldstein of the New York Times, who wrote, "For the first time, the Beatles have given us a package of special effects, dazzling, but ultimately fraudulent. In Revolver, I found a simplicity and empathy that was staggering. But in Sgt. Pepper I sense an obsession with the surrogate magic of production, and a new sarcasm masquerading as cool."

Goldstein's review provoked a barrage of angry letters to the New York Times. Writing in Crawdaddy, Paul Williams complained that Goldstein "got hung up on his integrity and attempted to judge what he admittedly did not understand". Even so, over the years, many have come to share Goldstein's assessment that Revolver is superior to Sgt. Pepper. In music magazines, the Beatles' earlier album consistently comes higher in popularity polls.

Musical impact

In Melody Maker, Chris Welch looked at the effects of the long-awaited album on the music scene, saying that its achievement was "so solid and inspired that it should keep the British pop industry ticking over securely for another six months at least. Already several of the tracks... are being feverishly covered by other artists."

Among these cover artists was Jimi Hendrix, who performed the title track live at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1967. The Twilights, a leading Australian band, got hold of an advance copy of the album, and performed all the songs, with note-for-note accuracy, live in Australia.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, 1967
The Rolling Stones, 1967
© TopFoto.co.uk
Sgt. Pepper was taken as a creative challenge by the Beatles' leading rivals. In September 1967, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones described how his own music was changing as a result of the Beatles' work:

"It really began with the Beatles' Revolver album. It was the beginning of an appeal to the intellect. Once you could tell how well a group was doing by the reaction to their sex appeal but the days of the hysteria are fading and for that reason there will never be a new Stones or a new Beatles. We are moving after minds and so are most of the new groups."

The Rolling Stones' reaction to Sgt. Pepper was their own LSD-influenced psychedelic album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, released in December 1967 with a vibrant 3D cover. This is now seen as the least representative album the Stones ever made. Looking back on it in 2003, guitarist Keith Richards said, "We were just loony, and after the Beatles had done Sgt. Pepper, it was like, 'Let's get even more ridiculous.' "

Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys

The Beach Boys, 1968
The Beach Boys, 1968
© TopFoto.co.uk/UPP
Sgt. Pepper had an even greater impact on Brian Wilson, the songwriter of the Beach Boys, who felt that he was in personal competition with the Beatles, and Paul McCartney in particular. Wilson said that he produced his own 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds as a reaction to the Beatles' Rubber Soul: "I heard Rubber Soul one night in my house here in L.A., and I was so blown out that I said, 'I have to record an album as good or better than Rubber Soul. If I ever do anything in my life, I'm going to make that good an album.' And so we did."

With its astonishing arrangements and unusual instrumentation, Pet Sounds had a major influence on Sgt. Pepper. Paul McCartney later said, "It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water… I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life – I figure no one is educated musically ‘til they’ve heard that album.”

Following Pet Sounds, Wilson was working with lyricist Van Dyke Parks on an even more ambitious work, to be called Smile, which he described as a "teenage symphony to God". This ran into trouble in late 1966, with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love resisting Brian's new work. In April 1967, Wilson (who was suffering growing mental problems) was deeply affected by hearing a tape of the Pepper song "A Day in the Life", which McCartney played to him in Los Angeles. Soon after, Smile was abandoned, and Wilson would not return to complete it until 2003. Van Dyke Parks later said, "Brian had a nervous collapse. What broke his heart was Sgt. Pepper."

Frank Zappa

A very different response to the album came from Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention. Zappa staged a parody of the Sgt. Pepper cover for his own 1968 release, cynically titled We're Only In It For The Money. He would later write a song called "Oh No" as an answer to the Beatles' 1967 single, "All You Need is Love" : "You say love is all we need... I think you're probably out to lunch."