The monumental Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is 50 years old today. Let’s roll out the bunting and imagine where the characters of Mr Kite and Rita are today. What has happened 50 years on in ‘Leaving Home’? Has that family come together again? Is the daughter still with the man from the motor trade, perhaps with grown up children of her own? Has Lucy come down, or is she still riding high through recessions and elections? The question is how to conceptualise anything new about this definitive album when there is 50 years’ worth of literature to wade through?
The later generations can never experience the impact that this album had upon those around in 1967. So, the trick is not even try and go down that path. The truth is that each generation has its own experience and reading of The Beatles. The band comes back to us time and time again, it’s a constant revolution. It’s possible to sit here and wax lyrical on the individual sonic genius of Sgt Pepper’s. The seeds of the album can be found in The Beatles’ previous work Revolver, released the year before in 1966. The experimental sounds in ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the sitar and backwards guitar, are a herald of things to come. As well as the sonic intervention, Sgt Pepper to me is an incredibly visual album. The signs of this can also be heard in Revolver. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a visual song and when I say this I mean the sonic storytelling is so clear that an image emerges in the mind of the listener that the song almost becomes an audiovisual entity. This is the case in the majority of the songs in Sgt Pepper’s, from picturing the Lonely Hearts Club Band themselves, to Lucy and the glitteringly psychedelic landscape she’s in.
This, therefore, is the first completely audiovisual album from The Beatles. This is different from Help! where the album existed as a soundtrack for the film and the film was the construct for the songs. Sgt Pepper’s is an audiovisual album in that the formation of the songs provides visual imagery… in ‘Lovely Rita’ as Paul McCartney sings “…in a cap she looked much older, and the bag across her shoulder, made her look a little like a military man..” we can picture these things and can see Rita. This is not singular to Sgt Pepper’s, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as previously mentioned, but it also occurs in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and ‘Rocky Racoon’. What is unique to Sgt Pepper’s is that each song within the whole album carries this characteristic. Sgt Pepper’s is a collection of stories contained within a sonically fascinating album.