So here we have it; the album most frequently cited as the best ever, from the greatest band ever. Does it stand up today as well as it did forty years ago? I’m sure you all know the answer to that but as I came to the Beatles quite late in their lifetime I hope I can give a modern perspective. I mentioned in my Revolver review that it was my favourite offering by the band over Sgt. Pepper, but there is not much to pick between them. This has all the hallmarks of a progressive record, of a coherent whole as well as having excellent, timeless, one off singles. Everyone, everywhere knows at least one of these songs by heart and for millions more the album is or was the soundtrack to some major part of their lives. This may well have been the first album to achieve such a feat, and as such led other artists to strive towards previously unimagined heights. No longer was imagination seen as a barrier to sales, no more was creativity shackled for fear of failure- all genres, rules, and thoughts were mashed together to produce the sound of a band marching to glory- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
`Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ begins the album with one of the band’s most famous riffs soon drowned out by heavy sampling and other instrumentation. McCartney shrieks the lyrics like he did in the old days before the song descends wonderfully to the tune of adoring fans into-
`With A Little Help From…’ It is probably Ringo’s best song, and by far the best version. I grew up with every other version of the song and never liked any of them. When I heard the original I was converted. Everyone knows the melody, the chorus but listen also to the sweet natured lyrics, ignore the drug references, and enjoy the jangly guitars and innocent, hopeful, timeless message.
`Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ leads us into a trippy, dreamlike, psychedelic journey, full of botched imagery and mesmerizing lyrics and sounds. Imagine riding a banana through the Zoo after someone has dropped a nuke full of neon paint everywhere, your banana’s engineless engine powered by a troop of papercut Scotsmen and you’ll have a fair idea of how the song sounds, and it still sounds as fresh today.
`Getting Better’ is McCartney’s song about the world seeming brighter when in love, countered by Lennon’s ironic `It can’t get no worse’. The bright, sharp guitar chords are unique and interesting, changing as the strange sounding Sitar comes blasting in. The guitar is then replaced by a similar sounding piano for the ending.
`Fixing a Hole’ opens with a harpsichord while McCartney sings another song of monotonous daily life, yet blends it with life as a whole by showing us what he sees outside. Expertly crafted the song is a melting pot of riffs, instruments, and ideas sounding like a travelling fun fair opening suddenly in the middle of your room while you’re doing a spot of DIY.
`She’s Leaving Home’ continues the theme of home life, a heartbreaking song of a daughter leaving home. It is unique in that it is led by harp and strings rather than guitars and bass and features some very high vocals. The lyrics are very descriptive and touching, depicting a moment all parents dread. The harmonies are employed well here as dual speakers in a conversation.
`Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite’ has a distinct circus feel due to the samples and lyrics and is the pseudo-brother song to Sgt Pepper due to the sampling and ideas. It is mostly an experiment by the group before The White Album but manages to fit in well here without feeling out of place even though there is nothing really like it on the rest of the album.
`Within You without You’ is another one of those songs which reminds me of the fire levels in Mario as it is mostly Eastern influenced, musically and lyrically. The sitar is featured heavily while existential lyrics strive to open our minds and swirly strings grow, twist, and surge to create the sensation of life, love, and everything else flowing in and around you and everyone else. It is one of the longest songs The Beatles ever recorded and proves that they could stretch there ideas beyond a mere 2 and a half minutes, and do it without ever becoming boring.
`When I’m 64′ is a jaunty, light song with some wonderful minor interludes. Full of horns, bells, and pianos it speaks idyllically of an imagined future. The lyrics are a highlight and more than anything it sounds distinctly British or more specifically, English.
`Lovely Rita’ begins with a ghostly version of the verse lyrics, before the verse actually begins. The lyrics continue the theme of Englishness and home life, with images of tea, parking ticket ladies, and possibly crumpet and Robin Asquith before he was around. The song builds towards the end with beeps and ideas thrown together and as always it works.
`Good Morning Good Morning’ continues the albums overall theme of British life as a metaphor for life as a whole. Blasting trumpets lead the way along with great drumming from Ringo. The lyrics speak of a typical day, getting ready for work, small town life. The drums give the sensation of constantly moving forwards mirroring the advancement of the characters. Some good guitar work is interspersed throughout and the ending again collapses into various samples, this time of domestic animals such as cats, dogs, and did I hear an elephant?
`Reprise’ is simply a faster, more modern version of the original’s chorus with extended lyrics. Although it’s a decent tune I think it feels a little redundant and could easily be removed or skipped. The drums here stand out, but I wouldn’t say it’s as essential as the rest of the album.
`A Day in the Life’ is a perfect ending to the album, both speaking of daily life and being full of experimentation. Of course the song is split into two parts with Lennon’s rather dark first half giving way (with a scary instrumental interlude) to McCartney’s brilliant second half- the perfect accompaniment to getting dressed in the morning. This gives way once more to the final part- a replay of part one.
Overall this is everything that you have heard it was going to be. Few albums have ever had so much scope, so much though, and so much skill and talent packed into them. Every song is a classic (with the exception of reprise) and even if you despise the band it would take a cold hearted purveyor of lies to say they can’t find anything they like here. Nothing much I can add that hasn’t been said a billion times before other than that yes this has stood the test of time, obviously, and that it should be in your collection.
If you found this review useful, please check the music section for further Beatles reviews!
Poll Results as of 20th July 2012:
It’s tight at the top with both Lucy In The sky and A Day In The Life tied on 5 votes and Sgt Pepper’s 1 vote behind on 4.
She’s Leaving Home and With A Little Help both have 2 votes while Reprise, Lovely Rita, and Within You Without You sit with a single vote.
Sadly sitting with 0 are Good Morning, When I’m 64, Fixing A Hole, and Getting Better.
Is your favourite missing out? Cast your vote now!