Thursday, June 01, 2017

It Was 50 Years Ago Today . . .

PETER BLAKE
If you are of a certain age, you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated and Neil Armstrong made his moonwalk.  To which it should be added, the first time you heard Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 
The 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of the seminal Beatles album -- considered by many rock music pundits to be the greatest rock album evah -- is today, and there is little I can add that those pundits already have not said in their orgy of self reflection.  Except that their treatment of Sgt. Pepper as some sort of heirloom like a Faberg├ę egg is misplaced because it is as whimsically fresh in 2017 as it was in 1967.   
Then there’s the guy to the left of W.C. Fields on the Sgt. Pepper cover — Karlheinz Stockhausen (check them out in the image above).  Do these critics think “Klavierst├╝cke,” Stockhausen’s seminal piano work, is fusty just because its 65 years old?  No, I didn’t think so. 
Sgt. Pepper’s release came amidst another earth-shaking event in my life — the Summer of Love — even though it was not yet technically summer and my first trip (mescaline, no less) was still a few weeks off, and my first trip to San Francisco a few weeks after that. 
From the drum staccato at the opening of the first (and title) song of Sgt. Pepper to the sustained final piano note out of the orchestra crescendo at the end of “A Day In the Life,” the album was a smorgasbord of innovative instrumentation and breakthrough recording techniques, famously including reverse taping effects.   Lest we forget, it was issued in mono.  There have been numerous stereo remixes since, including the 50th anniversary $190 super duper deluxe box set remix by Giles Martin, son of original producer George Martin, that is said to be superb. 
Then there was the album’s psychedelic aspect, which ignited my decades' long interest in that genre of exotic music and art.  Collecting, as well as ingesting. 
So where was I the first time I heard Sgt. Pepper?  By golly, I remember like it was yesterday. 
I bought the album on the morning it was released and looked forward to playing it when I got home after my shift as a police reporter for the local rag. But a nine-alarm factory fire kept me out until daybreak the next morning and I ended up playing it on the family room hi-fi at the home of the parents of my new romantic interest the following evening. 
It wasn’t exactly make-out music. In fact, it was a huge distraction.  But while my romantic interest faded by the end of the summer of the Summer of Love, my love of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band knows no season.

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