The Beatles Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band revolutionized rock music through a combination of creative lyrics, album unity, conceptual design, and the use of innovative studio technology. The after-effects of this revolution are still being dea, the album no longer belonged to the Beatles; it was "Sergeant Peppers" album, and every song dropped into place (Martin 202). Since the album was about escaping their everyday reality and entering a world that to them was surreal -- the world of the average person -- Paul McCartney thought they should utilize different sounds and effects to make the album extraordinary (202).
In order to implement their ideas, they depended on their experienced producer George Martin. Martin accepted the difficult task that the Beatles had lain before him, and he was instrumental in executing the theme the Beatles wished to relate to their audience. Although some critics would argue that the theme of Sergeant Pepper was only partially executed, the theme is actually executed very well. Sergeant Pepper portrays the lives of average people who use wild fantasies to break up the monotony of their days. The album is paradoxical. The most famous rock band in the world in 1967 was donning the persona of an old-time brass band. The very fact that they were writing and singing about the peculiarities of the seemingly monotonous days of these common folk made the commoners every movement seem extraordinarily significant.
Billy Shears, played by drummer Ringo Starr, sings a song about his dependence on his friends. At the beginning of the song, he apologizes beforehand for his shortcomings as a singer, and he hopes his audience will lend their ears to his song before theasies, when cited, become extraordinary pieces of modern folklore. The wonderful aspects of small-town life that Paul McCartney illuminated contribute to the theme of the album greatly.
In keeping with their theme of an average old-time band, the Beatles needed to utilize the services of instruments other than those they had in their possession. Paul McCartney, after attending a concert of Bachs Brandenburg Concerti, discovered the high-pitched piccolo trumpet to use in "Penny Lane" (Martin 201). Other orchestral instruments also contributed to the theme of the album, helping to create the mood. Among the more memorable uses of instruments in Sergeant Pepper, is the use of the orchestra in "A Day In The Life." The Beatles used only half a symphonic orchestra, but by the time George Martin was finished with the production of the song, the sound was equivalent to that of two full orchestras. John Lennon had envisioned a huge, overwhelming sound for the bit of muss harmonica to add to the effect (Martin 204).
The Beatles and George Martin went to great lengths to create the proper mood for each song, but the album would not be of such a high quality if their lyrics were not equally innovative. The Beatles were writing their most unusual lyrics ever, as evidenced by their songs "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "A Day In The Life." "Lucy" was normally classified as a "drug song" because of the use of abstract word imagery, (tangerine trees and marmalade skies,) and because the title of the piece was an acrostic for the popular drug LSD. The Beatles made no secret of their use of the hallucinatory drug which probably provided John with some of his more bizarre word choices, but the song, by all credible accounts, was inspired by a force much more innocent than drugs. Julian Lennon, Johns son, had painted a picture of his schoolmate Lucy, and he showed the picture to his father after school one day. The picture intrigued John, and he inquired after the title. Julian said, "Its Lucy, in the sky, with diamonds." The title awakened Johns imagination and prompted him to write the now-famous song (Turner 122).
"A Day In The Life" is also normally classified as a "drug song." While Paul McCartney admits that they were referring to marijuana in the line "I found my way upstairs and had a smoke/ Somebody spoke and I went in to a dream," he also says that they we George Martin had Geoff Emerick cut the tapes of various tunes into foot-long strips. Then, he had Emerick throw the pieces into the air, and then pick them up and randomly join them back together. They went through this procedure because they needed to make the various tunes indistinguishable to avoid copyright liability (203-205). A harmonium, "an organ-like keyboard instrument with metal reeds" (American 383) was also used on the record. Engineer Geoff Emerick has a distinct memory of the physical exhaustion George Martin endured to evoke the proper sound from the instrument, "You have to pump a harmonium with your feet, and he was pumping away for about four hours. He collapsed on the floor after that, laying there spread-eagled and exhausted!" (Lewisohn 98). Luckily, their strenuous efforts produced the desired effect, and John Lennon and crew had made a lasting contribution to musical art.
One of the more interesting edits on the album was on the song "Strawberry Fields Forever." John had written a thoughtful song about the times he spent at the Salvation Army orphanage. His aunt Mimi used to take him to their annual picnic, and he would often go there to play in their yard and be alone (Turner 119-120). John brought the song to a recording session and played it for George Martin and the other Beatles. They then recorded it in their usual manner: Paul on bass guitar, George on lead guitar, Ringo on drums, and John on rhythm guitar and lead vocal. The end result was a heavy rock and roll song. John was initially pleased with the song, but then he came back to George Martin and said that he would like to record the song again, this time with orchestral instruments. Martin complied, and scored some music for cellos and trumpets. After the new version was completed, John again seemed pleased, but he called Martin and asked him if there was a way they could combine the two versions -- the first half of one and the second half of the other. The problem Martin faced was that each recording was in a different key, and they were also in different tempos. Martin solved the problem by speeding up one recording a little and slowing the other down a little. He then spliced the two recordings together, and that is how the single was released to the public. He was able to please John Lennon and the American public who bought enough copies of the song to launch the single to the number two spot on the charts (199-201). "Strawberry Fields Forever" is still considered one of the best Beatle songs.
One effect that the neither Beatles nor George Martin intended to include on Sergeant Pepper was not discovered until well after the release of the album. Some fans found Paul at his house and asked him if "it" were true. Puzzled, he inquired as to what they were talking about, and they claimed if the bit of nonsense conversation placed on the groove at the end of the album were played backwards, said "Well f--- you like supermen" (Gambaccini 62). The effect was purely accidental, but it only adds to the folklore surrounding Sergeant Pepper.
There is no question that Beatles changed rock music dramatically. They were the first rock musicians to experiment with meaningful lyrics and incorporate orchestral instruments, as well as the more unusual instruments, into their traditional rock style. They also helped advance the art of music production by taking chances with their musical image, and they continually pushed themselves to be creative and produce quality work. According to Ken Townsend, the General Manager of Abbey Road studios where the Beatles recorded most of their work, because of the Beatles massive success, they were able to pioneer new techniques because they had gained clout with the music studios. As a result, equipment was improved drastically due to the demands the world was placing on the recording industry (Lewisohn 204). They had the attention of the world, and everything the Beatles did would be imitated by amateurs and professionals alike. Todays musicians and producers have twenty-four tracks of sound with which to work ("Sound"), as opposed to the four-track machine the Beatles and George Martin were force by the limits of technology to use.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the trend the Beatles had started in the 1960s for a "produced" album remained intact until latter 1980s. The trend for more "natural" music became popular during that time, as seen by the Music Television series "MTV Unplugged." This program invites popular musicians to perform on their show "unplugged," or using only acoustic guitars and other "live" instruments. Among the musicians who have appeared on the show are Paul McCartney, world renown guitarist Eric Clapton, and some more contemporary acts such as Pearl Jam and Mariah Carey.
Due to the diversity in music that the Beatles helped foster, their music fogged the lines between rock music, classical music, and even country music; the trend toward more "natural" music has not killed the art of music production. In fact, the art has only blossomed since the Beatles breakup in 1970. The group Enigma released in 1994 a song called "Return To Innocence" which employed the same rich, "layered" sound that the Beatles and George Martin pioneered in 1967.
Americans still feel the Beatles influence on popular music, even if it occurs indirectly. In a survey of fourteen university students attending Purdue University North Central, every student said that they had heard the Beatles music, and four admitted they were Beatles fans. Four people out of fourteen may seem like a small number, but considering that the Beatles disbanded twenty-five years ago, and most of the students surveyed were under the age of thirty, the number of Beatle fans is surprisingly high, further testament to their influence in popular music.
Another indicator of the Beatles influence on rock music today is the major impact the Beatles have had on the popular musicians of today. Musicians from rocker Tom Petty (Dickinson) to rhythm and blues singers Boyz II Men have claimed to have been influenced by the Beatles. Boyz II Men covered the Beatles song "Yesterday" on their recently released album II.
As long as music exists, the Beatles will continue to influence the musicians who make it. Their music is played by symphony orchestras, rhythm and blues musicians, and heavy metal bands. The Beatles are an institution, and in 1967 they gave their most important contribution to the world. That contribution was their crowning glory -- Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
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