50-Year Recollections

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

I avoided using the phrase “It was 50 years ago today,” as I’m sure countless journalists across the globe have already thought of and used it in commemorative pieces. It’s actually 50 years ago tomorrow, June 1st, 1967, that The Beatles’ iconic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released, but that’s a mere technicality.

Last night, on the way to hosting my pub quiz, I still didn’t really have an interesting question with regard to the album. But on the 150 yard walk to the Shaftesbury Pub, I remembered the jillion times I listened to the album during that summer of love and beyond, and realised I could still recall the silences between each track in anticipation of knowing what the next one would be, excepting of course the two medleys that open Side One and end Side Two. From that I got the idea to ask as a quiz question, “What track follows ‘With A Little Help From My Friends,” no matter whether vinyl LP, cassette, CD,etc.?” As I figured, six of the eight teams correctly guessed it was “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” even though most of the players were well under the age of the album. Try asking about what follows “Karma Police” on Radiohead’s highly acclaimed “OK Computer” album, a mere 20 years old and a massive critical and commercial success for its time, and see if you’d get ANY correct answers. The answer, by the way, is “Electioneering,” and no, I couldn’t sing you a single note of it.

This says something about Sgt. Pepper’s durability, in that there are still generations of people, grandchildren of that original Love Generation, still discovering its greatness. Is it the greatest album ever made, as so many critics seem to believe? It might be, even if it’s not MY favourite album. That personal accolade goes to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” It’s not even my favourite album by The Beatles. No, that honour would go to “Revolver,” which I think had it not come first, “Sgt. Pepper” would have been that much more difficult to imagine. There are for me no weak tracks on that album, even in the 14-track original UK release. (The US version had only 11 tracks, as Capitol, their US label, would hold back tracks from UK albums, and issue them either as singles, or on a supposed “new” album. “Sgt.Pepper” was the first Beatles album to have the same tracks on both US & UK releases) Whereas on “Sgt.Pepper,” there are a couple of clunkers. Does anyone still really LIKE “Fixing A Hole,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” or the tedious “Within You, Without You,” that George Harrison did so much better and shorter as “Love You To” on “Revolver?”  Sadly, “Within You” is his only contribution to the classic album, redeemed by the livelier “When I’m 64” following it.

If I need to hear the album again, I guess it’s fortunate to be living in Britain, where BBC Radio 2 has been trotting out remembrances and documentaries for several weeks now. I actually currently do NOT have the album amongst my vinyl collection, as at various times in my life, I’ve had to sell off various things from my collection either to relieve clutter or to pay rent. Then again, even if I DID have it, the idea of pulling it out and listening to it again, which I probably haven’t done for close to FORTY years, doesn’t seem likely either, though it’s not like I’ve forgotten what it sounds like. No, there were plenty of moments during that summer of 1967 where after smoking a joint or two, I’d lie on the floor with the portable stereo speakers positioned around my head so I’d get the full impact of the production the album was. How else could I have discovered that in the measures leading up to the middle segment of “Day In The Life,” arguably the last true Lennon and McCartney collaboration, there is the sound of an alarm clock? (And kudos many times over to George Martin for helping to bring the group’s ideas to fruition) By the end of the summer, I not only knew that album backwards and forwards, but also the first Doors, Hendrix, and Cream albums, not to mention “Absolutely Free” by Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, and the slightly lesser-known but brilliant “Goodbye And Hello” by Tim Buckley.

In the summer of 1967, I was living in Redlands, California, 400 miles and several cultural light years away from all that was going on in San Francisco. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that three years later, I would be moving there, dropping out of college in the process, and beginning a show biz career. The music of the time, with “Sgt. Pepper” a major factor, inspired in such a way that though I didn’t perceive myself as a songwriter, I still knew there was some niche in which I could fit. By the autumn of 67, when I began my final year of high school, I was pretty certain I wanted to pursue a career in show business. 50 years later, I’m still pursuing, and still having minor successes along the way.

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