The Beatles: Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – [Record 157]
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. Released on 1 June 1967, it was an immediate commercial and critical success, spending 22 weeks at the top of the albums chart in the United Kingdom and 15 weeks at number one in the United States. Time magazine declared it “a historic departure in the progress of music” and the New Statesman praised its elevation of pop to the level of fine art. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968, including Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this honour.
In August 1966, the Beatles permanently retired from touring and began a three-month holiday from recording. During a return flight to London in November, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian era military band that would eventually form the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. Sessions for the Beatles’ eighth studio album began on 24 November in Abbey Road Studio Two, with the original intention to record an album of material that was to be thematically linked to their childhoods. Among the first tracks recorded for the project were “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, but after pressure from EMI the songs were released as a double A-side single; they were not included on the album.
In February 1967, after recording “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, McCartney suggested that the Beatles should release an entire album that would represent a performance by the fictional Sgt. Pepper band. This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically. During the recording sessions, the band endeavoured to improve upon the production quality of their prior releases. Knowing they would not have to perform the tracks live, they adopted an experimental approach to composition, writing songs such as “With a Little Help from My Friends”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life”. The producer George Martin’s innovative recording of the album included the liberal application of sound shaping signal processing and the use of a 40-piece orchestra performing aleatoric crescendos. Recording was completed on 21 April 1967. The cover, depicting the band posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the English pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth based on a sketch by McCartney.
Sgt. Pepper is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the use of extended form in popular music while continuing the artistic maturation seen on the Beatles’ preceding releases. It has been described as one of the first art rock LPs, aiding the development of progressive rock, and credited with marking the beginning of the Album Era. An important work of British psychedelia, the multigenre album incorporates diverse stylistic influences, including vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music. In 2003 the Library of Congress placed Sgt. Pepper in the National Recording Registry, honouring the work as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. That same year Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number one in its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. As of 2014 it has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums in history. Professor Kevin J Dettmar, writing in the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, described it as “the most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded”.
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
2. With a Little Help from My Friends.
3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
4. Getting Better.
5. Fixing a Hole.
6. She’s Leaving Home.
7. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!.
1. Within You Without You.
2. When I’m Sixty-Four.
3. Lovely Rita.
4. Good Morning Good Morning.
5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).
6. A Day in the Life.
“We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top approach. We were not boys, we were men … and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers.”
By 1966 the Beatles had grown weary of live performance. In John Lennon’s opinion, they could “send out four waxworks … and that would satisfy the crowds. Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music anymore. They’re just bloody tribal rites.” In June, two days after finishing the album Revolver, the group set off for a tour that started in Germany. While in Hamburg they received an anonymous telegram stating: “Do not go to Tokyo. Your life is in danger”. The threat was taken seriously in light of the controversy surrounding the tour among Japan’s religious and conservative groups, with particular opposition to the Beatles’ planned performances at the sacred Nippon Budokan arena. As an added precaution, 35,000 police were mobilised and tasked with protecting the group, who were transported from hotels to concert venues in armoured vehicles. The polite and restrained Japanese audiences shocked the band, because the absence of screaming fans allowed them to hear how poor their live performances had become. By the time that they arrived in the Philippines, where they were threatened and manhandled by its citizens for not visiting the First Lady Imelda Marcos, the group had grown unhappy with their manager, Brian Epstein, for insisting on what they regarded as an exhausting and demoralising itinerary. After their return to London George Harrison replied to a question about their long-term plans: “We’ll take a couple of weeks to recuperate before we go and get beaten up by the Americans.” His comments would prove prophetic, as soon afterwards Lennon’s remarks about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” embroiled the band in controversy and protest in America’s Bible Belt. A public apology eased tensions, but a miserable US tour in August that was marked by half-filled stadia and subpar performances proved to be their last. The author Nicholas Schaffner writes:
“To the Beatles, playing such concerts had become a charade so remote from the new directions they were pursuing that not a single tune was attempted from the just-released Revolver LP, whose arrangements were for the most part impossible to reproduce with the limitations imposed by their two-guitars-bass-and-drums stage lineup.”
Upon the Beatles’ return to England, rumours began to circulate that they had decided to break up. Harrison informed Epstein that he was leaving the band, but was persuaded to stay on the assurance that there would be no more tours. The group then took a seven-week holiday, during which they focused on individual interests. Harrison travelled to India for six weeks to develop his sitar playing under the instruction of Ravi Shankar. Paul McCartney and the producer George Martin collaborated on the soundtrack for the film The Family Way. Lennon acted in the film How I Won the War and attended art showings, such as one at the Indica Gallery where he met his future wife Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr used the break to spend more time with his wife Maureen and son Zak.
Concept and inspiration: In November 1966, during a return flight to London from Kenya, where he had been on holiday with Beatles’ tour manager Mal Evans, McCartney had an idea for a song that eventually formed the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. His idea involved an Edwardian-era military band that Evans invented a name for in the style of contemporary San Francisco-based groups such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service. In February 1967 McCartney suggested that the Beatles should record an entire album that would represent a performance by the fictional band. This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically. He explained: “I thought, let’s not be ourselves. Let’s develop alter egos.” Martin remembered:
“Sergeant Pepper” itself didn’t appear until halfway through making the album. It was Paul’s song, just an ordinary rock number … but when we had finished it, Paul said, “Why don’t we make the album as though the Pepper band really existed, as though Sergeant Pepper was making the record? We’ll dub in effects and things.” I loved the idea, and from that moment on it was as though Pepper had a life of its own.”
In 1966, the American musician and bandleader Brian Wilson’s growing interest in the aesthetics of recording and his admiration for both record producer Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the Beatles’ album Rubber Soul resulted in the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds LP, which demonstrated his production expertise and his mastery of composition and arrangement. The author Thomas MacFarlane credits the release with influencing many musicians of the time, with McCartney in particular singing its praises and drawing inspiration to “expand the focus of the Beatles’ work with sounds and textures not usually associated with popular music.” He thought that his constant playing of the album made it difficult for Lennon to “escape the influence”, adding: “It’s very cleverly done … so we were inspired by it and nicked a few ideas.” Martin stated: “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened … Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”
Recording and production: According to the musicologist Walter Everett, Sgt. Pepper marks the beginning of McCartney’s ascendancy as the Beatles’ dominant creative force. He wrote more than half of the album’s material while asserting increasing control over the recording of his compositions. He would from this point on provide the artistic direction for the group’s releases. Sessions began on 24 November 1966 in Abbey Road Studio Two, the first time that the Beatles had come together since September. Afforded the luxury of a nearly limitless recording budget, they booked open-ended sessions that allowed them to work as late as they wanted. They began with three songs that they intended to issue on an album of material that would be thematically linked to their childhoods: “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Penny Lane”. The first session saw the introduction of a new keyboard instrument called the Mellotron whose keys triggered tape-recordings of a variety of instruments, enabling its user to play keyboard parts using those voices. McCartney performed the introduction to “Strawberry Fields Forever” using the flute setting. The track’s complicated production involved the innovative splicing of two takes that were recorded in different tempos and pitches. The EMI audio engineer, Geoff Emerick, remembers that during the recording of Revolver, “we had gotten used to being asked to do the impossible, and we knew that the word ‘no’ didn’t exist in the Beatles’ vocabulary.” In Martin’s opinion, Sgt. Pepper “grew naturally out of Revolver”, marking “an era of almost continuous technological experimentation”.
“Music papers started to slag us off … because [Sgt. Pepper] took five months to record, and I remember the great glee seeing in one of the papers how the Beatles have dried up … and I was sitting rubbing my hands, saying “You just wait.”
“Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were subsequently released as a double A-side in February 1967 after EMI and Epstein pressured Martin for a single. When it failed to reach number one in the UK, British press agencies speculated that the group’s run of success might have ended, with headlines such as “Beatles Fail to Reach the Top”, “First Time in Four Years” and “Has the Bubble Burst?” After its release, the childhood concept was abandoned in favour of Sgt. Pepper, and at Epstein’s insistence the single tracks were not included on the LP. Martin later described the decision to drop these two songs as “the biggest mistake of my professional life”. Nonetheless, in his judgment, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, which he and the band spent an unprecedented 55 hours of studio time recording, “set the agenda for the whole album.” He explained: “It was going to be a record … [with songs that] couldn’t be performed live: they were designed to be studio productions and that was the difference.” McCartney’s goal was to make the best Beatles album yet, declaring: “Now our performance is that record.” Emerick recalls: “Because we knew that the Beatles wouldn’t ever have to play the songs live, there were no creative boundaries.” On 6 December 1966 the group began work on “When I’m Sixty-Four”, the first track that would be included on the album.
Sgt. Pepper was recorded using four-track equipment. Although eight-track tape recorders were available in the US, the first units were not operational in commercial studios in London until late 1967. As with previous Beatles albums, the Sgt. Pepper recordings made extensive use of the technique known as reduction mixing, in which one to four tracks from one recorder are mixed and dubbed down onto a master four-track machine, enabling the Abbey Road engineers to give the group a virtual multitrack studio. EMI’s Studer J37 four-track machines were well suited to reduction mixing, as the high quality of the recordings that they produced minimised the increased noise associated with the process. Preferring to overdub his bass part last, McCartney tended to play other instruments when recording a song’s backing track. This approach afforded him the extra time required to write and record melodic basslines that complemented the song’s final arrangement. When recording the orchestra for “A Day in the Life”, Martin synchronised a four-track recorder playing the Beatles’ backing track to another one taping the orchestral overdub. The engineer Ken Townsend devised a method for accomplishing this by using a 50 Hz control signal between the two machines.
A key feature of Sgt. Pepper is Martin and Emerick’s liberal use of signal processing to shape the sound of the recording, which included the application of dynamic range compression, reverberation and signal limiting. Relatively new modular effects units were used, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker. Several innovative production techniques feature prominently on the recordings, including direct injection, pitch control and ambiophonics. Another is automatic double tracking (ADT), a system that uses tape recorders to create a simultaneous doubling of a sound. Although it had long been recognised that using multitrack tape to record doubled lead vocals produced an enhanced sound, before ADT it had been necessary to record such vocal tracks twice, a task that was both tedious and exacting. ADT was invented by Townsend during the Revolver sessions in 1966 especially for the Beatles, who disliked tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem. The process soon became a common recording practice in popular music. Martin playfully explained to Lennon that his voice had been “treated with a double vibrocated sploshing flange … It doubles your voice, John.” Lennon realised that Martin was joking, but from that point on he referred to the effect as flanging, a label that was universally adopted by the music industry. Another important effect was varispeeding. Martin cites “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as having the most variations of tape speed on Sgt. Pepper. During the recording of Lennon’s vocals, the tape speed was reduced from 50 cycles per second to 45, which produced a higher and thinner-sounding track when played back at the normal speed.
“Listening to each stage of their recording, once they’ve done the first couple of tracks, it’s often hard to see what they’re still looking for, it sounds so complete. Often the final complicated, well-layered version seems to have drowned the initial simple melody. But they know it’s not right, even if they can’t put it into words. Their dedication is impressive, gnawing away at the same song for stretches of ten hours each.”
—Hunter Davies, 1968
In an effort to get the right sound, the Beatles attempted numerous re-takes of “Getting Better”. When the decision was made to re-record the basic track, Starr was summoned to the studio, but called off soon afterwards as the focus switched from rhythm to vocal tracking. Starr, who after the completion of his basic drum parts saw his participation limited to minor percussion overdubs, later lamented: “The biggest memory I have of Sgt. Pepper … is I learned to play chess”. For the album’s title track, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, the recording of Starr’s drum kit was enhanced by the use of damping and close-miking. The musicologist Ian MacDonald credits the new recording technique with creating a “three-dimensional” sound that – along with other Beatles innovations – engineers in the US would soon adopt as standard practice. McCartney played a grand piano on “A Day in the Life” and a Lowrey organ on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, while Martin played a Hohner Pianet on “Getting Better”, a harpsichord on “Fixing a Hole” and a harmonium on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”. Harrison used a tamboura on several tracks, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Getting Better”.
The UK pressing of Sgt. Pepper was the first pop album to be mastered without rills, the momentary gaps that are typically placed between tracks as a point of demarcation. It made use of two crossfades that blended songs together, giving the impression of a continuous live performance. Although both stereo and monaural mixes of the album were prepared, the Beatles were minimally involved in what they regarded as the less important stereo mix sessions, leaving the task to Martin and Emerick. Emerick recalls: “We spent three weeks on the mono mixes and maybe three days on the stereo.” He estimates that they spent 700 hours on the LP, more than 30 times that of the first Beatles album, Please Please Me, which cost £400 to produce. The final cost of Sgt. Pepper was approximately £25,000. The album was completed on 21 April 1967 with the recording of random noises, including a dog whistle that was included on the run-out groove.
Music and lyrics: Sgt. Pepper is a multigenre work of rock and pop. It incorporates the diverse stylistic influences of rock and roll, vaudeville, big band, piano jazz, blues, chamber, circus, music hall, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music. According to the author Naphtali Wagner, its music reconciles the “diametrically opposed aesthetic ideals” of classical and psychedelia, achieving a “psycheclassical synthesis” of the two forms.
“When [Martin] was doing his TV programme on Pepper … he asked me, “Do you know what caused Pepper?” I said, “In one word, George, drugs. Pot.” And George said, “No, no. But you weren’t on it all the time.” “Yes, we were.” Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.”
Concerns that some of the lyrics in Sgt. Pepper refer to recreational drug use led to the BBC banning several songs from British radio, such as “A Day in the Life” because of the phrase “I’d love to turn you on”, with the BBC claiming that it could “encourage a permissive attitude towards drug-taking.” Although Lennon and McCartney denied any drug-related interpretation of the song at the time, McCartney later suggested that the line was deliberately written to ambiguously refer to either illicit drugs or sexual activity. The meaning of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” became the subject of speculation, as many believed that the song’s title was code for the hallucinogenic drug LSD. The BBC banned the track on those grounds. They also banned “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” because of the lyric, which mentions “Henry the Horse”, a phrase that contains two common slang terms for heroin. Fans speculated that Henry the Horse was a drug dealer and “Fixing a Hole” was a reference to heroin use. Others noted lyrics such as “I get high” from “With a Little Help from My Friends”, “take some tea” – slang for cannabis use – from “Lovely Rita” and “digging the weeds” from “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
The author Sheila Whiteley attributes Sgt. Pepper ’s underlying philosophy not only to the drug culture, but also to metaphysics and the non-violent approach of the flower power movement. The musicologist Oliver Julien views the album as an embodiment of “the social, the musical, and more generally, the cultural changes of the 1960s”. The American psychologist and counterculture figure Timothy Leary contends that the LP “gave a voice to the feeling that the old ways were over … it came along at the right time” and stressed the need for cultural change based on a peaceful agenda. Its primary value – according to the professor Alan F. Moore – is its ability to “capture, more vividly than almost anything contemporaneous, its own time and place”. Whiteley agrees, crediting the album with “provid[ing] a historical snapshot of England during the run-up to the Summer of Love”. Several scholars have applied a hermeneutic strategy to their analysis of Sgt. Pepper ’s lyrics, identifying loss of innocence and the dangers of overindulgence in fantasies or illusions as the most prominent themes.
Side one: Sgt. Pepper opens with the title track, starting with 10 seconds of the combined sounds of a pit orchestra warming up and an audience waiting for a concert, introducing the illusion of the album as a live performance. The musicologist Kenneth Womack describes the lyric as “a revolutionary moment in the creative life of the Beatles” that bridges the gap – sometimes referred to as the Fourth wall – between the audience and the artist. He argues that, paradoxically, the lyrics “exemplify the mindless rhetoric of rock concert banter” while “mock[ing] the very notion of a pop album’s capacity for engendering authentic interconnection between artist and audience”. In his view, the mixed message ironically serves to distance the group from their fans while simultaneously “gesturing toward” them as alter egos, an authorial quality that he considers to be “the song’s most salient feature.” He credits the recording’s use of a brass ensemble with distorted electric guitars as an early example of rock fusion. MacDonald agrees, describing the track as an overture rather than a song, and a “shrewd fusion of Edwardian variety orchestra” and contemporary hard rock. The musicologist Michael Hannan describes the track’s unorthodox stereo mix as “typical of the album”, with the lead vocal in the right speaker during the verses, but in the left during the chorus and middle eight. “Sgt. Pepper” was the first Beatles track that benefitted from the production technique known as direct injection, which according to Womack “afforded McCartney’s bass with richer textures and tonal clarity”. The song’s arrangement utilises a rock and roll orientated Lydian mode chord progression during the introduction and verses that is built on parallel sevenths, which Everett describes as “the song’s strength”. The five-bar bridge is filled by an Edwardian horn quartet that Martin arranged from a McCartney vocal melody. The track turns to the pentatonic scale for the chorus, where its blues rock progression is augmented by the use of electric guitar power chords played in consecutive fifths.
McCartney acts as the master of ceremonies near the end of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” track, introducing Starr as an alter ego named Billy Shears. The song then segues into “With a Little Help from My Friends” amidst a moment of crowd cheer that Martin had recorded during a Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Womack describes Starr’s baritone lead vocals as “charmingly sincere” and he credits them with imparting an element of “earnestness in sharp contrast with the ironic distance of the title track.” Lennon and McCartney’s call and response backing vocals ask Starr questions about the meaning of friendship and true love. In MacDonald’s opinion, the lyric is “at once communal and personal … touchingly rendered by Starr [and] meant as a gesture of inclusivity; everyone could join in.” Womack agrees, identifying “necessity of community” as the song’s “central ethical tenet”, a theme that he ascribes to the album as a whole. Everett notes the track’s use of a major key double-plagal cadence that would become commonplace in pop music following the release of Sgt. Pepper. He characterises the arrangement as clever, particularly its reversal of the question and answer relationship in the final verse, in which the backing singers ask leading questions and Starr provides unequivocal answers. The song ends on a vocal high note that McCartney, Harrison and Lennon encouraged Starr to achieve despite his lack of confidence as a singer.
Despite widespread suspicion that the title of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” contained a hidden reference to LSD, Lennon insisted that it was derived from a pastel drawing by his four-year-old son Julian. A hallucinatory chapter from Lewis Carroll ’s 1871 novel, Through the Looking-Glass, inspired the song’s atmosphere. McCartney confirms the existence of the drawing and Carroll’s influence on the track, noting that although the title’s apparent drug reference was unintentional, the lyrics were purposefully written for a psychedelic song. The first verse begins with what Womack characterises as “an invitation in the form of an imperative” through the line: “Picture yourself in a boat on a river”, and continues with imaginative imagery, including “tangerine trees”, “rocking horse people” and “newspaper taxis”. Martin describes the introduction’s melody, which he regards as “crucial to the staying power of the song”, as “a falling scale in the left hand, a rocking scale in the right.” In his opinion, the verse might have sounded monotonous if not for the juxtaposition “of that almost-single-note vocal against the inspired introductory notes”, which he describes as “mesmeric, compelling”. In Womack’s view, with the merging of Lennon’s lyrics and McCartney’s Lowrey organ introduction “the Beatles achieve their most vivid instance of musical timbre”. The musicologist Tim Riley identifies the track as a moment “in the album, [where] the material world is completely clouded in the mythical by both text and musical atmosphere.” According to MacDonald, “the lyric explicitly recreates the psychedelic experience”. Lennon explained: “It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are … in a rowing boat and I was visualizing that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come to save me – a ‘girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko … so maybe it should be ‘Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds’.”
MacDonald considers “Getting Better” to contain “the most ebullient performance” on Sgt. Pepper. Womack credits the track’s “driving rock sound” with distinguishing it from the album’s overtly psychedelic material; its lyrics inspire the listener “to usurp the past by living well and flourishing in the present.” He cites it as a strong example of Lennon and McCartney’s collaborative songwriting, particularly Lennon’s addition of the line: “couldn’t get much worse”, which serves as a “sarcastic rejoinder” to McCartney’s chorus: “It’s getting better all the time”. McCartney describes Lennon’s lyric as “sardonic” and “against the spirit of the song”, which he characterises as “typical John”. MacDonald characterises the beginning of the track as “blithely unorthodox”, with two staccato guitars – one panned left and one right – playing the dominant against the subdominant of an F major ninth chord, with the tonic C resolving as the verse begins. The dominant, which acts as a drone, is reinforced through the use of octaves played on a bass guitar and plucked on piano strings. McCartney’s bass line accents non-roots on the recording’s downbeat.
Womack interprets the lyric to “Fixing a Hole” as “the speaker’s search for identity among the crowd”, in particular the “quests for consciousness and connection” that differentiate individuals from society as a whole. MacDonald characterises it as a “distracted and introverted track”, during which McCartney forgoes his “usual smooth design” in favour of “something more preoccupied”. He cites Harrison’s electric guitar solo as serving the track well, capturing its mood by conveying detachment. McCartney drew inspiration for the song in part from his work restoring a Scottish farmhouse. Womack notes his adaptation of the lyric: “a hole in the roof where the rain leaks in” from Elvis Presley’s “We’re Gonna Move”. The song deals with McCartney’s desire to let his mind wander freely and to express his creativity without the burden of self-conscious insecurities.
In Everett’s view, the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” address the problem of alienation “between disagreeing peoples”, particularly those distanced from each other by the generation gap. McCartney’s “descriptive narration”, which details the plight of a “lonely girl” who escapes the control of her “selfish yet well-meaning parents”, was inspired by a piece about teenage runaways published by the Daily Mail. It is the first track on Sgt. Pepper that eschews the use of guitars and drums, featuring a string nonet with a harp and drawing comparison with “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby”, which utilise a string quartet and octet respectively. While Richard Goldstein’s 1967 review in The New York Times characterises the song as uninspiring, MacDonald identifies the track as one of the two best on the album. Moore notes that the writers judge the work from “opposing criteria”, with Goldstein opining during the dawn of the counterculture of the 1960s whereas MacDonald – writing in 1995 – is “intensely aware of [the movement’s] failings”.
Lennon adapted the lyric for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” from an 1843 poster for Pablo Fanque’s circus that he purchased at an antique shop in Kent on the day of filming the promotional film for “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Womack praises the track’s successful blending of a print source and music: “The interpretive power of the mixed-media application accrues its meaning through the musical production with which the group imbues the Ur-text of the poster.” MacDonald notes Lennon’s request for a “fairground production wherein one could smell the sawdust”, an atmosphere that Martin and Emerick attempted to create with a sound collage that comprised randomly assembled recordings of harmoniums, harmonicas and calliopes. MacDonald describes the song as “a spontaneous expression of its author’s playful hedonism”. Everett thinks that the track’s use of Edwardian imagery thematically links it with the album’s opening number.
After Martin decided that “Only a Northern Song” was not good enough for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper, Harrison wrote the Hindustani classical music-inspired “Within You Without You”. MacDonald describes the track as an “ambitious essay in cross-cultural fusion and meditative philosophy” that most commentators dismiss as boring, with critics characterising the music as lacking “harmonic interest” and the lyric as “sanctimonious … didactic and dated”. Moore defends the recording’s reliance on melody at the expense of harmony as an entirely appropriate musical attribute for the genre. He characterises the critical response as “extremely varied”, noting that Goldstein identifies the track as one of the album’s highlights and others see it as an apt summary of the material from the first side. MacDonald regards the song as a “distant departure” from the Beatles’ sound and a “remarkable achievement” that represents the “conscience” of the LP. Womack agrees, calling it “quite arguably, the album’s ethical soul”. Maximising the recording’s “capacity for expressiveness”, the track features a tempo rubato that is without precedent in the Beatles’ catalogue. The pitch is derived from the eastern Khamaj scale, which is akin to the Mixolydian mode in the West. The track ends with a burst of laughter that some listeners interpret as a mockery of the song, but Harrison explains: “Well, after all that long Indian stuff you want some light relief. It’s a release after five minutes of sad music … You were supposed to hear the audience anyway, as they listen to Sergeant Pepper’s Show. That was the style of the album.” Martin used the moment of levity as a segue for what he describes as the album’s “jokey track” – “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
MacDonald cites “When I’m Sixty-Four” as an example of the Beatles’ versatility. He characterises the song as “aimed chiefly at parents”, borrowing heavily from the English music hall style of George Formby, while invoking images of the illustrator Donald McGill’s “seaside postcards”. Its sparse arrangement includes chimes, clarinet and piano. He notes that the track receives a “cool reception” from most younger listeners and Everett singles it out as a case of McCartney’s “penchant for the audience-charming vaudeville … that Lennon detested”. McCartney wrote the tune in the late 1950s as an instrumental piece, and a version of it was occasionally performed by the Beatles during shows in Hamburg. He revisited the composition in 1966, around the time of his father’s 64th birthday. Moore characterises the song as a synthesis of ragtime and pop, noting that its position following “Within You Without You” – a blend of Indian classical music and pop – demonstrates the diversity of the album’s material. McCartney requested the clarinets and asked that they be arranged “in a classical way”, which according to Martin “got … round the lurking schmaltz factor … [and] gave added bite to the song, a formality that pushed it firmly towards satire.” MacDonald notes that the song’s inclusion amidst Sgt. Pepper ’s “multi-layered psychedelic textures … provid[es] a down-to-earth interlude”. Moore credits Martin’s clarinet arrangement and Starr’s use of brushes with establishing the music hall atmosphere, which is reinforced by McCartney’s vocal delivery and the recording’s use of chromaticism, a harmonic pattern that can be traced to Scott Joplin’s “The Ragtime Dance” and The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. Varispeeding was used on the track, raising the music’s pitch by a semitone in an attempt to make McCartney sound younger. Everett notes that the lyric’s protagonist is sometimes associated with the Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in his opinion the song is thematically unconnected to the others on the album.
Womack characterises “Lovely Rita” as a work of “full-tilt psychedelia” that contrasts sharply with the preceding track. He identifies the song as an example of McCartney’s talent for “creating imagistic musical portraiture”, but considers it to be among the album’s weakest offerings, presaging what he describes as the “less effectual compositions” that the Beatles would record post-Sgt. Pepper. In his view, “the song accomplishes little in the way of advancing the album’s journey toward a more expansive human consciousness”. Despite his reservations, he considers the track to be “irresistibly charming”. Moore agrees, describing the composition as a “throwaway” while praising what he characterises as its “strong sense of harmonic direction”. MacDonald describes the song as a “satire on authority” that is “imbued with an exuberant interest in life that lifts the spirits, dispersing self-absorption”.
“Good Morning Good Morning” was inspired by a television commercial for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, from which Lennon adapted a jingle as the song’s refrain. The track utilises the bluesy mixolydian mode in A, which Everett credits with “perfectly express[ing] Lennon’s grievance against complacency”. Lennon regarded the song as “a throwaway piece of garbage”, and McCartney viewed it as Lennon’s reaction to the frustrations of domestic life. Womack praises the song’s varied time signatures, including 5/4, 3/4 and 4/4, calling it a “masterpiece of electrical energy”. MacDonald notes Starr’s “fine performance” and McCartney’s “coruscating pseudo-Indian guitar solo”, which he credits with delivering the track’s climax. A series of animal noises are heard during the fade-out that are sequenced – at Lennon’s request – so that each successive animal is large enough to devour the preceding one. Martin spliced the sound of a chicken clucking at the end of the track to overlap with a guitar being tuned in the next one, making a seamless transition between the two songs.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” serves as a bookend for the album and a segue to its finale. The hard-rocking song was written after the Beatles’ assistant, Neil Aspinall, suggested that since “Sgt. Pepper” opened the album the fictional band should make an appearance near the end. The reprise omits the brass section from the title track and features a faster tempo. MacDonald notes the Beatles’ apparent excitement, which is tangibly translated during the recording.
As the last chord of the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise plays, an acoustic guitar strumming offbeat quavers begins, introducing what Moore describes as “one of the most harrowing songs ever written”. “A Day in the Life” consists of four verses by Lennon, a bridge, two aleatoric orchestral crescendos and an interpolated middle part written and sung by McCartney. The first crescendo serves as a segue between the third verse and the middle part, leading to a bridge known as the “dream sequence”, which features Lennon’s vocalisations. In Martin’s opinion, the “vocal wailings”, which are treated with tape echo and slowly panned from right to left and back again before suddenly ending in the left speaker, contribute to the song’s “reception as a ‘marijuana dream'”. The accompanying brass section loudly indicates the end of the sequence and the start of the fourth and final verse, after which the song enters the last crescendo before finishing with a piano chord that is allowed to fade out for nearly a minute. The idea to use an orchestra was McCartney’s; he drew inspiration from the avant-garde composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The 24-bar crescendos feature forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras and tasked with filling the space with what Womack describes as “the sound of pure apocalypse”. Martin notes Lennon’s request for “a tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world”. Lennon recalled drawing inspiration for the lyrics from a newspaper: “I was writing the song with the Daily Mail propped up in front of me at the piano … there was a paragraph about 4000 [pot]holes in Blackburn, Lancashire”. He strongly disliked the sound of his own voice and often asked for generous amounts of tape echo to be added to his vocal in an effort to bury it deep in the mix. For “A Day in the Life”, he wanted his voice to sound like Elvis Presley on “Heartbreak Hotel”. Martin and Emerick obliged by adding 90 milliseconds of echo. Womack describes Starr’s performance as “one of his most inventive drum parts on record”, a part that McCartney encouraged him to attempt despite his protests against “flashy drumming”. The thunderous piano chord that concludes the track and the album was produced by recording Lennon, Starr, McCartney and Evans simultaneously sounding an E major chord on three separate pianos; Martin then augmented the sound with a harmonium. Riley characterises the song as a “postlude to the Pepper fantasy … that sets all the other songs in perspective”, while shattering the illusion of “Pepperland” by introducing the “parallel universe of everyday life”. MacDonald describes the track as “a song not of disillusionment with life itself, but of disenchantment with the limits of mundane perception”. According to him, it “remains among the most penetrating and innovative artistic reflections of its era”, representing the Beatles’ “finest single achievement”.
As “A Day in the Life” ends, a 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone is heard; it was added at Lennon’s suggestion with the intention that it would annoy dogs. This is followed by the sounds of backwards laughter and random gibberish that was pressed into the record’s concentric run-out groove, which loops back into itself endlessly on any record player not equipped with an automatic needle return. Lennon can be heard saying: “been so high”, followed by McCartney’s response: “never could be any other way”.
Cover artwork: Sgt. Pepper ’s Grammy Award-winning album cover was designed by the pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth from an ink drawing by McCartney. It was art-directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper. The front of the LP included a colourful collage featuring the Beatles in costume as the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, standing with a group of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of famous people. The heavy moustaches worn by the group reflected the growing influence of hippie style trends, while their clothing “spoofed the vogue in Britain for military fashions”, writes the Beatles biographer Jonathan Gould. The centre of the cover depicts the Beatles standing behind a drum skin, on which the fairground artist Joe Ephgrave painted the words of the album’s title. In front of the drum skin is an arrangement of flowers that spell out “Beatles”. The group were dressed in satin day-glo-coloured military-style uniforms that were manufactured by the theatrical costumer M. Berman Ltd. in London. The album’s lyrics were printed in full on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a rock LP.
The 30 March 1967 photo session with Cooper also produced the back cover and the inside gatefold, which the musicologist Ian Inglis describes as conveying “an obvious and immediate warmth … which distances it from the sterility and artifice typical of such images.” McCartney explained: “One of the things we were very much into in those days was eye messages … So with Michael Cooper’s inside photo, we all said, ‘Now look into this camera and really say I love you! Really try and feel love; really give love through this! It’ll come out; it’ll show; it’s an attitude.’ And that’s what that is, if you look at it you’ll see the big effort from the eyes.” The album’s inner sleeve featured artwork by the Dutch design team the Fool that eschewed for the first time the standard white paper in favour of an abstract pattern of waves of maroon, red, pink and white. Included with the album as a bonus gift was a sheet of cardboard cut-outs designed by Blake and Haworth, a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper based on a statue from Lennon’s house that was used on the front cover, a fake moustache, two sets of sergeant stripes, two lapel badges and a stand-up cut-out of the Beatles in their satin uniforms. Moore believes that the inclusion of these items helped fans “pretend to be in the band”.
The collage includes 57 photographs and 9 waxworks that depict a diversity of famous people, including actors, sportsmen, scientists and – at Harrison’s request – the Self-Realization Fellowship gurus Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda. Inglis views the tableau “as a guidebook to the cultural topography of the decade”, demonstrating the increasing democratization of society whereby “traditional barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture were being eroded.” The final grouping included singers such as Bob Dylan and Bobby Breen; the film stars Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe; the artist Aubrey Beardsley; the boxer Sonny Liston and the footballer Albert Stubbins. Also included were the comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and the writers H. G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Dylan Thomas. Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon, but ultimately rejected. When McCartney was asked why the Beatles did not include Elvis Presley, he replied: “Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention … so we didn’t put him on the list because he was more than merely a … pop singer, he was Elvis the King.” The final cost for the cover art was nearly £3,000, an extravagant sum for a time when album covers would typically cost around £50.
Release: After finishing Sgt. Pepper, but prior to the album’s commercial release, the Beatles brought an acetate disc of the album to the American singer Cass Elliot’s flat off King’s Road in Chelsea, where at six in the morning they played it at full volume with speakers set in open window frames. The group’s press agent, Derek Taylor, remembered that residents of the neighbourhood opened their windows and listened without complaint to what they understood to be unreleased Beatles music. On 1 June 1967 Sgt. Pepper became the first Beatles album to be issued simultaneously worldwide. The band’s eighth LP, it debuted in the UK at number one – where it stayed for 22 consecutive weeks – selling 250,000 copies during the first seven days. On 4 June the Jimi Hendrix Experience opened a show at the Saville Theatre in London with their rendition of the title track. Epstein owned the Saville at the time, and Harrison and McCartney attended the performance. McCartney described the moment: “The curtains flew back and [Hendrix] came walking forward playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career.” Rolling Stone magazine’s Langdon Winner recalls:
“The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released. In every city in Europe and America the radio stations played [it] … and everyone listened … it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. For a brief while the irreparable fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young.”
Sgt. Pepper was widely perceived by listeners as the soundtrack to the “Summer of Love”. In Riley’s opinion, the album “drew people together through the common experience of pop on a larger scale than ever before.” American radio stations interrupted their regular scheduling, playing the album virtually non-stop – often from start to finish. It occupied the number one position of the Billboard Top LPs in the US for 15 weeks, from 1 July to 13 October 1967. With 2.5 million copies sold within three months of its release, Sgt. Pepper ’s initial commercial success exceeded that of all previous Beatles albums. None of its songs were issued as singles at the time.
Reception: The vast majority of contemporary reviews were positive, with Sgt. Pepper receiving a widespread critical acclaim that matched its immediate commercial success. The critic Kenneth Tynan described it as “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation”. Richard Poirier wrote: “listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century.” Time magazine declared it “a historic departure in the progress of music – any music”. Newsweek ’s Jack Kroll called it a “masterpiece”, comparing the lyrics with literary works by Edith Sitwell, Harold Pinter and T. S. Eliot, particularly “A Day in the Life”, which he compared to Eliot’s The Waste Land. The New York Times Book Review characterised Sgt. Pepper as a harbinger of a “golden Renaissance of Song” and the New Statesman ’s Wilfrid Mellers praised its elevation of pop music to the level of fine art.
One of the best-known American critics at the time, Richard Goldstein, wrote a scathing contemporary review in The New York Times that described Sgt. Pepper as “spoiled” and “reek[ing]” of “special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent”. According to the music journalist Robert Christgau, the Times was subsequently “deluged with letters, many abusive and every last one in disagreement”, a backlash that he credits as “the largest response to a music review” in the newspaper’s history. Goldstein published a defence of his review in which he explained that, although the album was not on-par with the best of the Beatles’ previous work, he considered it “better than 80 per cent of the music around”, but felt that underneath the production when “the compositions are stripped to their musical and lyrical essentials” the LP is shown to be “an elaboration without improvement” on the group’s music. In Christgau’s 1967 column for Esquire magazine, he described Sgt. Pepper as “a consolidation, more intricate than Revolver but not more substantial”, suggesting that Goldstein had fallen “victim to overanticipation”, identifying his primary error as “allow[ing] all the filters and reverbs and orchestral effects and overdubs to deafen him to the stuff underneath, which was pretty nice”.
At the 10th Annual Grammy Awards in 1968, Sgt. Pepper won in the categories of Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts, Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical and Best Contemporary Album. It also won Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this honour.
“The Beatles themselves never pretended they were creating art with Sgt. Pepper, or scrabbling after some musical integrity. They just wanted to do something different.”
—George Martin, from his book Summer of Love: The making of Sgt. Pepper, 1994
While gathering material for his 1979 anthology, Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island, the editor Greil Marcus polled the 20 rock critic contributors regarding their choice for the best rock album of all time, and while Rubber Soul was mentioned, Sgt. Pepper was not. He asserts that by 1968 the album appeared vacuous against the emotional backdrop of the political and social upheavals of American life, describing it as “a triumph of effects”, but “a Day-Glo tombstone for its time”. He characterises the LP as “playful but contrived” and “less a summing up of its era than a concession to it”. Marcus believes that the album “strangled on its own conceits” while being “vindicated by world-wide acclaim”.
In 1981 Christgau stated that although few critics agreed with Goldstein at the time of his negative contemporary review, many later came to appreciate his sentiments. In the opinion of Lester Bangs – the so-called “godfather” of punk rock journalism, also writing in 1981 – “Goldstein was right in his much-vilified review … predicting that this record had the power to almost singlehandedly destroy rock and roll.” He notes: “In the sixties rock and roll began to think of itself as an ‘art form’. Rock and roll is not an ‘art form’; rock and roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts.” The musicologist John Kimsey cites the preservation of authenticity as a guiding tenet of rock music and suggests that many purists denounce Sgt. Pepper in that respect, accusing the album of “mark[ing] a fall from primal grace into pretense, production and self-consciousness.” In his opinion, detractors regard the LP as less a breakthrough and more a “break with all that’s good, true and rocking”. According to Christgau: “Although Sgt. Pepper is thought of as the most influential of all rock masterpieces, it is really only the most famous. In retrospect it seems peculiarly apollonian – precise, controlled, even stiff – and it is clearly peripheral to the rock mainstream”. In Moore’s estimation, “because its cultural impact was so large, it was simply being asked to do too much.”
Concept: According to Womack, with Sgt. Pepper ’s first song “the Beatles manufacture an artificial textual space in which to stage their art.” The reprise of the title song appears on side two, just prior to the climactic “A Day in the Life”, creating a framing device. In Starr’s opinion, only the first two songs and the reprise are conceptually connected. Lennon agreed and in 1980 he commented: “Sgt. Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn’t go anywhere … it works because we said it worked.” He was especially adamant that his contributions to the LP had nothing to do with the Sgt. Pepper concept. Further, he suggested that most of the other songs were equally unconnected, stating: “Except for Sgt. Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise, every other song could have been on any other album”. Martin became worried upon the album’s completion that its lack of musical unity might draw criticism and accusations of pretentiousness.
MacFarlane notes that – despite these concerns – Sgt. Pepper “is widely regarded as the first true concept album in popular music”. In his view, the Beatles “chose to employ an overarching thematic concept in an apparent effort to unify individual tracks.” Everett contends that the album’s “musical unity results … from motivic relationships between key areas, particularly involving C, E, and G.” Moore argues that the recording’s “use of common harmonic patterns and falling melodies” contributes to its overall cohesiveness, which he describes as narrative unity, but not necessarily conceptual unity. MacFarlane agrees, suggesting that with the exception of the reprise the album lacks the melodic and harmonic continuity that is consistent with cyclic form. In a May 1967 review published by The Times, the music critic William Mann made a similar observation, indicating a thematic connection between the title track, its reprise and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, while suggesting that – aside from those songs – the album’s “unity is slightly specious”. In 1972 the musicologist Richard Middleton suggested that the album was “undercoded”, in that listeners could grasp only a general understanding of the material that, in his opinion, was not particularly meaningful. Nonetheless, the author Martina Elicker asserts that Sgt. Pepper ’s release familiarised critics and fans alike with the notion of a “concept and unified structure underlying a pop album”, thus originating the term concept album.
Legacy: Musicologists regard Sgt. Pepper as a continuation of the artistic maturation seen on the Beatles’ two preceding albums, Revolver and Rubber Soul. Moore credits it with aiding the development of progressive rock through its self-conscious lyrics, its studio experimentation, and its efforts to expand the barriers of conventional three-minute tracks. The author Carys Wyn Jones describes it as one of the first art rock albums, and Julien considers it a “masterpiece of British psychedelia”. Rolling Stone ’s Andy Greene credits it with marking the beginning of the Album Era. For several years following Sgt. Pepper ’s release, straightforward rock and roll was supplanted by a growing interest in extended form, and for the first time in the history of the music industry sales of albums outpaced sales of singles. Julien credits Sgt. Pepper with contributing towards the evolution of long-playing albums from a “distribution format” to a “creation format”. In Moore’s view, the album assisted “the cultural legitimization of popular music” while providing an important musical representation of its generation. It is regarded by journalists as having influenced the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. During the 1970s, glam rock acts co-opted Sgt. Pepper ’s use of alter ego personas and in 1977 the LP won Best British Album at the first Brit Awards.
“In Sgt. Pepper ’s intricate aural tapestry is the sound of four men rebelling against musical convention and, in doing so, opening wide the door for the sonic experimentation that launched hard rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge and every other form of popular music that followed.”
—Christopher Scapelliti, writing in Guitar World, June 2007
With certified sales of 5.1 million copies, Sgt. Pepper is the third-best-selling album in UK chart history. Sgt. Pepper is one of the most commercially successful albums in the US, where the RIAA certifies sales of 11 million copies. It has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the highest-selling albums of all time. In a 1987 review for Q magazine, the music journalist and author Charles Shaar Murray asserted that the album “remains a central pillar of the mythology and iconography of the late ’60s”. That same year Rolling Stone ’s Anthony DeCurtis described it as an “enormous achievement” that “revolutionized rock and roll”. In 1994 Sgt. Pepper was ranked first in Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums. He described it as “the album that revolutionized, changed and re-invented the boundaries of modern popular music.” In 2003 it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, honouring the work as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 2003 Rolling Stone placed it at number one in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, describing it as “the pinnacle of the Beatles’ eight years as recording artists”. In the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Larkin wrote: “[it] turned out to be no mere pop album but a cultural icon, embracing the constituent elements of the 60s’ youth culture: pop art, garish fashion, drugs, instant mysticism and freedom from parental control.”] In 2006 it was chosen by Time as one of the 100 best albums of all time. That same year the music scholar David Scott Kastan described Sgt. Pepper as “the most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded”.
Recording and cover:
“Equal credit [for Sgt. Pepper] is now justifiably placed with George Martin … He shaped glorious songs, fantazmagorical lyrics with melody and harmony and pushed recording technique into unknown waters.”
—Colin Larkin, writing in the Guinness Book of Top 1000 Albums, 1994
In MacFarlane’s opinion, Sgt. Pepper ’s most important musical innovation is its “integration of recording technology into the compositional process”. He credits Edgard Varèse’s Poème électronique as the piece of music that made this advance feasible, by “expand[ing] the definition of sound recording from archival documentation to the reification of the musical canvass”; he identifies “A Day in the Life” as the Sgt. Pepper track that best exemplifies this approach. Although early analogue synthesisers were available – Robert Moog was working on the second generation of the first commercially available keyboard around the same time as the Sgt. Pepper recording sessions – none were used during the album’s recording, which relied solely on electric and acoustic instruments and field recordings that were available at Abbey Road Studios. The musician and producer Alan Parsons believes that with Sgt. Pepper “people then started thinking that you could spend a year making an album and they began to consider an album as a sound composition and not just a musical composition. The idea was gradually forming of a record being a performance in its own right and not just a reproduction of a live performance.”
According to Julien, Sgt. Pepper represents the “epitome of the transformation of the recording studio into a compositional tool”, marking the moment when “popular music entered the era of phonographic composition.” Its lasting commercial success and critical impact are largely due to Martin and his engineers’ creative use of studio equipment while originating new processes. Artistic experimentation, such as the placement of random gibberish in the run-out groove, is one of the album’s defining features. In the opinion of the Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, Sgt. Pepper represents the group’s last unified effort, displaying a cohesion that would begin deteriorating immediately following the album’s completion and that had entirely disappeared by the release of The Beatles in 1968. Emerick notes the minimal involvement of Harrison and Starr, viewing Sgt. Pepper as a work of Lennon and McCartney that was less a group effort than any of their previous releases.
Inglis notes that almost every account of the significance of Sgt. Pepper emphasizes the cover’s “unprecedented correspondence between music and art, time and space”. After its release, album sleeves were no longer “a superfluous thing to be discarded during the act of listening, but an integral component of the listening that expanded the musical experience.” The cover helped to elevate album art as a respected topic for critical analysis whereby the “structures and cultures of popular music” could henceforth justify intellectual discourse in a way that – before Sgt. Pepper – would have seemed like “fanciful conceit”. He writes: Sgt. Pepper ’s “cover has been regarded as groundbreaking in its visual and aesthetic properties, congratulated for its innovative and imaginative design, credited with providing an early impetus for the expansion of the graphic design industry into popular music, and perceived as largely responsible for the connections between art and pop to be made explicit.” Riley describes it as “one of the best-known works that pop art ever produced”. In the late 1990s the BBC included it in its list of British masterpieces of twentieth-century art and design. In 2008 the iconic bass drum skin used on the front cover sold at auction for €670,000.