I’m running this with my own commentary at the end as I think this is one of those rare times when Lefsetz totally missed the mark … for the complete point / counterpoint analysis, read on …
That's right, it was 1967. Almost nobody was buying albums! It was still a singles world, dominated by AM radio. Within the year, underground FM radio would start in San Francisco, but FM didn't penetrate the heartland for nearly five years, maybe more. The point being, "Sgt. Pepper" was a REVOLUTION!
It was not on the radio, because there were no singles. As for the two prior LPs, "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver," their UK iterations had hits, the material was darker, more expansive than what had come before, but it wasn't all of a piece … it didn't all hang together. "Sgt. Pepper" came from outer space … it was unexpected.
And word did not spread immediately. What I hate is the rewrites of history. Like the Beatles were successful because they were a respite from JFK. NO! The Beatles would have been successful at any time, because they were just that damn good. Furthermore, the youth were bursting at the seams, to break the walls of control of their parents. To say it had to do with JFK is like intimating that Michael Jordan was so damn good because Bill Clinton became President … huh?
As for the remix ... It's great that gems come out of the vaults … not that anybody listens to those double-CD Beatles packages from decades back, only collectors and uber-fans, but when you mess with the essence ... Hell, they still can't agree whether Roger Maris broke the home run record, since he played in 162 games instead of Babe Ruth's 154, and then the steroid-enhanced brutes topped that and no one even talks about home run records anymore.
So "Sgt. Pepper" comes out and a small fraction of Beatle fans buy it. And back then sales were anemic compared to the MTV / CD era … people had less money, they depended upon the radio. So when you bought the LP, you were a party of one. It's like watching "Game Of Thrones" … if it weren't on HBO and you'd never seen an episode previously and there was no internet, you'd tell the people you came in contact with, but getting someone to buy an LP unheard is nearly impossible, and when you play something for somebody they usually don't get it, you've got to marinate in it yourself, bask in the tunes, let them unfold.
Now, of course, there was the cover. And sure, there were a bunch of personages on it, but that wasn't the story, that was the ERA! Of pop art, of minimalist art, of black lights and psychedelia. Art was the fashion of the era, and it wasn't about sales / money. It was about testing limits and the Beatles were part of it and wanted to push the envelope. So sure, you looked at who was depicted, but you were even more impressed by the fact that the Beatles were playing a role.
So what exactly was this? The Beatles or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?
"I used to get mad at my school
The teachers that taught me weren't cool
They're holding me down
Turning me 'round
Filling me up with your rules"
HUH? Only scant years before the Beach Boys were singing we should be true to our school, we got no truth in popular culture, and suddenly the Beatles were singing what we felt inside, calling a spade to spade, with optimism underneath.
The album was EVERYWHERE … no matter where you went … EVERY party … every school get-together … at the beach … at the park … at summer camp … at the house of every friend you’d visit that summer … make a one-time summer visit to your cousins’ house and it’d be on there, too … it was listened to over and over and over again … and dissected in every form. There was virtually no escape ... you were going to be exposed to it no matter where you went ... so you had no choice but to listen. It was SO new … and SO different … and SO innovative that it took repeated listenings to even begin to digest it.
And despite what Bob may tell you, it WAS played on the radio … absolutely … and repeatedly. Some Top 40 Stations, because there was no single, simply listed the entire album at #1 on their weekly Top 40 survey charts … and we’ve seen these charts to back this up.
The title track (segued into “With A Little Help From My Friends”) and the reprise closer (segued into “A Day In The Life” have been on the radio non-stop for the past fifty years … beginning with the weeks BEFORE “Sgt. Pepper” was even released to the public! And then once the LP was actually available, airplay increased on these and several other album tracks. It was nothing short of revolutionary. (Beatles LP tracks had been aired before … heck, Capitol used to milk the cow dry by releasing single after single after single to a Beatles-starved nation that scooped them up one by one.) Thankfully they didn’t do that with “Sgt. Pepper” … “Sgt. Pepper needed to be listened to as a “whole” … really the first album ever to demand this type of respect.
He’s right about “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and the LSD reference … we all had to be told about that one at the time because most of us had absolutely no clue what LSD was … but the truth of the matter is that Lennon DIDN’T try to hide some deep, subliminal message here … it really WAS about a painting his son Julian brought home from school. The fact that those ‘in the know’ critics and spiritual leaders determined that this was John’s way of letting the world know that The Beatles were experimenting with drugs, simply because of the LSD reference in the title (Lucy – Sky – Diamonds … yeah right … sure, why not???) was just a happy coincidence that has grown in stature and legend ever since … no matter how many times John told us it simply wasn’t the case. (Most of us have even seen the original drawing!!!) But coupled with the “I’d love to turn you on” lyric in “A Day In The Life”, a track that British radio refused to play yet received constant airplay here in The States, it must be true!!! The Beatles were doing drugs … and therefore this album MUST have been designed to encourage all of us to do drugs, too … because with The Beatles it was ALWAYS about following the leader! (That's why The Beatles sang "Smoke Pot, Smoke Pot, Everybody Smoke Pot" during the fade-out of "I Am The Walrus", right? Except John said what they were ACTUALLY saying was "Got One, Got One, Everybody's Got One". You guys can decide the "fact or fiction" on this one!!!)
Keep in mind that Paul recently told the press that he had experimented with LSD … and then put the burden of releasing such information squarely on their own shoulders … “I’m telling you in confidence, answering the question you asked me” he basically said … “if you tell the rest of the world, that’s on you … but then don’t go around saying that The Beatles say it’s ok to do drugs … and that I've written better songs because of it.”
Other tracks like “Getting Better”, “Fixing A Hole” and especially “When I’m 64” also got AM radio airplay in an era where, as Lefsetz states, FM Radio hadn’t quite caught on yet. (I will never forget the first time I ever heard an FM Radio Station … it was several years later … probably around 1971 or 1972 … when, appropriately, the VERY first track I ever heard was The Beatles’ “Across The Universe”.)
How relevant was “Pepper”? What kind of an immediate impact did it have? Jimi Hendrix was playing the title track in concert three days after the album had been released. A few months later, Johnny Rivers was singing about it in his hit release “Summer Rain” as a “matter of fact”, looking back on the so-called Summer Of Love … because there wasn’t a person on the planet who didn’t know what “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was.
Not an immediate hit??? It took a while for the word to spread??? "A small faction of Beatles fans bought it"??? What the hell is he talking about???
When Bob Lefsetz talks about “rewriting history” he’d do best check his own facts first … because his article attempts to do exactly that ... by downplaying the importance and immediate reaction to this piece ... and it’s just plain wrong!
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” set the world on its ear … both commercially and critically … to that extent he is correct when stating that every artist ever since has tried to make an “album’s worth statement.” It was revolutionary in every sense of the word … and it was EXACTLY the type of statement the band was trying to make after retiring from the road some nine months earlier.
The cover artwork was unheard of … from the photo montage on the front to the lyrics being printed on the back. And who else but The Beatles could pull off such a reverse, revolutionary look when releasing The White Album a year later … stark white with no cover art at all! (And although this album ALSO never had a single release, radio played its tracks to death, too, despite what Mr. Lefsetz may try to sell you.) “Back In The USSR”, “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Blackbird”, “Rocky Raccoon”, “Birthday’, “Yer Blues”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, and “Revolution 1” were on the radio incessantly during at least a five month period surrounding the album’s release.
Was “Sgt. Pepper” The Beatles’ best album? In hindsight, most would agree probably not. Many site “Revolver”, “Rubber Soul” or “Abbey Road” as being far stronger collected pieces of work. But it was “Pepper” that paved the way for the music industry to change … and it has never been the same since.
And why is he so focused on referring to it only as "the remix"?
As for the bonus tracks, I love ‘em … and yeah, they’re more for the die-hards than anyone else … I’ll agree that they’re not for everybody … but The Beatles’ vaults have been so rarely opened commercially over the years (in fact, they swore that the never would be) that releases like the three Anthology double CD’s were a welcome addition to my Beatles library (especially in light of the far inferior bootleg versions I had been listening to for the past 35 years!) I say bring it on … give me a 10-CD version of The White Album with each Beatle working on their own individual projects before they brought it all together as a band.
If you still don’t believe me regarding the immediate fan response to The Beatles' landmark album, then check out noted Beatles historian Bruce Spizer’s new book examining “Sgt. Pepper” from a fan’s perspective, as they recollect what the album meant to them upon its first release … and you’ll see that the whole world DID embrace this album from Day One.
The Beatles impacted EVERY faction of pop culture, whether it be music, fashion, art … they led the way … but as creative and ingenious as they were, they were also influenced by what was going on around them. (No “Pet Sounds” = No “Revolver” or “Sgt. Pepper” … without the artistry of Bob Dylan, they would never had made the leap from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to "Rubber Soul" ... etc.) The absorbed it ... they digested it ... they refined it ... and then they took it all to the next level as only they could.
Speaking of new releases, Rhino Records keeps the 1967 celebration alive with these two new vinyl offerings:
(out July 18th) celebrates the group’s band's lesser known psychedelic side:
– Harper’s Bizarre
– The Everly Brothers
Vinyl editions of Arlo Guthrie's in mono, the Electric Prunes’ debut on purple vinyl, Van Morrison's and Vanilla Fudge's debut LP on white vinyl will also see releases that day.
#106 on the May 29th chart wouldn't be the same lady as on Welcome Back Kotter, would it?
It sure is … Marcia Strassman charted at #95 on the Cash Box Chart in June of 1967, several years before landing the role of Mrs. Kotter on the hit ABC Television Series. (Incredibly, her record “The Flower Children” spent nine weeks on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Chart but never made their Top 100 list, peaking at #105.)
It was a regional hit in several markets, however, and ties in perfectly with The Summer Of Love that was now upon us. (kk)
More on Harvey Kubernik's new 1967 book …
Here's a radio appearance from last week ...
The first half hour is music and radio station air checks from 1967 that provide a national view of 1967 AM and FM radio world and then 90 minute interview and discussion of 1967 book.
More great press for Harvey’s new book …
Almost no other pop culture phenomenon has been as filled with as many contradictions as the Summer of Love, cq which took place in 1967 but was felt across the continent and as far away as England.
>>>The day before (May 27, 1967), The Association's latest release "Windy" made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (FH)
Invariably, we have seen that it's the chart date shown on any given listing that has become the common benchmark - witness the big discussion a few years back as to when The Beatles had The Top Five Records In America ... I don't think we're ever going to get around it so I've just decided to let it go ... as long as it falls within the same seven day period, I figure it’s the right week, whether it’s week beginning or week ending … I’ve found it not worth the hassle to clarify any further. (Quite honestly, the "week ending" date never made any sense to me anyway. In my opinion the only thing that ever mattered is the "week of" because that it what “real time” is based on.) This is complicated even further because their books only reference the Billboard Pop Singles Chart (Hot 100) while our entire 1967 Series is based around our Top 100 Super Charts, causing subtle differences from time to time in chart information. And then (as if that wasn't enough confusion) Forgotten Hits has always based its chart information on each record's best showing in all three of the major trade publications, Billboard, Cash Box and Record World!!! (See, that's why we want The Super Charts to become the historically accepted musical bible as it takes ALL of this information into consideration when tabulating the end result ... it’s the ACCUMULATIVE “best of the best”. But honestly I feel these, too, should really reflect "the week of" to avoid all of this senseless confusion!) kk
I agree that "Week of" chart dates would be less confusing; the only reason I employed "Week ending" dates on the Super Charts was to align with the dates on the component charts. It would have been even MORE confusing to use a date system on the Super Charts that differed from the underlying chart data.