Tuesday, May 30, 2017

1967 Bonus #27

Forgotten Hits Reader Danny Guillfoyle sent us this recent posting by noted rock journalist Bob Lefsetz regarding the 50thAnniversary of “Sgt. Pepper”. 

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 …

It's sacrilegious.
Couldn't they leave well enough alone? Do the Beatles need any more money? Isn't Capitol / Universal flush enough? 

How dare they mess with our memories.
Assuming you were there the first time around, when "Sgt. Pepper" engrossed us and changed our perceptions of what was and what could be.

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.   

That's what happens when you can't agree on the rules, when you mess with the rules, which is what's so great about music … it's laid down and that's it. The creator dies but their records live on. Come on, listen to some Buddy Holly … he's still alive on wax, he's an inspiration.

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. 

Only a few years before, there were no gatefold albums, there was only a picture on the cover and an inner sleeve promoting other acts on the label. The Beatles had taken over the complete package, they were standing apart … that was what was so confounding and influential, it's like they resigned from the game to create a new game. 

And for all those who prefer "Abbey Road" or the White Album, you have to know, they were nowhere near the artistic breakthrough … they were song collections.   

"Sgt. Pepper" changed the course of history … suddenly everybody else wanted to make an album-length statement … hell, everybody wants to make an album-length statement to this day, BECAUSE OF SGT. PEPPER!

So what exactly was this? The Beatles or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?
And the opener, the title cut, rocked in a way the band usually did not. This was long before heavy metal, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and eventually Black Sabbath and Metallica. This was uncharacteristic, but in the pocket. This was Paul exhorting like he used to when he imitated Little Richard.  "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" hearkened both forward and backward, and you never ever heard it on the radio, never.
As for "With A Little Help From My Friends" ... Ringo needed friends? It was the insecurity that resonated. How he just needed someone to love.
And then "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" ... No one even knew what LSD was … this was before every young American read Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." All we knew was this was a dreamy song sung by the most emotive Beatle, who always seemed to believe what he was singing, and it made you want to drop out and join the circus. Never forget, the Beatles caused kids to question all their precepts, to jump the tracks … no Beatles, no San Francisco and Summer of Love.

"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. 

There's the sixties right there, the younger generation thought about the possibilities.  It wasn't millennials saying they're mired in debt and they've got no future, the world was our oyster!
As for "Fixing A Hole" ... How many times did you have to listen, to contemplate the lyrics?  This wasn't a straightforward ditty … this was a vision from beyond, a place where you wanted to go, where you questioned EVERYTHING!
And leaving home ... We were misunderstood, people were voyaging from the homestead in droves. Your parents weren't your best friends, they didn't get you, you wanted to cast off the reins.
"Mr. Kite" was part of the concept, ethereal and otherworldly, the words and changes resonated.
As for "Within You Without You," if you got it immediately, you're lying. But if it was on a Beatles album, it deserved our trust, we had to listen, we had to unpack it, we had to get it. And sure, some boomers were old, in their early twenties, but most were just teens, this Eastern philosophy was new to them, they knew the Beatles had gone to India, they wanted to know what it was all about.
But they never thought they'd be 64 … they just listened and bopped their head.
But you fell in love with Lovely Rita, were woken up by the rooster in "Good Morning Good Morning" and after the reprise, which was brief but even more energetic than the original opening anthem, you were forced to contemplate at length how many holes it took to fill the Albert Hall.
No one listened to "Sgt. Pepper" and immediately pronounced it a classic … it was just too different. But because funds were limited, you flipped the record over and played it again and again until it revealed itself. AND IT DID! There were no clunkers … you developed favorites, you learned the lyrics, and you started to break away from the paradigm … you were no longer a slave to the radio, you'd been set free.
Hell, it wasn't until the White Album that the paradigm permeated the public at large, when everybody bought the double LP not caring whether there was airplay or not, but they'd been primed by "Sgt. Pepper" and the cascade of imitators. And everybody seems to forget that the White Album cover was, white that is, as a rebellion against overspending on artwork, the music had to speak for itself. 

That's right, the Beatles were innovators, testing limits, not doing market research afraid of pissing off potential customers. They didn't come to you, YOU CAME TO THEM!
But now they're coming to us. With this inane remix.
It's just not the same. 

It's not like "Sgt. Pepper" wasn't released in stereo to begin with. And it was the wash of sound that knocked you down and overwhelmed you. It wasn't about the individual voices or instruments, but the entire passion play you were exposed to.
Fifty years ago.
I kinda get anniversaries, not that the Beatles, or "Sgt. Pepper," have been forgotten.
But in this era of streaming the focus on the original would have been good enough. A few minutes with the remix and you're offended and tune out. As for the extras, you can't even listen through, they're curios. But when you put on the original LP, you're brought back to what once was.
When music was the hottest art form in the world.
Practiced by men secure in their abilities and vision.
Who decided to push the envelope, creating the modern music business in their wake.
That's how it was, don't let them rewrite history.
-- Bob Lefsetz

My guess is that Lefsetz was too young to experience “Sgt. Pepper” the first time around in all its glory … or simply wasn’t paying close enough attention at the time … because he is wrong on SO many counts here. 

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.”   

Also keep in mind that some of these “in the know” gurus who were interpreting The Beatles’ lyrics for their own purposes often got it wrong … “Helter Skelter” anyone???   

Remember, too, the backlash the band faced when John’s “more popular than Jesus” remark was circulated here a mere ten months earlier … The Beatles said farewell to the road forever and hibernated in the studio to work on their craft … and the results were the “Penny Lane” / “Strawberry Fields Forever” single (two tracks original intended for their next album but released as a Double A-Single single instead to hold the demanding public at bay) and the “Sgt. Pepper” album, in all its glory.  (Would this ever have been possible had they stayed on the road performing versions of “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Twist And Shout” that they … and no one else … could even hear???) 

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??? 

It sold enough copies that first week to premier at #8 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart, an unheard of feat at the time … and then leapt to #1 in its second week … and then STAYED there for 15 straight weeks … how on EARTH would that track record leave ANYONE the impression that only The Beatles’ most die-hard fans were buying it???

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"?  

You get the complete album in both mono and stereo ... along with the two cuts that launched their new album sessions but were released as a two-sided hit single instead to buy the band some more time in the studio to finish up what everyone connected with it knew was something special and revolutionary.

Plus several earlier takes and fragments recorded along the way that help to illustrate how the key cuts were built, assembled and rearranged in order to reach the sounds they heard in their heads ... an inside look into the GENIUS of "Pepper".

Is he objecting to some cleaned up sound?  

I say go for it … sound and technology have certainly improved during the fifty years since its original release … besides, you’ve still got the original LP to put on if that’s your choosing.  (For me, the mono mix has ALWAYS been far superior to the stereo version anyway!  I don’t believe The Beatles even attended any of the stereo mixing sessions for this album … they, too, were only concerned about how it sounded in mono, the way most of the world was listening at the time.)

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.   

Did they know quite what to make of it?  Not on first listen, no.  (Heck, most people couldn’t accept The Beatles with mustaches at the time … and this just three years after we finally came to accept them as the lovable moptops!!!)

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.

Spout off all you want about the era … but know what you’re talking about.  “Sgt. Pepper” was a factor from Day One … and has been an influence and has had an impact on every day since for the past fifty years.  (kk)


Speaking of new releases, Rhino Records keeps the 1967 celebration alive with these two new vinyl offerings: 

The Monkees: Summer of Love (out July 18th) celebrates the group’s band's lesser known psychedelic side:

Side One: 

Pleasant Valley Sunday


Porpoise Song (Single Version)


Star Collector

Birth Of An Accidental Hipster

Side Two

Take A Giant Step

Love Is Only Sleeping

Randy Scouse Git

Tapioca Tundra

Saturday’s Child

For Pete’s Sake  

And Getting Together: Groovy Sounds From the Summer of Love (also out on the 18th) makes for a nice hits compilation that takes a look back at this very special summer (featuring the title track supplied by Tommy James and the Shondells!):

Side One

Groovin’ – The Young Rascals

Windy – The Association

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Harper’s Bizarre

Bowling Green – The Everly Brothers

The Windows Of The World – Dionne Warwick

Next Plane To London – The Rose Garden

Carrie-Anne – The Hollies

It’s A Happening World – The Tokens

Side Two

Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees (yep, they’re on this one, too!)

Sit Down, I Think I Love You – The Mojo Men

Transparent Day – The West Coast Pop Experimental Band

C’mon Marianne – The 4 Seasons featuring the “sound” of Frankie Valli

Hip Hug-Her – Booker T. & The M.G.’s

Gettin’ Together – Tommy James & The Shondells

I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) – The Electric Prunes

You Keep Me Hanging On – Vanilla Fudge 

Vinyl editions of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant in mono, the Electric Prunes’ debut on purple vinyl, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks 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? 
Keith Brodkorb 
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.
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.

1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love


>>>The day before (May 27, 1967), The Association's latest release "Windy" made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  (FH)

Once again, I feel it necessary to point out that the issue dates (and chart dates) in Billboard, Cash Box and Record World at this time were not publication dates, but week-ending dates. The May 27 Hot 100 was published on May 20, eight days before the group's appearance on the Smothers Brothers. While the difference in this case is not particularly significant, I often read misleading statements relating events with chart dates that don't represent when those charts were actually published (much less compiled).
– Randy

This particular entry that you’re referring to comes from the book "Where Have All The Pop Stars Gone, Volume One" ... meaning that this entire segment was written by Jeff March and Marti Smiley Childs and used as a means of promoting their book through our daily calendar.  (Thus the link to their website as sort of a “read more about it here” type of thing)
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.

– Randy