Fifty years ago, when the world didn't need special days to celebrate the beauty of music, four young men from Liverpool, England, made history. It was the summer of free love, running its hide tide in the 60s, as they released their eighth studio album. It was an immediate commercial success, turning the already much-beloved boys into demigods in the eyes of their adoring fans the world over.
Half a century later, listening to their songs for the first time still probably remains, at least for some boys and girls across the world, as momentous an experience as encountering their first crush.
That quickening of the pulse and tremulous excitement we associate with feelings of nascent love is what I had when I first heard The Beatles at age ten.
That quickening of the pulse and tremulous excitement we associate with feelings of nascent love is what I had when I first heard The Beatles at age ten. It took me another couple of years to get to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Since then it's travelled with me everywhere. In rickety audio cassettes, scratched audio CDs, in a rusty MP3 player, and now in an iPod on its last leg, Sgt Pepper's has been by my side for over two decades now. Seldom have I had a more constant companion, though, most enduringly, it's stayed in a special corner of my head all this time.
I have lost count of the number of times my heart must have hummed 'When I'm Sixty-Four' through those adolescent years when it was embarrassingly innocent, easily set aflutter, like a whimsical butterfly, by a warm smile or admiring look. It sang even for those who never particularly cared or cast a glance my way.
Having listened to the album for more than 25 years now, I have, hopefully, a more evolved response to it, though I still catch myself singing 'Fixing a Hole' on a leaky monsoon day.
Having listened to the album for more than 25 years now, I have, hopefully, a more evolved response to it, though I still catch myself singing 'Fixing a Hole' on a leaky monsoon day. Or thinking about the girl who ran away in 'She's Leaving Home'. (Only recently did I learn that the song was inspired by a real-life incident — reported by the Daily Mail on 27 February 1967 and given its most memorable incarnation by Paul McCartney and John Lennon.) Then there's the story of a drawing by Lennon's three-year-old son that led to the trippy rhythms of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'.
One fantastical tale or another, apocryphal and anecdotal, spread as a PR stunt, perpetuated in fan lore, handed down generations of Beatle-maniacs is attached to each of the songs in Sgt Pepper's. Yet, none of it matters when you get to the real thing — that eccentric mix of groovy, exotic, electronic and jazzy lines that float in and out of the album.
In terms of sales, Sgt Pepper's has broken many records over the years, and remains wildly popular to this day.
In terms of sales, Sgt Pepper's has broken many records over the years, and remains wildly popular to this day. A special 50th anniversary edition, comprising a host of merchandise and memorabilia, marched back to the number 1 spot in the UK charts when it was released a few weeks back. But, to my mind, it's impact has been far deeper on the history of music than just being a blockbuster hit. Sgt Pepper's has remained singular for all the multitude of emotions it has evoked in the years that have followed it, among listeners as well as makers of music.
Since the songs in Sgt Pepper's flow in and fade out without a pause, it's hard not to listen to the album for its entire 40-odd minutes once you press start. From the jaunty opening chords to the jolly spirit of 'With a Little Help from My Friends' to the (now, to my ears, corny) strains of sitar and tabla in 'With or Without You' to the reprise of the opening theme at the end, Sgt Pepper's takes you on an emotional rollercoaster.
There's sugar and spice of later-day pop, audacious experiments and enough sprinkling of signature rock 'n roll in it. But above all else, there's the legacy of a classic that inheritors and imitators of The Beatles are reckoning with even after five decades.
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