#5: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band
I had been looking forward to this album’s placement for a while now. In terms of pomp and celebration this is certainly The Beatles’ finest hour. It single-handedly shook not only the entire transatlantic dichotomy of Beatles releases on vinyl henceforth, but it was the only album of theirs to be preserved in its original sequence when The Beatles released their material on cassette tape. How could such a momentous occasion not be #1, you may ask if you were born before 1960 or one of the false prophets working behind the pages of Rollingstone magazine, dedicated to giving all U2 and Bruce Springsteen albums five stars in perpetuity even though they’re awful and trashing Weezer’s finest hour, Pinkerton? (They even gave The Rolling Stones album, A Bigger Bang, 4 and a half stars even though it has been better in the ultimate sense than all the so-called 5-star material released by both Springsteen and U2 since then, most of which has been mediocre at best.)
Sgt. Pepper is the point at which rock and roll grew up without the kids despite its origins in being specifically created and tailored for the kids in the first place. The worst track on the album, “When I’m Sixty-Four” is an old codger anthem that John Lennon found to be charming enough to record a very old codger lead guitar for. The most pretentious track on the album is “She’s Leaving Home”, which is perhaps the greatest example of being unimportant while having airs of importance this side of The Who’s Tommy. (“You went full retard, The Who!”)
So, why does this overblown rock and roll dance still get #5 on this list? Well, first and most importantly “When I’m Sixty-Four” is not that bad of a song. The Beatles’ nadir was actually a tune in a similar vein on their Abbey Road album called “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, which is not only hateable but downright lamentable. “When I’m Sixty-Four”, in contrast to the Abbey Road stinker (which will put the album much further down the list), is actually a quite sweet number dedicated to the problems that arise with aging. It’s “granny music” at its purest, as John Lennon would dismiss it, but its charm is true and genuine (Paul’s father was sixty-four at the time of this recording) even though it can be denied.
Sgt. Pepper’s highest success is actually at the very end of the album in a song entitled “A Day In The Life”, which is The Beatles’ greatest song ever recorded. It has to be their “finest hour” to quote Churchill because it is the Albert Hall to the rest of the album’s working to middle class tenements. This masterpiece not only serves as the apex of all of The Beatles’ experimentations throughout the recording of this album but the very best of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting prowess. No doubt it has more length to it than your average “In My Life” but it’s one of the few tracks out there that fully justifies its length in every second of its existence all the way to the final great piano E chord and even the snippets of recorded gobbledegook featured thereafter.
Sgt. Pepper has to be a great album, though, because it is a work of incredible ambition and for a great part it succeeds. The Beatles were no longer The Beatles when this album dropped but it wasn’t hard to spot the original fabs not only on the cover but behind the mustachio’ed color-regalia’ed rockers who smiled at you when you opened the gatefold. The insert that came with the album was no less celebrated. Indeed, some will cry foul at placement this far down for such an album, but these “bonus features” as it were are just that. They’re not part of the program featured inside and the songs really aren’t as good as a whole as those featured on Revolver, which cuts the frills (and even the color). Sgt. Pepper stands as lieutenant to Revolver’s supremacy historically speaking and it’s time Americans born pre-1960 and Rollingstone especially get over the fact that The Beatles plooked us with their Stateside bastardizations.