It was 45 years ago today... The Beatles' Sgt Pepper inches toward the half century mark
Martin wasn't the only one unhappy with the direction of the Beatles. George Harrison had stated that year that he "didn't enjoy being a Beatle any more. All that sort of Beatle thing is trivial and unimportant." Harrison's embracement of Transcendental Meditation made him look upon all the work of his band as silly, a sentiment that can be found in his first contribution to the record with "It's Only A Northern Song," a clear mocking of McCartney's Northern theme. "It doesn't really matter what chords I play, or words I say... cause it's only a northern song," he sings, Harrison's lyrics almost exactly mimicking an argument he'd have with McCartney two years later, captured in the documentary Let It Be.
Needless to say, McCartney didn't care for the song and it would not be included on the album -- only to be released years later on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Ringo was also feeling somewhat left out, often stating in interviews that he became very good at chess during the recording of the album. "Paul's opinions and ideas tended to prevail with The Beatles," remembers Tony Barrow, "particularly on matters of musical policy, such as whether a new number was worth recording . . . I didn't see any of the others resist him."
It can be assumed that the band's frustrations with their de facto leader were squelched by the acknowledgment that he was delivering some of the best material of they'd heard from him. The album's title track, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," introduced the fictional, psychedelic brass band with a vaudevillian theatricality, perfectly setting the tone for an album that was to be experienced as a whole, as opposed to a collection of songs as the medium has previously been viewed.
This effect is expertly executed on the following track, "With A Little Help From My Friends," so well that it's nearly impossible to separate them (so much so that whenever radio or film -- such as in Yellow Submarine -- played the opening track, they inevitably had to include its successor immediately after).
McCartney's career-peak songs, like "Fixing a Hole," "She's Leaving Home," "When I'm 64" and "Lovely Rita" were undoubtedly arresting and expertly produced and structured, though they really had nothing to do with the theme of Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts band. Perhaps it was the consistent use of cocaine in the studio, or the anarchic bursts of creativity coming from all directions, but the "concept" of this concept album is fairly non-existent, especially when considering that it nearly defines the genre itself.
Same with Lennon's contributions "Good Morning, Good Morning," "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," all seem to stand alone, independent of each other and the theme of the record. The last two Lennon was mostly unhappy with, often claiming that he busted them out quickly simply because it was time to write a song (how many songwriters would kill to have such casual talent?) but the latter was a truly inspired ode to the surrealist aesthetic Lennon had embraced since childhood.