Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The #8 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era--"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles

One by one, the numbers go down and the quality goes up.  You're seeing this list for the first time; I have looked at again and again, analyzed it and researched the albums within.  My goal of course was to accurately portray the American public's ranking of these albums at this point in time.   As I saluted or "trumpeted" each album as it came up, I gathered as much information as I could in favor of the album.  As the days progressed, I reflected on the order and it really does make sense.  The further you get away from #1, the more there is going to be a certain "margin of error" but by and large, the albums have gotten better with each passing day.

We kicked off the Top 10 with the powerhouse Back in Black by AC/DC, moved into Pink Floyd's epic study of the mind on Dark Side of the Moon, and are now ready for #8. 

The next album belongs to the Beatles--it's the album that is generally recognized as the best in their career, their masterpiece.  With innovative production techniques and the use of orchestra members to achieve the sound that the group envisioned, Sgt. Pepper's is truly a landmark album.  Producer George Martin and the group utilized their technique of "bouncing down", in which several tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, then mixed and dubbed down onto one or multiple tracks of the master four-track recorder.   

One new production technique was automatic double tracking, where tape recorders would be used to create a simultaneous doubling of the sound.  Until this time, vocals would have to recorded twice, so John Lennon asked EMI engineer Ken Townsend to come up with a technical solution.  This Townsend did, inventing the ADT machine that became a universal recording practice in the years to follow. 

Another innovative technique of the Beatles was using variable speeds, or varispeeding, in which different tracks would be recorded at different tape speeds.  This speeding up of vocals became another widely-used technique in the years and decades to follow.  The Beatles used the effect on backing tracks such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" to produce a "thicker" and more diffused sound.  The loud sustained chord that concludes "A Day in the Life" was achieved by assembling three grand pianos in the studio with Lennon, Starr, McCartney and assistant Mal Evans hammering the notes in the chord and then holding the chord.  That sound was then mixed with compression and increasing gain on the volume to sustain the sound.   

The album cover is Peter Blake's depiction of the band in front of a collage of their favorite stars.  The original theme for this album was that of childhood and everyday life.  If you take the Beatles' tour in Liverpool (and I highly recommend it), you will be taken to places such as Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane (where the barber shaves another customer).  Those songs were originally going to be on this album but were included on Magical Mystery Tour instead.

I want to impress upon you the monumental achievement that this album was.  In the entire history of the album charts, no album had ever debuted in the Top 10.  Meet the Beatles was the closest thing to it, when it debuted at #92, rose to #3 and then to #1.  Nowadays, debuts in the Top 10 are common which speaks volumes about the lack of competition and good, solid quality albums.  Sgt. Pepper's debuted at #8 on June 24, 1967 and shot up to #1 in only its second week.  The album spent 15 weeks there; in the U.K., it was #1 for 27 weeks, a fact that will no doubt elevate the album to a higher position when Inside the Rock Era reveals The Top 100 Albums in the World*.  That list will follow shortly after the completion of this one.

Remarkably, Sgt. Pepper's again reached #3 in the U.K. when the album was converted to CD and #6 when it was promoted as part of the 25-year anniversary of the album.  Sgt. Peppers rose to #47 in 2007, the 40th anniversary of the release.

Once the album was toppled from #1, it did not fall off a cliff, another thing you want to look at when evaluating albums and comparing them against one another.  Sgt. Pepper's logged six weeks at #2 and four weeks at #3.  In other words, the album spent nearly half a year (25 weeks) in the Top Three, and it was a fixture in the Top 10 for 33 weeks, an astounding figure in that day--competition is something you want to look very closely at.  If you see a current Top 10 in which you have six albums over 55 weeks, you know right there that there is little competition and those albums remain in the Top 10 because there is nothing good enough to replace them.  In this case, however, the 33 weeks in the Top 10 was far more than anything at the time.  Sgt. Pepper's remained a best-seller on the album chart for 175 weeks (nearly 3 1/2 years). 

This Beatles album has sold over 11 million in the United States.  Worldwide, Sgt. Pepper's sales have now gone over 32 million.  We don't know how many of those are multiple sales to the same person updating their music collection from albums to cassettes to CD's and so on.  That is why the sales figures, while important, are not the be-all, end-all of a list of the top albums of all-time.  What is remarkable, is that the Beatles accomplished this without the release of any singles.  To hear the songs, you had to buy this album.

Track Rating*, which comes very close to approximately the quality and consistency of the tracks on each album.  Sgt. Pepper's graded out at 9.15, a very solid number.  The title song is played leading into "With a Little Help From My Friends".  "Getting Better" is another excellent track although the entire first side can be tracked through.  "When I'm 64" and "Lovely Rita" are other excellent tracks and "A Day in the Life" is one of the top unreleased songs of the Rock Era.

As if all this wasn't enough, Sgt. Pepper's was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, winning four.  At the time, this was unheard of for a rock and roll band.  Sgt. Pepper's won Album of the Year, Contemporary Album, Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical, and Best Album Cover for Graphic Arts.  The Beatles were also nominated for Group Vocal Performance, Contemporary Vocal Group and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists for "A Day in the Life".

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band:
(All songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney unless otherwise noted.)

Side one
1.  "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" --2:02
2.  "With a Little Help from My Friends" --2:44
3.  "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" --3:28
4.  "Getting Better" (McCartney) --2:48
5.  "Fixing a Hole" (McCartney) --2:36
6.  "She's Leaving Home" --3:35
7.  "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" --2:37

Side two
1.  "Within You Without You" (Harrison) --5:04
2.  "When I'm Sixty-Four" --2:37
3.  "Lovely Rita" --2:42
4.  "Good Morning, Good Morning" --2:41
5.  "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" --1:19
6.  "A Day in the Life" --5:39

The Beatles were and will always be:

John Lennon on lead, harmony and backing vocals, lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, piano, handclaps, harmonica, tape loops, sound effects, kazoo, tambourine and maracas

Paul McCartney on lead, harmony and backing vocals, lead, acoustic and bass guitars, piano, Hammond organ, handclaps, vocalisations, tape loops, sound effects, kazoo

George Harrison on lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars, lead, harmony and backing vocals, tambura, harmonica, kazoo, handclaps and maracas

Ringo Starr on drums, percussion, congas, tambourine,maracas, handclaps, tubular bells, lead vocal on "With a Little Help from My Friends", harmonica, kazoo and final piano chord

George Martin also helped with tape loops and sound effects, harpsichord, harmonium, Lowry organ and glockenspiel, Hammond organ, piano and the final harmonium chord.  Neil Aspinall played tambura and harmonica on the album, Geoff Emerick contributed tape loops and sound effects and Mal Evans was in charge of counting, the alarm clock and helping with the final piano E chord. 

Neill Sanders, James W. Buck, John Burden and Tony Randall played the four French horns on the title track, the string section and harp on "She's Leaving Home" was arranged by Mike Leander and conducted by Martin, the harmonium, tabla, sitar, dilruba, eight violins and four cellos on "Within You, Without You" was arranged and conducted by Harrison and Martin, the clarinet trio on "When I'm Sixty Four" was arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney, the sextet of saxophones on "Good Morning Good Morning" was arranged and conducted by Martin and Lennon and the forty-piece orchestra featured on "A Day in the Life" was arranged by Martin, Lennon and McCartney and conducted by Martin and McCartney.

Robert Fraser, a prominent London art dealer, convinced McCartney to use an album cover that would stand the test of time and suggested Peter Blake, who, in partnership with his wife, created the famous cover.  The drum in the cover was painted by Joe Ephgrave.  Fraser provided the art direction and Michael Cooper was the photographer.  Manual Cuevas designed the suits of the Beatles figures on the cover.

George Martin was the producer and mixer of the album.  Geoff Emerick was the recording and mixing engineer.  Sgt. Pepper's was recorded between December 6, 1966 and April 21, 1967 at EMI and Regent Sound studios in London.  The album was released June 1, 1967 on Parlophone Records.

And the Beatles bring us one album closer to the top with the #8 album of the Rock Era*--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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