Welcome to this week’s BROW (now available as a podcast). It’s pretty common knowledge that by the late summer of 1966, touring had become such a strain on The Beatles and they simply were not interested in doing it anymore – at least not in the near future. For examples of why, check out here, or here. Their careers had been non-stop up to this point, and they all needed a break for a few months. In November, John Lennon occupied himself with the filming of How I Won The War, in Almeria Spain and Paul McCartney went on a Kenyan safari.
It was during Paul’s flight back from Africa to London, when he formed the idea of “the act you’ve known for all these years.” Soon afterward, the idea came together of how this famous sergeant’s band would actually become an alter-ego of The Beatles themselves. The Anthology documentary reveals how long-time Beatles assistant Neil Aspinal came up with the idea of this Sgt. Pepper figure coming on at the beginning of the album and introducing the band and then toward the end of the album have him return to announce their final number and say goodbye. This is just as The Beatles themselves had done in their previous stage acts where Paul would tell the audience they had one more song, thank them for coming, do the final number and split. In the case of the album, the title song could open the album and introduce the band and the farewell before the last song is, of course, the purpose of the Sgt. Pepper reprise before the “A Day In The Life” finale. The idea here was to send the album on tour instead of the band itself. Of course, the applause and audience sound effects used were also there to add to the fantasy of this live show. The Beatles further reasoned that since Elvis Presley had just sent his gold-plated Cadillac on tour, instead of himself, for people to actually pay to see, then certainly they could send Sgt. Pepper and his band on tour, on their behalf.
On February 1, 1967, The Beatles recorded the initial takes of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” opening. It took 9 takes to perfect a backing track and the following day Paul added some bass overdubs and lead vocals while John and George Harrison added their harmonies. A mono mix of this finalized take 9 was cut onto an acetate for producer George Martin to use in scoring the section for the French horns. A slightly degraded copy of this acetate is what is featured for this week’s BROW. The audience/atmosphere sound effects and other overdubs are yet to be added, and the connected entrance of Ringo Starr’s character Billy Shears doing “With A Little Help From My Friends” was still being thought out. The ending here has the band vamping on a C major chord long enough for the recording to be faded. With the addition of these further improvements, the final mix took it’s place in the sequence of their other groundbreaking music that would soon be introduced.
It’s interesting to note that just before the release of the Sgt. Pepper album, the media was hinting at how The Beatles had “dried up.” There were articles pointing out that they had not only stopped touring, but their last single was held out of the #1 spot in the UK by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me,” and it had been nearly a year since they had put out an album. Almost a whole year…imagine that! History was then made in the first few days of June 1967, when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band magically put the world in a state of amazement, by coming to your town and all the others, and from there, completely redefining where rock music stood, and where it could go, and in the process, creating a whole new level on which to enjoy it in a fresh new way. And the world followed…..
Happy 43rd, SPLHCB!!!The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
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