“Yours sincerely, wasting away.”
Abstinence. It’s good for the soul, they say. I once abstained from alcohol for 113 days about 10 years ago. It was for a bet – I wish I’d abstained from gambling instead. I’m pretty sure I once abstained from sex for just as long, though that wasn’t necessarily out of choice.
Listening to a Beatles album today is like returning to a vice after years of abstinence, and Sgt Pepper is the dirtiest, most gratifying of the lot.
“It was 20 years ago…”, actually it will be 50 years ago in June the album was released, so in honour of that and all the reissues, remasters, remixes and re-reviews of this masterpiece, here’s my blog about it.
The best of all time?
I won’t dwell on the frequent claims that it’s the best album of all time. I find that view difficult to concur with as I just don’t believe such a thing exists. I would argue, however, that no album, has opened with 3 such mind-bendingly majestic tracks. The sequence of the title track, followed by ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ then ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’, if you haven’t heard them for a while, is the auditory equivalent of a twenty-something single lad ending a 9-month drought with Angelina Jolie. You want to fist-pump the world it’s that good, and the wait is forgotten
And like Angelina, the album is stunning and spectacular in many ways, but not perfect. But then who or what is? A guilty part of you wishes they’d just left it as the classic pop album instead of interpolating harpsichord melodies and sitar nuances, but then music would be stuck where it was before this revolutionary art was made and we’d all be worse off.
It’s been said George Harrison never played an unnecessary note or chord in his life and here is no exception. One of the joys of blogging on albums like this is it encourages you to listen to every note on every track; the subtle sparsity of the guitar for example on ‘Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds‘ or ‘Getting Better‘ are just what’s needed, no less, no more.
The vocals and sheer musicality throughout remind you just how damn good these guys were, at everything. McCartney on ‘Sgt Pepper…’ epitomises what the modern rock singer should aim for.
The dancing melody of ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite‘ perfectly teases you through the psychedelic story that you become immersed in. ‘She’s Leaving Home‘ is the weak link in the album but if you listen to Kasabian, whom I love, and their string-backed tracks immediately after listening to this you’ll still see how unavoidable the Fab Four’s influence continues to be.
‘Within You Without You‘ is an excess too far and drags like an erection after an orgasm – still pleasurable but you get the sense the Beatles are enjoying it more than you are.
With the help of some irresistible clarinet ‘When I’m Sixty Four‘ beautifully paints a picture of the scene being described. The lyrics, the melody and the sentiment, even today, bring a lump to my throat. The near-perfect finale of ‘A Day in The Life’ is probably the thing that leaves people thinking this is the best album of all time made by undoubtedly one of the greatest producers of all time.
What I learnt from my limited, but sorely memorable, encounters with abstinence is that the best thing about it is its ending – that’s where soul really lies. So go ahead and abstain, from anything, but be sure you have an end in sight. And when that happens, have someone, or something special there to enjoy it with you. And there’s nothing more special than ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.‘
The Pregnant Widow
The overtly sexual references in this blog may partially be due to that fact I’m reading Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow at the moment. He’s one of my favourite authors and I would put Money, London Fields and Dead Babies all in my top 20 favourite books. I picked up The Pregnant Widow out of laziness more than anything as I didn’t know what to read next so reverted to MA without too much thought. It’s witty and biting, has an achingly-desirable female character named Scheherazade and a protagonist called Keith, so if you love Amis you won’t be disappointed.