09: Was Sgt. Pepper The Beatles’ Creative Peak?

September 2, 2014

Podcast, Podcasting

In this special edition, Robert and Richard discuss the merits of the Pepper album, as well as whether John Lennon’s pulling back from the others represented a tragedy of artistic promise gone unfulfilled or simply John being John.
Beatle historian Mark Lewisohn (All Those Years: Tune In) then joins them for a lively discussion taped onstage in the ballroom at The Fest for Beatles Fans.

Songs heard in this episode include: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Reprise,” “A Day In The Life” (with the “humming” ending), “Hey Bulldog” and Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues.”

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    8 Responses to “09: Was Sgt. Pepper The Beatles’ Creative Peak?”

    1. Annie Says:

      What?! The time that The Beatles went to India wasn’t fully covered?? Check out Paul Saltzmann’s “The Beatles in India”!


    2. Niels Says:

      Hi guys

      Really like your show.
      About 3 part harmonies in “Abbey Road”. You are right about “Because” and “Sun King” having great 3 part harmonies. But I also think that there are excellent 3 part backing vocals on “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Bathroom Window”. Sound like they were done around one microphone to me.

      Keep up the good work!


    3. fresso Says:

      No, it was A Hard Days Night.


    4. Mark astaire Says:

      Your show on Pepper misses the cultural importance of it as an album. It was an event that defined the artistic ambitions of the generation and in truth nothing was quite the same ever again. It said to many people that nothing was too ambitious and nothing as impossible. Yes song for song Revolver may win out but it’s its impact on what came after was nothing compared with Pepper.

      You are susper critical of She’s leaving home. It is a beautifully crafted, supremely well sung song that addresses the pain of losing your children to maturity. It is better than a good song it is great art.


      • Us Says:

        The discussion was of what was the Beatles’ creative peak – not what was their most sociological impactful album. THAT point is well taken, as we said. What we were speaking to was, at what point in their career were the FOUR Beatles most unified, and most adept at channeling their inspiration as they entered uncharted territory. Pepper, as contrasted with Revolver, shows a breakdown in the esprit d’corps as a band, and reeks of calculation and self-consciousness. It DEMANDS you don’t ignore it, and shows on many levels how reactive it was to the time in which it was made. Revolver possesses none of those negative traits, and the fact that it has taken the world years to come around and recognize it as the achievement that it is only supports the point.

        To each his own RE “She’s Leaving Home.” Again, I find the arrangement the most stifling thing about it; again, it comes off as precious and demanding rather than letting the inherent strengths of the actual composition shine through.


    5. Mike Says:

      Hi Guys, I have just discovered your wonderful podcasts and am enjoying working my way through the archives.

      I’m hoping you can shed some light on something: In “How Do You Sleep?”, I never understood what John meant when in the first line he sang “So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise, you better see right through that mother’s eyes”. I’m assuming he’s directing this at Paul (like the rest of the song), but any idea of what he means by it exactly?



      • Us Says:

        Hi Mike,

        Thanks much for the kind words about the show!

        RE HDYS, those first two lines are a real puzzler – that is, if one is expecting consistency from John Lennon (“that was our first mistake…”). If one takes them to be addressed to *listeners*, then they kind of possess a certain logic: “So the greatness that was Sgt Pepper caught YOU (and the rest of the world) off guard? Well, I’m here to tell you to take another listen.” In other words, John the iconoclast is here to tear down the most lauded work of their entire career. Fair enough.

        But then, the entire rest of the song is clearly addressed to Paul – line by line, insult by insult. Might he have switched who he’s addressing, two lines in? He might have; that kind of freewheeling narrative isn’t unknown.

        By trying to make sense of those two lines as addressed to Paul is a challenge. Why would Paul of all people be taken by surprise by Pepper? He was its main architect. Was he taken surprise by its reception, and all the accolades? Again, doesn’t seem likely – Paul seemed VERY aware that the world would be wowed by it.

        So, maybe it’s just inartful writing. Your guess is every bit as good as mine!


    6. bob brown Says:

      Hi Guys
      I so love the podcast and working my way through them! I think there is a couple of factors that possibly led to Sgt Pepper being lauded as as the breakthrough album over Revolver… First it was the first album released after the much talked about ending of their touring career!Also their appearance had radically changed which all suggested a more serious approach to their music and offered a thought that they had grown up musically and personally!Another important aspect is the leap in production! All of a sudden with time on their hands they and George Martin could experiment and record each track without thought of how to reproduce it live or any impending tour dates!Im sure we are all familiar with how Strawberry Fields was recorded and edited together which if you put it in perspective of the technology available was groundbreaking and still being recorded on 4 track recording equipment except funny enough shes leaving home I think? which was recorded away from Abbey Road studios on a 8 track consul! The fascinating thing about all their albums is how each new one was a step forward from the previous one!


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