Okay, so it's a bit hard to start on a challenge to expand my musical horizons with an album that I've heard many, many times. To get a fresher perspective, I did some background reading on how the album was conceptualized.
Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club band was The Beatles' eighth album, and was ultimately the band's declaration that they were done being the world-touring, matching suit-wearing group of guys that has composed each of their prior records. They had originally aimed for a release that focused on songs themed around childhood and everyday life -- Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever were released as singles ahead of time with this theme in mind. The plan was scrapped in favor of a suggestion that they establish an alternate identity -- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- where each Beatle could adopt a separate personality and produce songs without worrying whether or not they "sounded like Beatles songs".
This plan was also scrapped, but remnants of both concepts remain on the album. "When I'm Sixty-Four" follows the original everyday life theme, and we hear the alternate band theme emerge in the personage of "Billy Shears", Ringo Starr's character and the leader of the fictitious band.
This is a solid album, but definitely not my favorite of The Beatles' many offerings. (I'm partial to Abbey Road, which appears a little farther down the list.) Between giving it a closer listen, and doing some research, it is my opinion that this album attained the number one position for it's influence on the rest of popular music rather than its individual merits. Being a child of the era of overabundant technology, I can't really hear this album the way it sounded in comparison to other contemporary releases, but I can appreciate the influence of the innovation.
When one of the Beatles had an idea, they just went for it. I may not love George Harrison's sitar-heavy "Within You Without You", but I can appreciate its importance in helping to bring western attention to Indian culture. Ringo Starr said of the album, "The greatest thing about the band was that whoever had the best idea — it didn't matter who — that was the one we'd use. No one was standing on their ego, saying, 'Well, it's mine,' and getting possessive." The whole album is just thoroughly enjoyable creative exuberance.
"A Day in the Life", to me, is the standout track here. I love the way John Lennon and Paul McCartney's verses, while different, still compliment each other nicely while weaving in and out of the orchestral parts. From the slow opening strumming of a solo guitar to the closeout cacophony of a single thundering chord, this is my favorite song of the album.
The more I hear "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", the more it grows on me. There are so many different sounds working together in the background... it's very richly layered, and gives you the impression of wandering along a large fairground while hearing snatches of different music as you wander amongst the tents and exhibits. I also love the fact that John Lennon pulled most of the lyrics directly off of an old circus promo poster.
I love the completeness the album gets from starting with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", and having a reprise as the penultimate track. Even though they didn't stick with either of the original themes proposed for the album, it's a neat way of tying everything together.
Phew! That was a bit more verbose than I intended, but hopefully not unreadable? (:
Next up on the music list: Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.