It was a day in the life of a hopeful generation
EmptyThis weekend is the 40th anniversary of the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
After being obviously the "greatest album ever made" for years, it ran into a bit of revisionist history these past, oh, 30 years or so.
It probably began with one of the Beatles putting it down or shrugging it off or making the mistake of suggesting that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
All the great ones sooner or later put down their own work: Mick Jagger does it, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend (every hour or so) -- and it's always a mistake. They might be trying to be honest, but all it does is give license to the mindless vultures looking for permission to attack the otherwise invulnerable.
Anyway, somebody somewhere down the line pointed out that Paul McCartney's idea of making a "concept" record -- the Beatles writing and performing as a fictitious group and having the album tour instead of them -- lasted only through the second song, and when the album was pulled apart and studied, it wasn't their greatest collection of songs and blah, blah, blah.
So, with the only disclaimer that the appallingly awful stereo mastering is, tragically, the only available version right now, let me revise revisionist history and suggest that "Sgt. Pepper" was, and is, an incredible piece of work and absolutely the best representation of the Summer of Love and the very psychedelic 1967.
It was universally mind-blowing at the time. The Beatles, producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick did everything possible and more with the technology available at the time, and then the band pushed Emerick to invent things that weren't available!
And though it wasn't as linear a concept as the Who's "Tommy" would be two years later, it felt like we were being taken on a trip, a transcendent experience, not just listening to a group of songs.
Interestingly, in direct contrast to the album's ultramodern sound, its lyrics and sensibility were wistful, nostalgic -- very much looking back when the world was looking forward (and made more obvious if you include "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane," both meant to be on the album). It's full of depressed, dysfunctional, cynical, confused and, yes, lonely characters going through the motions of life, implicitly asking, "Is this all there is?" when the band's audience was never more full of hope, discovering love and becoming philosophically enlightened.
The world was unified in its praise of and inspiration from the album as it has never been for anything before or since.
Find the mono version, and don't download one song at a time, listen to it all the way through.
I promise you will be transported to a place you've never been. A place that gives you unexpected energy, encourages you to dream and, somehow, makes you feel a little bit better about life.
Steven Van Zandt is a musician and actor who writes a weekly column for Billboard.