When I first started listening to music exhaustively in the early 90s, it was widely agreed that Sgt. Pepper’s was the best Beatles album. It wasn’t even questionable. Then, as Britpop came along and prompted a revival of the Beatles and sixties music in general, Revolver quite rightly started to overtake its successor. Nowadays, every music magazine you pick up, or best album polls will proudly place Revolver at the top, with the same single-mindedness that was reserved for Sgt. Pepper’s a couple of decades ago. If this continues, perhaps in 100 years we’ll be seeing Please Please Me as the pinnacle of pop music achievement.
That’s not to say that Sgt. Pepper’s is a bad album, it’s just nowhere near the best of their work. Even the outtakes from these sessions – available on Anthology 2 – show that the band was essentially directionless at this point, and they were given all the time in the world to come up with a new album. Taking lyrics from a newspaper, or a fairground poster is not a stroke of genius, it’s a stroke of laziness. They may have conquered pop music, but I think this album suggests that perhaps they were not the best people to decide where music would turn next.
Also, for a lot of non-musos, this album may be the only Beatles album in their collection. This was true of a friend of mine I went to school and college with. So as far as he was aware, this is what all Beatles albums sounded like – a collection of mid-tempo songs with vaguely abstract lyrics and no real thematic cohesion. He’s probably a Coldplay fan these days…
Hit: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Hidden Gem: Lovely Rita