Today is a really important day in music history "“ for the world at large and for me personally. It's the 42nd anniversary of the day the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. It's important for me because this is the album that introduced me to the Beatles and I'm still madly in love with them to this day. I wasn't around for the original release, but I have very fond memories of hanging out in my friend Angie's basement in the '90s listening to the LPs on her dad's old console record player. In celebration of Sgt. Pepper, I thought we'd have a little trivia about the album and the music.
1. The famous cover collage is known as "People We Like." Each Beatle, except Ringo (who apparently didn't really care) submitted a list of people they wanted to appear on the cover. John Lennon asked for Jesus and Hitler but was refused. Mae West almost didn't allow her image to be used, asking, "What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?" But when the Beatles personally wrote her a letter asking for permission, she relented.
2. You probably recognize most of the people on the cover, if you look closely enough. But one of them you won't recognize unless you're a Beatles buff is the first man in the third row of people to the far left. That's Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bassist, who died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962 (he had already quit the Beatles when he died). In case there are others you can't quite put your finger on, check out this interactive map of the cover. Just mouse over a person to see who they are.
3. There's a tale going around that the album was originally supposed to be called Dr. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles quickly found out that Dr Pepper was an American soda company and switched the prefix to "Sgt." instead. But I can't find any interview that actually corroborates that fact, but it's entertaining nonetheless "“ especially when you consider that John Lennon later came to adore Dr Pepper and had it shipped to him so he could get his fix when he wasn't in the States. The story I've heard is that Paul McCartney was sitting with Mal Evans, one of the Beatles' roadies, on a plane, and Mal asked what the "S" and the "P" on the little pots at their dinner plates stood for. Paul told him they were Salt and Pepper and the idea sort of grew from there. That's the story from The Beatles Anthology, so I'm willing to bet that there's more truth to that than the Dr Pepper story.
4. This was the album that started all of those pesky "Paul is Dead" rumors. Among the "clues" on this album alone "“ the fact that Paul is standing with his back to the camera in one of the pictures when everyone else is facing it; the "Billy Shears" reference at the end of the "Sgt. Pepper" song (supposedly Paul was replaced by a look-alike named Billy Shears Campbell); and the fact that the Shirley Temple doll wearing the Rolling Stones sweater has a driving glove on its left hand. You see, Paul supposedly died in a car accident, and he is lefthanded, so clearly that's what the Beatles intended with the driving glove. You can see an extremely extensive list at Officially Pronounced Dead? The Great Beatle Death Conspiracy. It's kind of nuts. And here's a photo gallery comparing Paul to "Billy Shears," which is almost laughable.
5. Automatic Double Tracking, or ADT, was invented for the Beatles specifically for this album. It was fairly standard practice for singers to record their vocals twice and then lay them on top of one another for a stronger sound, but most musicians really hated doing it "“ especially John Lennon. After much complaining by John, the ADT was invented by EMI engineer Ken Townsend. It used tape recorders to instantaneously double vocals without having to record them twice.
6. The Beatles originally wanted people who bought the album to get a whole incredible package that would have included pencils, pins and other little trinkets, but it ended up being way too much money. Instead, they included an insert with pieces that the buyers could cut out and have fun with. The cutouts included a mustache, badges and a mini stand-up of the whole band.
7. The New York Times hated Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and said it sounded like a spoiled, over-attended child, meaning that between the horns and the orchestra and the grand pianos and the sound effects, there was just too much going on.
8. The album's second track, "With a Little Help from My Friends," contains the lyric "What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?" But that wasn't originally the line. The line used to be, "Would you throw ripe tomatoes at me?" Then, after remembering that George Harrison had once mentioned that he liked jelly babies (a British gummy candy) and fans showered them with the candy at every concert afterward, Ringo decided "ripe tomatoes" maybe wasn't the best idea. Which is for the best "“ "Would you stand up and walk out on me?" flows much better, don't you think?
9. Sgt. Pepper was nominated for a whopping seven Grammy Awards and won four of them "“ Album of the Year, Best Album Cover, Best Engineered Recording and Best Contemporary Album.
10. Despite popular belief, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is not about drugs and was never intended to be about drugs. Even after admitting to other drug references, John Lennon maintained that the song was named after a drawing done by his son Julian. Snopes even has a picture of the original drawing.
My tastes have changed over the years. When I first discovered Sgt. Pepper, I probably would have told you that "Lucy" was hands-down my favorite. And there was a time in my teens when I thought "She's Leaving Home" soooo described how underappreciated I was at home (teen angst, what can I say?). But these days I'd have to tell you that the haunted quality of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" or the pure innovation of "A Day in the Life" would make them my favorites. How about you? Favorite Sgt. Pepper song? Or do you think the whole thing is overrated? Share in the comments!