This article is part of a series that we are doing on which Beatles album is the best. At the conclusion of the series, we will offer a poll on the main page asking you to vote on which one was your favorite.
Avoiding the cliché of writing “it was 45 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play” to start this article, there doesn’t seem to be an introduction that does justice to the most influential album of all time. By 1967, The Beatles were already on top of the world (and also debatably Heaven above according to Lennon). While their touring days were over, The Beatles were just starting to understand their creative potential and the new levels it could take them.
The decision to bring in an orchestra for the recording of the album was a bold one at the time. The Beatle’s success was due to their ability to write pop hits that still remain popular today. Maturity isn’t always welcomed when it comes to art. The project, largely fueled by McCartney, had its detractors. Even Lennon doubted the direction of the album.
Sgt. Pepper is the definitive Beatles album because of the diversity of the tracks. While the album starts off with the grandiose title track, the Fab Four take it back a notch with the sentimental favorite “With a Little Help From My Friends”, the definitive Ringo song that doesn’t involve yellow submarines or octopus gardens. If “With a Little Help From My Friends” doesn’t provide enough on the sentimental front, “When I’m Sixty-Four” delivers a heartfelt look at aging.
As if the placing of “Tomorrow Never Knows” as the final track on Revolver was a precursor for what was to come, The Beatles continued their psychedelic musical experimentation with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life”. Lennon’s uncanny ability to speak to his audience on a personal level is almost scary in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
Sgt. Pepper also includes a few songs that pay homage to their earlier musical style. “Getting Better” and “Being for The Benefit of Mr. Kite” showed that The Beatles could expand their musical versatility without completely changing their sound. “Good Morning Good Morning” has been a personal favorite of mine since I first heard it in the third grade.
“Within You Without You” continued Harrison’s experimentation with Indian music that was first explored in “Love to You”. While the genre and lack of any other Beatles on the track is unusual, it felt strangely fitting given the offbeat nature of Sgt. Pepper in general. With album cover art like that; it’s hard to be surprised by anything.
All four Beatles bring their A-game to Sgt. Pepper. The fact that McCartney was calling most of the shots did not prevent Lennon or Harrison (and Ringo, to a lesser extent) from producing some of their best work. More importantly, the album helped usher in the era of experimentation that would define the Beatles’ later work.
I saved mentioning “A Day in the Life” until the end of the article because I struggled to come up with a way to do the song justice. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that the song was the final track on the album. “A Day in the Life” is a song that requires its listener to stop and absorb it for awhile. The song is a masterpiece. To say that it’s the greatest Beatles song ever written is hardly a stretch.
The funny thing is, you could take “A Day in the Life” out and Sgt. Pepper would still be a great album. The album represents some of the Beatles’ best and most diverse work. The album didn’t just change the Beatles’ sound, it completely changed Rock and Roll altogether. It’s not only the greatest Beatles album; it’s possibly the most important album ever recorded.