I’ve committed an act of baby boomer heresy. I do not own a copy of the Beatles’ album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the release of the landmark record album in Britain and the United States. The observance of the event first made me gasp, “What! Forty years?” But then I took a deep breath and pondered my distant relationship with the renowned record.
I was 11 years old in 1967 when the songs of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” poured out of countless stereo speakers to become a generational theme to the “Summer of Love.” The Beatles were insanely popular, particularly with the girls at school, and while I liked the Liverpudlians (my mom had brought home their first album, “Meet the Beatles,” in 1964 and she and I played it often), my yard mowing money in those days was spent on records—primarily 45s—by Bob Dylan, The Who, the Rolling Stones, and other scruffians.
For some reason, Sgt. Pepper’s just didn’t grab me in 1967. Maybe I was too young. Maybe I just didn’t get it, or maybe I was just too cool. Yeah, (or should I say, “yeah, yeah, yeah”) right.
As time went on, I did buy other Beatles albums. Their moody “Revolver” is a favorite of mine. I like the freakiness of the so called “White Album” (officially “The Beatles”). Both “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” still get play on my turntable. But no Sgt. Pepper.
I’ve heard all the songs from Sgt. Pepper’s in various ways—on the radio, Muzak, other bands covering the tunes—but I realized during the 40th anniversary hoopla of the album that I never actually had listened to the album all the way through in one sitting to hear its linear artistry. I’ve neglected Sgt. Pepper because, for all its brilliance, the album’s music never stirred my soul, and, for that, there’s a hole that needs to be fixed in my status as a card-carrying baby boomer.
We boomers seize on things like Sgt. Pepper’s as signposts marking our progression through life. We’re all so diverse that I think we like to find things in common so that we can relate to each other on a basic level. Music that blasted out of our transistor radios in the 1960s served as anthems to rally around as well as a living soundtrack for many of us.
But those sounds were also fun, which is the most important part, and I think the fun aspect of Sgt. Pepper’s, was, and is, why people embrace it. The brightly colored album cover depicting cultural and literary icons is just great to look at and decipher. Many of the songs on the album are happy, bouncy numbers. It just makes people feel good.
So why haven’t I ever joined Sgt. Pepper’s band of merrymakers? I think it’s because the appreciation of music and all that swirls around it is a subjective thing. Sometimes we just don’t know why something resonates within us or without us; it just is the way it is.
A friend of mine once observed that the greatest music in the world is contained in each individual’s own record collection.This fact doesn’t belittle another person’s collection or musical tastes, it just means that one’s own life chord and its connection to music is intensely personal. All the better for when we share our life, and our music, with others.
So it was about 40 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. Maybe I should head off to the record store and give John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s psychedelic opus a spin; or maybe I’ll just wait to buy it when I’m 64.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.