I love The Beatles. I can’t agree with the notion that they’re the greatest band of all time, but I will say that they’re among them. Their catalog of songs is staggering considering their relatively short window of existence (less than a decade, if you can believe it), and they have created some of the greatest albums of all time. Please Please Me, their introduction to the American audience, has always been my favorite as the simplicity of the songs is perfection, but I also love their later work like Abbey Road, The White Album, and to a lesser degree Revolver and Rubber Soul. Everybody has their opinion on what the greatest Beatles album of all time is (which for many naturally equates the greatest album by any artist ever), and all of the albums listed above are often named. Then there’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rolling Stone, who you can probably tell by now has been a major influencer for not only my musical taste, but really my entire life over the last six years, has the latter listed at the top of their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and for years, I once took this as the gospel. Then I listened to the album.
Let me start by saying that even if Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band isn’t the greatest album of all time, that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. There are many timeless songs that the record offers like Ringo’s lovable “With a Little Help from My Friends,” McCartney and Lennon’s dueling optimism and pessimism on “Getting Better,” the clarinet-driven “When I’m Sixty-four” (which carries a tragic undercurrent when looking back upon history), the joyful adolescent love of “Lovely Rita,” and of course, the apocalyptic classic “A Day in the Life,” that may just be the pinnacle of The Beatles’ work. But unfortunately, for me, that’s where this album stops becoming a classic for all time and instead becomes still fantastic, but far from the best. I’ve never cared for the over-the-top “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” regardless of whether it’s a reference to LSD or some silly picture as Lennon claimed, “Within You Without You,” is overlong and meandering, and “Good Morning” is so chaotic and filled with noise that it can hardly be classified as a song. That leaves the trio of mildly psychedelic middle tacks “Fixing a Hole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” and “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” all of which are excellent, but hardly worthy of appearance on an album that is supposed to be the pinnacle of music for all time.
I understand that, at the time, the cover art, otherworldly theming, and the concept of The Beatles playing as different people entirely, were revolutionary and provided the soundtrack to 1967’s Summer of Love, which many look back upon fondly through rose colored lenses (which they probably still have locked safely in a box in their closet or something). But it isn’t fair to judge the music of the past through a 50-year old lens; it’s disrespectful to the music and the artists that have followed, many of whom have created albums far better than this one.