Monday, June 25, 2007

Sgt. Peppers At 40

There has been much to-do about the 40th anniversary this month of the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band ablum back on June 1, 1967 by the Beatles. There should be. It was a fine example of classic rock and part of my collection as a teenager.

Rumor has it that immediately following the completion of Sgt. Pepper's in the wee hours of April 21, 1967, the Beatles decamped from Abbey Road Studios to Mama Cass' (of the Mamas And Papas fame) apartment in Chelsea, where they flung open the windows and blasted the yet-to-be-released album into the London morning at top volume. Neighbors leaned out to listen to the Beatles' newest songs, the music and words by the four Liverpudlians of sonically questing, love-affirming, sad, funny, irrepressibly tuneful music.

With their previous ablum Revolver (which was my first Beatle album) they reached a previously unheard-of level of sophistication and fearless experimentation. But with Sgt. Pepper, they refined that breakthrough, as they consciously synthesized such disparate influences as psychedelia, art-song, classical music, rock & roll, and music hall, often in the course of one song. Not once does the diversity seem forced — the genius of the record is how the vaudevillian "When I'm 64" seems like a logical extension of "Within You Without You" and how it provides a gateway to the chiming guitars of "Lovely Rita."

There's no discounting the individual contributions of each member or their producer, George Martin, but the preponderance of whimsy and self-conscious art gives the impression that Paul McCartney is the leader of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. He dominates the album in terms of compositions, setting the tone for the album with his unabashed melodicism and deviously clever arrangements. In comparison, Lennon's contributions seem fewer, and a couple of them are a little slight but his major statements are stunning. "With a Little Help From My Friends" is the ideal Ringo tune, a rolling pop song that hides genuine Lennon anguish, à la "Help!"; "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" remains a touchstone of British psychedelia; and he's the mastermind behind the bulk of "A Day in the Life," a haunting number that blends Lennon's verse and chorus with McCartney's bridge.

It's possible to argue that there are better Beatles albums, yet no album is as historically important as this. After Sgt. Pepper, there were no rules to follow — rock and pop bands could try anything, for better or worse. Ironically, few tried to achieve the sweeping, all-encompassing embrace of music as the Beatles did on what has become a "landmark" recording in pop music history.

Research info aided by: Stephen Thomas Erlewine at All Music.

Now, here's 3 "psychedelic" poems:


Wonder speaks into the little box of fondle
using real words bright as talking parrots
it drawls in dialects from a fornicator's dream
beckoning & jibing in amorous throaty weight
sentences selsame then propel themselves
balanced in a bloom of motion like gazellesas
whispers rear between two wishbone fingers
in voices rising like whips in dusty gainsay
to dangle on ends the flat sea-anemone
naked and soft as it devours a midnight bed.


After a full scourge of bugaloo down broadway
the black madonna returns on a stray mule
to lukewarm sighs of rank raw hollows
riding side-saddle with crimson facing east
like bruised fruit through blurred vision
she eyes another scared hymn doggedly
confident that the proxy eros still ticks
& that she can lip-sync to the music even
if the choreography requires more practice
to be good enough for live prime-time tv.


By afternoon angels appear in the crystal
to rumble by the memory of triumphant rome
each of them high baroque & pomp-free
wearing psychedelic lips from a fairytale ad
they eye a glint of glory strewn in cornucopiaas
grand as any sealed in the coy cockpit
of a turnpike signal the headset frees hands
to wander into the off yonder but not far
unfurling rumpled fragorios as goodwill token
sin lazy smiles that cover even enormous rooms.

Poems first published online:
Copyright 2007 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.
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