Sgt Pepper’s: when The Beatles got high on pomposity
By: Donald Clarke
There are less than two months to go before we reach the 50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The race is on to pen the opening evisceration of that exhaustingly lauded Beatles LP. Which will be first hot take to earn the headline “Being for the benefit of Mr Sh*te”? Not this column. Not quite.I do think that, on balance, the record is a bad thing. Its influence on popular music is to be regretted. But the sounds it makes are not all terrible. It’s not The Beatles’ worst LP. It’s not even the most egregious example of the boys allowing their egos to over-run their judgment (more of that in a moment). Even if I did think these things, I would not be the first person to think them.Everyone knows the myth. By 1967, The Beatles’ fame had become so vast and dense that aircraft would fall from the sky if they dared go on stage. Young women would drop dead of celebrity-related syndromes upon hearing the opening, yelled syllable of Help! They were that well-known.Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: a bad thing. Photograph: PA/PA Wire Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: a bad thing. Photograph: PA/PA Wire With few other options before them, they decided to retreat to the studio and make noises that no musician could reproduce on stage. In the space of five years they had gone from a cracking beat band to the defining creative force of their generation. No wonder they lost the run of themselves.“When you get to the top, there is nowhere to go but down,” Philip Larkin wrote. “But the Beatles could not get down.” Stuck up in the stratosphere, the group produced a record that confirmed suspicions – hitherto easy to dispel – that these supposedly blokeish Liverpudlians were as much at home to pomposity as any Bloomsbury poet.