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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > June 17 > IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY…

IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY…

It’s been five decades since the most iconic album in history was released by the biggest band in the world. John Pickford celebrates the anniversary with a look back at the album’s recording and the gear used…

Sgt. Pepper at 50

On Thursday 1 June 1967, the world’s biggest-ever band released an album often hailed as their masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles’ eighth album is surely the most iconic album in the history of rock music, from its eye-catching Peter Blake-designed cover to the very last piece of audio printed into the run-out groove.

Produced with the same four-track technology the group had been using for three years, Sgt. Pepper… represents the pinnacle of what could be achieved in a recording studio in 1967. Over the next few pages, we’ll examine the creative processes and technological innovations that went into producing ‘The Greatest Album Of All Time’.

When The Beatles arrived at EMI Studios on 24 November 1966, they entered a new phase of their career. Their tours of the Far East and North America the previous summer had been fraught with disaster, particularly in the aftermath of John Lennon’s remark that the group were now “more popular than Jesus”, leading to the public burning of Beatles records and memorabilia. Weary of the rigours of touring, the group finished their final show on 29 August 1966, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, and vowed never to tour again.

Now a full-time studio band, no longer under the complete control of producer George Martin, they were free to spend as much time as they wanted creating an album to surpass all others in terms of scope and ambition. The group had begun experimenting with unusual sounds on 1965’s Rubber Soul album, expanding their standard two guitars, bass and drums line-up with sitar on Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). The following year’s Revolver continued the search for new, exotic sounds, culminating with the psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows, which pioneered the use of tape loops. Revolver also featured the talents of Geoff Emerick, a newly promoted young recording engineer who relished the search for innovative techniques to create pioneering recordings and was more in tune with the group’s demands than their former engineer, Norman Smith.

The first song recorded for the as-yet-untitled new album was Lennon’s wonderfully surreal Strawberry Fields Forever. However, it never made the final cut, instead released as a double A-side single, along with Paul McCartney’s Penny Lane, also lifted from the album’s early sessions. In between these two masterful recordings, The Beatles taped McCartney’s music-hall inspired When I’m Sixty Four, however, the ante was upped once again on 19 January 1967, with the initial recording of Lennon and McCartney’s magnificent A Day In The Life. Lennon’s portion of the song was partly inspired by his autumn 1966 experience of filming How I Won The War with Beatles’ film director Richard Lester, while other lyrics referred to news in the Daily Mail on 17 January, reporting the death of the group’s friend and heir to the Guinness fortune, Tara Browne, who had crashed his sports car into a stationary lorry. The same edition of the newspaper carried a story about there being 4,000 potholes in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire.

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