I’ve been told my whole life (or at least since Rolling Stone started getting obsessed with “best of” lists) that Sgt Pepper is the be-all end-all BEST ROCK ALBUM EVER. Let’s get real, though. It’s been 50 years, we can go back and look at things rationally.
Is it a good album? Sure. Is it the best album ever? Probably not. Sure it was original and influential, but here’s the thing – it isn’t even the best psychedelic album ever. Or even the best British psychedelic album ever. Or even the best British psychedelic album of 1967.
Here’s the breakdown – a handful of stone-cold classics, a tedious George Harrison piece and a bunch of retro, music hall/vaudevillian numbers that sounded quaint the day they were released. Hell, I could’ve played these tunes for my grandmother and she would’ve patted me on the head “What a nice song!” I understand that McCartney loved that music. Fine. But, please, don’t try and tell me that “When I’m 64” or “She’s Leaving Home” or “Fixing a Hole” (or even Lennon’s “Mr Kite”) are psychedelic. They’re not. Period. They’re pastiches of older genres given a gloss of studio whimsy.
Look what Pink Floyd was doing on Piper at the Gates of Dawn at the same damn time. Find me a tune off of Sgt Pepper that can even approach “Astronomy Domine”, “Lucifer Sam”, “Pow R Toc H” or “Matilda Mother” for sheer 1967 psychedelic energy. The Beatles come off sounding stodgy.
But, you know – poor Syd. Seriously. His solo stuff is good, but it makes me sad.