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Sunday, January 29, 2012

SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND - side two

Within You Without You - Side two fades in with the by-now-familiar drone of Indian instruments.  Harrison's only composition to appear on the album is one of the most complex and ambitious pieces of music he ever wrote.  He employed a small complement of Indian musicians to play tamboura, tabla, swordmandel and dilruba for the backing track, then asked George Martin to score the song for violins and cellos, thus creating a brilliant East meets West blend.  Many critics, including Tim Riley, have derided the lyrics as preachy and simplistic, but there is no denying the originality and ingenuity of the music.  Anthology 2 treats us to a music-only version of the recording, allowing closer scrutiny of the various elements.  For example, Martin reveals in his book All You Need is Ears that he noted that the dilruba, a bowed instrument, always bent the notes as it slid from one to another, so he instructed his violinists and cellists to play in the same manner.  The instrumental break, one of the longest in the group's catalog, is a true East-West dialogue, and a great collaboration between the two Georges.  No other Beatles appear on the track, though their assistant Neil Aspinall and George overdubbed additional tamboura parts.  At George's request, a few seconds of laughter were added to undercut the seriousness of the song at the tail end.

When I'm Sixty-Four - McCartney claims that this was one of the first songs he ever wrote, perhaps as early as age fifteen.  It was recorded after Strawberry Fields Forever when the concept of an album about the group's childhood was still in play.  It stands here as a nice contrast after Harrison's Indian excursion.  And the throwback quality of the song makes it fit in nicely in Sgt. Pepper's vaudevillian world.  John and George supply their usual topnotch backing vocals behind Paul's vari-speeded lead.  For this number, Martin's impeccable score is for clarinets, including one bass clarinet.

Lovely Rita - While this song by McCartney is fun, it is probably the weakest composition on the album.  Paul's piano and bass parts drive the ensemble, with George Martin adding one of his trademark honky-tonk piano solos.  The fun is provided by Paul, John and George's backing vocals, which include comb and paper for some truly whacky low-tech sound effects.

Good Morning Good Morning - A rooster crow opens this Lennon number inspired by a commercial for corn flakes.  Two different groups appear on this track - the Beatles provide the rhythm on their usual instruments, and Sounds Inc add the powerful horn arrangement.  The scorching guitar solo is by Paul, played in a manner not unlike the nondiatonic, Indian-flavored one he did on Taxman.  For the fadeout of the song, John instructed engineer Geoff Emerick that he wanted a progression of animal noises.  The end result of this was the happy accident of the final animal sound, a chicken cluck, sounding remarkably like the guitar at the top of the next track.  Martin blended these two elements into an almost seamless segue.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - After nearly four months in the studio, McCartney decided that the album needed a closing number to make the concept come full circle.  On April 1st, the Beatles recorded this faster-paced version of the opening song, with Paul, John and George sharing the lead vocal.  The band rocks as hard as they have at any other point on the album, and audience sounds once again enhance the illusion of a live performance.  But, as the final note hangs in the air and the applause of the imaginary audience dies out, a cross-fade leads us into an encore.

A Day in the Life - In my presentation The Studio Years: 1967-1970, I make only a passing reference to this song, stating that it is a topic unto itself.  That being the case, I will devote my entire next blog to this magnum opus.

At the completion of A Day in the Life, the Beatles decided to have a little fun and added two finishing touches to the album.  At John Lennon's suggestion, a high-pitched dog whistle sounded in the runout groove, and in the concentric groove in the middle of the record, there were a few seconds of gibberish, which would play continuously if you did not own an automatic turntable.  These effects were only on the original vinyl pressings, but were resurrected for the CD in 1987.

The album package was as unique as the record within, featuring the boys in wild psychedelic uniforms standing before a collage of people who had influenced them in one way or another.  For the first time on a pop album, the words to all of the songs were printed on the back cover.  Inside was a sheet of cardboard cutouts, which today, if still intact, is a rare collectors' item (I, like many others, no doubt, not foreseeing their eventual worth, actually cut them out).

Upon the album's release in June of 1967, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece, setting the tone for the Summer of Love and raising the bar for every other act in the business.  It established the album form as the new unit of commerce in the industry, pushing the single to secondary status.  And it justified the group's risky decision several months earlier to quit touring and become a full-time studio band.  The Beatles had achieved a new, unexpected height.  

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