I turn fifty in two months. I’m about six months younger than SGT. PEPPER’s.
As almost all of you surely know, Apple/Parlophone/EMI/Capitol/Universal has released a new stereo mix of the uber-famous 1967 album. Just as the convoluted name of the company suggests, the new album comes in a variety of packages from one disk to innumerable ones.
Growing up in a family that loved music of all types and genres, I’ve had the Beatles running through my head from my earliest memories. No one in the house was a fanatic, but we certainly appreciated the music. My two older brothers tended to like the pre-REVOLVER Beatles best, but I always loved REVOLVER through ABBEY ROAD the best. For about a six-to seven-year period in my life—mostly in college and early graduate school–I was obsessed with the band. I bought and read all of the books about the band, and I knew every song and every lyric from REVOLVER through ABBEY ROAD. I knew the most minute details about the recordings, the controversies. . . well, everything.
Strangely, however, I never purchased anything older than RUBBER SOUL, and I never purchased LET IT BE. I was more than content with the Beatles, 1965-1969. Then and now, MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR remains my favorite album by the band.
Around 1994 or so, something happened that I can’t even explain to myself. I just lost interest. Not completely, but quite a bit. Perhaps I had oversaturated myself with the band, or perhaps my tastes just changed. For better or worse, I became annoyed with the band, seeing their reputation as ridiculously inflated. In nothing less than pure snobbery, I thought PET SOUNDS deserved the reputation that SGT. PEPPERS enjoyed. Admittedly, I did listen to RUBBER SOUL, REVOLVER, and MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR every once in a while. But, certainly not often.
So, here I am, two decades later, listening to the new stereo mix of SGT PEPPER’s, wondering what happened. The new stereo mix is crisp, taking out some of the tinny-ness of the original recordings. Even after half a century, the music retains its strangeness and mystery, thanks to the psychedelic studio wizardry of George Martin. And, all of the old characters still linger. Sgt. Pepper, Lucy, Mr. Kite, and, of course, Lovely Rita. And, then there’s that utter creep who has decided not to “beat his woman.” It’s a wise decision, but why did he ever do it in the first place?
Yet, as I sit here and listen to the album in 2017, there’s little joy, only a bit of nostalgia and historical interest. Yes, I realize how important the album was to rock and to prog. Still. . . it sounds tinny.
Look at the album cover, look at the four Beatles in their weird getups, and then read the name of the company that just issued the 50th anniversary release. It all seems so very manufactured, so corporate, so cold.
Two songs, however, make the 2-disk package worth it: the bonus stereo remixes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” Glorious. Absolutely glorious. Eerie beyond count, but not tinny.