Critical Collage: Sgt. Pepper

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January 24, 2013 by sw00ds

Seven months ago it was 45 years ago today.

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“Like an overattended child, this album is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises, and a 41-piece orchestra.”
- Richard Goldstein, review of Sgt. Pepper in the New York Times, 1967

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“So, as expected, it had to be the Beatles themselves to do the job of (one-more-time) summing up the recent by summing up the whole thing in a soft cataclysmic combination of death, sleep and multiplicity/variety, as if they hadn’t done it before… so this time it would have to be a really real end-of-culture/end-of-the-world thing. And that’s precisely what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was/is. Bringing with it the consequent death of art forever (until someone forgets) and subsequent everybody-influenced-by-everybody-but-particularly-by-the-Beatles-and-Sgt.-Pepper, eventually dispersing it everywhere and thus inevitably devaluing the specific Sgt. Pepper focal point.”
- Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock, 1970

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“The comparison with Gershwin, in fact, is not unjustified. Just as ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘I Can’t Get Started’ were flawless popular songs but ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was disastrous pretention, so with the Beatles. At the level of ‘Baby Let Me Drive Your Car’ or ‘Hard Days Night,’ they’d been inventive, funny, acute and that’d been enough; in Sgt. Pepper, they retained the same qualities but their new ambitions demanded something more. Ingenuity and quickness weren’t remotely enough, and the loss in power proved fatal. They went flat: after all, what does third-rate Art have on Superpop?”
- Nik Cohn, Pop From the Beginning, 1969

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Mothers - Inlay

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“…a Day-Glo tombstone for its time.”
- Greil Marcus on Sgt. Pepper in the Stranded discography, 1979

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The Two Sides of Sgt. Pepper: An Honest Appraisal of The Beatles’ Classic – A nearly two-hour audio excursion into Sgt. Pepper, featuring (amongst others) Greg Kot, Ann Powers, Anthony DeCurtis, and Jim DeRogatis.

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“Rock musicians were creating new music, so writers had to create new criticism. Writing had to be an appropriate response to the music; in writing about, say, Sgt. Pepper, you had to try to write something as good as Sgt. Pepper. Because, of course, what made that record beautiful was the beautiful response it created in you; if your written response was true to your listening response, the writing would stand on its own as a creation on par with the record.”
- Michael Lydon, review of Paul Williams’s Outlaw Blues, Rolling Stone, April 19, 1969

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billboard
Billboard Top LPs of 1967

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“Usually, people point to [Goldstein's] Sgt. Pepper review as the moment he got his scarlet T, for turkey. He panned the record, dig, at precisely the instant when everybody was getting rather off on it. In recent times, certain revisionists and cynics have not only forgiven him, but consider him to have been right–what a joke.”
- Richard Meltzer, preface to “Redd Foxx Gets off the Pot” in A Whore Just Like the Rest, 2000

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willis2
- Ellen Willis, “The Star, the Sound, and the Scene,” New Yorker, 1968

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“Goldstein was disappointed with Sgt. Pepper. After an initial moment of panic, I wasn’t. In fact, I was exalted by it, although a little of that has worn off. Which is just the point. Goldstein may have been wrong, but he wasn’t that wrong. Sgt. Pepper is not the world’s most perfect work of art. But that is what the Beatles’ fans have come to assume their idols must produce.”
- Robert Christgau, Esquire, 1967

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burningambitions82

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“Any of these songs is more genuinely creative than anything currently to be heard on pop radio stations, but in relationship to what other groups have been doing lately Sergeant Pepper is chiefly significant as constructive criticism, a sort of pop music master class examining trends and correcting or tidying up inconsistencies and undisciplined work, here and there suggesting a line worth following… Sooner or later some group will take the next logical step and produce an LP which is a popsong-cycle, a Tin Pan Alley Dichterliebe. Whether or not the remains of Schumann or Heine turn in their graves at this description depends on the artistry of the compiler.”
- William Mann, The Sunday Times, May 29, 1967

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Billboard, July 29, 1967

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“That a song ['A Day in the Life'] of such intellectual sophistication and artistic resourcefulness should arise out of the same tradition that only a dozen years ago was spawning ditties like ‘Rock Around the Clock’ seems almost unbelievable. But the very swiftness of the development indicates its real nature. Unlike other popular arts, rock has not been forced to spin its substance out of itself. Instead, it has acted like a magnet, drawing into its field a host of heterogeneous materials that has fallen quickly into patterns. No other cultural force in modern times has possessed its power of synthesis.”
- Albert Goldman, “The Emergence of Rock,” New American Review, 1968

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winner
- Langdon Winner, 1968

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“If being a critic were the same as being a listener, I could enjoy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Other than one song which I detest (‘Good Morning, Good Morning’), I find the album better than 80 percent of the music around today. But it is the other 20 percent–including the best of the Beatles’ past performances–which worries me as a critic.”
- Richard Goldstein, “I Blew My Cool Through the New York Times,” 1967 (from Goldstein’s Greatest Hits)

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MOTHERSOFINVWOIIFTMST

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“So, if Sgt. Pepper passes, what am I grousing for? Well, it did work in itself, it was cool and clever and controlled. Only, it wasn’t much like pop. It wasn’t fast, flash, sexual, loud, vulgar, monstrous or violent. It made no myths.”
- Nik Cohn, Pop From the Beginning, 1969

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“Almost immediately, Sgt. Pepper was certified as proof that the Beatles’ music — or at least this album — was Art. But what mattered was the conscious creation of event — the way in which the summing-up-the-spirit-of-the-times style of the music (which for the most part has not survived its time) was perfectly congruent with the organizing-the-spirit-of-the-times manner in which the album was released and received. Which is to say that Sgt. Pepper, as the most brilliantly orchestrated manipulation of a cultural audience in pop history, was nothing less than a small pop explosion in and of itself. The music was not great art; the event, in its intensification of the ability to respond, was.”
- Greil Marcus, “The Beatles” chapter in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 1979

4 thoughts on “Critical Collage: Sgt. Pepper

  1. Steve Simels says:

    From that Nik Cohn review:

    ““The comparison with Gershwin, in fact, is not unjustified. Just as ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘I Can’t Get Started’ were flawless popular songs but ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was disastrous pretention…”

    Uh, I loved Nik Cohn’s Pop From the Beginning and Rock Dreams, but anybody who can make the above statement about Gershwin and “Rhapsody” doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about. Seriously, that is just monumentally stupid and ignorant.

  2. Steve Simels says:

    Rock From the Beginning. Not Pop.

    I regret the error.

  3. s woods says:

    Steve, I think you mean the Abbey Road review, right? Which is a different post–not that it matters. I love Cohn’s books also, but Rock from the Beginning (aka A Wop Bop A Loo Bop A Lop Bam Boom and who knows what else) is a book I love (or should I say “loved”?) much more for its impact and its voice rather than for its ideas or its value judgements, many of which strike me as suspect when I flip through it now. The book totally floored me the first time I read it, but going back to it, there is a point at which his enthusiasm for “superpop” (for all things flash and noisy and fast and screaming-girls etc.) also translates into a kind of weird anti-progressivism, and I, for one, have never fallen for the canard that the Beatles stopped making exciting records in 1966. So I guess it doesn’t surprise me that he would be of a similar mindset regarding pre-rock pop as well. (I personally don’t have a strong enough opinion about “Rhapsody” to share it.)

  4. Steve Simels says:

    Weird anti-progressivism is exactly right.

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