As of Sunday night, June 3, readers had posted more than 160 comments responding to my discussion about "Sgt. Pepper" with Gina Arnold. Below are a few choice examples of what these readers had to say.
And, just for the record, let me make a few things clear: 1) I think the Beatles are amazing -- I could gladly live out the rest of my days on a desert island with a copy of the "White Album" as my only musical company. 2) I think "Sgt. Pepper" is an excellent album and way, way better than 95 percent of rock music ever recorded. 3) "Sgt. Pepper" still doesn't blow my mind. 4) I can't expect to criticize the Beatles and walk away unscathed.
Also, anyone looking for more on "Sgt. Pepper" would do well to check out the essay by singer-songwriter Aimee Mann that appeared in Sunday's New York Times. It strikes a nice balance between some of the competing "Pepper" points of view on display below.
-- David Marchese
"The reason 'Sgt. Pepper' was so impressive had nothing to do with what came later; it had everything to do with what had come before. It was the first 'theme album' (the Beach Boys later stated that 'Sgt. Pepper' influenced 'Pet Sounds'). The music and lyrics all hit themes that had not been done successfully before. It introduced new instrumentation and different scores for rock. It took technology to the limit of what was (then) possible.
"Most importantly, it freed a bunch of other musicians to break loose from boundaries and go in new directions."
"Greil Marcus wrote, back in the 1970s: 'It was only in the context of the Beatles event that their music was perceived for what it was. The event was a pop explosion; the second, and thus far the last, rock 'n' roll has produced. A pop explosion is an irresistible cultural explosion that cuts across lines of class and race ... and, most crucially, divides society itself by age. The surface of daily life ... is affected with such force that deep and substantive changes in the way large numbers of people think and act take place.'"
"I don't think 'Sgt. Pepper' is the kind of album that you weigh in terms of continuing influence, but rather as a capstone for a particular musical era. If you're looking for a cultural artifact that represents a snapshot in time, it's hard to undersell 'Sgt. Pepper.' Part of the reason why it's easy to overlook 'Sgt. Pepper' as a work of popular art is because it's already been done. But who else before the Beatles could have made 'Sgt. Pepper'? There's always a temptation to look at history backwards; however, in the context of its time 'Sgt. Pepper' was a revolutionary work of art."
"'Sgt. Pepper' has always sounded rather dated to my ears. This isn't to say I can't appreciate the technical and artistic achievement the album made. For me, it's the same with 'Citizen Kane.' 'Kane,' like 'Sgt. Pepper,' is a grand artistic statement. I re-watched 'Kane' recently with my wife. She enjoyed it, but didn't understand why it rates so high. I attempted to explain, 'look at [Orson] Welles' use of deep focus, that single shot in his parents' house where he's outside but in the center of the conversation is masterful.' 'Look, Welles filmed ceilings, that had never been done before.' I realized that 'Kane' doesn't speak with the same power that it did in '41. Just about every film that followed normalized the innovations forged by Welles. Sure 'Citizen Kane' is one of the most important films ever made, but I'd rather watch 'Touch of Evil.'"
"I also don't understand this '"Sgt. Pepper" isn't an emotional album' garbage. Just because it's well produced and intellectual doesn't mean there's no emotion there. And 'not political'? Maybe the politics that the Beatles were talking about weren't as big and flashy as the war and all that, but 'Getting Better' has a line thrown in about a man who beats up his girlfriend. 'She's Leaving Home' (as another writer points out) is all about a young woman gaining her independence from a restrictive family, and 'Good Morning Good Morning' and 'Lovely Rita' are about the working class. So I don't see how Gina Baby and the other guy can turn up their noses and say 'Sgt. Pepper' isn't 'political' -- unless they consider domestic violence and working-class issues beneath their consideration."
-- Lydia g
"Something can be groundbreaking yet still be dated. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Furthermore, it stands to reason that something that was groundbreaking in 1967 would sound dated to today's young adults. Don't be so insulted by the passage of time. If you love it, great. If it meant something to you in 1967 and still retains that meaning, great. But do not expect people born many years after you to understand it and feel the same about it as you do. They just aren't going to. There's no reason to tear people down for it."
"I am 45 and I have often felt like I am one of the few people who dislike the later Beatles (post-'Revolver') music and really like the early (pre-'Revolver') music. I find 'Sgt. Pepper' to be plodding and overdone. I think that early Beatles music is joyous and fun, has great singability and is great to dance to. But it seemed as the '60s progressed and the more drugs [people] did, the duller the music became. So, I agree basically with Gina and David. I can see how the production was revolutionary at the time, but if the songs are no fun then production cannot save them. So it was good to read that someone else is on my wavelength. Thanks!"
"All this effort just to trash 'Sgt. Pepper?' Geez ...
"I got this album for my 13th birthday back in the late '90s. I had never heard anything like it. I must have listened to it 15 times over and over just that day. It literally changed my life, prompting me to learn more about the Beatles, then the '60s and radical politics to the point where I eventually broke free of the staunchly conservative ideals I was raised to hold. The course of my life could have been totally different if I hadn't heard 'Sgt. Pepper.'
"For people who aren't jaded music critics, 'Sgt. Pepper' is still earth-shaking. It is a psychedelic album in the drug sense and in the sense of mental liberation through new sounds, images and ideas. Look at the cover -- the Beatles pose as military men in day-glo epaulets, leading a squadron of geniuses and freaks. You don't think that's iconic of the Summer of Love/Vietnam War era?"