WATCH: Rob Sheffield salutes Beatles on "Sgt. Pepper" 50th anniversary: "Some stuff is just built right"

Rob Sheffield on how the Beatles invented the modern album and their revolutionary contributions to pop history


Mary Elizabeth Williams
June 3, 2017 12:30PM (UTC)
This "Salon Talks" video was produced by Kevin Carlin

It's been now 50 years since the Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and yet the album sounds as bold and innovative as it did back in the '60s. What's the secret of its enduring appeal?

Music journalist Rob Sheffield, who has called this album the band's "most famous," explores in his new book "Dreaming the Beatles" the band as a revolutionary phenomenon, its timeless sound and the ways that John, Paul, George and Ringo simply did it better than anyone else.

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"The Beatles did so many of the things that now all ambitious pop artists want to do, particularly in the way they used the album," Sheffield observed in a recent episode of  "Salon Talks." "Before the Beatles, the album was just where you stashed a bunch of songs. It wasn't taken seriously as an entity. For the Beatles, they wanted to see each album as a break with the past, each album as a step forward, as a different statement."

Added Sheffield, "Now the artists of today like Beyoncé . . . Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Katy Perry . . .  are still modeling themselves on that," pointing out "that Beatle ambition is everywhere in pop music now."

Sheffield also sees parallels to the Beatles not just in their fellow musicians but in other iconic historical figures. "I was teaching English at the University of Virginia, and I did a lit survey every year on 'Pride and Prejudice,'" he recalled. "It was amazing to see every single time . . . it was unlike teaching anything else and seeing all these students flip out" about the book.

"I just came away with this feeling of awe, that some stuff is just built right. It just works," Sheffield said.

Watch more of Sheffield's insights about the Beatles on Salon.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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