1967 marked a major turning point in the life cycle of the Beatles. As a band, they had formed, struggled, established their “sound” and brought Beatlemania to the USA. “She Loves You” and “Please Please Me” and so many others were inescapable once the Fab Four made their way across the pond.
But by 1966, their music had begun to mature. More sophisticated and meaningful songs like “Nowhere Man” & “Yesterday” & “In My Life” were released that year. An air of impeding change was evident to all but the most casual of listeners.
That change came in sudden fashion, marked by two major Beatles events: the announcement that the band would no longer do live performances, and the release of thier first album to have not even a remnant of the old sound: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The album cover itself helps illustrate the point – the dark suit-and-tie Beatles have been pushed from center stage by the now-familiar outlandish and brightly-colored Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles. And where are they standing? In front of what appears to be a grave topped with flowers arranged to spell out the word “Beatles.”
Not only was Sgt. Pepper’s the band’s first concept album, but consider the concept. Here’s a band, who has just announced the end of live performances, portraying a fictitious band giving a live performance. As Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were free to explore and create music that The Beatles never could. Songs like “Within You Without You” & “Good Morning Good Morning” may have never made vinyl without this concept. Most notably, “A Day in the Life” – the song most closely associated with the emerging “New Beatles” – may well have been deemed too big a departure to make the cut.
Of all the things that this pioneering band brought us, one that I have never heard mentioned is providing a model for the life cycle of a band. Up to this point in time, most bands, having “made it,” rode that wave as far as it would take them. The Beatles rejected that notion and made a change – a big one. Perhaps it was weariness of the same old stuff, or maybe a passion to further develop their art, or even some extraordinary foresight for the need to either change or become irrelevant. Who knows?
But change is hard – for the band and for the fans. Yet it is an inevitable part of the life cycle. Musical artists – band or solo – seem well aware of this. Consider these words from the 2015 album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists.
‘Cause we know, we know, we belong to ya
We know you built your life around us
And would we change? We had to change some
You know, to belong to you
The name of the song, “The Singer Addresses His Audience” – makes clear that this is an announcement. Frontman Colin Maloy and his band are plainly telling their fans to expect things to be different.
The Beatles, when faced with impending change, chose to dive deeper into their talents and artistry. The result is one of the most-loved, most-revered albums from them or any other band. Unfortunately, too many bands turn the opposite direction, “dumbing down” their product in an effort to reach a wider audience and greater financial success. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t, always it disappoints.
Fifty years after Sgt. Pepper’s, artists still point to the Beatles when identifying those who influenced their music. Here’s hoping those musicians follow their lead and find their own Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Here’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heats Club Band on Spotify