Since its release in 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has been lauded as one of the most important albums of the 1960s. Well, if there’s one thing to get a critic’s bitter juices flowing, it’s undiluted praise. Perhaps that’s why, as well as being described as one of their greatest artistic achievements, Sgt. Pepper‘s was also used as a vessel for music writers to vent their disdain for the Fab Four – with one writer reducing their 1967 studio venture to three scorn-laden adjectives: “Busy, hip and cluttered.” However, it wasn’t necessarily criticism of the album itself that so offended Paul McCartney – rather it was one critic’s belief that George Martin, the Beatles producer, had been the mastermind behind the whole project.
In an interview with Paul Gambaccinni, Paul was asked about his upcoming solo album Ram before the conversation moved on to George Martin’s influence on Sgt. Pepper’s. “George’s contribution was quite a big one, actually…. George was in there quite heavily from the beginning,” Paul revealed, before going on to discuss one particularly troubling review the group received following the release of the album.
The review in question offended Paul not because it was unduly harsh on the album’s material. In fact, it was quite the opposite: “The time we got offended, I’ll tell you, was one of the reviews, I think about Sgt. Pepper—one of the reviews said, ‘This is George Martin’s finest album,'” Paul recalled with no small hint of bitterness. “We got shook; I mean, ‘We don’t mind him helping us, it’s great, it’s a great help, but it’s not his album, folks, you know.’ And there got to be a little bitterness over that. A bit help, but Christ, if he’s goin’ to get all the credit… for the whole album”.
The review was clearly written with the intention of poking fun at The Beatles’ creative efforts. By placing an exaggerated emphasis on George Martin’s role, the Beatles were painted as talentless buffoons whose albums were manufactured by some classically-trained overlord. Perhaps the writer didn’t like the idea that a group of lads from Liverpool, who had no formal training, had raised themselves to such lofty heights. If you’ll allow me to draw a grand comparison, this anti-amateurism is exactly the same sentiment that motivates scholars to assert that William Shakespeare must have been the pen name of some high-born aristocrat. Such is our reluctance to believe that great art can come from anywhere and anybody.
Interestingly, Sgt. Pepper’s wasn’t even on George Martin’s list of favourite Beatles albums. More than that, it’s not even namechecked. “I’ve got quite a few favourite Beatles albums,” the producer told The Telegraph. “I like Revolver very much and I like Rubber Soul very much, but I’m very fond of Abbey Road.” Clearly, Martin didn’t agree with the assertion that Sgt. Pepper’s was his “finest album” either.