Sgt Pepper’s is an absolute masterpiece of conceptual music-writing. Recorded over a 129-day period, The Beatles’ eighth studio album not only marked the beginning of a new chapter in popular music, but also helped define the sound, feel, and look of the 1967 summer of love.
As Paul McCartney – who’d had the initial idea for Sgt Pepper’s during a long-haul flight back to London – put it: “The mood of the album was in the spirit of the age, because we ourselves were fitting into the mood of the time. The idea wasn’t to do anything to cater for that mood – we happened to be in that mood anyway. And it wasn’t just the general mood of the time that influenced us; I was searching for references that were more on the fringe of things. The actual mood of the time was more likely to be The Move, or Status Quo or whatever – whereas outside all of that there was this avant-garde mode, which I think was coming into Pepper.”
While Revolver had seen The Beatles take their songwriting in new and increasingly avant-garde directions, with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles began pushing recording studios to the absolute limit of their capabilities, using them as an instrument in themselves and creating sounds which had never before been heard. That’s not to say that they didn’t take inspiration from anywhere, however. According to McCartney, without the legendary Elvis Presley and his famous gold Cadillac, the album might never have been created.
Speaking about how “the king” influenced Sgt Pepper’s, Paul described how, on their return from India, The Beatles wanted to do something new: “We came back, and we started to think, ‘What can we do? We don’t want to tour again,’” he began. “We heard that Elvis Presley had sent his gold-plated Cadillac out on tour. He didn’t go with it – he just sent it out. And people would flock to see Elvis’ Cadillac, and then it would go to the next town and those people would flock.”
“So we thought, ‘That is brilliant! Only Elvis could have thought of that,” Paul continued. “We said, ‘Well, what we should do is, we should make a killer record, and that can do the touring for us.’ So that’s what Sgt. Pepper was all about.” But, Elvis inspired more than just the concept behind Sgt Pepper’s, he came to define the actual sound of the record too.
At the start of his career, Elvis starred in the 1956 film Love Me Tender, a half-musical half-western set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. One of the songs included in the soundtrack, – and later released by Presley as a chart-topping single – was ‘We’re Gonna Move’. At one point during the song, Elvis sings the line: “Well there’s a hole in the roof where the rain pours in,” which would go on to inspire the Sgt. Pepper’s track ‘Fixing A Hole,’ for which The Beatles pinched the line: “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in.”It’s funny to think that, without Elvis, The Beatles’ most iconic album might never have been dreamt up. Not only had Presley inspired Lennon and McCartney’s earliest forays into songwriting, but, years later, he was continuing to guide the trajectory of their sound.