It’s difficult to pick out a favourite Beatles album. The chances are that there are at least a few records that are vying for the top spot in your mind’s eye. We’d imagine it’s a task that was even harder for the band members involved. However, we’d bet that picking out your least favourite album from the band is a much easier task to complete. It certainly was for John Lennon.
Though never quite placing a ‘worst album’ rubber stamp on any of the group’s 13 stunning studio albums, Lennon was always particularly scathing about one record the band produced. Lennon routinely lambasted the Beatles’ poorer creations and often shared his disdain for the albums. He thought side two of Abbey Road, the famous medley, was below their standards and, much like the rest of the band, also had a sour taste in his mouth whenever he spoke of their final record, Let It Be, but one album took the biscuit.
Of course, we’re talking about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album has rightly been regarded as one of the finest in musical history, and it certainly packs a wallop. But the songs on that record were driven by Paul McCartney, and, as the band lost their external leader when their manager Brian Epstein sadly passed away, Macca’s influence began to grow. The tensions over songwriting would be a consistent feature in The Beatles’ later years and eventually lead to their disbandment. Much of this stemmed from the blessed issue that all four members were handy with the pen, but it also led to searing jealousy rearing its ugly head from time to time.
In a 1971 interview Lennon, never afraid to speak his mind, suggested that Paul never liked The White Album because the band members were all following their own talents and doing their own songs—not working as a group. “[Paul] wanted it to be more a group thing, which really means more Paul. So he never liked that album.”
In the same interview Lennon, perhaps having his own spurt of jealousy proclaimed The White Album to be his favourite and denounced Sgt. Pepper as he did. He said, “I always preferred it to all the other albums, including Pepper, because I thought the music was better. The Pepper myth is bigger, but the music on the White Album is far superior, I think.”
It’s not just this comment which has led us to the assumption that Sgt. Pepper was Lennon’s least favourite. It also saw the inclusion of songs that Lennon purely detested and labelled as “granny shit.” Speaking about Macca’s song ‘When I’m Sixty Four’, Lennon once said: “Paul’s, completely. I would never dream of writing a song like that. There are some things I never think about, and that’s one of them.” He had a similar feeling about ‘Lovely Rita’ when he said: “These stories about boring people doing boring things — being postmen and secretaries and writing home. I’m not interested in writing third-party songs. I like to write about me, ‘cuz I know me.”
The record, which includes ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,’ ‘Getting Better’, and ‘A Day in the Life’, also shows Lennon’s growing disconnection with the world around him. Perhaps it was the copious amount of LSD he and the band were taking or indeed the growing need to find his own path away from the group, but Lennon’s songs were drifting from personal expressions to songs inspired by posters and newspapers. Though not less worthy because of their inspiration, it does highlight how much Lennon was disassociating with the band at large.
The album still had plenty of value for Lennon. After all, the worst Beatles album is likely better than most bands could ever muster. But there’s a certain vacantness in Lennon’s words about the album, the known tensions that were beginning to rise between him and McCartney and the loss of direction that seemed to permeate his writing at the time; all surmise that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the singer’s least favourite album of the lot.