Has any album had a more significant – and broader – impact on music like The Beatles masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club? The project singularly proved that the album format could bend into any shape or direction that an artist desired. The Fab Four demonstrated that no boundaries were holding back their artistry, together as a band, The Beatles were simply shoulders above their competition.
Sgt. Pepper signified the moment that The Beatles leapt out of their comfort zone, and even though they were already the most popular group on the planet, they still had their doubters. Sgt. Pepper, however, showed that they could write pop records as delectable as any artist that proceeded them, but The Fab four also had an avant-garde streak that separated them from the chasing pack.
McCartney later astutely put it: “We were fed up with being Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top boys approach. We were not boys, we were men.” Sgt. Pepper was their coming-out party, the clean-cut days were behind them, and the Beatles were no longer the whiter than white figures the press had painted them as during their infantile years.
Macca was the driving force behind the project, later explaining: “If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed Pepper.” He also later revealed that the LP was his favourite body of work by The Beatles, which speaks volumes about how well it has aged in his opinion. They took the thriving counterculture which had absorbed the underground of London and brought it to the world through their dastardly occult tinged concept record.
Not everyone is a fan of the album, however, with The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards once disparagingly stating: “I understand—the Beatles sounded great when they were the Beatles. But there’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do.”
Adding: “You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties—’Oh, if you can make a load of shit, so can we.'”
As Richards himself alludes to, The Rolling Stones attempted to replicate the psychedelic brilliance of Sgt. Pepper on Satanic Majesties in what is the finest example of the wide-spanning influence of The Beatles’ experimental effort. Even though the guitarist described it as “a load of shit”, at the time, he considered it to be the future of music, hence why The Stones tried to recreate it with their next album, released a matter of months later.
Roger Waters later explained how Sgt. Pepper played a pivotal role in shaping Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece The Dark Side Of The Moon. “I learned from Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison that it was OK for us to write about our lives and express what we felt,” he noted. “More than any other record, it gave me and my generation permission to branch out and do whatever we wanted.”
The influence of Sgt. Pepper’s is precisely what Waters explained rather than the direct impact on a group like The Rolling Stones who, in contrast, attempted to copy the sound rather than the pioneering spirit. The album opened up the horizons on what a traditional rock album could be, suddenly anything was possible, and mavericks such as Pink Floyd thrived in the post-Sgt. Pepper’s world. Everything about the album is iconic, from the clothing through to the cover. It was like nothing had come before, and the first-ever significant concept record. Who knows whether we will ever see a singular album have an equal impact again? I doubt it.