Any Beatles fan will tell you, Paul McCartney’s creative zenith was the band’s conceptual masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A piece of pop music revelry that was drenched in acid rock, baroque pop, and the smut of the swinging sixties.
The concept of the record has been discussed on numerous occasions, and McCartney has now added a few more explanations for the origin of the LP’s name during a conversation with Rick Rubin during the first episode of These Things Bring You Together.
There have been plenty of theories as to who Sgt. Pepper was in the mind of McCartney, the album’s maestro. Now the bassist and songwriter has suggested that the name was made up on the spot after a simple remark. “I was on a plane with our roadie, and we were eating, and he said, ‘Can you pass the salt and pepper?’ I thought he said ‘Sergeant Pepper,'” said McCartney. “We had a laugh about that. And the more I thought about it, Sergeant Pepper — that’s kind of a cool character.”
The titular character of the song has long been mused over. Many have attributed the mythical figure to the occultist Aleister Crowley. The writer gained fame during the sixties, and The Beatles were certainly aware of his work.
As with every Fab Four release, the lyrics have been pawed over for decades. The album was released 20 years after the writer died, a fact which has led many to suggest that when the band sing “It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” it highlights their allegiance to the writer. It’s a little flimsy, at best, and at worst, totally irrational.
It’s a claim that others suggest is substantiated by Lennon’s now-infamous 1980 interview with Playboy’s David Sheff. In the interview, he seems to replicate Aleister Crowley’s most famous mantra: “Do what thou wilst is the whole of the Law,” when he said, “Do what thou wilst, as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody.” However, now, it would seem that it came to McCartney after a misheard request for salt and pepper.
McCartney also confirmed that he thought of the concept for The Beatles to pretend to be a completely different band on the same flight. “I said it’d be great to make an album like we’re alter egos of ourselves. So we don’t have to think, ‘This is the Beatles making an album.’ There’s no pressure of, ‘What do the Beatles need to do now?’ This is just some other band,” he went on to tell Rubin. There’s no doubting that it alleviated the pressures of being The Beatles, but it was artistically driven by one man.
Noted as McCartney’s favourite Beatles album, the songwriter completely gave himself to the concept and wrote songs accordingly. He also conducted the band in a manner that swung the balance of power in the group. The album confirmed the band as musical icons and has been revered ever since.
It was clear that McCartney was now the creative director of the Fab Four, and it’s all thanks to some seasoning.