Why Keith Richards thinks The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was rubbish
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones shared a chequered history and, if you believed everything you read about the two groups during their rise to prominence, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were often at each other’s throats. However, the two of them changed the face of popular music together. The faux rivalry between the groups helped them achieve unprecedented highs and spurred each other to make killer records.
Even though there was no true hatred between them, that doesn’t mean that they adored everything that one another released and Keith Richards even on one occasion detailed why the beloved Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was rubbish. Remarkably, at the time, however, The Stones seemed to copy it on Their Satanic Majesties Request. This record saw the band try to replicate the Merseysiders by going full psychedelia for the project. The Stones album was heavily criticised at the time of release and fairly dismissed as a Beatles knock-off.
The similarities between the two records even extended to the album artwork, the Stones’ effort was, in reality, a deliberate move and featured a subliminal message that showed their admiration for the pioneering Merseysiders. However, speaking to Esquire in 2015 — Keith Richards spoke about his disdain for both records.
Richards has always lived and breathed the blues, so this change in direction away from classic rock ‘n’ roll was certainly out of his wheelhouse, and it’s an era of The Stones that, in his eyes, hasn’t quite lasted the test of time. This is contrary to the public’s view on the record, which seems to have grown in stature as the decades have gone on and it isn’t an unpopular opinion to view it as a greater piece of art than Sgt. Pepper.
“But they talk about us and The Beatles, those chicks wore those guys out,” Richards said on Beatlemania. “They stopped touring in 1966—they were done already. They were ready to go to India and shit.”
He then added: “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. 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.'”
The Beatles called it a day in 1970 and The Rolling Stones are still going strong 50-years-on, the careers between the two acts remain intrinsically linked. Although, it’s highly debatable whether The Stones made their best material whilst The Fab Four were their ‘rivals’ — if it wasn’t for The Beatles, then The Rolling Stones may never have gone on to become the titans they are today.
Members of both respected groups knew each other from the very early days, back when The Stones had zero status but had started to circulate a small but strong reputation for themselves on the London circuit. In 2003, Richards answered a fan question on his website about his relationship with The Beatles which triggered an emotional reaction from the guitarist who, in turn, revealed his precious memory of the first time that The Fab Four came to watch him play.
“They came to see us play,” Richards said with a level of amazement still in his voice despite the decades that had passed. “It was at The Station Hotel, Richmond — that was our gig, it was the only one we really had. We’re whacking our show out and everybody is having a good time y’know then I suddenly turn around and there is these four guys in black leather overcoats standing there.”
He added: “I’m thinking ‘fuck me, look who’s here’,” Richards comically recalled about his rush of nerves that suddenly kicked in. “This was just after ‘Love Me Do ‘like this was really early on and it was late ’62. I was like ‘oh god, they’ve come to check us out man’ (laughs) and there they were.
“From then on we were always good mates and we always made sure our new singles didn’t clash,” The Stones guitarist said as he gave out more priceless information about their friendship. “We would collaborate with each other to stop us going head to head because then outside you’ll have to be a Beatles fan or a Stones fan like it would never twain which is bullshit because we were both so similar. We all recognised that and that was one of the great things about it, between the two bands there was never a sense of competition, it was like co-operation really,” Richards blissfully recalled.
These words show that even if not everything that The Beatles did was Keith Richards’ cup of tea, he not only admired the large majority of work they produced but, more importantly, he respected them as people. The guitarist’s opinion on Sgt. Pepper’s being “mishmash rubbish” is an opinion that is in line with his taste, he’s a man who hero-worships the likes of Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry — psychedelia just isn’t the experience everyone was looking for, especially not Keef.