For over 30 years, Beatles fans have been gathering at Strawberry Fields in Central Park to celebrate John Lennon’s life on his birthday, October 9, and also to mourn his death on December 8.
Located across the street from the Dakota apartment building where John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono, Strawberry Fields encompasses the pathways in Central Park that John and Yoko used to stroll together over the years from 1973 until Lennon was gunned down in front of the building in 1980.
Five years after his death, on October 9, 1985, what would have been Lennon’s 45th birthday, this tear-shaped section of Central Park stretching from 71st to 74th streets along Central Park West was re-named “Strawberry Fields” after The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The famous grey and white marble Imagine mosaic, which is the centerpiece of the area, was a gift from the city of Naples, Italy.
The groundbreaking ceremony for Strawberry Fields was held on March 21, 1984 with Yoko Ono and Lennon’s sons Julian and Sean in attendance. A bronze plaque which was unveiled at the dedication ceremony lists 121 countries who endorse this Garden of Peace.
The idea for ‘Strawberry Fields’ was conceived by Yoko Ono and she “selected an ancient mosaic design found in Naples and placed the word Imagine in the center,” according to author Sara Cedar Miller. “The people of Naples were delighted, and artisans were dispatched to Strawberry Fields to inlay the Imagine mosaic medallion, faithfully copying the design Yoko had chosen.”
While most people think of the Imagine mosaic section as the major part of Strawberry Fields, there are actually 5.3 acres in total that make up the whole of the area. For the landscape design of this section of Central Park, Yoko worked with landscape architect, Bruce Kelly, to create a fitting memorial to John Lennon that was “more nature than culture.”
In August 1981, Ono placed letters in the New York Times and many other newspapers asking for donations from other countries to create this peace garden. Many countries sent native plants; for example, an oak tree from Great Britain, dogwoods from Monaco, tulip bulbs from the Netherlands, maples from Canada, etc. And, of course, strawberries were planted by the Central Park Conservancy.
The area is shaded by elm trees and provides many benches for visitors to relax and “imagine.” Strawberry Fields is intended as a quiet place for reflection, designated as a “quiet zone” in the Park. In exchange for a generous donation to the Central Park Conservancy, patrons can get their name inscribed on a plaque on one of the benches.
Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and her windows overlook the Imagine mosaic at 72nd street and Central Park West. While the word “Imagine” is recognized for Lennon’s famous song first released in 1971, it is also a concept that Ono has portrayed in her artwork long before she met Lennon. He even admitted that he got the idea for the song from her.
The song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song, because a lot of it, the lyric and the concept, came from Yoko,” John Lennon said in a 1980 interview, shortly before he died.
In 2017, the National Music Publishers Association announced that Ono would share songwriting credits for Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“Those days, I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon added, noting that the song makes direct reference to Yoko’s 1964 book, Grapefruit.
It was Yoko’s intention to continue the world peace sentiment that she and Lennon had initiated in 1969 which included planting an acorn in England and then sending acorns to heads of state around the world. In her 1981 letter, Ono said, “John would have been very proud that this was given to him, an island named after his song, rather than a statue or a monument….It will be nice to have the whole world in one place, one field, living and growing together in harmony.”
A book called Strawberry Fields: Central Park’s Memorial to John Lennon chronicles the creation of this memorial. The book, released in 2011, was written by Sara Cedar Miller, the official photographer and historian of the Central Park Conservancy. The 95-page book is filled with gorgeous color photos as well as historical documents and black & white photos.
The Central Park Conservancy also sells souvenirs of the Imagine mosaic, including a blanket, coffee mug and jewelry.
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By Ken Womack
Why do the Fab Four endure when so many others fade quietly into popular music’s often unforgiving sunset? Beyond the glossy packaging and the culture (indeed, the counter-culture) of Beatlemania, what are the sonic nuances that made the Beatles a musical phenomenon for all time?
As John Lennon reminded us during one of his last interviews in 1980, the answer is nestled somewhere amongst their rich array of albums: “With the Beatles, the music is the point,” Lennon remarked, and “you have all this great music.”
To explain in more detail, one must address the significant recording accomplishments of the Fab Four. In other words, how did they progress musically, and which recordings represent the first-time achievement of a specific technique in their career?
As a result, here in my opinion, is a listing (in order of their original release date) of the Top 10 Musical Moments achieved by the Beatles in the recording studio:
1) “I Saw Her Standing There” (1963)
As the first track on the Beatles’ inaugural album Please Please Me (1963), “I Saw Her Standing There” explodes with a sense of urgency and abandon equaled only by the opening strains of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the song that would prefigure the group’s triumphant first visit to North America in February 1964.
Lyrically, “I Saw Her Standing There” bespeaks the same teenage amalgam of hopeful romance and ready acceptance that marks the band’s other works of this era:
“Well, she was just 17
You know what I mean
And the way she looked
Was way beyond compare”
McCartney and Lennon composed the song in the McCartney’s living room (on Forthlin Road) while playing hooky during John’s art school days. Lennon later observed that “we were just writing songs, like the Everly Brothers, like Buddy Holly, pop songs with no more thought to them than that – to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant.”
Although the lyrics devolve into a kind of innocuous optimism, the guitar work on “I Saw Her Standing There” fuels the track’s driving spirit. Based on a series of blues riffs, the song’s musical terrain includes a scattering of guitar embellishments that culminate in Harrison’s electrifying solo.
When an audibly excited McCartney counts off the tempo at the beginning of “I Saw Her Standing There,” the Beatles began ushering in a new sound that would erase and subsequently reconfigure the face of popular music.
2) The “middle-eight” on “And I Love Her” (1964)
The Beatles’ early work presages their later accomplishments in terms of its sheer variety. With a knack for crafting “middle-eights” – musical lingo for the eight-bar refrains that characterize their songwriting in the early 1960s – the Beatles were already searching for new musical vistas as early as A Hard Day’s Night (1964).
With “And I Love Her,” the band easily assumes a stirring Latin beat. Ornamented with Harrison and McCartney’s flamenco-like guitar arpeggios, “And I Love Her” swells with the rhythmic intensity of Ringo Starr’s bongos and Harrison’s intermittent claves.
For McCartney, “And I Love Her” is nothing short of a watershed moment. “With one stroke,” Tim Riley writes in Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (1988), McCartney “gains the status of standard balladeer composer.”
McCartney’s enormous catalogue of romantic melodies and ballads finds its origins in “And I Love Her” and the discerning fan can draw a line from its composition to the emergence of such classic tunes as “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “Yesterday,” “Michelle,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.”
3) The sitar accompaniment on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” (1965)
One of the Beatles’ most remarkable sonic features concerns the vast musical sweep of their career itself. The utterly mesmerizing instrumental and lyrical leap from Please Please Me through Rubber Soul (1965) is matched only by the artistic heights that the band would later reach on Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Beatles [a.k.a. The White Album] (1968), and Abbey Road (1969).
On Rubber Soul, the Beatles effectively signaled the expansion of their musical horizons via Harrison’s well-known experimentation with sitar music – the exotic, microtonal flavor of which would adorn such Beatles tunes as the classic “Norwegian Wood” and “Within You, Without You” from Sgt. Pepper.
In “Norwegian Wood,” Harrison’s sitar lines accent the flourishes of Lennon’s haunting acoustic guitar. But they also provide a curious palette for Lennon’s confessional lyrics about an extramarital affair.
As with “I’ll Be Back” and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” from Beatles for Sale (1964), “Norwegian Wood” represents a significant departure from the silly love songs that accounted for the band’s initial parcel of hits.
The lyrics themselves – far from underscoring love’s everlasting possibilities – hint at something far more fleeting, even unromantic:
She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair
Compare the words of “Norwegian Wood” with such earlier phraseology as
I ain’t got nothing but love, babe
Eight days a week
And the Beatles’ intellectual development becomes resoundingly clear.
4) “A Day in the Life” (1967)
Fans and critics alike often refer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as popular music’s first “concept” album. In truth, though, the Beatles’ notion of a fictitious ensemble peters out after “With a Little Help from My Friends,” the album’s second track.
The concept “doesn’t go anywhere,” Lennon later remarked. “But it works ‘cause we said it works.”
Perhaps even more significantly, Sgt. Pepper saw the Beatles erasing the boundaries that they had been challenging since Rubber Soul and Revolver.
“Until this album, we’d never thought of taking the freedom to do something like Sgt. Pepper,” McCartney observed. “We started to realize there weren’t as many barriers as we’d thought, we could break though with things like album covers, or invent another persona for the band.”
With “A Day in the Life” – the album’s dramatic climax – the Beatles virtually reimagined themselves as recording artists. Filled with variegated sonic hues and other assorted sound effects, the song contrasts Lennon’s impassive stories of disillusion and regret with McCartney’s deceptively buoyant interlude about the numbing effects of the workaday world.
The song’s luminous, open-ended refrain: “I’d love to turn you on” promises a sense of interpersonal salvation on a universal scale.
Yet Lennon and McCartney’s detached lyrics seem to suggest, via their nuances of resignation and unacknowledged guilt, that such a form of emotional release will always remain an unrealized dream.
As the music of the Beatles and a studio orchestra spirals out of control and into oblivion, a massive piano chord punctuates the song’s melancholic ambiance.
“In the end,” the Beatles’ legendary producer George Martin writes in All You Need Is Ears (1994), “the microphones were so live that you could hear the air conditioning. It took 45 seconds to do, and we did it three or four times, building up a massive sound of piano after piano after piano, all doing the same thing.”
As the zenith of the Beatles’ musical vitality, the chord that concludes “A Day in the Life” will surely reverberate for the ages.
5) “I Am the Walrus” (1967)
Written at the apex of the Summer of Love, Lennon’s self-consciously psychedelic “I Am the Walrus” functions – at least on a lyrical level – as a brilliant tirade against the ills of enforced institutionalism. Adorned with stunning wordplay and linguistic imagery, “I Am the Walrus” pits Lennon’s bitter vocals against a surrealistic musical tableau comprised of McCartney’s hypnotic bass, Harrison and Starr’s playful percussion, and Martin’s exhilarating string arrangements.
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” “I Am the Walrus” opens with Lennon’s Mellotronin-toned phrasing designed to replicate the monotonous cry of a police siren.
As the song’s spectacular lyrics unfold:“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are altogether.” Starr’s wayward snare interrupts the proceedings and sets Lennon’s intentionally absurdist catalogue of images into motion.
While an assortment of cryptic voices and diabolical laughter weave in and out of the mix, Lennon’s pungent lyrics encounter an array of ridiculous characters – from a “crab locker fishwife” and a “pornographic priestess” to the “expert texpert choking smokers” and that madman of literary effrontery himself, Edgar Allan Poe.
When “I Am the Walrus” finally recedes amongst its ubiquitous mantra of “Goo Goo Goo Joob,” the song dissolves into a scene from a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Described by Ian MacDonald as “the most idiosyncratic protest song ever written,” “I Am the Walrus” features Lennon’s most inspired verbal textures, as well as the Beatles’ greatest moment of musical diaphora: in one sense, “I Am the Walrus” seems utterly devoid of meaning, yet at the same time its songwriter’s rants about prevailing social structures absolutely beg for interpretation.
6) Side Two of the White Album (1968)
Quite obviously, we hardly speak of albums in terms of “sides” in the compact-disc era. But yes, kiddies, there was a time when you could saunter into any record store and purchase long-playing records. We called them LPs, but they are now referred to, rather stylishly, as “vinyl.”
Side two of the White Album witnesses the Beatles in full swagger. With their dizzying array of musical styles, the nine tracks from “Martha My Dear” through “Julia” loom as masterworks of artistic virtuosity. They also illustrate the White Album’s stunning eclecticism – the true measure of the album’s resilience.
McCartney’s baroque-sounding “Martha My Dear,” with its crisp brass accompaniment, introduces the sequence, which meanders, rather lazily, into Lennon’s bluesy “I’m So Tired.” Lennon later recalled the song as “one of my favorite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well.”
Written during the Beatles’ famous visit to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat at Rishikesh during the spring of 1968, McCartney’s folksy “Blackbird” imagines a contemplative metaphor for the United States’ civil rights struggles during the 1960s.
The sound of a chirping blackbird eventually segues into Harrison’ edgy political satire, “Piggies.” Interestingly, the songwriter’s mother, Louise Harrison, composed the tune’s signature lyric – a punishment suitable for misanthropic politicians everywhere: “What they need’s a damned good whacking!”
The White Album’s song cycle continues with McCartney’s countrified “Rocky Raccoon,” a track that shifts, rather astonishingly, from the disquieting universe of cowboys, gunplay and saloons into a gentle paean about nostalgia and loss.
Starr’s “Don’t Pass Me By,” with its barrelhouse piano chorus, steers the sequence abruptly into the sudsy world of the beer hall. Originally entitled “Some Kind of Friendly,” the song became a number-one hit, rather fittingly in Scandinavia.
One of McCartney’s finest blues effusions, “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” explodes from the embers of “Don’t Pass Me By” and brilliantly sets the stage for the side’s final two numbers, “I Will” and “Julia.”
A soothing melody about the tenuous interplay between romance and commitment, “I Will” remains one of McCartney’s most memorable experiments in brash sentimentality.
Arguably his most powerful ballad, Lennon’s “Julia” memorializes the songwriter’s late mother while simultaneously addressing his spiritual deliverance at the hands of his newfound soul mate, the ”ocean child” Yoko Ono.
7) The guitar lick at the end of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” and the piano melody on “Sexy Sadie” (1968)
Unfortunately, the Beatles’ considerable impact upon popular culture often seems to obscure the minute particulars of their musicianship. Two instances from the White Album especially underscore their dexterity as musical craftsmen, as well as their phenomenal aural leaps from, say, “Can’t Buy Me Love” through their finest artistic accomplishments during the late 1960s.
A moment of pure excitement and adrenaline, the guitar riff at the conclusion of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” accentuates an otherwise peculiar song about social politics with the bruising panache of rock and roll. A rhythmic burst of high-octane modulation, the guitar phrasings at the end of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” exemplify the breadth of the band’s extraordinary musical prowess.
As Lennon’s acidic lullaby to the Beatles’ experiences under the Maharishi’s dubious tutelage, “Sexy Sadie” bears mention for its salacious lyrical contents alone:
We gave you everything we owned just to sit at your table
Just a smile would lighten everything
In terms of sheer artistry, though, the song reveals the band in full aesthetic throttle. As McCartney’s tinkling piano phrases spar with Harrison’s bristling guitar, “Sexy Sadie” maneuvers effortlessly through chord changes and one harmonic shift after another.
When the song finally ascends to its closing musical interchange, the Beatles’ instrumentation and Lennon’s spellbinding vocal coalesce in a breathtaking instance of blissful resolution.
8) Harrison’s guitar solo on “Something” (1969)
Harrison comes into his own, of course, on Abbey Road, the Beatles’ magnificent swan song. The unbridled optimism of Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” is matched – indeed, surpassed – only by “Something,” his crowning achievement and the classic tune that Frank Sinatra would famously dub “the greatest love song of the past 50 years.”
For much of the song, Harrison’s soaring guitar, his musical trademark, dances in delectable counterpoint with McCartney’s jazzy, melodic bass. Instrumentally, the fusion of their guitar work produces an exquisite musical tapestry as “Something” meanders toward Harrison’s most unforgettable of guitar solos, the tune’s greatest lyrical feature – even more lyrical, interestingly enough, than the lyrics themselves.
A masterpiece of utter simplicity, Harrison’s solo reaches toward the sublime, wrestles with it in a bouquet of downward syncopation, and hoists it yet again in a moment of supreme grace.
9) The Abbey Road medley (1969)
There is little question that, even during its production, the Beatles regarded Abbey Road as their final studio album. Their growing interpersonal and financial tensions were exacting a seemingly immutable toll on their artistic relationship.
As the workmanlike Beatles went about the business of recording their musical finale, McCartney and Martin began assembling the medley that would conclude the album.
“I wanted to do something bigger, a kind of operatic moment,” McCartney remembered.
In contrast with the pop operas of that era by The Who and The Small Faces, The Beatles’ medley essentially consists of an assortment of unfinished songs. Yet McCartney and Martin’s inspired post-production efforts ensured that the medley enjoyed a cohesiveness from which we can draw larger musical and lyrical motifs.
While the medley features the Beatles’ penchant for balladry in such literary characters as Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam, and the eccentric female protagonist who meanders in and out of the narrative of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” the sequence reaches its most profound instances during such classic numbers as “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Golden Slumbers,” and “Carry that Weight.”
In “You Never Give Me Your Money,” McCartney’s plaintive piano strains give way to Lennon and Harrison’s dueling rhythm guitars. As Harrison later observed, the song “does two verses of one tune, and then the bridge is almost like a different song altogether, so it’s quite melodic.”
The lyrics bespeak the tragedies of misspent youth and runaway fame:
Out of college, money spent
See no future, pay no rent
All the money’s gone, nowhere to go
As “You Never Give Me Your Money” comes to a close, the song’s bluesy guitar riffs segue into the chorus of a children’s nursery rhyme:
One, two , three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to heaven
Later in “Golden Slumbers,” McCartney resumes the medley’s earlier themes with a deft reworking of Thomas Dekker’s 400-year-old poem of the same name. As the medley progresses toward its symphonic conclusion, the song’s bitter nostalgia – “Once there was a way to get back homeward / Once there was a way to get back home” – yields itself to a larger realization, in “Carry That Weight,” that we inevitably shoulder the past’s frequently irredeemable burden for the balance of our lives.
In “Carry That Weight,” McCartney acknowledges his own culpability in the Beatles’ dissolution, yet his rather humbling, self-conscious lyrics extend an olive branch to his increasingly distant chums:
I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down
In its highly polished final form, the Abbey Road medley encounters the Beatles at the height of their decidedly literary faculties. In many ways, the medley functions as McCartney’s clever reconfiguration of Shakespeare’s “seven ages of man” in As You Like It.
From “You Never Give Me Your Money” through “The End,” his lyrics impinge upon the inherent difficulties that come with growing up and growing older. Only the power of memory, it seems, can placate our inevitable feelings of nostalgia and regret – not only for our youthful days, but for how we lived them.
Appropriately, McCartney concludes the medley with a quasi-Shakespearean couplet – “A cosmic, philosophical line,” in Lennon’s words: “And in the end the love you take / Is equal to the love you make.”
In The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology (1999), Walter Everett astutely reads the medley as “a very personal final gift from Paul McCartney to his mates, as well as from the Beatles to the world.”
As the moving coda to a brilliant career, the Abbey Road medley – perhaps more than any other moment in the Beatles’ unprecedented musical catalogue – witnesses the band’s creative powers in full bloom.
10) “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” (1970)
Granted, “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” hardly begins to rank among the Beatles’ finest songs. Originally released as the B-side of “Let It Be” – the group’s penultimate number-one hit – this whimsical tune never fails to arouse even the most jaded listener’s nostalgia for the Fab Four’s inherent sense of fun.
Recorded by the band in 1967 and completed by Lennon, McCartney and the Beatles’ faithful roadie Mal Evans in 1969, “You Know My Name” is a uniquely comic moment in the group’s discography.
“We had these endless , crazy fun sessions,” McCartney fondly observes in his introduction to Mark Lewisohn’s quintessential The Beatles Recording Sessions (1988).
A pastiche of lounge-style vocal stylings and Monty Python-esque humor, the song features the late Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones on saxophone, Lennon playing the maracas, and Harrison on the xylophone.
From its soul-pounding blues introduction to the song’s swanky samba refrain, “You Know My Name” is propelled – in unforgettably comic fashion – by Lennon’s hilarious falsetto vocals and the dappled chorus of grunts and mumbles that mark the tune’s sizzling conclusion. Although it could never hope to challenge the likes of such classics as “Hey Jude,” “Come Together” or Revolution,” You Know My Name” clearly occupies a distinctive niche in the storied history of Beatlemania.
Any list of great Beatles songs is inherently flawed, of course, and can never really begin to account for the totality of their artistic achievement. If nothing else, though, this roster of distinguished Beatles moments illustrates the essence of their timelessness. It is worth nothing that a significant portion of their greatness can be attributed to the simple fact that they never wore out their welcome. And, in the well-trodden words of Lennon and McCartney, you know that can’t be bad.
Ken Womack is the author of many books including The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four and his most recent, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, The Early Years, 1926-1966. The second volume, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years: 1966-2016), is forthcoming in 2018. Ken serves as Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University.
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by Trina Yannicos
[This article was originally printed in Daytrippin’ Magazine, Issue 1.]
It was 50 years ago today…
The Beatles released their album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, during the “Summer of Love” on June 1, 1967. Sgt. Pepper was unlike any album of its time. It was considered unprecedented in many ways due to the innovative ideas and musical techniques presented on the album.
The album cover, the printed lyrics, the musical composition, the lyrical contents and the overall concept of the album proved upon its release to have a great impact on popular music as well as on the rest of popular culture. Considering the attention it was given through prestigious publications such as Newsweek, Time, The New York Times and The Washington Post illustrates that it was recognized as a significant event in the history of the 1960s.
The music industry honored The Beatles monumental achievement at the GRAMMY Awards given in 1968. Sgt. Pepper won for Best Engineered Album, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Contemporary Rock and Roll Performance, Best Album Cover and Album of the Year. The album’s revolutionary and brilliant qualities were praised. In 1993, the album entered the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.
Sgt. Pepper was considered the first of its kind in many respects. For example, Sgt. Pepper became one of the first rock albums to eliminate the periods of silence traditionally heard between songs. As a result, the concept of the album was to recreate a concert-like performance of the make-believe Sgt. Pepper’s band.
Also contributing to the uniqueness of Sgt. Pepper was the album cover. It was a collage of The Beatles surrounded by famous historical, literary and entertainment figures ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to Marilyn Monroe to Bob Dylan. Apparently, the Beatles’ record company, EMI, obtained permission from each celebrity to include them on the cover.
Musically, this was an extraordinary album not just because of the complex musical arrangements, but also because of the wide variety of instruments used ranging from an electric guitar to a 41-piece orchestra.
The lyrics of the songs had a great effect because of the many ways they could be interpreted. Sgt. Pepper marked the first time that the lyrics were printed on the cover of a major pop release. As a result, the printing of the lyrics put a greater emphasis on the meaning of the songs. Consequently, this rock album, which had several different aspects to analyze, received near-unanimous raves and very little criticism.
Throughout the States, it was widely agreed upon that Sgt. Pepper was a superior achievement for The Beatles. Taken along with the Beatles’ previous successes, Sgt. Pepper‘s release created an outpouring of esteemed praise for The Beatles.
In Time‘s cover story (9/22/67), music writer Christopher Porterfield described The Beatles as “messengers from beyond rock ‘n’ roll, they are creating the most original, expressive and musically interesting sounds being heard in pop music.” Meanwhile, in Newsweek (6/26/67), Jack Kroll called them “Britain’s new Poet Laureate.”
The Beatles were being hailed as the greatest in their field, and by some they were being hailed as the greatest humans on earth. According to Philip Norman in his book Shout! The Beatles in their Generation (1981), Dr. Timothy Leary, a famous personality in the hippie movement, claimed that the Beatles were “the wisest, holiest, most effective avatars the human race has ever produced.”
At the same time, the album itself was receiving the highest critical acclaim. According to Norman, The New York Times Review of Books declared that Sgt. Pepper marked “a new and golden Renaissance of song.” Meanwhile, according to Nicholas Schaffner in his book The Beatles Forever (1977), Tom Philips of New York’s Village Voice called Sgt. Pepper “the most ambitious and most successful record album ever issued.”
The majority of critics had a similar positive response to the album. Obviously, the most influential part of the album was the music. In The Washington Post (6/18/67), Carl Bernstein expressed his view of this amazing creation: “The Beatles have managed to create a musical infinity through a miraculous metamorphosis of dozens of Eastern and Western musical ideas, some centuries old, others from our own era and more than a few from the future.” It was the opinion of many critics that Sgt. Pepper was the most amazing rock album to date.
However, the real proof that Sgt. Pepper was an astounding musical achievement rested in the views of other musicians. Surprisingly, in the classical music world, Sgt. Pepper received great praise.
According to Time (9/22/67), classical conductor Leonard Bernstein declared that the song “She’s Leaving Home” was one of the three great songs of the century. Also, Time reported that classical composer Ned Rorem claimed that this song “is equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote.” Rorem also insisted that the best songs on Sgt. Pepper could compare with those by composers Monteverdi, Schumann and Poulenc.
Meanwhile, within the rock world, the reaction was just as great. According to the authors of The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles (1983), after first hearing Sgt. Pepper, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson gave up working on his own upcoming album since he believed Sgt. Pepper to be the greatest album ever made and nothing could top it.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then The Who and The Rolling Stones greatly admired The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. They both took up the challenge of matching it with their albums, Tommy and Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Although the overwhelming response to Sgt. Pepper was positive, there were a few negative responses. According to Schaffner, Richard Goldstein of The New York Times “dismissed most of the songs [on Sgt. Pepper] as pretentious and gimmicky.” On a more severe note, according to Philip Norman, the John Birch Society, an ultra right-wing Christian group, claimed that the Beatles “were part of a Communist conspiracy and their music displayed ‘an understanding of the principles of brainwashing.'”
The BBC expressed their own form of negative response when they banned the song “A Day in the Life” from being played on the British airwaves. They stated that the song was promoting drugs through lyrics such as “I’d love to turn you on.”
Some fans of The Beatles also saw Sgt. Pepper as a prelude to the inevitable commercial exploitation of the counterculture. According to Schaffner, Robert Somma in Crawdaddy criticized The Beatles because “they tidied up the drug scene, made psychedelia as palatable and mind-blowing as Congress.” Nonetheless, these criticisms were among the few that appeared amidst the plethora of praise for Sgt. Pepper.
Not only did Sgt. Pepper promote good and bad reviews for itself, but it created a new form of criticism for all rock albums which came thereafter. Following the strong reaction to Sgt. Pepper, serious critical reviews on rock albums came into existence. Prestigious publications started including commentaries on The Beatles and rock music in their issues. Until then, the only source of rock journalism came from fan magazines and the underground press. After Sgt. Pepper, a whole new genre of critical review emerged leading to the birth of magazines such as Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy.
The majority of America looked favorably on the release of Sgt. Pepper. The most enthusiastic were the youth of America or the counterculture. With the release of Sgt. Pepper, the youth of the sixties believed that the Beatles were the spokesmen for the counterculture. The hippies studied and dissected the album, believing that it held prophecies, messages and signs for them.
Besides the supposed drug messages in the lyrics, the hippies also interpreted some songs to be a put down of their parents. According to Porterfield, “She’s Leaving Home,” with its story about a teenage girl who runs away from home, was thought of as an anthem for the younger generation. As reported in Time, one 15-year-old hippie commented that the Beatles were “saying all the things I always wanted to say to my parents and their freaky friends.”
According to Jon Wiener in his book Come Together: John Lennon in His Time (1984), Robert Christgau, a writer for the music magazine Cheetah, claimed that Sgt. Pepper served as a “catalyst for the entire youth movement.” Sgt. Pepper was considered to be the perfect soundtrack for the “Summer of Love.” It managed to express almost every aspect of the merging youth subculture.
The cover story in Time (9/22/67) summarized the main messages the album relays: “tension between the generations, the loneliness of the dislocated ’60s, and the bitter sweets of young love in any age.” The youth movement could strongly identify with these messages.
Not only did the younger generation respond to Sgt. Pepper, but for the first time the older generation took a serious look at the Beatles and their music. Sgt. Pepper caused many adults, including parents, professors and business executives, to start taking the Beatles and rock music seriously. It was the first rock album that many people bought, and consequently, average adults started to formulate their own views on the Beatles’ music.
According to Time, Tom Leland, an Atlanta psychiatrist, stated that on Sgt. Pepper the Beatles were “speaking in an existential way about the meaningless of actuality.” Also reported in Time, Robert Tusler, a teacher of 20th century music at UCLA, declared that The Beatles “made an enormous contribution to electronic music.”
Some adults proclaimed that with the release of Sgt. Pepper, popular music had progressed into an art form. According to Time, musicologist Henry Pleasants declared, “The Beatles are where music is right now.”
This sudden change in perspectives on rock music may have been strongly influenced by the gradual progression of the Beatles’ music. The sharp contrast from the Beatles’ earlier music to the later music of Sgt. Pepper was a drastic change from simplicity to complexity. This metamorphosis, which also reflected the changing of the times, resulted from The Beatles desire to grow, experiment and expand their horizons.
This progression caused people to recognize the dramatic effect of popular music as art. Jack Kroll of Newsweek compared the Beatles to other artistic writers: “…loss of innocence is, increasingly, their theme and the theme of more ‘serious’ new art from the stories of Donald Barthelme to the plays of Harold Pinter.”
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band definitely set a new standard of achievement in popular music due to the immense positive response it received almost everywhere. As Jim Hoagland declared in The Washington Post in 1967, “music may never be the same again.” And it wasn’t.
In 1987, on its 20th anniversary, it was voted the greatest album of all time by a worldwide panel of critics. Looking back on the album in retrospect, it obviously had weaknesses. Richard Harrington claimed in The Washington Post in 1987 that the only songs that hold up well are: “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Getting Better” and “A Day in the Life.” However, he still agreed that the album had tremendous influence over the music industry and the American public.
The music industry changed in several ways after the release of Sgt. Pepper. Since the album took four months to make at a cost of approximately $100,000, the record business began its transformation into a billion dollar industry. Consequently, the album format was emphasized, and recording and marketing techniques were reshaped. After Sgt. Pepper introduced the idea of a “concept album”, this idea was widely imitated. Also no respectable rock star would ever again put out a dull album cover.
Immediately following Sgt. Pepper, there was an unprecedented amount of freedom of expression in rock songs. Due to the acceptance of rock as art, every major album could expect to be critically analyzed and examined like a new novel. This criticism is still prevalent today in such magazines as Rolling Stone, which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Sgt. Pepper also inspired a new age of studio experimentation and lavish productions. It is generally recognized that with Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles reached their peak in regards to experimentation and influence. This album was definitely seen as a turning point in the music industry.
Concerning American society, Sgt. Pepper also had a great influence. The music seemed to distill the moods of that time. It opened up the eyes of the people, young and old. The album accurately personified the psychedelic sixties. It reflected the beliefs and thoughts of the people, especially the youth.
Landgon Winner wrote in The New Yorker about the feeling evoked by the release of Sgt. Pepper: “The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released. For a brief while, the irreparably fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, as least in the minds of the young.”
Will there ever be another album/CD that will have as enormous an impact as Sgt. Pepper did? Judging from the 50 years since Sgt. Pepper‘s release, that seems highly doubtful.
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Sad news in the Beatles community to hear that Pete Shotton, John Lennon’s best friend growing up, died on March 24, 2017. He was 75 years old, born in 1941 – surprising that he was one year younger than John Lennon, since they were best friends in school.
Pete and John met in Sunday school when they were respectively, 6 and 7 years old. They also lived close to each other in Liverpool. They formed a small rowdy group of boys from the neighborhood which also included Nigel Whalley and Ivan Vaughn, who would play a pivotal role in Beatles history when he introduced Paul McCartney to John Lennon in 1957.
John and Pete’s childhood and teenage friendship, which lasted through high school and adulthood, was depicted in the film, Nowhere Boy, which showed how John was the instigator of the two:
John Lennon insisted on Shotton’s participation as a member of his first band, The Quarrymen skiffle group. Pete was assigned the washboard. It wasn’t so much Shotton’s musical ability (which was lacking) but more having the support of his friend in the band. In fact, without Pete, John may have never pursued starting the group.
According to Pete: “Had I categorically said no, John would almost certainly have shelved the whole idea of forming a group… I don’t mean to imply that there was anything special about me… It’s just that John and I were so inseparable at the time, it would have been inconceivable for either of us to get involved in something the other wasn’t keen on doing.”
Although Pete’s time with Quarrymen only lasted a year, he became an invaluable eyewitness to history. He observed John’s relationship with his birth mother, Julia, for several years before she died when John was 17. Pete was also the one who officially asked a 15-year-old Paul McCartney to join the Quarrymen.
In his insightful book about his friendship with John Lennon, Shotton recounts all the early rock and roll influences that John Lennon experienced. His book is regarded as one of the 10 best Beatles books of all time according to Rolling Stone.
The original title of Shotton’s book was John Lennon In My Life. It first came out in 1983 and was then re-issued a year later as The Beatles, Lennon and Me. It was co-written with Nicholas Schaffner, who was also the author of the great book, The Beatles Forever.
In his book, for example, Shotton offers behind-the-scenes truths of how The Quarrymen members evolved into The Beatles. Since Pete was one of the few people that was extremely close to John, he was able to offer insights into Lennon’s psyche.
“Neither Paul nor George would have lasted very long in John’s band… had John not come to like them so much as people,” . “Most of the other original members were gradually frozen out of the picture, not so much for lack of musical promise, but simply because John found them a bore.”
After Lennon became a superstar, he still maintained his friendship with Shotton, who was also there when John began his relationship with Yoko. Pete describes when the couple spent their first night together in this interview he did in the 1980s:
The last time Pete saw John was in the summer of 1976 when he visited with John and Yoko in New York City.
Reacting to John’s shocking murder in 1980, Shotton wrote in his book, “What a life.” Then on the next page which is the end of the book, he wrote: “What a fucking ending.”
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It all started with Yoko Ono’s 1964 book, Grapefruit, where she talked about her artistic concept of creating a lighthouse. Ono’s “Light House” further described in her 1965 “Architectural Works Sales List” was a “house constructed of light from prisms, which exists in accordance with the changes in the day.”
When her relationship started with John Lennon in 1967, Lennon asked Ono if she could build him a “Light House” in his garden like the one he had read about in her publication. Yoko explained to John that her idea was conceptual: “I’m convinced that one day, it could be built, but I don’t know how to do it,” she told him with a laugh.
Forty years later on October 9, 2007, a lighthouse called the Imagine Peace Tower was launched by Yoko Ono in collaboration with the city of Reykjavík, Iceland. The circular structure, located waterside on Videy Island off the north coast of Reykjavík, is a powerful ray of light that shoots up towards the sky. The wishing well shines every year between October 9, Lennon’s birthday, and December 8, the anniversary of his death and represents people’s wishes for world peace.
“Actually, this is an answered prayer because my first time in John’s house he talked about building a lighthouse. I never knew how to conceptualize that,” Yoko explained. “I never believed this could be reality.”
Due to the heavy expense and maintenance to keep the structure lit 365 days a year, Yoko decided to have the Imagine Peace Tower lit between the two most significant dates in Lennon’s life, in addition to a few other selected weeks throughout the year.
“I realized that, with contrasting the two symbolic dates, it gives an understanding of the shortness of life, and eternity of the spirit,” Ono said. “It reminds one how brief life can be and is significant even for those not into John Lennon’s life.”
At the 2007 unveiling on Lennon’s 67th birthday, Ono said she was convinced that John Lennon would have been pleased with the Tower. “I dedicate this light tower to John Lennon. My love for you is forever,” she said.
Yoko encourages everyone to send their wishes of peace to the Imagine Peace Tower via Twitter, e-mail or postcards. A webcam of the Tower is available for viewing at http://imaginepeacetower.com/
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On November 18, the new documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years directed by Ron Howard will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray, plus a 2-Disc special edition.
The film was released last week in theaters for a one-day to one-week run which varied across different cities. After the film, the 30-minute Shea Stadium concert film from 1965 was also shown. This footage from the concert is not listed as being included on the DVD.
As a Beatles fan and journalist who saw the film in theaters, the title ‘The Touring Years’ seemed a bit misleading to me. Instead of focusing mostly on the shows that The Beatles performed, the film provided an overall look at their career during the years they were touring and spent lots of time on The Beatles’ efforts in the recording studio.
While there is not much new information offered in the documentary, the high points of the film are the rare photographs and video clips that were included to illustrate the story of The Beatles’ touring years. For example, in February 1964 during an interview in Washington DC, John tells a reporter his name is “Eric.” The uninformed reporter believes him and introduces Lennon convincingly on camera as “Eric” so that John has to enlighten him and tell him it was just a joke.
Another rare clip is an interview with The Beatles in Sweden circa 1963/64 where George is standing behind John who is seated. George keeps flicking ashes from his cigarette on the top of John’s head and John doesn’t necessarily notice.
There are also insightful interview clips from Paul and Ringo in the present day, as well as other celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg and Elvis Costello.
Another highlight is an interview with Dr. Kitty Oliver, an African-American journalist and author who went to The Beatles’ concert in Jacksonville, Florida as a teenager. The Beatles refused to play to a segregated audience at the Gator Bowl. They had it written into their contract, so the venue agreed to integrate the crowd.
“Here was a band I loved and music I was such a fan of, that seeing The Beatles overrode the idea of walking in to this all-white environment that I had never been in,” Oliver recalls.
Historians believe that this strong stand that The Beatles took in Jacksonville in September 1964 led to an end of segregation in most of the big stadiums in the South. – Trina Yannicos
Below is a description of content included on the DVD release as stated in the official press release:
Featuring a wealth of specially created supplementary material totaling 100 minutes of extras, the deluxe home entertainment editions contain exclusively-created featurettes for fans to delve even deeper into the band’s world. Accompanying these are stunning, fully restored full length performances of some of the band’s most iconic tracks including “Twist and Shout” and “She Loves You” recorded at the ABC Theatre, Manchester in 1963 and “Can’t Buy Me Love” at the NME Awards, 1964, in London, bringing the experience of seeing The Beatles in concert fully to life for all fans. A full breakdown follows:
2-disc Special Collector’s Edition (DVD and Blu-Ray) includes:
1 x DVD/Blu-Ray feature disc
+ 1 Bonus Disc (containing approx. 100 minutes of extras, highlighted below)
64 page booklet with an introduction from director Ron Howard, essay by music journalist and author Jon Savage and rare photos from The Beatles’ private archive
Words & Music (24 mins)
John, Paul, George & Ringo reflect on songwriting and the influence of music from their parents’ generation, Lennon/McCartney writing for other artists, The Beatles as individual musicians, and the band as innovators. Also featuring Howard Goodall, Peter Asher, Simon Schama and Elvis Costello. The interviews with Paul and Ringo are unseen.
Early Clues To A New Direction (18 mins)
A special feature touching on The Beatles as a collective, the importance of humor, the impact of women on their early lives and songwriting, and the band as a musical movement. Featuring John, Paul, George & Ringo, along with Paul Greengrass, Stephen Stark, Peter Asher, Malcolm Gladwell, Sigourney Weaver, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Curtis, Elvis Costello and Simon Schama. Again the interviews with Paul and Ringo are unseen.
Liverpool (11 mins)
The early days in Liverpool of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s are brought vividly to life by those who worked closely with them at that time including fan club secretary Freda Kelly, Allan Williams an early manager, and Leslie Woodhead multi-award winning documentary film director.
The Beatles in Concert (12 mins)
Five great but rarely seen full length performances of The Beatles live in concert – Twist and Shout, She Loves You, Can’t Buy Me Love, You Can’t Do That and Help!
Additional features are:
- Three Beatles’ Fans
- Ronnie Spector and The Beatles
- Shooting A Hard Day’s Night
- The Beatles in Australia
- Recollections of Shea Stadium
- The Beatles in Japan
- An alternative opening for the film
Pre-order: Deluxe Collector’s Edition (2-DVD)
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