Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) -- Twelfth in a Series

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The twelfth in a series by guest blogger John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

So, at last we come to the song before the end, the song that famously closes the bookend on the  ‘concept’.  It is very short (just over a minute), consisting only of the chorus sections of the first version, but with different words, appropriate for an ending song.  Where Paul had played lead guitar on the first one, George played it here.  This version has the same—maybe a bit more—of the hard rock edginess that exists in the first version, but without all the inviting class and “all politeness” (as the British would say) of the middle sections.  This version simply takes care of the business of bringing the song cycle to its end.  The only notable item is that the original began in G, while this one begins in F then modulates to G, where it concludes. 

Just for good measure, it probably is valuable to note the chronology of when all the songs on this album—plus three important other songs—were recorded.  George Martin notes this period as “perhaps the most creative 129 days in the history of rock music.”      

Strawberry Fields Forever (begun November 24, 1966 then for five weeks)
When I’m 64 (December 6, 1966)
Penny Lane (December 29 -- January 7, 1967)
A Day in the Life (January 19 – February 10)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (February 1)
Good Morning Good Morning (February 18)
Fixing a Hole (begun February 9, finished at February 21)
It’s Only a Northern Song (begun February 13th, used on Yellow Submarine)
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (February 17 – March 31)
Lovely Rita (February 23)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (March 1)
Getting Better (begun March 9, finished sometime later in March)
She’s Leaving Home (March 17)
Within You, Without You (March 15, with overdubs running to April 3)
With a Little Help from My Friends (March 29, until the wee hours of March 30)  
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (April 1)

So, at least from the perspective of the recording studio, the Reprise was the last song begun, and except for some overdub work on “Within You Without You”, was the last song worked on.  We don’t really know when they began to rehearse the various songs.  It does seem though that they had intended to do a Reprise from the very beginning, or at least from mid to late January when Paul brought back the idea of Sgt. Pepper from a trip to California. 

But notwithstanding the notion that they started out with a concept and then abandoned it before they got too far into the project, it seems the Sgt. Pepper idea would have been very much on their minds at the end.  The day before, March 31, after an all-night session to finish “With a Little Help from My Friends”, they posed for the famous cover montage.  The next day they did the Reprise.  It was the last creative effort of over 4 months of work.  It is no wonder one of them lets out a whoop just as the song is ending. 

But the Reprise is just window dressing.  It purportedly had no real significance to the Beatles when they did it, other than to finish the album, and as far as the ‘concept’ goes, the same can be said.  That ended with “Good Morning”, so the all the Reprise does is ‘bring you back to the station’, so to speak.  The ride is over, the points have been presented and its time to get off and go home.  And the general disquieting noisiness that has been present since the ending of “Lovely Rita” finally ends, leaving us with a simple, plaintive guitar strum, that will take us into the parting shot, a compelling take-away statement for the project. 

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