Wednesday, May 31, 2017

First impressions: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Super Deluxe Edition

This was a great Memorial Day Weekend for American Beatles fans. Not only did last Friday mark the arrival of the big Sgt. Pepper box, but most of us had an extra day off to enjoy it.

Even with the extra, time, though, I haven't quite made it to the video content. However, I have had a good listen to the outtakes disks and the glorious new remix.

The new mix was the first thing I played, literally out of the box. It sounded jaw-droppingly fantastic coming through the living room speakers. And loud! The opening track rocks and rocks hard, with booming drums and dirty, overdriven guitars. But, even with all that power and volume, there is definition and clarity to the vocals and instruments and full range of dynamics. The best thing about that first listen, though, was my teenage daughter sitting across the room from me on the couch, singing along with all the lyrics of the opening tune and even scatting its French horn parts. I raised her right.

I need, and want to, listen more. Especially with headphones. But I immediately loved what I heard and want the rest of the Beatles catalog re-mastered, stat. More comparison with the album's older mixes will be necessary, but I think Giles Martin did a great job of creating a best-of-both world's Pepper that incorporates everything great about the mono mix but places it in stereo in best-ever sound, thanks to his ability to go back to the original, unbounced, four-track master tapes.

The outtakes are fantastic, too. So much of this is new to us, not even found on bootlegs. I loved hearing the Beatle chatter before, during and after takes of the songs, and hearing all the stripped down arrangements and early recordings. I was struck by the similarity between the abandoned, final "hummed" chord from "A Day in the Life" to "Our Prayer" from the Beach Boys' Smile.

The hardcover book also is extremely well done, featuring detailed notes by Kevin Howlett on the songs and recording sessions, a look back on the 1960s underground in Britain by Joe Boyd, great photos and more.

The "Mr, Kite" poster and album promo poster are nice extras. Plus, we still get the sheet of paper cutouts, just like with the original.

The only thing missing, in my opinion, are a selection of original home demo tracks (even John's demos for "Strawberry Fields" included in the Anthology release get left out) and the never-heard-outside-the-confines of EMI "Carnival of Light," a free-form experimental piece recorded for "The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave," held in London's Round House on Jan. 5, 1967.  A comprehensive historical box should include such odds and ends. I don't know where else Apple would put them, now.

Still, that's a small complaint when you consider the vast richness of this set. I'm excited for whatever comes next.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ringo celebrates release of Sgt. Pepper anniversary edition

The anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper is out in multiple formats today (look to the sidebar on the right) and Ringo tweeted a pic of himself in appropriate regalia.

Also check out the Beatles' official Facebook page for interviews with Giles Martin about his remix of the album and more.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Listen: "Sgt. Pepper Forever" documentary on BBC Radio 2

Now streaming here.

Martin Freeman presents Sgt. Pepper Forever, which will reveal the revolutionary studio techniques used during the remarkable sessions dating from November 1966 to April 1967 and also examine the album's huge impact on the history of music. They will feature 'work-in-progress' versions of Sgt. Pepper tracks - and the songs on the double A-side single Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane, which were also recorded during the sessions - to illustrate the pioneering techniques used by The Beatles and George Martin.
This two-part documentary special features interviews with Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin, and in a new interview composer Howard Goodall talks about, and illustrates on piano, the musical innovations of the album's songs.
Having worked with the original four-track tapes to create a new stereo mix of Sgt. Pepper for its 50th anniversary, producer Giles Martin (son of Sir George Martin) describes the innovative recording techniques used at the time and how he approached making his new version.
There will also be interview material with the album cover's co-designer Peter Blake, Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, Tony King (George Martin's assistant in 1967), Mike Leander (the arranger of She's Leaving Home), poet Adrian Mitchell, DJ John Peel and some of the producers and musicians who were influenced by the achievements of the album, including T Bone Burnett, Dave Grohl, Tom Petty, Jimmy Webb and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.
Martin Freeman says: "Sgt. Pepper is the most celebrated album by my favourite band. These documentaries will shed light on how The Beatles, with George Martin, created a piece of work that marked a watershed for what a long playing record could be. It's my absolute pleasure to help tell you about it."

Brian Epstein posters appear around Liverpool

Several posters depicting and mentioning the late Beatles manager have appeared in spots around the city, the Liverpool Echo reports.
The posters are part of a citywide celebrate of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

... One of the billboards includes the quote ‘Brian Epstein Died for You’, speaking about the quote, artist Jeremy Deller said: “The phrase, ‘Brian Epstein Died for You’, though short, carries with it ideas of belief and self-sacrifice, two strong aspects of Christianity and indeed most mainstream religions.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Vintage Vox amp ad

Who's who on the Sgt. Pepper cover?

I spent a lot of time looking at this handy chart, originally published by 16 magazine in 1967 and included in Nicholas Schaffner's wonderful Beatles Forever.

In many ways the Pepper cover was a guide that led me to take an interest in many of the figures depicted - writers, actors, musicians, philosophers, etc.

Not all of those depicted were selected by the Beatles. Cover designer Peter Blake and other involved in the artwork also had input. But it still provides a good sense of who the band held in esteem and who influenced them and those around them.