‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ turns 50: how to celebrate the Beatles’ masterpiece

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene

As much as we’d love to say “it was 50 years ago today” that Sgt. Pepper caused a musical revolution, the half-century anniversary of the Beatles’ beloved, revered and eternally-played “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album is technically June 2, a week after its rush-release in the band’s native U.K.

But commemorating what is often considered the quartet’s most musically radical and compelling release, the definitive work that signaled newfound maturity hinted at a year earlier on “Revolver,” is a multi-day staging. And so the celebration begins.

First, though, a few tidbits casual fans might not know about the 13-song album.

  • In 1968, it became the first rock album to win the album of the year Grammy, one of four the Beatles earned that year.
  • Although “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were two of the first songs the band recorded for the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions, they did not make the final album cut and were instead released as a double A-side single.
  • According to the Recording Industry Association of America, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” has sold more than 11 million copies.
  • The famous final chord on “A Day in the Life” is an E major. David Crosby happened to be at Abbey Road studios during the recording of the song and told Filter magazine, “I was high as a kite…by the time it got to the end of that piano chord, man, my brains were on the floor.”

With a little help from their friends.

On May 26, a reissue of “Sgt. Pepper” arrived in four configurations: a six-disc “super deluxe” edition; a two-CD set; a two-LP set; and a single disc.

The “super deluxe” version retails for $149.98 and contains 100 minutes of outtakes, many previously unheard or unreleased, as well as a special mono mix with extra tracks. A DVD of a “Sgt. Pepper” documentary is also included, along with a 114-page booklet, posters and a replica insert from the original album release.

The project was overseen by Giles Martin, son of famed Beatles sound maestro George Martin. Giles has plenty of Beatles cred, as he was heavily involved in the band’s Cirque du Soleil masterpiece, “Love”; remastered the 2016 “Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” which was tied to Ron Howard’s documentary, “Eight Days a Week”; and worked on Paul McCartney’s 2013 album, “New.”

Fans can commemorate the “Sgt. Pepper” anniversary several ways the next few days.

  • The new Beatles Channel (Ch. 18) on SiriusXM will celebrate “Pepper Day” on June 1 by playing the stereo mix of the new anniversary edition of the album at 5 p.m. Then at 10 p.m., “Alternate Pepper” will air – the entire album re-imagined with previously unreleased alternate takes and instrumental versions taken from the “super deluxe” version of the reissue.
  • At 5 p.m. June 1, Atlanta’s The River (97.1-FM) will air a “Sgt. Pepper” rock block.
  • At 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. June 2; noon June 3; and 10 p.m. June 4, the SiriusXM Beatles Channel will air “Sgt. Pepper Forever,” a new, two-hour documentary written and produced by U.K. Beatles historian Kevin Howlett and hosted by Martin Freeman. The special includes interviews with McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and talks about the revolutionary studio techniques used by the band during its November 1966-April 1967 sessions.
  • The documentary special “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution” will air at 8 p.m. June 3 on GPB. It expands on the notion that after the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, they were able to focus their creative energy into writing, recording and creating this landmark work.

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