Ranking Sgt. Pepper’s Songs

AliveTampaBay looks back to an article first published on May 30, 2017.

By Jessica McKinney, AliveTampaBay Columnist

When the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 2, 1967, they changed the world of music forever. The highly anticipated album, coming on the heels of their landmark single “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane,” was meant to reimagine the Beatles’ entire career. They had announced that they would no longer tour after the summer of 1966, an unheard-of move for a rock band at the time, and retreated into the studio to make an album that they would never have to recreate live. This meant that they had greater freedom during the recording sessions, experimenting with new instruments and styles. They explored psychedelic sounds and created characters, dressing up as the titular Sgt. Pepper’s band and posing with cardboard cutouts of their heroes for the album’s iconic cover.

This all paid off when the album’s release set off a frenzy of Sgt. Pepper mania. A few radio stations played nothing but Sgt. Pepper on a loop for days. Three days after the release of the album, Paul McCartney and George Harrison went to watch Jimi Hendrix play live in London. Hendrix opened the show with his own rendition of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Harrison and McCartney watched as the entire audience sang along to every word of the newly-released instant classic. The album sat at the top of the Billboard charts for the entire summer of 1967, providing a soundtrack to the “Summer of Love.”

With thirteen songs, Sgt. Pepper is one of their most consistent albums, with very little “filler.” As such, ranking the songs on the album is more difficult than usual, but we figured, why not? Fiftieth anniversaries only happen once. You can tell us your own ranking on Facebook.

  1. “When I’m 64”

Written by a teenage Paul McCartney, “When I’m 64” is a perfectly good pop song, but since it does not break any new ground or stand out in any particular way, it ends up in last place. (We told you this was going to be tough.)

  1. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”

Existing mostly to bring back the Sgt. Pepper theme right before the grand finale, this song is more of a placeholder than anything else. Still, it’s anthemic, and the stomping beat is a welcome jolt of energy before the end of the album.

  1. “Good Morning, Good Morning”

Again, this is a fine pop song with a lot of energy, but we all know our boys can do better things than this. Fun but lightweight.

  1. “Lovely Rita”

One of the few love songs on the album, “Lovely Rita” is still a bit unusual for being about a meter maid.

  1. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

Points for the swirling psychedelic circus music, but John Lennon later admitted that the lyrics were cribbed from a vintage circus poster he’d bought. Still, the song paints a vivid picture, and presents memorable characters.

  1. “Getting Better”

A blissful pop song, but a slightly off-center one that balances optimism (McCartney’s admission that it’s “geting better all the time”) with pessimism (Lennon’s answering “it can’t get no worse”). We’ll pretend that its use in a commercial advertising Philips boom boxes didn’t happen, since that’s not the band’s fault anyhow.

  1. “Fixing a Hole”

“Fixing a Hole” is a song that could not have existed in pop music before 1967. It’s rambling, trippy,  philosophical, open to interpretation—what does it all mean, anyway?—all while being typically catchy and innovative.

  1. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

The opening statement of the album presents the concept of the Beatles as these other people, the mythical Sgt Pepper and company, a band that has existed for decades and has gone in and out of style but are determined to play a good show nonetheless. Right off the bat, the listener knows this is not just another Beatles album.

  1. “With a Little Help From My Friends”

The best song Lennon and McCartney ever gave to Ringo Starr, “With a Little Help From My Friends” introduced the fictional Billy Shears and provided a singalong statement of peace and love perfect for summer 1967.

  1. “Within You Without You”

George Harrison’s lone contribution to the album, “Within You Without You” continued Harrison’s explorations of Indian music and eastern religion. With sitar and tabla, the song provides a radical departure from the rest of the album’s music, and the serious lyrics provide a thoughtful counterpoint to the more whimsical stories on the rest of the songs.

  1. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

Inspired by his son Julian’s drawing and the writings of Lewis Carroll, Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is a pulsing, colorful psychedelic fable that has come to define the flower power era.

  1. “She’s Leaving Home”

Like so many girls in the late 1960s, the heroine of “She’s Leaving Home” breaks with tradition and goes off to live her own life, making the song a poignant soundtrack to the burgeoning women’s movement as well as a touching portrait of the characters, drawn in lovely melodies.

  1. “A Day in the Life”

One part Lennon song, one part McCartney song, “A Day in the Life” is an excellent representation of the working relationship between these two monumental songwriters. The ambition and audacity it took to record a song like “A Day in the Life” in 1967 is something that is hard to contextualize today, but this is certainly the song on the album where the band really laid everything on the line, and it all works.

Jessica Wheeler is a columnist for AliveTampaBay.

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