The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
For some time now, it's been the norm among Beatles fans to slag Sgt. Pepper. Oh, sure, everyone concedes it is one of the most important, influential albums ever recorded, but there seems to be a mad rush to point out its weaknesses as a recorded work, its somewhat dated novelty. And while it's not my favorite album (I'll take Abbey Road in a heartbeat, followed by Revolver and the White Album), I think it's time to call bullshit on this revisionist argument.
Sgt. Pepper is a great album. Not (just) because of its influence, but simply as a stand-alone album.
Now, I do have a couple caveats. Some of my renewed appreciation of the album is courtesy of the 2017 remaster/reissue, which dramatically punched up the bass and drums, giving it a far more modern sound, which just comes barreling out of the speakers (most notably on the harder rockers like the title track & reprise, "Lovely Rita," and "Getting Better").
I also think the album can benefit from some reimagining (which you'll see in my Spotify playlist below). The band released what I think would have been two of the album's best tracks as an advance single, leaving them off the album; add "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" to the running order, and that alone makes it essential listening. (This was an unfortunate trend with the band; Revolver is twice as good with the inclusion of the stupendous "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" from the contemporaneous single, and I think Let It Be would have been much better if it had included some of the contemporaneous singles/outtakes.)
I also added in two of the George Harrison outtakes that ended up on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack; the trippy, discordant "Only A Northern Song" is pretty good (certainly better than "Within You, Without You," which somehow made the cut), but "It's All Too Much" is my favorite Harrison song, and one of my favorite Beatles songs. (While "A Day In The Life" works perfectly as an album closer, "It's All Too Much" is also clearly best heard as an album climax, so I've placed that at the end.)
Finally, as noted, I'm no fan of "Within You, Without You," but rather than delete it I've swapped it out with the "Tomorrow Never Knows" mash-up from the Love album, which I find much more listenable (historical accuracy be damned).
As for the album's original tracks, "A Day In The Life" is undoubtedly one of their finest moments (and one of the greatest rock songs, period); "Lucy In The Skies..." and "Mr. Kite" and "Fixing a Hole" are all psychedelic mainstays; and much of the rest is still solidly great. I'm not a huge fan of the somewhat sappy and dated "She's Leaving Home," I can take or leave "When I'm 64," and "Good Morning" can be grating, but I still think they work perfectly fine as part of the greater whole.
So with that, I present my new and improved Sgt. Pepper:
Here's "Strawberry Fields":
Buy it on Amazon.