Monday, January 11, 2016

The necessity of reinvention - why Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was necessary

Musical artists reinvent themselves all the time. Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust (and all sorts of people). David Johansen became Buster Poindexter.

But one such reinvention mystified people at the time, because most people believed it wasn't necessary. After all, back in 1966, what could be better than being the Beatles? They had spent four years conquering the world, and were bigger than Elvis (when all four of their weights were combined). They were adored by teenagers, imitated by other musicians, and respected the world over.

But it sure looked different from the inside. In 1966, being a Beatle involved being sequestered in hotel rooms, driven in high security to huge concert halls (even sports stadiums), and playing 30 minute music sets that no one could hear because the entire audience was screaming. And the music? Not from their latest album Revolver, but mostly older songs such as "Baby's in Black" and "Long Tall Sally." Oh, and "Yesterday"; gotta play "Yesterday." No, they didn't play "Tomorrow Never Knows" on tour in 1966.

So the whole experience was frustrating - especially for George Harrison, who was constrained musically by the crowds surrounding him and by the older duo in the band itself who still treated him as the kid. He did get to play "If I Needed Someone" on tour, but that was it.

So being the Beatles wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

And that was on a good day.

It wasn't a good day that year in Manila when the Beatles' manager inadvertently offended the First Lady of the Philippines, and the security that traditionally protected the band mysteriously disappeared for a time. (Imelda apparently lost a shoe, and required all security forces in the Philippines to look for it.)

It wasn't a good day that year in Memphis when the band heard a loud pop and instantly turned to John Lennon, wondering if he had just been shot by a religious zealot. In 1966, Lennon hadn't been shot - it was just a firecracker.

After all of the trauma of the touring in 1966, the Beatles acted on their previous unanimous decision to quit touring - and began to wonder exactly who they were. If they weren't surrounded by screaming girls and security guards, then they obviously weren't Beatles any more. Who were they?

The answer came after a leisurely recording session. Since they weren't touring the world any more, they had time for leisurely recording sessions. The song that they happened to record that day was entitled "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and one of the Beatles - Paul, the cute one - thought that it would be a great idea for the four of them to record an entire album as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

On the surface, it was an extremely dumb idea. Why would people associated with musical frontiers want to be associated with an old brass band? (OK, Paul the cute one would like that because of his father's musical background, but I don't know about the other three.) And, as Mae West observed, why would anyone who sparked sexual desire want to be associated with a lonely hearts club?

Yet it was better than the alternative of being the "moptops" or the "fab four," and the other three embraced the idea and carried through with an album, a religious treat, and a trippy movie. Whatever you may think of the resulting work, it clearly inspired the band (and all the other bands that imitated them) to do something brand new.

If you want to see a whole list of musical artist reinventions, including the ones mentioned above as well as many others (Slim Shady and Snoop Lion, anyone?), check this out.
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