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Monday, May 28, 2007

Nostalgia: Everybody's Sgt. Peppering

Hard to believe that June 4 is the 40th anniversary of the monumental "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" album by the Beatles. And, rightly so, in this world of 'everyone-gets-to-voice-their-opinion-blogs', everyone is writing about it.

"Sgt. Pepper's" changed so much for so many, but in particular it had the power to change the thinking of a generation of young people. It influenced worldwide culture. 1967 was a watershed year and the release of such a creative musical endeavor represented a lifestyle shift to a higher gear.

Some of the people who were in their formative years (between 16 and 20 years of age) at the time eventually would find themselves in the radio business and "Sgt. Pepper's" systematically and ethereally had an impact on the early direction of rock radio.

When the album first was released on June 4, 1967 radio was all about the single; pop hits penetrating listeners' ears on powerhouse stations like WABC-AM in New York, WLS in Chicago and KHJ in Los Angeles. Suddenly, fans of the Beatles noticed something changed with their favorite band. The group had created an entire statement with their album; all of the songs seemed to tie in with the theme of the album and suddenly we all started listening to music differently - seeking subtle tie-ins between song and concept and realizing that "With a Little Help From My Friends" really sounded like crap on AM, but sounded like technicolor on FM.

And like many like me at the time, "Sgt. Pepper" opened a door in my mind about how cool radio could be.

What is amazing about this entire "Sgt. Pepper" experience is that while the Beatles stretched themselves to be creative with the recording of this album, they didn't really appreciate at the time of the recordings what affect these songs would have on the world. The only thing they cared about each day going into the studios was that they recreate on tape what they heard in their heads, consistently pushing George Martin to produce what they heard and seeking guidance from engineer-extrordinaire Geoff Emerick to make it sound unlike anything anyone had heard before.

The album took six months to record - a huge detour in music recording in those days. Prior to "Sgt. Pepper", the Beatles - and most other artists - would more often record an album's worth of songs in a week and get it pressed and out to the public within the month. "Pepper" was different because the 'boys' had decided just prior to recording the album that they would stop touring and devote their time to quality recordings. They were focused and on a mission.

On this 40th anniversary of such a superb creative effort which influenced active and passive music lovers alike, it's with melancholy that I think of the general lack of creativity that is presented in the music and radio business these days.

Generally, the music released by record labels seems uninspired. And while there are some very interesting things happening on the Internet with Indie bands, in general the malaise that has stricken the radio industry has infected the music industry - or vice versa.

There are a small number of creative radio stations popping up around the country, but there is also a tiredness that is pervasive in the radio industry - including satellite radio - that also overcomes people in their 60's when they realize they just don't feel the same when they get out of bed in the morning.

When "Sgt. Pepper" was released, rock radio and the music industry were bound together in an adolescent growth period for both industries. The two businesses seemed to work more closely together to make "it" work. As a program director for rock radio stations in the early 70's, I can attest to a different relationship program directors had with their music company reps. At least I felt we were on the same team with the goal of getting the best music (on vinyl) out to the masses.

"Sgt. Pepper" opened the door and a flood of interesting new albums followed:
  • "Bookends" by Simon & Garfunkle, "Wheels of Fire" by Cream, "Waiting for the Sun" by the Doors and "Cheap Thrills" by Big Brother & The Holding Company (Janis Joplin) - all in 1968.
  • "Blood, Sweat & Tears", "Blind Faith", "Zeppelin II" and "Abbey Road" in 1969.
What will it take to revitalize the music and radio industries' in 2007? It's anyone's guess. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

But we need another "Sgt. Pepper" event.

I, for one, don't think we'll ever experience such a cultural phenom again, which is a shame because it literally changed the world.

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