It was 50 years ago this week, the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and, according to George Harrison, “saved the world from boredom.”
To commemorate one of the most innovative albums of all time, former rock and roll journalist and music executive Brian Southall penned“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Album, the Beatles and the World in 1967.”
The key to the whole thing occurred before they even entered the studio.
“They stopped touring in 1966 — there was no one to make them continue on,” Southall told the Daily News. “That meant they could see themselves as more than a pop band — they had freedom to go in … record, uninterrupted, for three straight months.”
In those few months, the Beatles — attempting to dethrone “Pet Sounds,” by the Beach Boys — wrote “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life.”
The book, like the record, is two-sided — the first half devoted to the band, and the second to the year.
Southall dives into the life of each bandmate: Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Honorary “fifth Beatle,” manager Brian Epstein, and producer George Martin get their own sections, too.
“Paul came up with this idea: ‘We don’t have to be the Beatles, we can be this other band,’” said Southall, whose book is available Thursday. And from that thought grew “Sgt. Pepper’s,” with its groundbreaking and immensely influential sound.
“At one point there was eight machines in different control rooms throughout the building all linked up with people holding the tape tension by a pencil,” Southall writes. “John was always intrigued by the sounds you could create artificially.”
The 13 songs that comprise “Sgt. Pepper’s” are individually dissected in the book, including the tale that “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” originated with a drawing by Lennon’s son Julian.
The album’s iconic cover art is covered in Southall’s pages as well. It was designed by former husband-and-wife artist team, Jann Haworth and Peter Blake.
“The idea was presented to us as a collage but I saw it as a life-size set,” Haworth told The News.
The icons surrounding the Beatles were conjured by the band after Haworth asked them to list their heroes. She made those icons into 2-D cutouts and arranged them around the Beatles just so. “The Beatles didn’t choose any women, I actually added the women in. Like Mae West — she was not considered conventionally beautiful but she was whip smart,” Haworth said.
“I created the two dolls off to the right side. They wanted Shirley Temple but we couldn’t have a child on the cover of an album about drugs, so I made a doll that looked like my grandmother and a Shirley doll and had her sit on my grandmother’s lap.”
Whoever was in charge of ordering the flowers didn’t buy enough to cover the ground as initially planned, so Haworth turned what she had into the red floral “Beatles” below the band.
The florist created a guitar out of some of the remaining flowers (that’s the yellow shape on the right side below the band’s blossoming name).
McCartney, in an interview marking the 50th anniversary, last week cleared up one fact. Southall writes that one of the rumors about how the Beatles chose the name “Sgt. Pepper” was that the bassist came up with the name after seeing a small salt and pepper sachet aboard a plane.
McCartney revealed that was half-right: “I was coming back from a trip abroad with our roadie, Mal Evans. We were eating and he asked me to pass the salt and pepper. I thought he said, ‘Sergeant Pepper.’ “I went, ‘Oh! Wait a minute, that’s a great idea!’ I started thinking about Sergeant Pepper as a character. I thought it would be a very interesting idea for us to assume alter egos … I said, ‘It will mean, when I approach the mic, it’s not Paul McCartney.’”