“I think there’ll be another day singing it,” remarks Paul McCartney to John Lennon at the end of a very different take to the title tune of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that sits at the heart of a new two-disc edition marking the classic Beatles record’s 50th anniversary. What a fortuitous comment on the future, Sir Paul. A half century on, “Sgt. Pepper” has been rightly viewed as a watershed album in terms of production, arrangement and pop composition. But it doesn’t hurt having an accompanying fly-on-the-wall scrapbook disc, which accompanies Giles Martin’s new remix of the complete album, to help us hear how one of the most heralded albums of the psychedelic era came to be.
We got a brief hint of the inner workings to “Sgt. Pepper” on the Beatles’ “Anthology” series in 1995. This new edition is more detailed and enlightening. Hearing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” emerge from a rattle of studio chatter, folkish strumming and even a sneeze? Lennon shouting bits of advice and nonsense, before McCartney takes over a loose but absorbing “Lovely Rita”? A marching harpsichord searching for a central melody before Ringo Starr cements the merry groove of “Fixing a Hole” before the mostly keyboard/drum duet ends with McCartney offering subtle approval (“And that’s right”)?
Admittedly, the second disc to the new “Sgt. Pepper” is a bit of a nerdish paradise. But think of it more like a childhood investigation akin to the dismantling of clock to find out literally what makes it tick. “Sgt. Pepper” has been such a familiar part of pop history for so long that discovering some new element to its construction and appeal seems unfathomable. This new edition doesn’t altogether do that, but it does succeed in the way, say, a museum exhibition might — by gathering all the elements of a work we know by heart with sketches and blueprints of how that masterpiece came to be. For the curious, this two-disc edition offers appealing insight. The morbidly obsessive, though, will probably lap up a different six-disc version that further examines “Sgt. Pepper” with additional outtakes and a variety of studio mixes. The two-disc version is reviewed here.
My favorite moment on this new edition doesn’t deal with any of that, though. It’s a deconstructed version of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” that isolates the tune’s Eastern instrumentation. Aside from the audible studio intro stating “Take one,” a stirring blend of sitar and tabla wash over you, creating a moment unlike any other on the album. This is where you again realize, a half-century on, just how worldly “Sgt. Pepper” and the Beatles truly were.