The most ambitious reissue yet of an individual album from the Beatles’ catalog is coming May 26 with an expanded and newly remixed edition of the Fab Four’s 1967 pop masterpiece, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Consistently ranked by critics and fans among the most influential rock albums of all time, “Sgt. Pepper” is being reissued in multiple formats and editions, including new stereo and surround-sound audio mixes along with nearly three dozen previously unreleased recordings from the same sessions.
“It’s crazy to think that 50 years later we are looking back on this project with such fondness and a little bit of amazement at how four guys, a great producer and his engineers could make such a lasting piece of art,” Paul McCartney writes in a new introduction for the anniversary edition of a project that started out as his baby.
In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, John Lennon said, “It was a peak. Paul and I were definitely working together.”
Ringo Starr, the quartet’s other surviving member, writes in his introductory remarks to the new edition that “‘Sgt. Pepper’ seemed to capture the mood of that year, and it also allowed a lot of other people to kick off from there and to really go for it.”
Indeed, the Doors’ drummer, John Densmore, told The Times recently, “We were working on our second album, ‘Strange Days’ [in 1967] and while we were working on it, we got an early copy of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and we just died. That made us experiment more, inspired us to try the Moog synthesizer, made us generally be wild and just say ‘What the hell?’”
Purists still love to debate whether “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver” or “Abbey Road” are more consistently creative works than “Sgt. Pepper,” and McCartney has often said there are days he leans toward any of those four as his favorite of the band’s studio works during its relatively short but astonishingly fertile seven-year career as a recording unit.
But dozens of musicians, producers, record executives, music writers and others polled by Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 place “Sgt. Pepper” at the pinnacle of the publication’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” lauding it as “simply the best of everything the Beatles ever did as musicians, pioneers and pop stars, all in one place.”
Breaking from a long-standing tradition of avoiding fanfare over significant anniversaries since the group disbanded in 1970, McCartney, Starr, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison’s widow, Olivia, this time gave approval for the grand-scale look back at “Sgt. Pepper.”
Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ original producer, George Martin, has collaborated again with veteran Abbey Road studios engineer Sam Okell on the new stereo and 5.1 multi-channel mixes of the album.
Perhaps the most tantalizing element for Beatles aficionados is the word that Giles Martin and Okell created the new stereo mix with direct transfers from the original four-track tapes, rather than the two-track master that has been the basis of all previous stereo versions of “Sgt. Pepper” for the last 50 years.
Why so much attention to a new stereo version of an album that has been available in stereo for five decades?
In 1967, George Martin and the Beatles spent the vast majority of their time focused on the monaural mix, which was still the dominant playback format in England at that time. The group members by and large were not even present during mixing of the stereo version of the album.
Hence the new anniversary edition is an attempt to create a mix closer to what the world might have heard if the Beatles and George Martin had cared about stereo at that point.
Among other facets of the new version, it restores the original playback speed of the ballad “She’s Leaving Home” rather than using the slowed-down version most listeners have heard on the existing stereo mix.
The “Anniversary Editions” of “Sgt. Pepper” will include a single CD version with the new stereo mix (priced at $18.98 on Amazon) and a deluxe two-CD and digital version ($24.98) containing 13 alternate takes of all the “Sgt. Pepper” songs in the original sequence plus five additional takes.
Those five takes are two previously unreleased versions of “Penny Lane” and three of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” songs recorded at the beginning of the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions but issued as a double-sided single four months before the album came out to help satiate fans’ demands for new Beatles music.
The two-LP vinyl deluxe version ($38.98) will have everything on the double CD and digital versions except the “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” mixes.
There also will be a six-disc “super deluxe” edition ($149.98), housed in a 12-by-12-inch box with lenticular artwork of pop artist Peter Blake’s iconic cover image of the Beatles surrounded by more than 60 figures from then-contemporary pop culture to ancient history.
That set includes the new stereo mix on one CD and two CDs with 33 more recordings from the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions, most previously unreleased. A fourth CD contains direct transfers of the original mono mix of the full album and the extra “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” tracks, a U.S. promotional mono mix of “Penny Lane” and early mono mixes of “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
The latter had been thought lost but was discovered during the research process for the anniversary edition.
The set’s fifth and sixth discs are a Blu-ray and DVD with the new high-resolution surround-sound mixes of the album, high-res audio versions of the new stereo mix and “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” and various video features including a newly restored 25th anniversary documentary about the making of the album that aired in 1992 but was never released on home video.
After its release, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s U.S. album sales chart, the longest reign in the top spot of any of the group’s albums. It was No. 1 for 27 weeks on the British sales ranking and has sold more than 11 million copies in the U.S. alone over the ensuing half a century, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. It won Grammy Awards for overall album and pop album of the year and was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
As Rolling Stone put it in its assessment five years ago, “Sgt. Pepper” is “the most important rock ’n’ roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock ’n’ roll group of all time.”
Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter.com
For Classic Rock coverage, join us on Facebook