Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Some Days In The Life: What We Did While Sgt Pepper Taught The Band To Play

On the 1st June 1967, The Beatles Band released "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".

At least I think....

There's great confusion it seems as to when exactly the album came out with the official date of 1st June in the UK (2nd in US) undercut by claims it was released a week earlier in various online places, including that stout bastion of fact, Wikipedia. This seems borne out in part by the fact the Official Charts have it entering the top 10 at number 8 before reaching the top the following week.

Back then, the charts were a very odd thing with stockists unwilling to wait and a several day delay while the results were seemingly decided upon by wherever a pigeon sat in Borehamwood. And thus it was that on two days' official sales, "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" entered a top 10 album list with Tom Jones, The Dubliners, Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Last and, bolstered by regular appearances on Saturday teatimes, two records by The Monkees at numbers 2 and 7. Add in to that the soundtracks to "The Sound Of Music" and "Fiddler On The Roof", just ahead of Herb Alpert, The Seekers, the murder-eyed "Secombe's Personal Choice" and the wonderfully titled Geno Washington record "Hand Clappin' Foot Stompin' Funky-Butt...LIVE!" and its quite an intriguing mix.

But what kind of world was it about to be unleashed upon? Was the universe holding its collective particulars in dripping anticipation at this new record? Were the sixties about to actually start anywhere outside of London? There's no doubt at all that pop fans were clamouring for it, trousers whetted by the double A-side of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" released in February 1967 but elsewhere, was it business as usual?

"Sgt Pepper" was officially given a launch by a bunch of very hairy Beatles at their manager Brian Epstein's house on Friday 19th May 1967 (tragically, Epstein would be dead barely three months later effectively triggering the slow inevitable break up of the band) and the following day was previewed on the BBC Light Programme's - no Radio 1 until September that year - "Where Its At" slot at 4pm by future sex offender Chris Denning linking to pre-recorded interviews done by the band's favourite disky jock Kenny Everett. All the tracks would be played in part, except for "A Day In The Life" which the BBC banned due to it all being about them drugs and that. Or as  the BBC’s director of sound broadcasting, Frank Gillard put it in a letter to EMI:

Naturally Lennon and McCartney were quick to disagree, stating "It’s only about a dream" but then they were whazzed out on goo goo spliffs so anything they have to say should naturally be dismissed and burnt in a giant fire made out of unsold copies of Ringo's Rotogravure.

That said, a recording of "Where Its At" made at the time by a fan features "A Day In The Life" prominently at one point so I figured I'd ask Tim Worthington, Beatles knowlege and author of the essential Radio 1 comedy book "Fun At One" why this might have been... "Fuck knows". Thanks Tim! And you can buy his book here!

Beatle fans who also liked football would have been in a quandry as simultaneous to "Where It's At" was that year's FA Cup Final featuring a London derby in which Chelsea lost 2-1 - something which feels very familiar in 2017. (What? If they will insist on playing before Doctor Who I'll learn these things!) "The" Spurs would emerge victorious with a team including Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves and "Nice One" Cyril Knowles.

Some consolation might have come from that man Everett again, who was appearing on the episode of "Juke Box Jury" immediately after the footer, before Doctor Who learnt all about "The Evil Of The Daleks" in an episode almost entirely gone from the archives (thanks for NOTHING, Beatles!) Quite by chance, episode one of the serial featured the characters in a coffee bar where the jukebox plays...yes, you guessed it...The Seekers!!! Also: Beatles. Unsurprisingly this background blast of "Paperback Writer" was removed from audio releases of the story due to rights and replaced by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. As you do.

Outside of Beatledom, music was all over the small screen during this period with British pop dominating the world and, that year, Eurovision as Sandie Shaw grimaced through "Puppet On A String" in April 1967 to win the contest with over double the votes of its nearest rival. Plus "Grief And Glory" a BBC new folk song competition (Sunday, 6:15pm, BBC1), Southern TV's very short lived pop show "As You Like It" had Peter & Gordon, Zoot Money and Anita Harris (mostly Tuesday 7pm, ITV), "Jazz From A Swinging Era" (Thursday, 8:05pm, BBC2) and of course Top Of The Pops which on June 1st was hosted by Pete Murray and featured performances from The Kinks (Waterloo Sunset), The New Vaudeville Band (Finchley Central), P.P. Arnold (The First Cut Is The Deepest) and The Small Faces (Here Comes The Nice) along with "The Gojos" dancing along to Arthur Conley's Northern Soul classic "Sweet Soul Music".

In almost indecent speed, and a year before Joe Cocker got his mitts on it, the following week's edition (hosted by the scrawny jangling old bastard) would feature The Young Idea covering "With A Little Help From My Friends". Read more on the excellent Left and To The Back here.

Elsewhere on telly, Coronation Street, No Hiding Place, The Black and White Minstrel Show and Take Your Pick were the nation's favourites whilst at the cinema James Bond fans were caught between two releases when the spoof "Casino Royale" was still making the rounds as "You Only Live Twice", scripted by Roald Dahl, premièred in London on the 12th June 1967. Add in James Coburn's similarly Bond-baiting comedy "In Like Flynn" released around the same time and The Beatles could've had hours of spy-based fun at the pictures if they were after some respite from their recent release of one of the most genre defining recordings of a generation. And that.

Whether the Fabulous Four's influence or not, Britain was slowly changing and taking the world along with it with May 1967 seeing Harold Wilson's government apply for EEC membership moving us close to the Europe we should still be a part of. When Sir Francis Chichester returned from solo circumnavigating the globe after 226 days of sailing on May 28th 1967, you can only begin to his response to the country he left behind - he still thought the new Beatles album was "Revolver"! Oh Sir Francis, you Beatles idiot!

So ultimately, did "Sgt Pepper" change anything? Who knows? We didn’t get the sixties until about 1978 here in the North of England. But when your great great great granny who hadn't bought a record since Mantovani died can tell you all all about it, dogs across the country still go bat shit every time "A Day In The Life" finishes and magazines still openly rip off the cover every other month as if its a clever or original idea to do, there'll always be someone teaching the band to play...

Image courtesy of Darrell Maclaine-Jones, bona fide Beatlesman and genius.


  1. The title of that James Coburn film should read "In Like Flint." That was a take-off on the popular expression "in like Flynn," which probably dates back to the 1940s and referenced movie swashbuckler Errol Flynn.

  2. I know the Flint films very well, unfortunately my over-zealous spellchecker does not! Clearly more of a Banacek kind of program. Thanks for letting me know.