SGT PEPPER: High On Re-Hashish
“It was fifty years ago today – S...” - yeah yeah – we know the rest thanks. But indeed, as you may well be aware, it is fifty years since a certain high military ranking condiment-named individual decided to educate a particular group of musicians. And to celebrate, a brand new remix of that most fondly remembered Beatles album has been released. Whether it be a 2CD set, a half speed vinyl, 5.1 Blu-ray or all singing all dancing Deluxe edition, a splendid time is guaranteed for all formats.
In fact, if you were to beam down right now from another planet and take in the media coverage, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Beatles were a current act, completely at the top of their game....and you'd be right in a way.
After the 1996 release of their “Anthology”, the Beatles relaunched into the consciousness of the music loving world and have never gone away. In fact, they've only ascended further and further onto an untouchable mythological peak, being carried ever higher by a regular supply of articles and accolades from a backwards looking and ever more revisionist music press.
God knows how many times MOJO Magazine alone has told and retold the same stories; - the Beatles meeting Dylan, the Beatles stop touring, the Beatles in the studio and yes, the Beatles making their psychedelic masterpiece 'Sgt Pepper'. Even the most diehard fan of the Fabs must roll their eyes a little every time they see those familiar four faces staring from a magazine cover; - “Which story are they telling again this time?”
And then there's been the releases and reissues. Apple appear to have dished these out in as slow a fashion as possible, as if in order to subtract the maximum exploitation potential. For instance, fans are still hanging on for a long promised DVD/Blu-Ray release of the infamous 'Let It Be' film, their minds wild with the possibilities of the huge amount of extra footage. However, there has still been little real sign of this 1970 release. Saying that, a degree would not be a requirement to figure out that 2020 is just three years away....hmmm....”....it was fifty years ago today.... (again)”.....?
Of course, there would be no demand for any of this if not for a simple fact; the Beatles are adored almost TOTALLY. From the smallest child to the oldest pensioner, it's almost a given that we all love the Beatles....but it wasn't always that way.
Personally, having been born around the time of those lysergic days of both incense and peppermints, I can remember the relatively meagre celebration that went on when it really was “20 years ago today”. But 1987 was a very different musical prospect indeed.
The Beatles had always been a silent presence at my musical dinner table - even as a child - and by the time I had reached my later teens, I was completely consumed by them. But my obsession was not reflected by virtually anything in the culture of that time.
This was almost the “anti-Beatle” era, a period when fans such as myself retreated to our psychedelic dens, occasionally surfacing to descend hungrily on any new musical titbit that was mildly “walrus” flavoured.
When XTC finally came all the way out of their Beatle closet with their album 'Skylarking' and even Tears For Fears seemed to invoke the eggman on 'Sowing The Seeds Of Love', our hearts flushed with hope; at least someone was looking out for us.And then – lo and behold – Sgt Pepper and his band made their first appearance on the format of the future: CD.
It didn't matter that it was the now frowned upon original stereo mix – to be honest, at the time, I wasn't aware there was a difference – it was just great to get some fresh blood coursing through our Beatle veins. The opportunities for these kinds of transfusions were rare and you didn't miss them for the world.
Now it's 30 years ago since it was 20 years ago.... and things couldn't be more different. In fact, some might say that there has never been a better time to be a Beatle fan. Giles Martin – son of the legendary George – has done an incredible job with the new Pepper remixes, freshening up tracks that like the song says, may have gone in and out of style but never lost their smile-guaranteeing zing.
Apparently, the 'White Album' is next up for this lavish treatment – bloody hell, that's going to be a whole new shelf's worth of stuff......I'll arrange the new mortgage now shall I?
But the obvious question remains: why are we so hungrily lapping up material from a band that stopped happening almost 50 years ago? What has us buying and re-buying the same albums and re-reading largely the same stories time after time?
Perhaps I can only answer this by noting what I have heard said by so many fans: they are one of the only bands that you can return to over and over and still be blown away as you were the very first time. A sense of discovery and imagination permeates throughout and even ideas that have now long become the thing of cliché retain a joyous purity when you hear them played for the first time by the originators.
And that feeling of joy is contagious and knows no age bracket. That's why you'll still find fifteen year olds listening to the Beatles with the same head full of dreams as their parents and grandparents....it's a chain that has extended now for over 50 years and shows no sign of ending...
So put me down on that list for the 'White Album'....and while you're there, I'll stick my name down for the inevitable 'Abbey Road' anniversary too. In fact, I'm already looking forward to what happens when it's 60 years ago today.
If all that remains of the intoxicating glad tidings of the Beatles is the heavy aroma of re-hash, put me down for an 8-bar. I'll always be a hopeless stoner.
Notes on the author: Duncan Maitland is an acclaimed singer-songwriter, producer and multi—instrumentalist. Maitland has penned hit singles such as Sunburst and Heavenly Day for Picturehouse, and has recorded with the likes of Pugwash and XTC.
Maitland is currently recording the follow up to his debut solo album ‘Lullabies for the 21st Century’ which received 5 stars from Powerpopaholic.
Maitland is about to embark on a European tour with singer-songwriter Nelson Bragg, whose day job is being a member of Brian Wilson’s band. Nice work if you can get it!