'Sgt. Pepper' Bowed '40 Years Ago Today'

The Beatles recorded the album "Sgt. Pepper" four decades ago today.

ByABC News via logo
June 1, 2007, 12:08 PM

June 1, 2007 — -- Rolling Stone ranked it No. 1 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

And 40 years later, people are still talking about the Beatles' eighth album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

"It is ... when you sit down and listen to it from beginning to end ... a shockingly good record," said Joe Levy, the executive editor of Rolling Stone.

The song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" begins with, "It was 20 years ago today," and it was 40 years ago today that the Beatles showed the world a new way to play music.

Prominent critics and publication still say it's the most influential album of all time.

"It's sort of the album that announced the album itself as a work of art," said Eli Attie, a writer and musician.

"Sgt. Pepper" was recorded by the Beatles over a 129-day period beginning on Dec. 6, 1966. The album was released on June 1, 1967, in the United Kingdom and on June 2, 1967, in the United States.

"I don't know anybody who wasn't bowled over by it the first time they heard it," said Robert Christgau, a rock critic, who reviewed and applauded the album 40 years ago.

Ringo Starr, the Beatles' drummer, calls the album the band's "greatest endeavor."

"We had a huge liberated opportunity and could do anything we wanted," said Paul McCartney, the Beatles' frontman.

Why the continued raves 40 years later? It was all about the timing, for one thing.

"It was a moment when there was an infatuation with the idea of hippies," said Christgau. "That was the so-called summer of love. And the Beatles record came out in June and provided a soundtrack to that romance."

It was also revolutionary for the Beatles themselves. It was about profound reinvention. It sent the mop-top boy band packing. They stepped outside of themselves and became Sgt. Pepper's band.

"It was gonna be boring to just make another Beatles album," said McCartney. "We'd stopped touring."

And so they locked themselves up in the recording studio for four months -- unheard of at the time -- and remade not just themselves, but the concept of the rock album.

"It was sort of the beginning of the recording studio as an artistic laboratory," said Attie.

And the lyrics were brilliantly random poetry.

"We took the idea from the Daily Mirror, one of the tabloids," said McCartney. "There was some article -- there was always a mad article: In Blackburn there are 10,000 holes in the road and the city council has decided to fill them all."

Christgau remembers that even the details -- the lyrics on the sleeve and the kaleidoscope cover art -- were mesmerizing.