It was 50 years ago on May 26 when The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – astonished and delighted the world, ushering in the Summer of Love with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a groundbreaking masterwork that became popular music’s most universally acclaimed album.
Last week, the 50th anniversary reissue of the album came out five decades to the date of the original release, and while it wasn’t a surprise that it would re-enter the charts, there was a bit of a shock that it entered the Billboard Top 200 at No. 3 with 71,000 units in traditional album sales moved. It’s the first time “Sgt. Pepper’s” has been back in the Top 10 since February of 1968. The last time it peaked that high on the charts was in December 1967 in the same position.
To salute the occasion of the anniversary, Capitol Records has reissued the album in multiple “Sgt. Pepper Anniversary Edition” packages. Newly mixed by Giles Martin and Sam Okell, it’s now available in stereo and 5.1 surround audio and expanded with early takes from the studio sessions, with no fewer than 34 previously unreleased recordings.
“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,” says McCartney in a newly penned introduction for the “Sgt. Pepper Anniversary Edition.
“’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,” Starr recalls in the book.
This is the first time “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” has been remixed and presented with additional session recordings, and it is the first Beatles album to be remixed and expanded since the 2003 release of ‘Let It Be … Naked.’ To create the new stereo and 5.1 surround audio mixes for “Sgt. Pepper,” Martin (as producer) and Okell (as mix engineer) worked with an expert team of engineers and audio restoration specialists at Abbey Road Studios in London.
All of the anniversary edition releases include Martin’s new stereo mix of the album, which was sourced directly from the original four-track session tapes and guided by the original, Beatles-preferred mono mix produced by his father, George Martin. The CD comes complete with the original U.K. album’s “Edit for LP End” run-out groove.
“Sgt. Pepper” is also known for its colorful artwork featuring the Beatles in marching band regalia surrounded by cardboard cutouts of famous figures then living and dead, among them Edgar Allan Poe, Fred Astaire, boxer Sonny Liston, Shirley Temple, Bob Dylan and even wax models of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr in their younger years.
Besides the three ‘Anthology’ collections in the mid-90s and two BBC sets, the Beatles have held outtakes and other material somewhat close to the vest. “Sgt. Pepper” marks the first time such an expanded edition of a sole album has been made available. They really dug deep too, and depending on how much you care to spend, there are a few different ways to go down the record’s rabbit hole.
Here is a breakdown of the various editions:
• DELUXE – Expanded 2-CD and digital package features the new stereo album mix on the first CD and adds a second CD of 18 tracks, including previously unreleased complete takes of the album’s 13 songs, newly mixed in stereo and sequenced in the same order as the album. The second CD also includes a new stereo mix and a previously unreleased instrumental take of “Penny Lane” and the 2015 stereo mix and two previously unreleased complete takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
• DELUXE VINYL – Expanded 180-gram 2-LP vinyl package features the new stereo album mix on the first LP and adds a second LP with previously unreleased complete takes of the album’s 13 songs, newly mixed in stereo and sequenced in the same order as the album.
• SUPER DELUXE – The comprehensive six-disc boxed set has the new stereo album mix on disc one. The second and third are filled with 33 additional recordings from the studio sessions, most previously unreleased and mixed for the first time from the four-track session tapes, sequenced in chronological order of their recording dates. There’s also a new stereo mix of “Penny Lane” and the 2015 stereo mix of “Strawberry Fields Forever”
The fourth disc has direct transfers of the album’s original mono mix and the “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” singles and the Capitol Records’ U.S. promotional mono single mix of “Penny Lane.” It also features previously unreleased early mono mixes of “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” the latter a mix thought to have been erased from a tape in 1967, but discovered during archive research for the anniversary edition.
Discs five and six are Blu-ray and DVD with new 5.1 surround audio mixes of the album and “Penny Lane” plus the 2015 5.1 surround mix of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” There are high resolution audio versions of the new stereo mixes of the album and “Penny Lane” and of the 2015 stereo mix of “Strawberry Fields Forever”
The video features 4K restored original promotional films for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” and “A Day In The Life;” plus ‘The Making of Sgt. Pepper,’ a restored, previously unreleased documentary film originally broadcast in 1992 and featuring interviews with McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, along with in-studio footage introduced by George Martin.
The Super Deluxe set is presented with a 144-page hardcover book including new introductions by McCartney and Giles Martin, and chapters covering comprehensive song-by-song details and recording information, the design of the cover, the album’s musical innovations and its historical context by Beatles historians. It’s illustrated with rare photographs, reproductions of handwritten lyrics, Abbey Road Studios documentation, and original ‘Sgt. Pepper’ print ads. A standalone reproduction of the Victorian circus poster that inspired “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” is included as well.
To contact music columnist Michael Christopher, send an email to email@example.com. Also, check out his blog at www.thechroniclesofmc.com.