How 15 Rock Bands Reacted to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper

Sgt. Pepper is turning 50.
Sgt. Pepper is turning 50.
The Beatles/EMI/Parlophone/Capitol

With the upcoming 50th anniversary of The Beatles' landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (and the May 26 release of a deluxe six-CD anniversary edition and a 2017 Giles Martin remixed and remastered version), you are bound to hear a lot of treasured remembrances from fans about that first unwrapping of this unprecedented album or how this stereo or monophonic contact high circled the globe on that first week in June — and for the entire Summer of Love it ushered in.

But there's a flip side to that.

What if you were in one of the top bands who were just barely managing to keep up with the innovations of Revolver — and then the Beatles just upped the ante yet again?

Paul Revere & the Raiders frontman Mark Lindsay, for example, reportedly listened to the newly released "Strawberry Fields Forever" single with producer Terry Melcher and wondered, "Now what the fuck are we gonna do?"

What follows, in chronological order is what the fuck 15 of the Beatles' contemporaries went and did.

Gerry & The Pacemakers
"The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine"
Released May 1967
Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Beatles still shared management with Brian Epstein, but Gerry's brood was left in the dust by mid-1965. That's when their movie Ferry Cross The Mersey didn't keep up the momentum the way A Hard Day's Night did for The Beatles. Not wishing to venture one day into the Summer of Love, Gerry & The Pacemakers called it quits in May 1967, releasing one last single that found this cover of Paul Simon's go-go opus "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" on its flip. Notably, it is the only Gerry recording to bitterly acknowledge the existence of the encroaching counterculture that had already tossed him off the charts: "Do hippies always seem to get the jump on you? Do you sleep alone when others sleep in pairs?"

Also notably psychedelic is the slightly droning vocal from the always perfect-pitched Gerry ("You'll feel just fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinenooooooooooow!"). While drones are a hallmark of Indian music, there's no evidence here to suggest the Pacemakers ever read The Bhagavad Gita or even glanced at a menu with too many curry dishes. Instrumentally, the Pacemakers were still behind the times in 1967, choosing to emulate the "goodtime" sound of last year's model, the Lovin' Spoonful. No sitars, but a swell ukulele and a big ominous bell on the chorus. But we don't need to tell you for whom the bell tolled. It tolled for Gerry, Freddie, Les, and Les. Let that be a lesson to any other band with too many guys named Les.

The Kinks
"Waterloo Sunset"
Released May 1967
Something Else by the Kinks
Released September 1967

Although head Kink Ray Davies is on record in the pages of the Melody Maker as being critical of some of the more far-out tracks on Revolver last fall (citing "Yellow Submarine" as rubbish and describing "Eleanor Rigby" sounding "like they’re out to please music teachers in primary schools"), we don't know how he felt about the next Beatles single: "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane," where John and Paul revisit their Liverpudlian childhood haunts. But we do know that less than a month after its release, he penned a song he originally called "Liverpool Sunset" mourning the death of Merseybeat, which he changed after hearing "Penny Lane." It ventures further north lyrically and morphs into "Waterloo Sunset," one of the singularly greatest songs in the pop lexicon, one that can be appreciated on multiple levels.

He almost backed that single with another nostalgic locale, "Village Green," which he wisely siphoned off for what was initially going to be a Ray Davies solo album and became The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society in late 1968. Adopting personas aside, Village Green is often referred to as Ray's Sgt. Pepper, yet an album with a more cohesive lyrical theme than The Beatles, the so-called inventors of the concept album, ever attempted. Yet the next Kinks album released after Pepper was Something Else By The Kinks, a hodgepodge of disparate tracks, some dating back to the previous year. And it contains Ray Davies' one stab as psychedelia, "Lazy Old Sun," which contains a droning slide guitar that sounds like it was slowed up to resemble a stomach gurgling and Ray signing as if he were under a strange post-hypnotic suggestion that he was the Wicked Witch of the West.

Simon & Garfunkel
"Fakin' It"
released July 1967

As Tom and Jerry, Paul and Artie had been in the teen music biz since 1957. So they were pretty world-wise and maybe a little world-weary by 1967, judging by this stopgap single. It's bookended by what sounds like the "Strawberry Fields" coda and showcases the duo lazily trying to keep pace with the Flower Children: "And a walk in the garden wears me down." Worse, Simon imagines in another life being a tailor whose only worry is making the sleeves longer or shorter, not having to lie about the the 3:14 playing time of the single to get it on AM radio. It is listed on the single as 2:74. Faker, faker!

A mid-charting hit, it wound up with a less psychedelic mix on the 1968 Bookends album where, inspired by Sgt. Pepper, Simon concocted a sidelong cradle-to-the-grave suite of songs that hits a speed bump with Garfunkel’s only contribution, a collection of elderly Jewish people rambling on and on called “Voices Of Old People.” Fans skip this track for the same reason they commit their folks to old-age homes — so they don’t have to hear “I can’t get up the mucous for the last three months.” As a result, old Jews have a helluva time getting back on the charts.

Paul Revere & The Raiders
"I Had a Dream"
Released July 1967

The Raiders were the best representation of what The Rolling Stones would sound like if they'd had authentic American accents. But once The Stones forgot their original blues mission to copy The Beatles, The Raiders had little choice but to do the same. On their album Spirit of '67, the Raiders copied "Drive My Car" right down to its extreme stereo balance with "Louise" and refashioned "Eleanor Rigby" into "Undecided Man." Having had time to process "Strawberry Fields" by September, Melcher and Lindsay came up with the druggy "I Had A Dream." It marries Sgt. Pepper's martial beat-and-brass section with heavily phased ... yawning, a la "I'm Only Sleeping."

The Raiders knew their young fans weren't ready to hear about drugs, but they could handle a song where the usually aggressive Lindsay sounds sleep-deprived. They'd sound more like themselves with the next single, "Peace of Mind," which resembled Wilson Picket fronting Sgt. Pepper's band instead of Billy Shears. At least the Raiders had it over the Fabs in one respect: They'd already been a costume band four years before The Beatles got around to it.

Herman's Hermits
"Museum" b/w "Moonshine Man"
Released July 1967
Blaze
Released October 1967

Having already been eclipsed on the teen mags by his rival Mancunian, Monkee Davy Jones, Peter Noone and his Hermits had no choice but to go for some underground cred. Which explains covering Donovan's "Museum" for a single and putting a group-penned "Taxman" ripoff called "Moonshine Man" on the flip. Both songs landed on the group's last non-soundtrack, non-compilation album called Blaze. It came complete with a kaleidoscopic photo of the boys sitting in a park, sporting Pepper-like epaulet jackets, with Herman front and center yawning.

You can just picture the PR people telling Noone, "If you're not doing drugs, you at least ought to look sleepy or you'll get left behind." And so no one missed the point, "Museum" even mentions yawning. Unfortunately, Blaze only got as high as No. 75 in the States and wasn't even released in the U.K., despite being a pretty good-sounding pop album now. In a strange twist, the underappreciated Blaze was reissued on vinyl for Record Store Day in 2015 — but they needn't have bothered. The brass at MGM Records, the band's original label, were so convinced that they'd found their Beatles that they overpressed mass quantities of all their albums, and you can still find sealed copies of the original Blaze in just about any secondhand record store.

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The Beach Boys
Smiley Smile
Released September 1967

Brian Wilson had been influenced by Rubber Soul to make the great, cohesive album Pet Sounds. Paul McCartney returned the compliment, citing Pet Sounds as the major influence behind Sgt. Pepper. The much-ballyhooedSmile was written in early 1967 and was a direct result of Wilson hearing "Strawberry Fields Forever" — and knowing the Beatles had him beat. Wilson began to withdraw from the production race against the Fab Four after issuing a truncated version of "Heroes and Villains" as a single in July.

There still seemed to be a plan at Capitol Records to issue Smile eventually, and the release of Smiley Smile was meant to be another time-buying quickie album the way Beach Boys Party had been. Except that the Beach Boys were too tired, discouraged, and fucked up on various stimulants to make anything other than the minimalist acid doo-wop album that is Smiley Smile. Although it has its defenders to this day, it was greeted with nothing but sad disappointment on issue. Coupled with a non-appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the Beach Boys entered a period of irrelevancy that only the nostalgia boom of the early '70s rescued them from. You thought I was gonna say "Kokomo," didn't you?

The Searchers
"Secondhand Dealer"
Released November 1967

The most musically sophisticated Merseyside group to come up alongside The Beatles, The Searchers' melding of beat group sounds and folk harmonies anticipated The Byrds by a year, but the group's inability to write their own hits in the quantity and quality of Lennon and McCartney meant they were reliant on others to chart their destiny. Post-Pepper, they did manage to write this credible social commentary about an old, accident-prone pawnbroker who dies of loneliness. Just imagine "Eleanor Rigby" with falling down the stairs slapstick. After its lack of chart impact, Pye Records dropped them, and they toiled for years on Britain's "chicken in a basket" cabaret circuit. By 1969, desperate for some sort of hit, they released a deplorable wad of bubblegum pop called "Somebody Shot the Lollipop Man" under the name Pasha.

The Dave Clark Five
"Inside and Out"
Released November 1967
"Maze of Love" b/w "The Red Balloon"
Released September 1968

For two years, The DC5 were one of The Beatles' fiercest rivals, churning out a staggering 17 Top 40 hits in the U.S. As sole proponents of the "Tottenham Sound," a welcome if lunkheaded counterpoint to The Beatles' ever-accelerating artistic ambitions, the quintet excelled at recreating manic Little Richard rockers, a knack that hardly mattered by 1967. This was now the era of lengthy "Moby Dick" drum solos and Clark's time-keeping technique, which might generously be described as someone driving a nail through a wall, proved an outstanding liability.

At the time of Sgt. Pepper's release, The Dave Clark 5 had only the embarrassing "Tabatha Twitchit" on release in the U.K., while Americans were treated to brassy remakes of Marv Johnson and Bobby Darin hits that would render The DC5 irrelevant unless some serious catch-up-if-you-can was put into motion. One can imagine the Tottenhammers unable to get past Sgt. Pepper's title track, as they rewrote it twice and buried the results on B-sides, first as "Inside and Out" and then for the nearly identical "Maze of Love" a year later.

Believe it or not, "Inside and Out" was actually commissioned by Italian director Franco Zefferelli for his film Romeo and Juliet. Not surprisingly, the Zeffer gave the "Tottenham Sound" two thumbs down after hearing Shakespeare translated by The Dave Clark 5: "Two little villages on their own/ Each lot taking care of his own/ One with a son that never looks happy / The other with a daughter that dresses so sna-ppy! They love each other and they're trying to get together / But the feud between their parents isn't getting any better!"

Even worse was "Maze of Love," which contained this startling bolt of enlightenment: "Too many people are running around and trying to find themselves / If they could only understand it's the egg and not the shell." Who knew the Eggman was Dave Clark?

Read on for Sgt. Pepper reactions from Bob Dylan, The Hollies, and The Rolling Stones.



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