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 fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine nooooooooooow!"). 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
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.

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-ballyhooed Smile 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.
Chad & Jeremy
Of Cabbages and Kings
Released September 1967

Chad and Jeremy were in trouble since the fall of 1966, when the Catwoman stole their voices and held them for ransom. Oh wait, that was just their appearance on the Batman TV series. But it didn't bid well for the real-life pair that on the show neither their homeland of Londinium nor their fans ponied up the ransom. The duo spent a great deal of time working on their own answer to Sgt. Pepper, which no one paid for either at the time. Perhaps it was the jarring presence of sitars, baroque instrumentation, ping-pong sound effects, and an overpadded "Progress Suite," which despite its name doesn't progress much in its five movements. Like most albums of this era, it has accrued fans over the years and it has some good moments. "Rest In Peace" contains the laments of a tombstone engraver, and the album contains the soothing vocals of the pair who always sang with such delicacy as though not to wake a baby in the next room. And they got to the Walrus a few months before Lennon did, outright quoting Lewis Carroll with the album's title.

The Moody Blues
Days of Future Passed
Released November 1967

Having lost lead singer Denny Laine and any connection to R&B music by 1967, the Moodies' fortunes had fallen to the point where they had been shunted to Decca's budget label Deram. And they were going to be dropped from that if they didn't record Antonin Dvorák 's "Symphony No. 9" with The London Festival Orchestra for a stereo demonstration record that was supposed to promote their new "Deramic Sound."

Instead, they combined symphonic music with their latest originals and ... poof! A whole prog-rock genre was born. You could argue that The Moodies took up an entire album to do what the Beatles and their hired orchestra crammed into five minutes and three seconds of  "A Day in the Life."  But then you'd miss out on all the gongs and the poems.

click to enlarge
Columbia Records

Bob Dylan
John Wesley Hardin
Released December 1967

For someone depicted in the crowd on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, the guy who introduced The Beatles to marijuana isn't much of a fan of Sgt. Pepper: "The Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper, which I didn't like at all ... I thought that was a very indulgent album, though the songs on it were real good. I didn't think all that production was necessary, 'cause The Beatles had never done that before."

His response to Sgt. Pepper was a complete 180 in the opposite direction: an album of folk parables based on the Old Testament with minimal instrumentation. Even the cover of Harding is considerably pared down from Sgt. Pepper's illustrious crowd shot. Dylan is photographed with two West Indian musicians and a local carpenter. Still, Beatle freaks and Dylanologists claim they could see the blurry faces of the Beatles hidden in the knots of the tree if you hold the John Wesley Harding cover upside down. See it? On the left? No??!!

The Who
The Who Sell Out
Released December 1967

As junior rivals, The Who were much more of an influence and a threat to The Beatles Than the Stones ever were. The cohesiveness of their eight-minute rock opera "A Quick One While He's Away" was said to have influenced McCartney during the Pepper sessions and beyond. (Lennon even leads the band through a slapdash cover version on the interminable "Get Back" sessions.) McCartney was also influenced to write "Helter Skelter" after reading Pete Townshend describing  "I Can See For Miles" as the heaviest, loudest record ever made.

What isn't up for dispute is that The Who Sell Out is one of the greatest pop albums ever made, and that its motif of a Radio London broadcast makes it more of a concept album than Pepper's imaginary concert. The only similarity between the two albums is that Sell Out has a message of "Track Records ...Track Records..." pressed into its inner groove like Sgt. Pepper that, if you didn't have an automatic turntable with a needle lift off, would play forever and drive even the grooviest of listeners insane.

The Rolling Stones
Their Satanic Majesties Request
Released December 1967

Among its harshest critics was John Lennon who pointed out that, "Majesties was Pepper. Everything the Beatles did, the Stones did three months later." Their Satanic Majesties Request, released December 21, 1967, put the Stones back a derivative six months behind the Fabs, but Mick, Keith, and Brian were at least a year and a half ahead of The Beatles in terms of drug busts. And in 1967 counterculture, that was more important.

The Stones almost called it Cosmic Christmas because the inside montage was to have a picture of Jagger hanging naked from a cross in the middle of a maze. Not surprisingly, Decca Records prevented this from ever happening, but the critics saw to it that Mick and the boys were crucified by December 25 anyway. It took the Stones 22 years to have enough balls to risk playing a song from Majesties live. Opinions have mellowed and except for one or two embarrassing songs (oh, all right, maybe three or four), it stacks up as one of the great psychedelic albums of all time. The big differences?

1. The Stones lacked George Martin's polished production, or even their former producer Andrew Loog Oldham's objectivity. He was driven away by their tedious jams and hangers-on in the studio early in the sessions.

2. Sgt. Pepper's band wants you all to sing along because, as the cover clearly states, "a splendid time is guaranteed for all." The Stones guaranteed nothing and just invited the audience members to "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)." And for eight interminable minutes, nothing much did.

3. On "With A Little Help From My Friends," Ringo worried that if he sang out of tune, you'd walk out on him. Unconcerned with massive listener defection, the Stones allowed Bill Wyman sing lead for the first and last time on a Stones record, plastering his voice with enough tremolo to oscillate his monotone voice into a one-and-a-half-note range.

4. Each album addresses decidedly different generation gap concerns. On Pepper's "She's Leaving Home," parents can't understand why their daughter ran away with a man from the motor trade to have "fun." On Majesties' "2000 Man," it's the kids who can't understand their fun dad who's "having an affair with a random computer." The Stones predicted internet porn and Ashley Madison. Take that, Fabs!

5. "2000 Man" was covered by Kiss on their Dynasty album. The Beatles have never written a tune that could later accommodate the New York cabbie croak of Ace Frehley.

6. Pepper's chief fantasy girl is "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and her most outstanding psychedelic attributes are her kaleidoscopic eyes. Majesties had the fair maiden of "She's a Rainbow" who "comes in colors," and since this is The Stones, it's a safe bet they weren't talking about her Mary Kay cosmetics.

7. Sgt. Pepper's finale was "A Day In the Life," which climaxes with a 40-piece orchestra climbing from lowest note to highest, ending with an ominous piano chord. Satanic Majesties' finale was "On With the Show," which climaxes with someone playing ragtime piano in a gentlemen's club while Jagger plies a West End tease pot with bourbon and swears he isn't recording their conversation!

The Hollies
"King Midas in Reverse"
Released September 1967
Released November 1967

In Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles Sessions, there's an account of guests at EMI studios listening to the incredible orchestral overdub on "A Day in the Life," and in particular, Ron Richards, the Hollies' producer. He's described as just shaking his head and saying, "I give up."

Faced with the daunting task of trying to follow that up, the Hollies team came up with this classic album of twee pop. It is the last Hollies long player to feature Graham Nash, the only Hollies member to sport facial hair and have a working knowledge of LSD. ("Ego is dead, ego is dead" he sings on "Elevated Observations?") But the other Hollies were no slouches in the mind-expansion department either. Allan Clarke has a song about astral projection ("Try It"), and Tony Hicks contributed a doleful song about flying horses which is the equivalent of a Ringo number. Preceding the Butterfly album was "King Midas in Reverse," a very Pepperish track written by Graham Nash that was a commercial bust in the U.K. and led to The Hollies reverting to singing about schoolgirls and Nash bolting to join Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Where ego was never dead.

The 4 Seasons
Genuine Imitation Life Gazette
Released January 1969

When Vee Jay Records pitted the Four Seasons against the Fab Four for an exploitative “Vocal Battle of the Century” album that doubled as an excuse to reissue Introducing the Beatles for the fifth time, the challenge seemed more like a generational divide than a meeting of equals. While the Seasons cut the immediate obligatory psychedelic singles like "Electric Stories" and "Watch the Flowers Grow," it took the Seasons nearly 18 months to fashion their own Sgt. Pepper, or maybe that’s how long it took for Frankie Valli’s hideous mustache to fill in.

The resulting album submerged Valli’s trademark falsetto with everything from bombastic orchestration to backwards-acoustic guitars to a field recording of a children’s puppet show. Folk singer Jake Holmes, bitter after Jimmy Page ripped off his “I’m Confused” without compensating him, gets back at the underground by becoming the Four Seasons’ new lyricist. And by Jake, you haven’t lived until you’ve digested Valli warbling to the pre-disco rhythms of “American Crucifixion and Resurrection.”

Seasons resident songwriter Bob Gaudio claims John Lennon once told him over lunch that this one of his favorite albums — he certainly must’ve loved its newspaper-styled cover, seeing as he ripped it off for the equally disastrous Some Time in New York album. One wonders what a savage kick he must’ve gotten listening to Gazette’s title track with its Beatlesque coda. If you ever wondered what “Hey Jude” sounds like backwards, it’s "aan, aan, aan, aan, aan, aan, aan.”

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