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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

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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.

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Columbia Records

Bob Dylan
John Wesley Hardin
Released December 1967
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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
Butterfly
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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Serene Dominic
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