It was 40 years ago today..


It was released in the U.S. on June 3, 1967. And I remember that it was Tuesday, the 6th, that I first heard it because that was the day of my high school graduation. A friend had gotten it that day as a gift; it was an eight-track (if you’re under 40, don’t ask*), and he had his car wired for stereo. So, before and after the graduation ceremonies, Jim’s car was the place to be.

“Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was not “Meet the Beatles.” I was a freshman in high school, and it was January, 1964, less than two months after the death of JFK , when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became the Beatle’s first hit. Every year of high school, for that huge demographic bubble that was the class of 1967, was, whatever else it was for each 14, then 15, then 16, then 17 year old, three great years of prolifically produced, much awaited Beatles’ hits.

Then, unlike anything that had preceded it by the Beatles or anyone else, came “Sgt. Pepper’s.” You could hear dogs and foxes, drums and strings, calliopes and sitars, moving- moving!– from one one side of the car (or room, depending on where you were listening) through the speakers! This was high tech stuff of the first order in 1967 and, even though the phrase was still years away, we knew we were hearing the cutting edge of everything to come. The songs seemed to have meaning, deeper and more fascinating than the words themselves: from the simplistic (but wonderful) “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” 3 1/2 years earlier, to phrases like this: “four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire” (“A Day in the Life”) and “I’m fixin’ a hole where the rain gets in, to stop my mind from wanderin’ (“Fixing A Hole”). We felt like we were moving at lightening speed away from Sunday nights singing along with Mitch Miller, and far, far beyond our parents’ Perry Como and Phil Harris collections of LPs.

And we were. In good and, of course, not so good ways. But for now, I’ll admit, part of the nostalgic charm of listening again to “Sgt.Pepper’s” (which is playing, right now) is remembering what we had no memory of then. Six months later, the Vietnam War would take a tragic turn with the Viet Cong’s January Tet offensive. Just one year later, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy would both be dead. Holes that none of us could fix were burrowing into our individual and collective consciousness, and our minds were wandering in darker ways than we had ever experienced. It was not long before we would be watching some of the best and brightest among us begin babbling from too much acid, or turn from gentle-natured hippies into skin-and-bones speed freaks.

But “Sgt. Pepper’s” was there for us in those too-few sweet months before so many things that still remain acrid, began to turn sour. And it is nice,just nice, to remember those times.

Here’s a place to listen to the title song, right now:

*and I will tell you this- an 8-track cartridge (for one album) was as large as ten Ipods.

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