Fifty years ago, in early June, 1967, the Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, made its way to American ears for the first time. Recorded over a four-and-a-half month period at Abbey Road Studios (formerly EMI), the album inspired both lavish praise and pointed criticism, not to mention a half-century debate over the album’s place in the history of rock and roll.
While I am committed to avoiding the kind of overstatements that often become bigger than the album itself, I remain convinced that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band represents a uniquely significant expansion of everything from recording technique to album art; everything from eclectic musicianship to innovative instrumentation; everything from evocative storytelling to stylistic experimentation. Whether or not one cares for the Beatles’ music, there is an excellent chance that, wherever one’s musical preferences lead, he or she will listen to many artists that have somehow been influenced by the impulses and musicianship embodied by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The songs, while strangely connected, take the listener to many different worlds. Some of those world are whimsical. Others are tragic. The creative musicality that holds the worlds together is what is most striking. It elevates the Beatles above other bands of the era (or any era) in terms of musical innovation and eclecticism. In many ways, it also elevates popular music to an art form.
While “A Day in the Life” is the song on the album that normally garners the most attention (no doubt because of its grand instrumentation and thematic creativity), my personal favorite is “She’s Leaving Home.” It is a haunting musical description of a young girl’s experience of running away. The melody line, more modal than tonal, beautifully captures the sadness and angst of the story. The sparse but poignant instrumentation heightens the sense of the voice’s isolation. The fact that both the girl and her parents “speak” in the song indicates a poetic complexity rarely embraced in the popular music of that era.
I invite you to listen to “She’s Leaving Home.” Allow it to remind you of a moment fifty years ago when a rock album intersected, artistically and truthfully, with real world dynamics.
“She’s Leaving Home” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)
Wednesday morning at five o’clock
As the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more
She goes downstairs to the kitchen
Clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside, she is free
(we gave her most of our lives)
(sacrificed most of our lives)
(we gave her everything money could buy)
She’s leaving home, after living alone, for so many years (bye bye)
Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown
Picks up the letter that’s lying there
Standing alone at the top of the stairs
She breaks down and cries to her husband
“Daddy, our baby’s gone.
Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly?
How could she do this to me?”
(we never thought of ourselves)
(never a thought for ourselves)
(we struggled hard all our lives to get by)
She’s leaving home, after living alone, for so many years
Friday morning, at nine o’clock
She is far away
Waiting to keep the appointment she made
Meeting a man from the Motortrade
(what did we do that was wrong)
(we didn’t know it was wrong)
(fun is the one thing that money can’t buy)
Something inside, that was always denied, for so many years
She’s leaving home, bye, bye