On Friday, May 19th, 1967, the Beatles turned up at Brian Epstein’s house at 24 Chapel Street in London for one of the most incredible coming out parties of all time. The occasion was a press launch ahead of the June 1st release date for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The Beatles’ manager pulled out all of the stops for the occasion, serving a menu of champagne, poached salmon, and caviar to his guests. As the launch party progressed, the bandmates posed for photographs in Epstein’s drawing room, as well as on the front stoop of their manager’s regal townhouse, which was just a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace.
Not surprisingly, the event made for a who’s who among the glitterati of music journalism, including Norrie Drummond of the New Musical Express, who implicitly understood the auspicious nature of the occasion. The Beatles had ceased touring back in August 1966, and, save for the release of the “Strawberry Fields Forever” / “Penny Lane” single, they had largely been out of the spotlight in the ensuing months. And yet here they were, unveiling their groundbreaking new album under an air of mystery as if they were Willy Wonka finally opening up his magical dream factory for the eyes of a waiting world.
Even the Beatles’ entrance took on a sense of grandeur and great expectation on that illustrious evening. As Drummond wrote, “John Lennon walked into the room first. Then came George Harrison and Paul McCartney, followed closely by Ringo Starr and road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans. The Beatles had arrived at a small dinner party in Brian Epstein’s Belgravia home, to talk to journalists and disc jockeys for the first time in many months.” And there they were: mustached (save for a clean-shaven Paul) and decked out in their Carnaby-wear finery. Their carefree Bohemian image was a far cry indeed from the suited bandmates of days gone by.
One of the guests that night was none other than American rock photographer Linda Eastman, who had first met Paul four nights earlier at the trendy Bag O’Nails club, where Georgie Flame and the Blue Flames were topping the bill. Linda later remembered that “we flirted a bit” before heading out to yet another club and then concluding the evening at Paul’s home at Cavendish Avenue, where Linda recalled being “impressed” to see her future husband’s prized trio of Magritte paintings.
If Eastman and Epstein’s other guests were awestruck by the pioneering soundscapes that they heard during the initial May 19th Sgt. Pepper listening session, their impressions would be drowned out soon enough. Barely a fortnight later, the revolutionary long-player’s reviews came in swiftly and were overwhelmingly positive. The New York Times’s Richard Goldstein, for one, described “A Day in the Life” in moving terms as a “deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric. Its orchestration is dissonant but sparse, and its mood is not whimsical nostalgia but irony. With it, the Beatles have produced a glimpse of modern city life that is terrifying. It stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event.” Writing in the London Times, William Mann proclaimed Sgt. Pepper to be “a pop music master-class.”
But that was then, of course, and this is now. As if to underscore the album’s lingering power and influence even five decades later, there was a similar sense of anticipation in the air on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017. With a standing room only crowd in attendance at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theatre, Giles Martin fittingly unveiled his Sgt. Pepper remixes at pop music’s most vaunted shrine in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
It was a stirring occasion, to be sure, as the lucky ticketholders rediscovered the album in all of its original, brilliant Technicolor. And as one magical remixed track segued into another, we few—we happy few—learned what we already knew: that the majesty of the Beatles is evergreen. With the group’s remarkable catalog enhanced for the ages, what once was old will invariably be new again.
As I sat there, with the final chord of “A Day in the Life” washing over me in that darkened LA theatre, I was comforted by the knowledge that the attendees of that May 19th, 1967, event of yore were merely pioneers in advance of the experience that we are privileged to enjoy in these hallowed days of 2017. As the ageless song cycle of Sgt. Pepper emerges from our technologically heightened speakers—and headphones and ear buds—sounding like it never has before, we should revel in the knowledge that we, too, are but transitory visitors along the album’s incredible journey from the onset of the Summer of Love into the present. But in many ways, as the centuries await, that journey is only just beginning.
In our next installment of Everything Fab Four, which will be published on May 23rd, I will share my full-length review of the upcoming Super Deluxe edition of the Sgt. Pepper remixes. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!