Fab Four Face-Off: What's your favorite song from 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'?
With the official release of the Beatles' remastered catalog now a done deed, Pop & Hiss asks the musical question: What would go on your Beatles mix tape?
Continuing my arguments for the best track on each of the Fabs' freshly repackaged long-players, this entry considers "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the eighth album in the series.
Shout me down or talk me up for choosing....
"A Day in the Life"This one was easy. Not to say I don't personally favor other songs on the album that many (though not I) consider the Beatles' masterpiece. "She's Leaving Home" ranks with "Norwegian Wood" and "For No One" as one of my all-time most beloved Fabs tunes. Yeah, I like the slow ones, and more particularly I'm fascinated by the way Lennon and McCartney used stories of elusive women to explore issues of spiritual anomie, urban drift and changing gender roles. On a less heady level, I've always enjoyed imagining myself as one of those girls who got away in a Beatles song -- the epitome of modern female cool.
But I digress. Back to the song that pretty much sets the standard for singable art rock.
One of the fun parts of being a Beatles fan is tracing the conversations among the Four that run throughout the band's incredible catalog. Not to discount Ringo's malapropism-strewn whimsy or George's subtle spiritual quest, but for me (and I suspect, for most others), the career-long game of tiddlywinks between John and Paul is the main point of fascination.
At each turn in the band's career, its two main songwriters challenged and taught and snuck around each other, each taking pop into new corners in the process of arguing for his own approach. One-upsmanship has rarely paid off so astoundingly. Occasionally, John and Paul seem to address each other in a song -- "I've Got a Feeling," from "Let It Be," is one such case, in which John's mind games and Paul's heart palpitations form a powerful dialogue.
On "A Day in the Life," Paul apparently solved a problem for John, providing a bridge that had proved elusive. The earthy little ditty he plunks down in the middle of John's complicated dreamscape not only leavens the song; it also shows how poetic vision and prosaic details can interact to create a work of art that's richer than it would have been had it stayed within either of those dimensions.
The Beatles really worked to connect those dots. "A Day In the Life" took 34 hours to record, with George Martin producing -- of course -- and a trusted creative team assisting in the studio. (Read a detailed account of the recording session here.) The orchestra wasn't as big as the one Paul desired, but it did the trick without getting all bloated and "Nights in White Satin" on the band.
The famous final note is a piano bang of Cagean proportions. I'm sure you're hearing it in your head right now, simply because I mentioned it. Let it resonate. This is music that takes us somewhere slightly different every time we hear it, even after so many years.
-- Ann Powers
Photo: Apple Corps.