An extraordinary debut by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Classic Rock Review has named Are You Experienced? as our Album of the Year for the phenomenal music year of 1967. On this album, the sound is harder and heavier than anything else from 1967, yet it is not in the slightest bit unfocused. Led by the extraordinary talent of Jimi Hendrix, the Experience was an unheralded act as a group, especially when it came to the wild and entertaining drumming of Mitch Mitchell. Along with bassist Noel Redding, this power trio released the most stunning debut in rock history and one of the greatest albums of all time.
The sound forged on the album synthesized elements of 1967 psychedelic rock with traditional rock, blues, and soul. This was all topped off by the proficient and original guitar work by Hendrix, who used cutting edge techniques and technology to create sounds never before heard. Hendrix also composed solid songs, rooted in heavy blues and roots rock. This, along with the frantic but solid rhythm by Redding and Mitchell, gave Hendrix the perfect canvas on which to paint his guitar masterpieces.
Producer Chas Chandler helped form the Jimi Hendrix Experience in England in 1966 and signed the group with Track Records, a label run by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The group started with three singles, recorded in-between tours of England in late ’66 and early ’67. All three (“Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”) reached the top 10 on the UK charts. The original album was released in the UK in May, 1967 without the three singles (or B-sides), but the subsequent US version did include the singles in order to maximize the impact of the group in the States, where they were still relatively unknown. At the suggestion of Paul McCartney, the Experience debuted in America at the Monterrey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967.
Some of the tracks not included on the US version (but available on other versions) include the pure blues “Red House” with its wailing lead guitar and the Cream-influenced “Can You See Me”, with double-tracked vocals over a strong, riff-driven rocker. “Stone Free” is frenzied but with a good hook and “Highway Chile” has a more modern sound with a funky shuffle and R&B pattern.
Are You Experienced?by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: May 12, 1967 (Track) Produced by: Chas Chandler Recorded: De Lane Lea & Olympic Studios, London, December 1966-April 1967
Love Or Confusion
May This Be Love
I Don’t Live Today
The Wind Cries Mary
Third Stone From the Sun
Are You Experienced?
Tracks On Alternative Album Versions
Can You See Me
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion
Are You Experienced? starts with a classic anthem from the late 1960s, “Purple Haze”. A rather simple rock song that takes on a much higher aura (especially the acid era), the song is Hendrix’s best known composition. It was adapted from a poem he wrote called “Purple Haze, Jesus Saves” and contains the classic lyric; “excuse me while I kiss the sky”. But the true signature of this song is the instantly recognizable classic guitar riff which instantly signals the tone and tenor of the album.
“Manic Depression” contains hypnotic and frantic drums by Mitchell, under a driving rock riff by Hendrix and Redding. This song set the stage for all the future heavy blues and heavy metal song textures of the coming decades. Lyrically was more an expression of romantic frustration than the clinical definition of manic depression. “Hey Joe” is a riff-driven version of a very popular folk song by Billy Roberts. As we pointed out last year in our review of Love’s debut album, “Hey Joe” seemed to be a mandatory in those days, as it was covered by The Surfaris, The Leaves, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Deep Purple, The Mothers of Invention, and The Band of Joy. However, none of these versions are as popular as the version by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which made the song their own through this memorable version.
The album’s first side concludes with three lesser known tracks. “Love Or Confusion” is a good and solid rock song, heavy throughout but yet somewhat psychedelic with overdubbed guitars and rotating bass and drum backing. “May This Be Love” contains soft, double-tracked vocals with Mitchell’s marching drums holding together the slow moving, tidal song with slow yet wild guitars with phasing effects. “I Don’t Live Today” has a call and response with riff and verse line, but is overall one of the weaker songs on the album.
The second side starts with the fantastic ballad “The Wind Cries Mary”. Written by Hendrix following an argument with his girlfriend, the lyrics use a hurricane as an allegory for a relationship;
A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life / Somewhere a queen is weeping, somewhere a king has no wife…”
These lyrics are every bit as poetic as Bob Dylan while every bit as romantic as Otis Redding, but presented as a pure, bona fide rock ballad. Musically Hendrix’s laid back and bluesy guitar is backed by a steady, driving bass by Redding. The soft and somber playing and singing by Hendrix masks a moderately fast underlying rhythm, giving the song an edge unlike any other.
The album once again picks up with “Fire”, a frantic, highly charged pop/soul song complete with a backing chorus hooks by the band members. There is a nice key jump under the guitar lead, a great drum rhythm by Mitchell, and almost novelty lyrics. The song showcased the raw energy of this power trio and their ability to perform at breakneck speed. “Third Stone From the Sun” is a cool and interesting piece, multi-part, with an almost soundtrack like quality. It contains some strong jazz elements with extremely spacy guitars and an excellent drum improvisation coupled with a three note repeating bass line. This extended piece would be a pure instrumental were it not for a haunting, spoken vocals and wild vocal sound effects.
“Foxy Lady” is another popular rock song with a definite signature of psychedelia. Built around a howling guitar and inspired drumming, the sexually-charged song is full of passion and desire and would go on to become one of Hendrix’s most popular songs. The album concludes with the purely psychedelic title song. Drawing strong influence from Beatles songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Are You Experienced?” employs backwards-masked drums and other sonic and surreal sounds along with classically 1967 lyrics such as; “not necessarily stoned but beautiful”. Although unlike anything else of the album which shares its name, the song is a fitting conclusion to this totally original album, even as it fades into psychedelic oblivion at its conclusion.
With uncompromising energy yet delicate artistic flair, Are You Experienced was an immediate classic that has not faded one iota 45 years later. While later punk bands took on the pretentiousness of offering uncompromising rock, the truth is not a single one had anywhere near the talent of Hendrix and there may never be a true talent of his equal again.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
After establishing themselves as a successful singles band in the mid 1960s, The Who made a concerted effort to concentrate on making cohesive albums. This all commenced with the 1966 album A Quick One and continued with their 1967 album The Who Sell Out. Differing from later (and more famous) concept albums by the band, The Who Sell Out is a collection of unrelated songs joined together by public service announcements and original commercial jingles composed by the band using actual commercial products. Another aspect of the album is its nod to pirate radio. Differing opinions have the album either tributing or mocking (or both) the pirate radio station Radio London, which operated for three years on a ship before it was shut down earlier in 1967.
Like the bulk of The Who’s material, the album was mainly conceived and written by guitarist Pete Townshend, but did include songwriting and vocal contributions from all band members. The band had originally tried to gain endorsement fees from some of the products named in the album’s “commercials”, but were unsuccessful in this attempt. In fact, the deodorant company Odorono took offense by this request for endorsement dollars. The album’s cover is divided into panels featuring a photograph of each of the band members, two on the front and two on the back. On the front is Townshend applying Odorono brand deodorant and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey sitting in a bathtub full of Heinz baked beans (from which he allegedly caught pneumonia after sitting for a prolonged period). On the back is drummer Keith Moon applying Medac and bassist John Entwistle appearing as Charles Atlas. All products shown in these pictures were exaggerated in size.
The album was recorded in several cities and over several months in 1967, a year of many legendary milestones for the band. In June they put on a memorable performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival. During the subsequent North American tour Moon drove a car into a swimming pool at a Holiday Inn (establishing his reputation as rock’s wild man) and during a performance on The Smothers Brothers television show, Moon packed his drums with explosives (unbeknownst to the other band members of the show’s producers) and the resulting explosion caused permanent damage to Townshend’s ear and hearing.
The Who Sell Outby The Who
Released: December 15, 1967 (Track) Produced by: Kit Lambert Recorded:London, New York, & Los Angeles, May-November 1967
Armenia City In the Sky
Heinz Baked Beans
Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand
Our Love Was
I Can See for Miles
I Can’t Reach You
Early Morning Cold Taxi
Hall Of the Mountain King
Roger Daltry – Lead Vocals, Percussion Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Banjo, Vocals John Entwistle – Bass Guitar, Horns, Vocals Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The album starts with the first of several “Radio London” jingles, this first one using a device called the Sonovox with the days of the week simply spoken. This segues to “Armenia City In the Sky”, a song by written by John Keene, a friend of the band and future member of Thunderclap Newman. Keene shares lead vocals with Daltrey above a very psychedelic sound with a driving rhythm. The comical “Heinz Baked Beans”, written and arranged by Entwistle follows with marching band horns and drums.
Townshend’s “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” was recorded in three different versions with the album and single version featuring a driving acoustic guitar and much percussive overdubs, concluding with a frantic drum section by moon. An alternate version (included as a bonus track on most modern CDs) features a cool organ sound by session keyboardist Al Kooper. Following Moon’s drum chorus, the album version morphs into a full-fledged commercial for “Premier Drums” before breaking into the choppy and entertain, guitar-driven “Odorono”, which is structured much more like a proper song than one of the filler “commercials”.
“Tattoo” was written by Townshend and sung by Daltry, and was autobiographical of their sometimes rocky relationship. The song features complex harmonies and moody guitars throughout. Another Radio London public service announcements bridges “Tattoo” with “Our Love Was”, a fine song with judicial use of brass and more fine guitar work by Townshend, including an innovative ‘slide’ guitar solo.
A quick medley of three more “Radio London” spots, lead into “I Can See For Miles”, perhaps the most popular song from The Who Sell Out. Although the song reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic, it was a big disappointment for Townshend, who felt it was the “ultimate” Who record yet. The song is intense throughout with a low, sustaining guitar through the verses accompanied by Moon’s brilliant drum beats. The tension is broken by the soaring release of the melodic hook during the chorus, which is accented by twangy guitar notes like a beacon through space.
The (original) album’s second side all but abandons the commercials and PSA’s for more Artistic Who songs that preview some of their upcoming rock operas, especially 1969’s Tommy. “I Can’t Reach You” was one of the first songs Townshend wrote on the piano, and provides a very melodic and easy-going counterpart to the intense “I Can See for Miles”. “Relax” features Townshend on organ, adding yet another element to the band’s increasing sound spectrum. Entwistle’s “Silas Stingy” is written in the traditional English folk song about his own “penny pinching” to buy his first home, while “Sunrise” is a solo track by Townshend featuring jazz chords on an acoustic guitar and very folk-like vocals and lyrics.
“Rael 1” (or simply “Rael”) is a mini-suite which closes the original album. Starting with a marching beat and verse lead by Daltrey’s strong vocals. The song’s second section changes melody, guided by a constant organ and Moon’s driving drums. It then enters a section which would be reused on the next album Tommy as the instrumental “Underture” before returning to the original theme.
Nearly as many tracks were left off The Who Sell Out as were included on the original album and most modern collections some or all of these. “Rael 2” is a short, church-hymn counterpart to the album’s closer, while “Melancholia” is an excellent and haunting song with layered guitars and a driving rhythm. Entwistle’s “Someone’s Coming” has a nice brass arrangement while the band’s psychedelic arrangement of “Hall Of The Mountain King” is a true lost gem in their catalog. Among these bonus tracks are several unused “commercials” such as “Top Gear”, “Coke”, “John Mason’s Cars” and “Jaguar”, the original composition that sparked the album’s idea in Townshend in the first place.
Although not as coherent and focused as the band’s next three albums (the finest of their career), The Who Sell Out definitively shows where they were heading at the end of 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Neil Diamond broke through in a big way in 1966 and 1967, both as a performer and a respected songwriter (although he had been writing “hit” songs for other artists for several years). His album Just For You captures much of the highlights from this era in Diamond’s career and includes several songs which were huge hits for other artists, both prior to and following the release of this album. Still, the album has never been considered a classic, nor has it even been issued on compact disc. This may be due to the fact that it included some tracks from Diamond’s 1966 debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond (also not yet available on CD).
Every song on Just For You had been on the A-side or a B-side of a single, with five songs becoming Top 40 hits for Diamond and two others, “I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine”, becoming huge hits for The Monkees in 1966 and UB40 in 1983 respectively. Another Top 40 hit from the era, “Kentucky Woman”, was curiously left off the album. All in all, this was the first album to consist entirely of original material by Diamond.
It was also the final Neil Diamond album on Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, with whom he would be in litigation for the following decade before ultimately retaining the rights to all this early material. The songs and recordings originated at the legendary Brill Building in New York City, where some of the most famous pop songs of the 1960s originated. It was produced by legendary songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who also provided may background vocals, although records of other musicians backing Diamond are not readily available.
Just For Youby Neil Diamond
Released: September 16, 1967 (Bang) Produced by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich Recorded:Brill Building, New York, 1966-1967
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
The Long Way Home
Red, Red Wine
The Boat That I Row
I’m A Believer
You Got To Me
Thank The Lord For The Night Time
Neil Diamond – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Multi-instruments
The album begins with the top ten hit “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, with its melodramatic hook and driving verse lines. A 1992 remake of the song by Urge Overkill brought the song to a new generation with its inclusion in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Red, Red Wine”, on the other hand, remained a relatively obscure song for many years until a rearranged, reggae version was recorded by UB40 in 1983, becoming that band’s biggest hit and prompting Diamond to adopt this newer version for his own live performances from the late 1980s on.
“The Boat That I Row” was the third single released by Diamond in 1966. It contains a Latin, uptempo rhythm and uptempo acoustic and hand claps like its predecessor “Cherry, Cherry”, which was Diamond’s first ever Top Ten hit as a recording artist. The song was influenced by Bert Berns, the head of Bang Records, who influenced the song’s title and arrangement and features some memorable keyboard hooks by session player Artie Butler.
After hearing the hit “Cherry Cherry”, Don Kirshner asked Diamond if he had a similar song that could be used by a group assembled for a new television series called The Monkees. Diamond played him “I’m a Believer”, a song he had planned to record on his debut album. The Monkees rode the song to the top of the charts where it remained for a remarkable seven weeks, becoming the #1 charting song of 1966. By contrast, Diamond’s own version went relatively unnoticed when it was finally released on Just For You.
Neil Diamond also wrote some personal, introspective songs. “Shilo” tells of solitude and loneliness during childhood, in a mysterious and haunting song. Berns refused to release “Shilo” as a single, believing it was too different from anything that Diamond had previously recorded and might stain his “brand”. “Solitary Man” was the very first single by Diamond in early 1966 and was included on both the debut and this album. With somber lyrics about isolation and a full yet subtle brass arrangement, this initial recording would remain one of the finest throughout his long career. The album concludes with “Thank the Lord for the Night Time”, an uptempo sixth single, which ends the album on a high note. The song peaked at #13 on the charts.
Neil Diamond straddled the worlds on 1960s pop music and the 1970s singer/songwriter. Although never quite recognized as a great album, Just For You may be the one original album by Neil Diamond which best reflects his most prolific songwriting period.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Procol Harum released their fantastic eponymous debut at the end of the summer of 1967 but most listeners have not had an opportunity to hear it as it was created. This is because only mono versions of the album were released even though the material was recorded on multi-track tape. Those original multi-track tapes were misplaced and have not been located to this day. This is really a tragedy because the originality and pleasant dynamics of the band’s earliest sound is quite evident even through these sub-par mixes. Procol Harum found their niche by combining centuries-old classical and baroque elements with the then modern day moody-ish soul inspired by artists like Ray Charles. This was all topped by the poetic lyrics of wordsmith Keith Reid.
Most of these early compositions originated from Reid’s lyrics, with the music built later to accommodate the structure. Musically the band built rich layers of keyboards by Matthew Fisher, often overdubbing piano and Hammond organ to forge the lead melodic instrumentation. Topping off the sound is the English, blue-eyed soul voice of lead singer Gary Brooker , who delivers the lyric in a distinct and intelligent manner.
The album did not sell well in the band’s home country of England, as neither of their charting singles, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Homborg” were included on the original English version. However, critically Procol Harum was very well recieved, especially among many of their contemporary musicians.
Procol Harumby Procol Harum
Released: September, 1967 (Deram) Produced by: Denny Cordell Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, June 1967
She Wandered Through Garden Fence
Something Following Me
Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)
A Christmas Camel
Salad Days (Are Here Again)
Good Captain Clack
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Gary Brooker – Lead Vocals, Piano Matthew Fisher – Organ Robin Trower – Guitars Dave Knights – Bass BJ Wilson – Drums
The UK version of the album begins with “Conquistador”, one of the very few songs which originated from Brooker (instead of Reid), who had written a Spanish-influenced piece before the band was even formed. It is melody driven with choppy piano and swirling organ, resulting in an overall feeling of adventure. A live version of the song was released as a single five years later and peaked at #16 on the charts, the second highest charting song in the band’s history.
The most popular song ever by the band was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, which lead of the US version of the album and was one of the most beautifully orchestrated anthems of the 1960s. The calm, baroque organ by Fisher contrasts sharply with the soulful vocals of Brooker, yet it all works in perfect harmony. Reid came up with the title when he overheard the phrase at a party, and originally wrote four verses for the song but only two verses were recorded. Although much speculation has been made over the meaning of the lyrics, Reid has said they are simply about a one night stand with a woman. For over 40 years the song was credited to Reid and Brooker alone, but in Fisher won co-writing credit for his distinctive contribution to the music. The song not only reached #1 in the UK, but has also been credited by a performing rights group as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years.
“She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” is a light and bouncy number with a bright and riff-laden organ line and lead by Brooker and melodic vocals by Reid, despite some of the dark lyrics. “Something Following Me” is classically soulful with lyrics influenced by Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The song is the first on the album to prominently feature guitar by Robin Trower. Trower also shines on the bluesy “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)”, which is fueled by slow bass riff by Dave Knights and previews some of 1970s bluesy classic rock styles.
The second side opens with another soulful number, “A Christmas Camel”, with a melodic keyboard duel between Brooker’s piano and Fisher’s organ and steady rhythm held down by BJ Wilson. If a true Kaleidoscope is a celebration of color, the song “Kaleidoscope” is a celebration of sound. It is organ driven with piano backing and swirling bass and drums throughout, all under the effortless, chanting yet melodic vocals of Brooker. The album concludes with the light “Salad Days (Are Here Again)”, followed by a piano-led instrumental and Fisher’s closer “Repent Walpurgis”, a suitable melodic number to complete this fine debut album.
Some versions of the album include “Homburg”, the follow-up single to “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, with surreal lyrics and a hypnotizing rhythm. Procol Harum built on their success in 1967 with a series of fine albums well into the 1970s, although frequent personnel shifts would never quite let the band elevate to top-level popularity.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Something Else by The Kinks was a transitional album which straddled the riff-driven pop songs of their early years and the more artful compositions of the band’s “middle” era. The album marks is the last of five by the band which involved producer Shel Talmy. It was co-produced by guitarist, lead vocalist and chief songwriter Ray Davies, who would assume producing duties on many future projects. The album offers selections which can be characterized as 1960s British pop, but with just the slightest pyschedelic and artful elements such as brass sections and mildly complex arrangements. In any case, the songs are strong and melodic throughout with great entertainment value.
As a songwriter, Ray Davies became more refined and sentimental, in contrast to the more psychedelic trends which were proliferating in 1967. In fact, the band seems to make a statement by the pure, unambiguous songs on Something Else, standing in sharp contrast to the vast soundscapes which were being employed on contemporary albums. The album is fueled by moderate acoustic numbers which provides a nice backdrop for the character portraits and vignettes portrayed throughout.
Rhythm guitarist Dave Davies also stepped up as a songwriter on this album. In fact, he briefly flirted with a solo career following the album, releasing the single “Susannah’s Still Alive”, which peaked at #20 on the UK charts. The song features a crisp piano riff with strong rock vocals and has been included as a bonus track on recent editions of Something Else. A couple of other “bonus” tracks from the era is the upbeat folk “Act Nice and Gentle” and the Muswell Hill inspired “Autumn Almanac”, which became the band’s last charting single of the decade.
Something Elseby The Kinks
Released: September 15, 1967 (Reprise) Produced by: Shel Talmy & Ray Davies Recorded: Pye Studios, London, April 1966 – July 1967
Death Of a Clown
Tin Soldier Man
Love Me Till the Sun Shines
Lazy Old Sun
End of the Season
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Act Nice and Gentle
Susannah’s Still Alive
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica Dave Davies – 6 and 12 String Guitars, Lead Vocals Pete Quaife – Bass, Vocals Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion
The upbeat opening track “David Watts” is a satire on the English “schoolboy” culture and seems to have been inspired by the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together“. Like many songs on the album, this song includes piano by session player Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins also plays on Dave Davies’ acoustic driven “Death Of a Clown”, which was originally planned as his first solo single. Eventually all of the Kinks got involved, along with Ray’s wife Rasa Davies, who sings the haunting backing vocals during the chorus. Dave’s rough-edged, raspy voice sounds like a cross between Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan.
“Two Sisters” continues the string of great 60s pop/rock with the edge of a very English sounding harpsichord melody. Many have taken the two rivaling sisters in the lyric as an allegory for the Davies brothers themselves. “No Return” has a very basic arrangement with a bossa nova beat by drummer Mick Avory, who uses a marching beat on the next song “Harry Rag”.
The middle part of the album contains some of the more experimental songs. “Tin Soldier Man” is another melody-driven rocker with a strong horn presence and English sounding changes throughout. “Situation Vacant” has a domestic setting lyrically featuring Hopkins’ Hammond B-3 and saloon piano riffs. “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” is another Dave Davies’ tune with a hint of psychedelia, which the band dives into with both feet on the next track, “Lazy Old Sun”. This slow and deliberate track with strategically placed, Mexican-style horns and appears to have been a major influence on some future Pink Floyd.
The absolute best is saved for last with the beautiful song “Waterloo Sunset”. A ballad dedicated to London with scenes of childhood memories and nostalgia, the lyrics are also a personal lament of the loss of wonder that comes with age. Musically, the song is built around a descending progression By the Davies’ respective acoustic and electric guitars and the bass of Pete Quaife. There are also some fantastic harmonies throughout giving a soothing effect that helps make this song the perfect ending to a great album.
Although Something Else sold poorly on both sides of the Atlantic, it has come to be regarded as one of the finest in the band’s large collection. With a new phase of their career underway, the Kinks set out to try more ambitious projects such as the concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society in 1968. Although the band was already well seasoned by this point, their career was just getting warmed up as they would continue with several relevant albums all through the 1970s and well into the 1980s.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
There has never been (nor probably will ever be) a year in which a single band produced so much quality material as The Beatles did during the year 1967. In order to properly pay tribute, we at Classic Rock Review have put together our largest article ever. This includes extensive reviews of both the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour albums along with a look at all the rest of the band’s output from that year which included recordings for future projects, several promotional videos, a live television special, and their third dedicated film. Unlike our normal album reviews, we look at everything in a strictly chronological order, delving into everything as it came about in sequence. This method works best because so many projects and elements overlapped during the year and only found their proper, permanent place as history unfolded.
Before diving into 1967, it is important to provide the context of the Beatles’ career in 1966. By that time the Beatles had conquered the musical world like no other rock act before, but still things were starting to unravel. There was major controversy over John Lennon‘s “more popular than Jesus” comments, causing the members to need heavy guards everywhere they went and they had nearly lost their lives in the Philippines after offending dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Further, the band was getting tired of the constant touring and frenzied fans and decided to halt touring altogether by the end of the summer of ’66. Despite putting out the brilliant album Revolver, it was under-appreciated in its day and many wondered whether the band was past its peak. All four members decided to take an extended break and decide what to do next. George Harrison took his first trip to India while Lennon starred in the major motion picture How I Won the War. On his way home from a vacation in America, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of doing an album from the perspective of an alter-ego band.
The band reconvened at Abbey Road Studios on November 24, 1966 (Thanksgiving in the USA, but just a normal Thursday in England) to start their new album. That night they recorded one song, a simple folk song by Lennon called “Strawberry Fields Forever”. But ultimately, this song would be anything but simple as it took a total of 45 hours to record, and this initial version of the song would not even be used. A second version was started at the end of November, this time featuring a mellotron intro by McCartney. The instrument had just been introduced to the band by Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who at the time was working at the instrument’s manufacturing factory) and “Strawberry Fields” would become the first song by a major act to use the instrument. It gave this version of the song a surreal element and atmosphere. Still, Lennon thought he could do more with the song and a third distinct version, scored by producer George Martin, including brass, strings, backwards masking, and complex rhythm section led by Ringo Starr and “about 9 or 10 other players.” When Lennon couldn’t decide if he wanted to use the second or third version of the song, the true magic took place. Martin fused the two together, even though version 3 was at a faster tempo and in a higher key, by using two tape machines varying the speed of one. The result is a production masterpiece which blazed the path for the upcoming Sgt. Pepper album.
Ironically, “Strawberry Fields Forever” would not be included on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. It was released as a “double A” single along with McCartney’s companion piece, “Penny Lane”, at the urging of manager Brian Epstein who wanted a song on the charts. Both songs shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool and both referred to actual locations familiar to all of the Beatles. Although possessing many of the same surreal elements, “Penny Lane” is more sing-songy, like a children’s ballad. It takes a typical suburban scene and turns into something dreamier, like a parade of life. The song has a basic piano melody overlaid by several brass elements and a distinctive piccolo trumpet lead by Dave Mason, who McCartney saw perform on television and commissioned for this song. Although Martin has stated that he believes “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the greatest single ever released by the group, it peaked at #2 on the UK charts.
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released: June 1, 1967 (Capitol) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – April 1967
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
Fixing a Hole
She’s Leaving Home
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
Magical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27, 1967 (Capitol) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – December 1967
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool On the Hill
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus!
Strawberry Fields Forever
Baby You’re a Rich Man
All You Need Is Love
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Mellotron, Harmonica, Vocals Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Mellotron, Recorder, Vocals George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Tambala, Vocals Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The earliest recording to actually end up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a vaudevillian number called “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which was recorded during the same sessions as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. Written by McCartney when he was only 16 (about 8 years earlier), the song includes a clarinet trio and sounds like it needs a companion, choreographed stage dance routine to go with it. It was recorded as homage to Paul’s father James McCartney, who actually had turned 64 earlier in 1966.
In early 1967, the Beatles were considering releasing a companion film with the Sgt. Pepper’s album, and recorded a lot of footage of their massive sessions for the song “A Day In the Life” in January and February. The song would be the final track on the album and its crowning jewel as it fused separate compositions by Lennon and McCartney into a singular masterpiece. It starts with Lennon’s folk ballad based on contemporary newspaper articles, accompanied by a strummed acoustic guitar, a bouncy, staccato piano, and great drum fills by Starr. After the initial recordings, Lennon felt like the song needed something more in the middle and McCartney had a short, happy-go-lucky song about his youth which was added. Unsure of how to connect the sections, 24 bars of “empty space” was left on either side of the middle section with assistant engineer Mal Evans counting out the bars on top of a simple, repeating piano. This section was later “filled in” with a building, “orgasmic” orchestral passage, conducted by McCartney and Martin, using 40 players which were later quadriple-tracked to give the effect of an orchestra of 160. The result is perhaps the best Beatles composition ever, ending with the most famous chord in rock history, a single strike played by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Martin simultaneously on four separate pianos and sustained four over a minute to finish the song and the album.
Along with “A Day In the Life”, Lennon and McCartney fully collaborated with the duet “She’s Leaving Home”, after reading a newspaper story about a young girl who’d left home and, at the time, was not again found (until many year later). With Martin unavailable to do the score, McCartney enlisted Mike Leander to do the orchestration, including a harp was played by Sheila Bromberg, who became the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record. The song would become one of the last true collaborations by Lennon and McCartney, who constantly worked together during the early years but would each maintain more solo control over future Beatles compositions.
The title song to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, written by McCartney, is an entertaining albeit tacky song which fits in with the overall image of the album, right down to the cover art which included a montage of of the Beatles’ “heroes” on designed by artist Peter Blake. The song itself has a strong rock presence with a super electric guitar tied together beautifully by a great rock vocal by McCartney, interspersed by many production elements including French horns and audience sounds. The song is reprised later, as a “closing” message just prior to “A Day In the Life”. The opening song segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends”, an entertaining number with a double meaning written by McCartney for Ringo Starr to sing.
McCartney also wrote several other upbeat rock songs for the album including “Lovely Rita”, a literal song about a female traffic warden featuring a piano solo by Martin and “Getting Better”, an optimistic creed featuring some excellent instrumentation. Lennon plays a distinct, choppy guitar, while Harrison adds an Indian tambura part and all Beatles sing fine harmonies throughout. “Fixing a Hole” is a more moderate pop song led by Martin’s harpsichord and Harrison’s double-tracked guitar riffs. McCartney said he wrote the song about the the fans who hung around outside his home day and night.
Lennon’s compositions on the album were more experimental than McCartney’s. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by a drawing that his young son made in nursery school. The song modulates between musical keys, with Lennon singing a monotone verse over an increasingly complicated underlying arrangement featuring Harrison’s tambura and a counter-melody organ played by McCartney. Although the song has long been associated with “LSD”, the Beatles firmly deny that was ever the intent in this case while openly admitting that drugs influenced other songs. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” contained lyrics which were lifted from an old poster, nearly verbatim. Musically, Lennon wanted a strong carnival atmosphere and this was accomplished by using tape loops from the Abbey Road library, several odd instruments, including a real steam organ and a big bass harmonica, influenced by the sounds on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. On the sarcastic “Good Morning Good Morning”, Lennon did a sonic version of Andy Warhol’s pop art by lifting themes and phrases from television commercials and shows and adding a sequence of animal sounds to the end, with each successive animal being capable of devouring the one before.
Aside from the aforementioned songs excluded for a single release, the only song recorded for Sgt. Pepper’s and not included on the album was Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song”, a protest of the Beatles’ music publishing practice which gave Lennon and McCartney higher royalties to all songs by the band, even those composed by Harrison. With this exclusion, Harrison had only one composition on the album, “Within You Without You”. This song was heavily influenced by the sitar, the virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and Indian music in general. The recording featured several uncredited Indian musicians along with several more session players. Harrison was the only actual Beatle to perform on the song. This was originally written as a 30-minute piece, but was abbreviated to about 5 minutes for the album.
Although Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not released until June 1, 1967, recording had wrapped by mid April and the Beatles dove right into writing and recording new material. Some of these sessions proved fruitless, such as an Abbey Road session on May 7th, where the band “jammed” for over seven hours with little committed to tape and no new material to build on. They also spent several sessions working on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”, perhaps the weirdest song in the Beatles collection which is only really interesting because it features a saxophone part by Rolling Stone Brian Jones. This song was not released for nearly 3 years when it became the ‘B’ side for the 1970 single “Let It Be”.
During this time the band also wrote and recorded the bulk of the new material for the upcoming animated film Yellow Submarine (although thatsoundtrack would not be released until January 1969). Along with “Only a Northern Song”, the soundtrack would include The June 1967 recordings “All Together Now”, which McCartney described as a children’s sing-along in the music hall tradition and “It’s All Too Much”, one of the few Beatles songs to be recorded in a studio outside of Abbey Road. Another song written and recorded during that time for Yellow Submarine was “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, a hybrid of two songs which makes heavy use of the clavioline, an unusual instrument. However, this last song was pushed up for release, first as the ‘B’ side to their next single “All You Need Is Love” and later included on the US version of the album Magical Mystery Tour.
“All You Need Is Love” was written specifically for a worldwide television broadcast called Our World, which was the first ever live global television broadcast on June 25, 1967, and was watched by 400 million people worldwide. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song as the United Kingdom’s contribution, requesting a song containing a simple message that could be understood by all nationalities. Lennon gladly took up the task and wrote the song in a short time with Martin arranging a live orchestra in the studio for the broadcast with the band accompanied by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor. The result is a simple anthem with the message “nothing else means anything without love”, and the leading indicator for what would be termed the “summer of love”. The single “All You Need Is Love”/”Baby You’re a Rich Man” was released on July 7, 1967 and reached the #1 position in every major country that had a pop chart.
After the live broadcast, the Beatles took much of the rest of the summer off to plan for their next project. In August, all four members of the band traveled to Bangor, Wales to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who they collectively regarded as their spiritual advisor at the time. While in Wales, the band received the tragic news that their manager Brian Epstein had died from an accidental drug overdose. Later referred to by band members as “the fifth Beatle”, Epstein had forged the band’s image and shaped their early career through all the madness of “Beatlemania”. After the band ceased touring in 1966, Epstein’s role in the band diminished quickly and he began to display erratic behavior and developed chemical dependency. Many music historians would later pin-point this moment, the moment of Epstein’s death, as setting the ultimate course for the band’s eventual breakup.
The band returned to Abbey Road studio on August 22nd to work on material for their next project, a film and score called Magical Mystery Tour. The title came from a song the band recorded back in May, which would serve the same basic purpose as the title song for Sgt. Pepper’s – an introduction for the listener to the adventure they are about to take. This catchy tune contains good effects and production techniques. The songs key lyric, “Roll up, roll up” served the duo purpose of harkening back to the old circus barkers as well as a veiled reference to rolling up a joint. The first song written specifically for Magical Mystery Tour was “Your Mother Should Know”, serving as an old-fashioned dance segment choreographed for the film to the sounds of this song with fine organ interludes. Here McCartney sported a black carnation, different than the rest of the band, which was cited as one of the many clues in the “Paul is dead” conspiracy.
The film was made in September in various English locations which were traveled to by the bus carrying the band and cast members. There was no script, as the emphasis was on the “mystery” of what would happen during the tour. Nothing much did, and the band grew increasingly frustrated by fans who began to trail the band along the way. Still, the band made some very interesting music during the fall of 1967. Included here was the cool instrumental “Flying”, featuring a dual guitar by McCartney and Harrison and a mellotron lead by Lennon. This was the only Beatles song credited to all four members of the band. “The Fool On The Hill” is a fine ballad by McCartney, written during a visit back to his father’s house in Liverpool. Lyrically, the song paints a pictures in the mind and fits in perfectly with the music, mainly performed by McCartney. Harrison’s contribution to the album is the surreal “Blue Jay Way”, with creepy, and literal Lyrics.
Lennon later admitted that “I Am the Walrus” was written during an acid trip. It was a combination of three separate songs that Lennon had been working on, with the Walrus being a reference to a Lewis Carroll poem. Lennon also intentionally wrote the most amusing lyrics he could when he was informed that a teacher at his old high school was deciphering Beatle lyrics in one of his classes and found the the whole process absurd. Musically, the song employs many of the techniques started in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with orchestral parts laid on top of a driving electric piano and some fine drumming by Starr.
The band wrote and recorded “Hello Goodbye” as their next single. Lyrically, the song derived from a songwriting demonstration that McCartney gave when he asked the participant to shout out the opposite of what he sang. Musically, it is a throwback to the mop-top pop days of the band, with some fine overdubs of electric guitar and viola. The song reprises with a coda which came about spontaneously in the studio. The single was released in late November and reached #1 in 10 countries.
Magical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967 as a six song double EP in the UK, featuring only the songs recorded specifically for the film. In the US, these songs were combined with the five songs released on singles earlier in the year – “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need is Love”, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, and “Hello, Goodbye” – in order to make a full LP, which was later adapted as the official version of the album. Although the album hasn’t received the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album is of similar quality when weighted with the quality singles. On December 26th, the Magical Mystery Tour film was screened on the BBC-1 in black and white and promptly savaged by critics, which may have soured some to the fine music of the album.
The Beatles would continue with a few more years of top quality output prior to their breakup in April 1970. However, they would not again reach the phenomenal level they achieved in 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.