It Was 40 Years Ago Today

Yes, today marks the 40th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"—which forever altered the landscape of popular music. On June 1, 1967, the Beatles released what most music critics still hail as the greatest rock & roll album of all time. Why the greatest? Short answer: It was the most innovative. But how so? It wasn't the Beatles' most original collection of songs. In fact, I'd argue that their previous album, "Revolver," contained compositions that were more creatively crafted. But, of course, there's more than one way to be innovative, and the Beatles always found several. The group presented the songs on Sgt. Pepper as a unified package, the repertoire of a fictional band they created. The album had an overarching theme and distinct identity, musically and lyrically—with smooth segues between songs that reminded us that the whole was more important than the sum of its parts—a first in pop music. Some would say it created a new business model: the preeminence of the 33 1/3 RPM album. (Sales of albums would eventually replace sales of singles as the barometer of pop music success—a better indicator of depth of audience appeal. This, in turn, led to the success of FM radio, which by favoring album tracks catered to a less fickle and more sophisticated pop music audience.) Sonically, Sgt. Pepper cut new ground as well, with an unprecedented degree of multilayered vocal and instrumental tracking—as well as circus-like sound effects and crowd noises that fully exploited the new stereophonic technology. And Sgt. Pepper revolutionized album design and packaging with its first-of-a-kind, laminated 3-D album cover, gateway sleeve, and printed lyrics on the back cover.

Yet, this explosion of creativity was applied to a set of songs which (except for "A Day in the Life") John Lennon felt was unremarkable product at the time! Is there an innovation lesson for us here, 40 years later?

John OLeary posted this on June 1, 2007, in Innovation.
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