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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
                  will forever be known as the recording that changed rock & roll. At the time of its
                  release, it immediately changed the perception of what a rock band could
                  achieve, not only in the rock community but in the mainstream, which had
                  previously dismissed the music as child's play. With its effortless command of
                  sound, styles and songcraft, it wasn't easy to dismiss Sgt. Pepper. Anyone
                  that had paid attention to Revolver would have realized that the Beatles had
                  already made the great leap forward, reaching a previously unheard-of level
                  of sophistication and fearless experimentation. Sgt. Pepper, in many ways, is
                  a refinement of that breakthrough, as the Beatles learned how to synthesize all
                  their influences into a seamless sound. They had unconsciously achieved that
                  with their earliest records, where they tied a variety of early rock & roll
                  influences into a distinctive sound, but here they consciously blend such
                  disparate influences as psychedelia, art-song, classical music, rock & roll and
                  music hall, often in the course of one song. Similarly, the album was designed
                  as a song suite, with each song leading into the next, occasionally with no
                  breaks between the tracks. It gave Sgt. Pepper the appearance of being a
                  concept album -- and initially it was designed as a concept album about
                  childhood, but that idea was abandoned once "Strawberry Fields Forever"
                  and "Penny Lane" were pulled as a single during the recording sessions -- but
                  there is no unifying theme besides the layered sound and thirst for
                  experimentation. That's enough, of course. Sgt. Pepper is a richly diverse
                  album and not once does its eclectism seem forced -- the genius of the record
                  is how the vaudevillian "When I'm 64" seems like a logical extension of
                  "Within You Without You" and how it provides a gateway to the chiming
                  guitars of "Lovely Rita." There's no discounting the individual contributions of
                  each member or their producer George Martin, but the preponderance of
                  whimsy and classical influences gives the impression that Paul McCartney is
                  the leader of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. He dominates the album in terms
                  of compositions ("Getting Better," "Fixing a Hole," "She's Leaving Home,"
                  "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Lovely Rita," the title track) and he sets the tone for
                  the album with his unabashed melodicism and deviously clever arrangements,
                  which are always considerably more complex than they intially appear.
                  Lennon's contributions are few and far between, and unfortunately a couple of
                  them are slight -- for all of its appealing carnivalesque psychedelia, it's clear
                  that he dashed off "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," and "Good Morning
                  Good Morning" is merely a good throwaway -- but his major statements are
                  stunning. "With a Little Help from My Friends" is the ideal Ringo tune, a
                  rolling, friendly pop song that not only is perfect for his puppy-dog
                  personality, but hides some genuine Lennon anguish, ala "Help!" The
                  notorious "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" remains one of the touchstones of
                  British psychedelia, thanks to its inventive arrangement and elongated melody.
                  And Lennon is the mastermind behind the bulk of "A Day in the Life," the final
                  song and centerpiece of Sgt. Pepper. A haunting number that skillfuly blends
                  Lennon's verse and chorus with McCartney's bridge, "A Day in the Life" is
                  surely one of their greatest recorded achievements; decades after its release, it
                  still can still astonish, even if every note has been memorized. Nevertheless, it
                  is possible that first-time listeners may find Sgt. Pepper a little underwhelming,
                  in light of its titanic reputation and years of being force-fed hype that claims it
                  is the greatest album of all time. It is true that modern-day listners might find
                  its whimsy quaint or antiquated, not charming, and that its few flaws stand out
                  larger in light of the hype. After all, they have grown accustomed to the
                  innovations that were pioneered here. And it may be true that there are better
                  Beatles albums -- Revolver, The Beatles, Abbey Road, A Hard Day's Night
                  and Rubber Soul all are valid contenders for the position -- but there are no
                  albums quite as historically important as this. After Sgt. Pepper, there were no
                  rules to follow -- rock and pop bands could try anything, for better or worse.
                  Ironically, few tried to achieve the sweeping, all-encompassing embrace of
                  music as the Beatles did here.
               A review by:   -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide