It is one of the most iconic album covers of all time – and it is also one of the greatest albums of all time. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the eighth studio album of the Fab Four and is considered by most as a major departure from their earlier music. And that cover! It is still talked about today and Beatles buffs still argue about who made it and who didn’t and for what reason.
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the album, a British company is gearing up to release a documentary – “It was Fifty years today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s and Beyond’ – in May that will look at the months around the creation and launch of the album; the producers claim they have unearthed a lot of rare footage of the period.
“As a lifelong Beatles fanatic it gives me huge satisfaction to document and reveal the unknown stories and capture the Beatles in the summer of love as they shaped the global landscape forever whilst also being the architects of a social and cultural revolution that shaped a generation,” says Reynond D’Silva, whose Ren/oir Films has produced the documentary.
The London-based D’Silva is a Mumbai boy, who played in the band Brief Encounter in the city’s discos in the early 1970s. He says he was quite taken up by the idea of making such a film. “The 50 year anniversary of the greatest album of all time demands attention and noise and my small contribution to this celebration was to this celebration as to produce and release this film to coincide.
Getting interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving Beatles, did not work out, but the film, directed by Alan G. Parker, who has made documentaries on the Sex Pistols, Status Quo and Monty Python, is not short on details. “We are combining first hand accounts of the events that allowed Sgt Pepper to happen with rare and unseen footage,” he is quoted in the press release as saying. There are interviews with their former drummer Pete Best, Julia Baird (John Lennon’s sister) and Barbara O’Donnell, who worked with the late Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager.
Sgt Pepper has path breaking songs like ‘With a Little Help from My Friends,’ ‘Within You Without You,’ ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ which has been the subject of endless debate for decades. The album is said to represent a fictional Sgt Pepper band, a kind of alter ego of the Beatles. The album came at a time when the group had retired permanently from touring, allowing them to experiment with new sounds and technologies.
But it is the cover artwork of the album that remains a talking point. It was designed by pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth from an ink drawing by McCartney and it shows the four, in costume, with cardboard cutouts and waxworks of an eclectic bunch of famous people – from Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe to Laurel and Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe and the boxer Sunny Liston. John Lennon’s suggestion to include Hitler was turned down and an apocryphal story suggests Gandhi was excluded because record company executives felt Indian buyers would be offended. The label, Parlophone, used to print in India and this was a risk no one was ready to take.
After its British release at the end of May, the film will travel worldwide and efforts are on to show it in India too, though no date has been confirmed. The film will be available on digital from June 1 and in DVD format from July 3.