It was 50 years ago today …

The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released on June 1, 1967 in the UK and on June 2, 1967 in the US. It became the soundtrack for the fabled “Summer of Love” both influencing and reflecting the flower powered youth culture of the time, but its appeal has proven to be timeless.

Beatles - Sgt. Pepper album cover

The Beatles stopped touring in August of 1966, and took some time off. The group reconvened in November of that year and spent over 400 hours in the studio between November 1966 and April 1967 completing the album. (This was a far cry from their first foray into EMI Studios to record their first album in 1963 — that entire album was recorded in less than 24 hours!) This studio time led to all sorts of interesting musical experimentation and since the group had decided they were done with touring, there was no need to worry about whether the songs could be produced live on stage. The album as a whole is a fascinating almalgamation of harmonium, harpsichord, brass band, fairground noises, harp, psychedelia, Leslie speaker tweaking, multi-tracking, tape loops, full orchestra, crashing apocalyptic piano chords, dog whistles and more. The Beatles’ musical ideas required lots of technical innovation from producer George Martin and studio engineers.

Sgt. Pepper gatefold

The eclectic mix of songs was loosely held together by the “concept” of a fictional Edwardian alter-ego Sgt. Pepper Band and the songs are wonderfully joyful. From the psychedelic marching band music that introduces us to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the psychedelic imagery of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” ( title inspired by a drawing by John Lennon’s young son, Julian), to the music hall whimsy of McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four”, to the spiritual tone of Harrison’s sitar-laced “Within You Without You”, to the amazing shifting tones, full orchestral crescendo and avant garde surrealism of “A Day In The Life” (one of the greatest ever Lennon/McCartney collaborations in this author’s opinion), there is much to enjoy, right through to the startling tape loop ending inserted into the run-out groove of the original LPs (and included on CD reissues if you wait for it). The Beatles drew inspiration from varied sources like an 1843 circus poster (“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”), a TV cornflakes commercial (“Good Morning, Good Morning”), news stories about runaway teens (“She’s Leaving Home”) or car accidents (“A Day in the Life”).

An alternate take from the Sgt. Pepper cover photo session

An alternate take from the Sgt. Pepper cover photo session

There is just as much to enjoy in a perusal of the album art itself. The cover features a pop art inspired collage of various folks (famous and not so famous) that the Beatles chose as inspirational to them, elaborate gatefold sleeve packaging (with bonus cardboard mustaches and pseudo-military insignia in early pressings) and includes the lyrics to all of the songs printed on the back cover, something that had never been done before with a pop album.

Sgt. Pepper back cover with lyrics

Sgt. Pepper signaled that pop & rock music could also be considered high art or even progressive social expression and more than just disposable entertainment. Musicologists cite Sgt. Pepper as continuing the musical maturation of the Beatles as a group that began with Revolver and Rubber Soul. It was also extremely influential on the development of progressive rock with its emphasis on studio experimentation, elaborate instrumentation and insistence on pushing the boundaries beyond conventional subject matter and track lengths. The album has been an influence on countless others since its release in 1967.

Here’s a sampling of a few of (many) parody takeoffs on the iconic cover:

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – We’re Only In It For The Money

Frank Zappa & The Mother's Of Invention

The SimpsonsThe Yellow Album

Simpsons - "The Yellow Album"

The RutlesSgt. Rutter’s Only Darts Club BandRutles - Sgt. Rutter

Golden Throats – a compilation of critically lambasted cover songs

Golden Throats

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band consistently ranks in critics and fans listings of best albums of all time. Among numerous accolades and awards, it is ranked # 1 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It’s included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry and is one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Whether Sgt. Pepper is an old favorite or if it’s brand new to you, this classic album / cultural touchstone is well worth a listen!

Sgt. Pepper cut outs insert

Sgt. Pepper cut outs insert

“Lights, please … ” – “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Music of Vince Guaraldi

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Title Card

The animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas made its debut on December 9th, 1965 on CBS.

The special was atypical for most cartoons at the time because of its contemplative message, its use of real children (some of whom were too young to read) to voice the characters as opposed to adult voice actors and its LACK of use of a laugh track. (Peanuts creator Charles Schulz refused to allow one saying he wanted to “let the people at home enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own way.”)

A Charlie Brown Christmas - cast

A Charlie Brown Christmas was also noteworthy for its holiday-infused jazz soundtrack created by musician/composer Vince Guaraldi.

Jazz musician/composer Vince Guaraldi

Jazz musician/composer Vince Guaraldi

Guaraldi became involved with the Peanuts before the start of production for the Christmas special. Producer Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi’s 1963 radio hit “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” while traveling by taxi on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and initially commissioned Guaraldi write a jazz soundtrack for a television documentary about Charles Schulz called A Boy Named Charlie Brown that wound up never being broadcast. According to Mendelson, the first performance of “Linus & Lucy” occurred over the phone during the production of the documentary. Fortunately, the Christmas special allowed the piece to find a home.

Peanuts characters dance to Guaraldi's iconic "Linus & Lucy"

Peanuts characters dance to Guaraldi’s iconic “Linus & Lucy”

The jazz soundtrack to the special was initially a hard sell, both to Charles Schulz (who was not much of a jazz fan at the time) and to the network since jazz had never been used in an animated special before. Despite Schulz’s initial feelings about jazz, he pushed for Guaraldi’s music to be included because he believed it created a perfect “bubbly, childlike tone” for the show.

Interestingly, the song “Christmas Time Is Here” was something of a happy accident. According to Lee Mendelson: “For the Christmas Show, [Vince] wrote an original melody that wasn’t in the documentary. It was a beautiful melody that opened the scene where the kids are skating. When we looked at the final cut, it seemed to me to be very slow. I said, ‘Let me see if I can find some lyricists to put some words to it.’ I couldn’t find anybody. I sat down at my kitchen table and in 10 minutes I wrote a poem called ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ to the melody. I wrote all the words down, handed it to Vince, and said, ‘Find a choir of kids to sing this.’ He had been working with a choir to do a jazz mass in San Francisco. He rushed them all together, about two days later. So that whole thing was written and recorded in about over a two-day period and then rushed into the final mix [of the special].” The song has gone on to become a holiday standard and has been covered by many artists including Tony Bennett and Diana Krall.

In fact, it is hard to imagine the holiday season in the US now without the beloved special and its music!

Charlie Brown Christmas album art

Univeristy of Richmond students, faculty and staff can stream the soundtrack to the special by logging into the Alexander Street press database to which the library subscribes. They can also access Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass (which also celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015) as well as several of Guaraldi’s other albums.

Grace Cathedral concert

A Charlie Brown Christmas has become the second longest running animated Christmas special of all time (behind 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and the soundtrack album was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2011.

Charlie_Brown_Xmas_tree

The Parsons Music Library has a special display about A Charlie Brown Christmas and Vince Guaraldi that you can visit through the end of the year — come check it out!

Music for France

Candles

In light of the terrible events in Paris, France this past Friday, we at the Parsons Music Library have decided to share some music selections in solidarity with the people of France (and the victims of violence all over the world).

Many people have found ways to pay musical tribute to Paris, here are just a couple of lovely examples:

A man traveled to the Bataclan to play John Lennon’s “Imagine” near the site of one of the attacks. Read more from a Rolling Stone article here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/watch-pianist-perform-john-lennons-imagine-outside-paris-bataclan-20151114

The Metropolitan Opera in New York City paid tribute on Saturday with a rendition of the French National Anthem “La Marseilles”. Here’s a New York Times blog post with more info: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/at-metropolitan-opera-support-for-paris-sounds-out-with-singing-of-frances-national-anthem/?_r=0

You can pay the Music Library a visit and get many CDs featuring French music in all sorts of genres as well — here is a small sampling:

The Voice of the Sparrow: The Very Best of Edith Piaf
Edith Piaf cd

Indispensible Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt CD

Salute To France
Salute To France

Debussy: Great Orchestral Works
Debussy CD

French Flag