The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2CD Anniversary Edition) (Apple)


50 years after it changed the musical landscape forever, The Beatles’ eighth studio album gets a facelift. But does it need one? And how does it hold up after all these years?

I first bought a copy of Sgt Pepper at the end of 1969. I was 14 years old and it was one of the first LPs I purchased…I was much more into 45s. But two and a half years after its initial release, Sgt. Pepper had already gained legendary status and I had to have it.

The Beatles themselves were falling apart at that time and I was extremely frustrated to have been born just a little too late and to have lived in too rural of a place to have seen them in person, so I made up for it by collecting all their records and Sgt. Pepper was my first Beatles album.

For those born post-1970, it’s probably difficult to understand the impact that Sgt. Pepper had on popular music and culture in general. It was omnipresent during the summer of 1967…the so-called “Summer Of Love”. It could be heard blasting out of record players everywhere. Its impact on other musicians is even more intense. Jimi Hendrix was so excited by the record that he performed the title track three days after the album was released.  Johnny Rivers released Summer Rain, a top 20 single, later in the year, that featured the lyric:

All summer long, we spent dancin’ in the sand
And the jukebox kept on playin’
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Throughout the 1970s Sgt. Pepper was generally regarded as the greatest album ever. Interestingly, the following decades found The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds taking over that title, ironically spurred on by a quote from Paul McCartney, naming God Only Knows as his favourite song of all time. According to stories being floated around, Pet Sounds was inspired by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and Sgt. Pepper was The Beatles’ response to hearing Pet Sounds.

So, what we have now is a newly-remixed version of Sgt. Pepper along with a second disc of session outtakes. By my count, this is about the 5th or 6th version of the album I have. The question is, is the remix worth hearing? How does it compare to the original? Is it an enhancement or a cheap ploy to get us to buy the album one more time?

Here’s my understanding of how the remix worked. Giles Martin, son of late Beatles producer George Martin, had access to all of the Beatles session tapes. Back in 1967, Abbey Road Studios was a 4 track operation. The Beatles needed much more than that so they would record as much as they could on 4 tracks, then “bounce” those tracks, mixed, to another four track take, adding more elemnents to the other three available tracks. This would go on until they were sonically satisfied. Of course, this being analogue tape, every generation added tape noise and hiss.

With the advent of digitally record, all those handicaps are gone. So, Martin has gone back to the original 4-track sourses and remixed Sgt. Pepper from the ground up. Now, every almost every element is first generation.

That’s great for sound quality, but the danger lies in recreating the original EQ’s, effects and levels. Fortunately those were all pretty well documented.

Originally Sgt. Pepper was mixed for mono and stereo, with the stereo mix supposedly being an after-thought. Eventually though, it’s the original stereo mix that most fans are familiar with, although the mono mix has a few elements that didn’t make it onto the stereo version.

Giles Martin’s mission was to create a new, definitive stereo version.

To prepare for this, I’ve listened to the original mono from a re-issued vinyl copy and the original stereo mix from the 1987 CD version.

One thing I can say, the music certainly stands up to repeated listenings, even after hearing the album for probably hundreds of time over the past 50 years I was never bored. The music is so sonically rich and surprising that there is always something new to hear, even now. And of course the songs themselves are some of The Beatles’ finest.

OK, so, how does the new mix sound? Has Giles martin desecrated a masterpiece or improved on something that was almost perfect to begin with?

Basically, this is a much more modern-sounding mix. Instead of hearing some vocals on the far left, and, say horns, on the far right, most everything is spread across the spectrum much more evenly and naturally. For instance, on the opening title track, originally, the vocals were all on the left channel while the drums were on the right. Now, the vocals are more centred and the drums are heard from left to right.

And because Giles Martin had access to source tapes that hadn’t been bounced down a generation or two, the guitars have more bite and the drums more depth.

In short, it’s better without being distractingly different.  Martin has manged the tough job of maintaining the integrity of the original mix while improving it just enough to justify its existence.

You’ll probably hear a few things you didn’t notice before, but there’s nothing that’s going to jar you into thinking this is completely new.

I think the track that benefits the most is the Sgt Pepper Reprise. It really rocks and now more of the effects and vocal asides can be heard as it segues into A Day In The Life.

And that iconic last track sounds much better as well. You can really appreciate what a wonderful drummer Ringo is on that track.

So, yes, I can definitely recommend this new remix. It’s not earth-shatteringly different…it won’t change your life…but I’m glad it exists.

There is a second disc featuring 18 tracks…16 are previously unreleased outtakes while the other two are new remixes of Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, the first two songs from the Sgt Pepper sessions that were released as a double-sided single in early 1967.

The outtakes really are just for trainspotters, but I found them a fascinating window into how those incredible tracks were built. I won’t be playing them in high rotation, but they are pretty cool, nonetheless.

Of course all this attention to Sgt Pepper brings up plenty of discussion about whether it still should be considered the best album ever made, or the most important, or whatever. Of course it’s all totally subjective and there is a difference between what is “best” and what can be your “favourite”. For the record, I would rate Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road and the two “best” Beatles albums, but my personal “favourites”, at least at this moment, are Help! and The White Album.

And music critic Bill Wyman has just compiled a list of all 213 Beatles tracks from worst to best. Click on the link and be ready to shake your fist in anger at some of his choices.

Which got be thinking about what I consider the best albums of all time, and what are my favourites. So, I’ll offer them up to you here. Feel free to counter with your own in our comments section…

Marty Duda

Here are my favourite albums of all time:

Mott The Hoople – Mott

Patti Smith – Horses

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps

David Bowie – Pinups

Paul McCartney – Ram

Wilco – Being There

The Ramones – The Ramones

Peter Case – The Man With The Blue…Guitar

Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls


And here’s a list of what I consider to be the “best” albums of all time:

The Beatles – Sgt Pepper

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

The Who – Who’s Next

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

The Velvet Underground & Nico

Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers

The Beach Boys – Pets Sounds

Led Zeppelin – 4