The famous musical critic Sheila Whiteley in her book The Space between the Notes gives a detailed analysis of prominent musical bands of the twentieth century that have had a great impact on the development of the existing musical styles. The artists analyzed by the author may be considered as style setters in music and it is no wonder that one chapter of Whiteley s book is devoted to the Beatles. The influence of this band on the Western culture can hardly be overestimated. Without the Beatles, the overall picture of the contemporary music tendencies would be another. Sheila Whiteley in her book focusses her attention on the analysis of one of the most famous albums of the Beatles Sgt. Peppers.
Many critics consider Sgt. Peppers to be the album that expresses the general mood of the epoch. “You want a piece of music to encapsulate the period it was written in, and Sgt. Pepper does seem to do that” (Whiteley 39).
The year of the albums recording was rather eventful. It was a year of the Chee Guevaras murdering, debates concerning marijuana legalization and the appearance of a variety of youth organizations. The author pays much attention to the influence of a drug consumption by the members of the group on their musical creativity. Resorting to the analysis of the songs from the album, Whiteley finds the examples of the drugs influence, such as LSD practically everywhere.
At the same time, it must be admitted that the general mood of the album is rather optimistic and full of life-affirming ideas. Allan Ginsberg estimating this album said (as cited in Whiteley) “there was here an exclamation of joy, the rediscovery of joy and what it was to be alive” (40).
Sheila Whiteley, analyzing the songs of the album, compares various music patterns and different musical techniques. In spite of the fact that this album may be considered revolutionary in the history of rock music, it has the peculiar features that are inherent to the Beatles. The initial song of the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band performs a role of an overture and creates a friendly atmosphere of togetherness and a mood of a festival. Soon after that, the next song With a little Help from my Friends is introduced. This song has been written by Lennon and McCartney specifically for Ringo Star. This musical track is logically connected with the previous one by a special composed piece during which the military band Billy Shears is playing.
Ringo Star sings this song accompanied by McCartney during the chorus. This repetition gives an additional feeling of support.
Practically all the songs of the album are logically connected. The same goes for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. This song reveals the demand of a lonely person in “color, freedom and beauty of love experienced on a trip” (Whiteley 41). Whiteley states that the text of the song has been caused by the effect of the drugs. Nevertheless, the official version of this songs creation is the Lennon’s inspiration by a picture of his son. Moreover, this composition was at the center of a scandal when it was noticed that the title of the song might be represented with the abbreviation LSD.
Whiteley analyzes every song of the album trying to reveal the hidden context transmitted by means of music. In spite of the general gaiety of the album, the themes touched by the Beatles are rather serious, such as a place of an individual in society and conflicts between the youth. The theme of loneliness may be found in several songs of this album.
For instance, such song as Getting Better is a typical example of a persons rebellious mood and his unwillingness to correspond to the existing social norms, which is rather typical for the period of the albums creation. The young fellow is no satisfied with his school. His anger is emphasized in the song by the guitar staccato and bouncy rhythm (Whiteley 44). In this context the repetition of the words “better, better, better” sounds ironically implying that the affairs are going backward.
Much attention in the album is paid to the theme of loneliness, but in the song When Im Sixty-Four it is represented kiddingly. The young men wonders whether his girl will leave him in his declining years or not. This song is characterized by the mixture of the different musical styles, the examples of which can be found in the Beatles earlier works.
As it has been said before, the album is logically structured and in spite of the variety of themes revealed in the songs, they all are subdued to the general mood. In this context, the reprise of Sgt. Pepper is very symbolic. It was the initial song and the reprise means the end of the show. At the same time in the final track there is no this gaiety, which is present at the beginning of the album. It sounds like a closing remark of the whole album.
Whiteley, Sheila. The Space between the Notes: Rock and Counter-Culture, London: Routledge, 1992. Print.