The 50th anniversary of the release of the classic Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is celebrated in May of this year which is undoubtedly worth commemorating, although it is worth noting that the Liverpool band was very prolific in the mid-to-late 1960s — every year will see us celebrating the 50th anniversary of another album. But let’s not be party poopers — this is Sgt. Pepper we’re talking about.
Over at Sirius XM, where Chris Carter’s 34-year-old Breakfast With the Beatles show recently earned a seven-day-a-week run, the DJ is planning to celebrate the occasion on-air on Sunday by delving into the outtakes, at a special broadcast at the Anaheim Hilton.
“We’re gonna play three hours of Herman’s Hermits,” Carter says, with a chuckle. “No, what we’ll do is get into the boxed set, because it really is an experience to listen to it. With all the bonus tracks, you realize that The Beatles went into the project with being perfectionists in mind. When you strip it all away and you listen to the backing vocals and the bass parts, everything is dead-on perfect. On Rubber Soul, you can hear them put the tambourine down. They were in the studio three weeks and out, and did the best they could. This was different.”
Carter took over the radio show in 2001, when original host Deirdre O’Donoghue, passed away. After 16 years, the show was moved to the new Sirius XM Beatles channel, the only surprising thing about which is the fact that it took Sirius this long to have a dedicated Beatles channel.
“They were trying for so long,” Carter says. “I do a British Invasion show on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Saturday and Sunday, so I know they’ve always been keen on it and it’s great that it finally happened. The great thing is its owned and operated by both Sirius XM and the Beatles. It’s an official Beatles channel. They have their hand in everything, which is great.”
Carter has been a Beatles fan since the age of seven, when he obtained a copy of Rubber Soul. That album is still is favorite (a tie with The White Album), but he says that Sgt. Pepper is right up there with the best of them.
“It’s unique to itself, as far as Beatle albums go,” Carter says. “It’s almost like it’s another group that made that album, which I think was their intention when they first started. ‘Let’s try not to sound like anything we’ve ever heard before.’”
Part of the fun with Sgt. Pepper has always been the mythology that comes along with it. Are there hidden messages in the cover art? Are there hidden messages in the songs? Carter believes a lot of that comes from people reading a little too much into things, but he also concedes that the conspiracy theories are part of the fun. What we do know is that this album was the result of the band wanting to stretch themselves in the studio.
“Up until 1966, they had been perfect at everything that had done,” Carter says. “They were the greatest band at making records, they made fantastic films, the best songs. I think around the summer of ’66, they realized that they were not the best live band in the world. That’s why they stopped touring, because they realized that they couldn’t translate these songs that they were writing at the time on stage. So then the idea for Pepper was to go in and be the best possible studio band that ever existed.”
An element of the Sgt. Pepper mythology that Carter feels warrants more attention is the idea that, without LSD, the record would never have been made. Or at least, it wouldn’t have sounded the same at all.
“It’s something that always gets skipped over, and it shouldn’t be,” he says. “It’s quite obvious when you hear the record and you read what was going on in their personal lives — you realize how big of a deal it was, for everybody at that time. It was so new. Go two years back to 1965 and there was none of it in pop culture. I think it had a lot to do with the record, and all the records that were coming out like the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. Everybody was expressing themselves psychedelically.”
The acid might explain a story that Carter recalls Paul McCartney telling, about an occasion during the Sgt. Pepper sessions when a special guest dropped by, and then mysteriously dropped out again. The Lord really does move in mysterious ways, and sometimes those ways involve checking out psychedelic rock ’n’ roll.
“One story Paul always told regards when they did ‘Fixing a Hole,’ I believe in Trident Studios,” Carter says. “Paul’s getting ready to go to the session and he got a knock at his door. It was this gentleman who said, ‘Hello, my name is Jesus.’ Paul invited him in and told him that he’s going to the studio, and asked if he’d like to go along. So Paul brought Jesus to the session and introduced the rest of the Beatles to Jesus. After the session they all looked up, and Jesus was gone.”
That’s one of those rock music tales that benefits from our inability to verify it. It does’t matter if a homeless dude just tagged along with the biggest band in the world, or if Paul hallucinated the whole thing. All that matters is that McCartney believes that a Jesus showed up at his door. It’s the sort of legend that helps The Beatles live on so many years after they split up. In addition, this is a band that appealed and continues to appeal to everyone.
“They were the only entertainers I can ever remember who, in their prime, were loved by seven year olds and at the same time, 17 year olds,” Carter says. “That’s quite a feat. A step further, a lot of people’s parents loved the Beatles. That was unique to them. The Rolling Stones for instance — seven year olds weren’t going around listening to ‘Sister Morphine’.”
“Breakfast with The Beatles” will make a special transatlantic broadcast from the Hilton Anaheim between 8:30 a.m. and noon on Sunday, May 28; 777 Convention Way, Anaheim. Brunch is $45
or $25 for kids under 12. Call 714-740-4442 to make a reservation. Proceeds from the live broadcast will benefit Anaheim Elementary School Music Program.